Edinburgh is an enchanting city in Scotland, full of fascinating history, a city full of castles, palaces and a stretch of road that connects them all called the Royal Mile. This is a city beloved by Her Royal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, who vacations here every summer at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
How to Get There:
Getting to Edinburgh by Train:
Planning a trip to Edinburgh by train is easy. Tickets can be purchased at the Trainline.com, best booked ahead of time to ensure a seat. The journey takes about 4 1/2 hours from London, 2 1/2 hours from York. If you wish to visit Edinburgh from London, board the train early around 8 AM so that you can arrive in time for afternoon tea at the Balmoral Hotel, one of the most beautiful hotels in Scotland.
If you’re staying the night in the city of York the night before, you can plan on leaving a few hours later, at 10 AM to make time for a leisurely full English breakfast in this beautiful and historical city. Read more about York here.
The train journey from London up to Edinburgh is quite beautiful, providing excellent an excellent opportunity to see the beautiful British countryside. The Yorkshire dales are particularly lovely, especially in the spring when all of the safflower fields are in bloom, turning the hillsides into a bright sea of yellow. When you arrive in Edinburgh by train, you’ll be arriving at Waverley Train Station, one of the oldest train stations in the UK. Just a short walk from Waverley Train Station up a steep hill is the Royal Mile, the main center of town.
Where to Stay:
The Balmoral Hotel:
For an upscale accommodation in Edinburgh, the Balmoral Hotel is your best bet. Located on the north side of Waverley Train Station on Princes Street, this grand Edwardian-era hotel features a massive clock tower that gives the hotel the look and feel of a royal parliament building or castle. The hotel’s cheerful and friendly staff greet you at the door, ready to welcome you into the elaborately decorated lobby, filled with plenty of Scottish symbolism including the thistle, Scotland’s national flower. Dozens of bouquets of fresh flowers bring the beauty of a Scottish country garden inside the hotel. In the nearby Lobby Bar, you’ll find the table where J. K. Rowling wrote the manuscripts for her last two Harry Potter novels. It’s easy to see why someone would want to spend time writing in this lovely bar. You can read more about the Balmoral Hotel at their website here.
ibis Edinburgh Centre Royal Mile – Hunter Square:
Of the many accommodations centered around the Royal Mile, the ibis Edinburgh Centre Royal Mile at Hunter Square is an excellent choice for a 3-star hotel and is less than a 10 minute walk from the station. It’s a great mid-range accommodation that features many of the amenities of an upscale hotel. The ibis also has a great backpacker atmosphere which promotes the feeling of camaraderie amongst the travelers staying there. This eclectic mix of travelers can often be found gathering in the hotel’s quaint lobby, discussing their travel stories over a gin and tonic from the hotel’s bar. Find out more about the ibis Edinburgh Centre Royal Mile – Hunter Square at their website here.
Where to Eat:
Afternoon Tea in Edinburgh:
Stopping for afternoon tea is one of the best experiences you can have while in Edinburgh. Here are two excellent choices for afternoon tea that are both walking distance from the Royal Mile:
The Balmoral Hotel:
Afternoon tea at the Balmoral Hotel is a classy affair. An elegant and refined Scottish tea is served in the hotel’s beautiful Palm Court. Read my review of the Balmoral Hotel here.
The Colonnades at the Signet Library:
The Colonnades at the Signet Library provides a very unique and dramatic setting for afternoon tea in a historical law library located just off the Royal Mile near St. Giles Cathedral. Read my review of the Colonnades here.
The Grain Store:
The best Scottish ingredients are on display at the Grain Store, located on the lovely Victoria Street a short walk from the Royal Mile. This family run restaurant serves traditional Scottish dishes with a modern flair. Read my review of the Grain Store here.
For a memorable Scottish meal that’s fresh and seasonal, head to Wedgwood, a fine dining establishment located on the Royal Mile owned by husband and wife Paul and Lisa Wedgwood. Read my review of Wedgwood here.
2 Day Itinerary in Edinburgh:
Afternoon Tea at the Balmoral:
After checking into your hotel, change into your Sunday best and head down the Royal Mile to the Balmoral Hotel for a spectacular afternoon tea served in the Palm Court. This brightly lit atrium room features a glass dome ceiling and potted palm trees that grow throughout the room, which give the tearoom its name. Read my review of the Balmoral here.
The Royal Mile:
After a relaxing afternoon tea at the Balmoral, head back up to the road to the Royal Mile for a leisurely stroll. Just under a mile in length, this charming stretch of road runs through the center of Edinburgh. The road connects the two main landmarks in town, Edinburgh Castle on the lower end and the Palace of Holyroodhouse on the upper end. This lovely cobblestoned street is lined with dozens of souvenir shops selling bottles of whisky and Scottish tartans. The street really comes to life during the summer months when thousands of festival-goers fill the streets for the annual Fringe Fest, one of the largest art based festivals in the UK.
St. Giles Cathedral:
Located about halfway between the castle and the palace is St. Giles Cathedral, built during the 14th century. The magnificent cathedral, which was originally founded in the 12th century, is also known as the “High Kirk of Edinburgh.” The cathedral is dedicated to St. Giles, Edinburgh’s official patron saint, as well as the patron saint of the poor, lepers, outcasts, hermits, blacksmiths and even horses and deer. Born in Athens, Greece during the 8th century, St. Giles was rumored to have kept wild animals as pets while living as a hermit in the woods. Find out more about visiting the cathedral here.
Another charming aspect of the Royal Mile are the pipers that play for money along the streets, dressed in full Scottish regalia, adding a charming Scottish flair to the city, kilts and all.
Dinner at the Grain Store:
For dinner, head to Victoria Street, a charming road with brightly painted storefront buildings laid out in a semi-circle that date back over 400 years. On the upper row of buildings is the Grain Store, a family run restaurant offering traditional Scottish cuisine with a modern twist. Ingredients are sourced locally, such as foraged sea kelp, mussels and deer from local reserves. During my visit I had a monkfish fillet with a mussel buerre blanc sauce and foraged sea greens that had a wonderful briny flavor. Read my review of the Grain Store here.
Cocktails at Panda & Sons:
For a nightcap, head to the New Town to Panda and Sons for excellent craft cocktails in a speakeasy-style setting.
On day two, head down the Royal Mile, which happens to be the highest point in town, for a tour of the magnificent Edinburgh Castle. Built over 1000 years ago, the castle is one of the oldest in Europe. The castle opens its doors at 10 AM to hundreds of tourists, so plan on arriving early to see the parade of bagpipers who march up the road just before opening. It’s a beautiful display of Scottish culture and history that you wouldn’t want to miss, especially if you aren’t able to visit Edinburgh in August during the Edin Tattoo, the huge military bagpiping parade that takes place in August. Buy tickets ahead of time to reserve a time slot and avoid the crowds at their website here.
Once you enter the castle walk up the hill to Saint Margaret’s Chapel, one of the oldest buildings in Edinburgh. Dedicated to St. Margaret of Scotland, the chapel was originally built inside the castle walls during 12th century. Once inside you’ll see several stained glass windows depicting Scotland’s most revered saints, including Margaret herself.
Also fascinating to see is the room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to her baby, a lonely and sparse room located in the main castle. This room reflects the feel of the castle grounds, which have a very stark and remote feeling. Despite the many assaults on its walls over the years, the castle was breached only once, proving to be an excellent fortification.
For an excellent photo opportunity, head to the top of the castle walls for views of the New Town.
The Scotch Whisky Experience:
After touring the castle head up the road just outside the castle gates to the Scotch Whisky Experience, where it’s never too early for whisky. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be much of a whisky drinker, this fascinating attraction will leave you with a newfound respect for this revered Scottish spirit. General admission tickets include a barrel ride that takes you on a journey of the whiskey making process. It’s a fun and informative way to explore the history of whisky in Scotland, followed by a visit to the world’s largest whisky collection, a spectacular display of more than 3,000 bottles donated by a wealthy donor. The tour concludes with a whisky tasting demonstration that walks you through the process of identifying the delicate flavors of each kind of whisky from different regions all over Scotland.
Afternoon Tea at the Colonnades at the Signet Library:
Next, head down the road to the Colonnades at the Signet Library. One of the most spectacular places for afternoon tea in Edinburgh, this 200 year old law library provided visitors with the opportunity to spend time inside one of the magnificent old buildings on the Royal Mile that isn’t a tourist shop. The Colonnades serves a gorgeous eclectic Scottish tea is served in a working law library, named after the large Corinthian-style columns that line the room. You can choose to have tea in the main corridor or in one of the charming nooks filled with old law texts. The tearoom focuses on using locally sourced Scottish ingredients in their tea. Read my review of the Colonnades at the Signet Library here.
The Palace of Holyroodhouse:
Next, head up the road for a tour of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, a grand palace that sits on the site of a 900 year old abbey. The palace opens for tours throughout the year except during the last week of June to the beginning of July when the Queen comes to stay for a week. Purchase entry tickets ahead of time at the Royal Collection Trust’s website here.
Dinner at Wedgwood:
For dinner, head back down road from the Palace to Wedgwood, a family owned restaurant that celebrates the bounty of Scottish cuisine. The restaurant’s menu features many traditional dishes made with locally sourced ingredients, including wild-caught sea trout from Loch Etive. All dishes are delicately prepared, allowing the fresh ingredients to speak for themselves. Read my review of Wedgwood here.
For a nightcap, head to one of the many fine gin bars located near the Royal Mile. One Square serves excellent gin based cocktails inside the Sheraton Hotel, with over 100 different varieties of gin.
Guided Walking Tours of Edinburgh:
Another fun thing to do in Edinburgh is to join one of the city’s guided walking tours, including the haunted ghost tour or the Harry Potter Tour, which takes you to visit many of the places that inspired JK Rowling’s famous book series, much of which was written while she lived in the city.
Additional Activities in Edinburgh:
For more information about Edinburgh you can check out the city’s official tourism website here.