Last December, I visited Scotland on my way down to London. I was lucky to spend 4 days in Edinburgh and to meander up to the Scottish Highlands. If you’re a Harry Potter fan like myself, Scotland is a must-see, and as a lady traveling by herself, I found it to be a really ideal country for solo travel, I was never bored, nor was I ever uneasy traveling around the city and small towns.
My only regret about Scotland is that I didn’t have more time to see everything, I could have easily spent 2-3 more days touring around Edinburgh!
The Scotch Whisky Experience
If Disney and a distillery tour had a baby, it would be the Scotch Whisky Experience that’s located just down the hill from Edinburgh Castle. You literally ride a ride (in a barrel no less!) to learn about whisky, followed by a walk-thru, interactive portal to learn more about the history and regional tastes- and you finish with a tasting and a free Glencairn whiskey tasting glass to take home.
Also, there is a giant store full of a thousand kinds of Scotch whisky, plus accessories to enhance your explorations. I wish I had about $1,000 to spend there and an extra suitcase, I would have easily brought home a suitcase full of my all time fave- The Macallan, though I got to discover my favorite tastes from all the regions of Scotland!
Have Fun Stormin’ The Castle!
Edinburgh Castle is striking as it rests atop the giant rocks toppling above the city centre. If you get lost, look towards the castle. When you get up there, take some time to see the crown jewels of Scotland and learn the history of the location, and of the nation.
While you’re up there, you can also enjoy the tea room and gift shop which were fun to stop in. Take a cue from Europe- the best way to enjoy history is to nosh your way through it!
The National Museum of Scotland
This National Museum of Scotland is free and worth the trip.There are two wings, a natural history part, and a Scottish history part. I spent a greater part of the afternoon just learning about Scottish history, including the famous Robert The Bruce & William Wallace, whom you know as Braveheart.
Turns out, they didn’t paint their faces blue like they did in the movie, nor was Robert The Bruce a traitor, but you can see plenty of artifacts from Scottish history. Allow yourself at least 2-3 hours for this museum, and maybe take a break for a snack in between.
Attend Edinburgh’s Christmas & The Street Of Lights
If you go to Edinburgh around the holidays like I did, you can enjoy the sights, sounds and tastes of the Christmas season, or you can enjoy the carnival! The carnival/holiday market, known as Edinburgh’s Christmas, has two separate carnival locations where you can grab an adult beverage, shop or ride the ferris wheel. You can also venture to the “old” part of Edinburgh where the Street of Lights is located.
Enjoy Afternoon Tea
You know the Brits love their tea times, but you will be missing out if you don’t stop in for a high-class and high-sensory experience. I got to enjoy a festive tea time (with champagne!) while I stayed at the Sheraton in Edinburgh. Moët is served and you will get to pick your tea from a tasty sampling box. Honestly, it was top notch.
After this experience, I fell madly in love with clotted cream atop of a fresh scone, and tea is a thing I have to have in the afternoon! Plus, while you’re here, you can drink in a gorgeous view of the Edinburgh Castle. Cheers to that!
Write Your Bestseller At Elephant House
London gets way too much credit for the creation of Harry Potter- Scotland and the stories are intertwined. Not only were certain scenes from Quidditch matches set in the scenery of the Scottish Highlands, but Hogwarts was inspired by t
Elephant House is where JK Rowling penned the first Harry Potter novel. Yes, London and Orlando have all the Harry Potter stuff you could ask for, but Scotland is where you want to go if you want to experience the inspiration behind the stories, to walk in the footsteps of our generation’s most famous writer. For me, it was fascinating just to walk the streets and picture what it must have been like to have these amazing ideas floating in your head for a children’s book, before you knew it would become one of the most famous series to date…kind of crazy!
Read more about the Scottish connection to Harry Potter & things to see from blogger World Wanderlust!
Greyfriars Kirkyard – Where you can see Tom Riddle’s grave…well, *a* Tom Riddle. Not *THE* Tom Riddle.
Walk The Royal Mile
Honestly, there is a lot to see in Edinburgh, and the Royal Mile has gobs and gobs of shops. This is where I hung out to listen to a live bagpiper and got to check out Scotch whisky while shopping for my holiday gifts. I found some yummy locally made chocolates, and even haggis in a can (which my dad ended up also getting me for Christmas as a gag gift!)- but you can find so many great gifts here- including high end woolen items and some amazing whisky tasters to gift.
The streets are hilly and beautiful, lined with nooks to stop for a cup of coffee or shop for Scottish trinkets (like these!). One thing I loved about the city was that it had more local flare than Dublin did, and you could find things that were made locally and exhibited a lot of Scottish pride.
…Or Take A Tour
Taking a local free tour really helps take the overwhelm out of landing in a new city, so whenever possible, I try and take one the first day I’m in town. It’s recommended that you tip really well for any free tours, so don’t be stingy!
There are also a few other tours in Edinburgh that could be fun to check out- though I ran out of time to do them when I was there- food tours, pub crawls and historical walking tours can be so fun and I’ve found they’re worth every penny to really get a sense of the city.
Eat All Of The Things!
Have you tried a Scottish breakfast? How about haggis? What about kippers? I am hesitant to talk about the food since it seriously makes me long to go back- I wasn’t sure if I’d like haggis or black pudding but I LOVED it. Having Scottish shortbread cookies with tea reminded me of my Gram, who I miss dearly and of course, I had to bring some home for my dad!
I also enjoyed some mince meat pies and Scottish salmon…and my fair share of local beers and whisky too…how can you not? If I had a piece of advice, make sure you allow yourself to try new things while in Scotland, you won’t be sorry! Plan your meals with as much thought as you give your tours, it’s worth it!
Also- Budget Traveller did an AMAZING guide to Edinburgh which was super helpful!
Take A Tour From Edinburgh To The Highlands
The Highlands, and really, anywhere outside of Edinburgh will leave you breathless. I took a tour with Heart of Scotland Tours and while we experienced some heavy rains before the trip which meant our trip was a bit unorthodox, it didn’t dampen the experience.
There is so much to see in Scotland, and honestly- just roaming through the hillsides, dotted by nearly a thousand million tiny waterfalls and quaint little towns, you will leave with an indelible impression of the gorgeous countryside that you’ll never forget.
Where To Stay?
If you’ve been hosteling through Europe, splurge on a stay at the Sheraton Edinburgh Hotel & Spa (where I stayed) for a day or two. The views of the castle, public spa area and the amazing tub with in-room amenities are worth a stay. The location is also smack dab between “new” and “old” Edinburgh (which are both pretty historic) and is just a quick jaunt over to the Haymarket station.
If you’re staying in Europe for 2 weeks like I did with a jam packed schedule, take at least an afternoon to rest up at your hotel room- with a view that cannot be beat! Recharging your batteries means you can go out there with gusto to track down the city’s best haggis (which I had 2-3 different times and still want to go back and figure out who makes it best!)
Did I fall in love with Edinburgh? You bet- but I also treasured the afternoon of downtime I had in the room, enjoying a hot bath and looking at history from my window.
Every good vacation is a mix of action, exploration and simply- taking a minute to slow down and live in the moment…which luckily I allowed myself a bit of both on my visit. I already cannot wait to go back to Edinburgh, it’s a city like no other!
Disclosure: Thank you to visitScotland for being a resource for me in planning this trip, and also when possible, helping me make arrangements. All opinions are my own.