Where We Stayed
We rented an apartment from VRBO in the West End. It was on Shandwick Place and walking distance to Princes Street Gardens, the Mound, the Castle, and all the good shopping and food! If you’re looking for a more luxe hotel, the Waldorf Astoria - The Caledonian is also perfectly located.
What We Did
If you have the chance to go to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival in August, DO IT. It’s a celebration of culture, music and art and Edinburgh comes to life in the most beautiful way. The city is filled with free performances, cheap performances, open air markets and food stalls. We saw three very different shows during our week there, and could’ve seen a million more if we wanted to. Edinburgh without the Fringe is also beautiful, you’d probably only need 2-3 days there. If you’re going for the Fringe, give yourself a few extra days for shows.
In August, Edinburgh is also home to the Military Tattoo. We didn’t get tickets but have been told it’s amazing!
Hike up the Mound to shop the Royal Mile, tour Edinburgh Castle and go through the Scotch Whisky Experience. Even if you aren’t a big whisky drinker it’s a cool way to learn about how whisky is made and the different flavors that come from different areas of Scotland.
If you’re looking for a casual stroll and maybe some shopping above the mound check out Victoria’s Street, the Royal Mile, and George IV Bridge. Below the castle, try Princes Street and Georges Street. Also on ground level, hike Scott Monument in the Princes Street Gardens for great views of the city.
If you’re lucky enough to get good weather, hike Arthur’s Seat. Based on what I had read I thought we would be totally fine climbing. We made it to the top, but it was a slow trek. We went up a fairly rocky and steep side, but there are also ramps that wind their way up, so strategize before you start up. Save this for a dry day though, because it can be slippery and the view won’t be great if there’s fog.
If you’re willing to venture out a little further, check out Holyrood Palace (easily doable after Arthur’s Seat) or the Royal Botanical Garden.
Where We Ate
If you’re looking for food, stick to the Grassmarket, George IV Bridge, and Victoria Street. For classic fish & chips we liked Bertie’s, for a big American menu check out The City Cafe, for Italian try Vittoria, and for good coffee and pastries look for Saint Giles Cafe Bar or La Barantine Victory.
We also stopped in Elephant House because I grew up reading the Harry Potter books. The view from the back window is amazing, which makes it very clear where J.K. Rowling drew her inspiration from. They also have pretty good food! I recommend the peanut butter banana honey toast.
If you’re in desperate need of an American breakfast, try The Painted Rooster and get their avocado toast.
For a more luxe meal, book a reservation at The Witchery By the Castle. We went for my brother’s birthday dinner and it’s definitely the place to go for a special occasion in Edinburgh, but expect New York prices.
How to Get Around
Edinburgh is incredibly walkable despite the hills. There are no subways in Edinburgh, but there is an excellent bus system if walking isn’t your jam. We took the bus every day and paid with Apple Pay so it was easy and convenient. Bus routes will show up on the transit section of Apple and Google maps.
Second to going during Fringe, the biggest piece of travel advice I can give you is DO NOT rent a car. We ended up waiting for 3 hours in a small town for a tire replacement that insurance would cover and saw quite a few other Americans waiting for left-side tire replacements while we were there. Just don’t do it. Book a tour or find a driver for any trips outside the city and save your family and friends the aggravation.
Exploring the Rest of Scotland
That’s not to say don’t leave Edinburgh! We planned a day trip to Stirling castle and Loch Lomond & The Trossachs. We were told “he who holds Stirling holds Scotland,” so you could say it’s a fairly important place historically. The castle is where Scottish royalty lived and I’m sure the free guided tours will tell you a lot more about that than I ever could. I think there’s more to see there than at Edinburgh Castle.
Scotland’s national parks are home to Loch Ness but there are plenty of other beautiful lochs (lakes), and glens (valleys). We stopped at Loch Lubnaig and it was absolutely beautiful. There are even more incredible sights further out, but if you’re looking for something you can do from Edinburgh, that area is your best bet.
If you’re looking for day trips, you can also book distillery tours that are less than 1 or up to 3 hours away.
What to pack for Scotland
First and foremost, pack layers. Even in August, it can be incredibly warm in the sun but cool otherwise. Humidity also varies throughout the day and I found myself taking sweaters and jackets on and off throughout the day. Pack walking shoes and plenty of rain gear. I wore my Barbour wax jacket and bought a hood for it while I was there. I also packed my Hunter field boots which are great for all-day, but pack whatever shoes are most comfortable for you.
Overall, Scotland was beautiful. The food left a lot to be desired, but the pace of the country and the greenery was such a welcome change from New York. We’ll be going back next June for my cousin’s wedding so expect updates then! We’re hoping to spend a day or two out in Isle of Skye next time.