Back to the grind today… well, really back to the grind yesterday, but I still get to reminisce about my week in Scotland and London! This will be the first in a multi-part series (number of parts still to be determined) about the trip.
First off, this trip came about when my friend Michele asked if I wanted to go to the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London. I said yes, but that I’d already been to London several times so could we also go to Scotland for some whiskey tasting? The trip took off from there, developing until it was nine days split between Edinburgh, Islay and London.
We begin with our first stop: Edinburgh!
We left for Scotland after work on Thursday evening, and were able to fly to London and get a connecting flight to Edinburgh. Overnight flights are never fun for me, as I’m not a good airplane sleeper at all. I think I managed an hour or so on this particular flight, but even that’s rare. Even so, I like to power through upon arrival and just go to bed a little bit earlier than I normally would. I find this is the perfect way to beat the jet lag. Take a nap at any point and I’m completely sunk.
The flight was more or less pleasant, and we arrived in one piece. Edinburgh is extremely easy to get to from the airport; they have a conveniently located tram at the exit, and we were able to take it almost directly to our Air BnB.
Let me tell you about this AirBnb. It was a Harry Potter nerd’s paradise! The host, Jackie, takes great care to provide Harry Potter details all throughout the apartment. Some were simply pillows or blankets, but then there were tons of surprises as well! Quotes on the walls, little details in every corner. Additionally, it was a great size (we each had our own bedroom), and had a full bathroom and kitchen. It was also in an amazing location just minutes from Edinburgh Castle. It was on a pedestrian-only street lined with restaurants and pubs. Here’s the listing.
We settled into the apartment and then headed out for the castle. I was determined to get some sightseeing in on the first day since we only had a one full day in Edinburgh the following day. Edinburgh Castle, a landmark from almost everywhere in the city, was the logical place to start.
It’s gorgeous, of course. I mean, there’s not that much to say beyond that. It’s made up of various buildings, including ones that are still used today. Every courtyard and every turn has something new to see, with beautiful gardens and architecture everywhere. The views of Edinburgh from the top of the hill aren’t too shabby either, as they look out over both the Old and New towns.
From the castle, we started walking a bit down the Royal Mile. The Mile eventually leads to Holyrood Castle, which we stopped at the next day but on our first night, we were just looking around. We stopped in a few shops and followed the sound of bagpipes down to a church where a bagpiper was playing. There’s no better introduction to Scotland than seeing a bagpiper and listening to the traditional music as you walk among the historic buildings!
From the Royal Mile, we walked back to the Air BnB. It wasn’t late at this point, but we were both feeling the travel weariness and wanted to get something to eat. We ended up at the Rose & Crown, the pub across the street from the apartment, where I had my first Scotch of the trip (of course I chose Lagavulin!) and tried some haggis! (Spoiler, it’s actually really good.) I also got the pub’s last steak and ale pie of the day. Scotland is full of these great comfort foods.
Finally, it was time for bed. I passed out by 7:45 and slept hard for many hours. I woke up refreshed and ready for our day of Edinburgh sightseeing!
We started with breakfast at The Elephant House. To many people, this is just a cafe. But to two Harry Potter nerds (and all other Harry Potter nerds everywhere), the Elephant House is “the birthplace of Harry Potter.” When J.K. Rowling was young, poor and living in Edinburgh, she began writing the story of the boy wizard while sitting at the Elephant House. People believe that the novel has influences in the places in and around the cafe, from a Hogwarts-esque school to a cemetery with the grave of a Thomas Riddell (a.k.a. Tom Riddle/Voldemort). The cafe is lovely, but not overly Harry Potter-y, aside from the bathrooms, which have messages written to J.K. Rowling written all over them.
The cafe was pretty centrally located so from there we walked. We only had one place to be that day: Holyrood Palace, but we had open tickets and decided to do a bunch of other things first. Just a little walk away from the cafe was the Greyfrier’s church and graveyard, which we walked around for a bit. Despite the “darkness” of a graveyard, they are beautiful to look at sometimes, particularly ones that are well-kept with beautiful gardens surrounding them, like this one.
We found the grave of Thomas Riddell but we didn’t end up seeing the other Harry Potter names that are supposedly amongst the graves (McGonagall being one of them).
From the graveyard we walked down to Grassmarket, where we found a little farmer’s market. There were many local venders selling Edinburgh or Scotland-produced products, from leather goods to liquor to artwork. We looked around at each little booth for a while before visiting the exact opposite kind of store: the kilt making tourist store! This was a stop I needed to make, however, as I had been planning for a while to get my niece and nephews matching kilts. They are now the proud owners of them.
This little walk also gave us the chance to see more of how much Edinburgh looks like a real life Harry Potter village. It’s so lovely and charming, it’s no wonder J.K. Rowling was so inspired by the place. The little corner with the red kilt store was possibly my favorite spot in the whole city:
This road led us to our next stop: the National Museum of Scotland, which I wanted see mainly for their gallery room:
Initially, I believed they had filmed episodes of the show Penny Dreadful in this room, but it turned out that was actually a slightly similar looking museum in Ireland. Even so, it’s a beautiful room – it would be an amazing place to have a wedding.
The museum itself is an oddball collection of items, from animals to technology to fashion. It’s not particularly large, just three floors, but it’s a nice little break in the day. Many of the exhibits are interactive, so if you’re traveling with children it’s a great place to go. They can touch instruments, experiment with waves and see lots of animals and various other things. It’s pretty fun for the adults too!
Continuing our walking journey, we found a small Edinburgh fabric store, where I got some tartan fabric to make a skirt. Then, it was at this point that we were ready to head to Holyrood Palace… but I forgot to bring the tickets with me, so we took a quick cab back to the Air BnB to get them. We were also able to take a quick rest while we were there, before heading back out.
We ended up walking to Holyrood down the Royal Mile. We happened to have the greatest weather on the trip: around 65 degrees, sunny, gorgeous. Everywhere we went someone made a comment about how lucky we got with the weather. Being as I was anticipating being chilly the entire time, I definitely agree. So it was lovely to be out walking.
Holyrood Palace is the residence of Queen Elizabeth when she’s in Edinburgh and where important state dinners and whatnot are held in the city. By palace standards, it’s fairly small, but it definitely holds it own. Its a lovely little castle.
We took a tour of the inside of the castle (pictures were not allowed) and saw the various rooms used by the royals to greet people, as well as heard the history of the former kings and queens who used the castle. We saw the bedrooms of former residences and heard the stories of the different goings-on in the castle.
Outside are the ruins of the old abbey, as well as extensive gardens. The place is used for the Queen’s annual garden party, and for good reason. The grounds are beautiful and they are specifically designed to look like they are part of the extending landscape beyond their boundaries. Right next to the castle is the hiking trail for Arthur’s Seat, and it really does look like the path in the garden extends right to it, even though it actually doesn’t.
Holyrood is definitely a must-see if you’re in Edinburgh. It was also our last official sightseeing stop of the day. It was getting near dinnertime, and we had a big day the next day (tour of the Highlands, which will be discussed in detail in the next installment).
Before going to dinner, we decided to walk up the Royal Mile so Michele could get a scarf. This afforded another opportunity to just take pictures of the buildings around us. I love going places where there’s barely a modern piece of architecture: I can’t stop taking pictures of the buildings, and random streets!
We cabbed it to Innis and Gunn, a brewery, for dinner. Michele wanted to go for the beer, I wanted to go for the Scotch egg! If you’ve never had a Scotch egg, you are missing out in life! It’s a soft boiled egg, surrounded by sausage and then deep fried. This particular Scotch egg also came with a black pudding sauce. It was amazingly good. I learned later that Scotch eggs actually hail from London, and not Scotland as you might assume but it was amazing nonetheless! I also had beer-battered fish and chips for dinner, and they were equally as good. I would highly recommend a stop at Innis and Gunn.
Then it was back to the Air BnB to get ourselves ready for the Highland tour. Stay tuned for the next installment!