Tartan, jagerbombs, lochs, and Harry Potter- What do these all have in common? My trip to Scotland.
Per usual, our journey began with a long bus ride to the airport. This time we were leaving out of Stansted, so we abandoned our trusted Terravision bus for an Easybus. It was a bit of a haul (about two hours) to get there due to rush hour traffic, so I was glad that we had left with plenty of time. Always be prepared for the unexpected, especially with traffic! Soon we were fed (Thanks to Leon- I had the Moroccan Meatballs Hot Box and it was very good) and on our flight to Edinburgh!
We landed pretty late so into a taxi we went, which cost about £24 for around a 25 minute drive to our hostel! Not too bad when split three ways. Under the recommendation of Lorcan, my ex-foreign exchange student who now lives in Edinburgh, we stayed at the Castle Rock Hostel. This place is AMAZING. Super fun, safe, and you could not ask for a better location. Central Edinburgh is pretty small itself and Castle Rock Hostel is located right at the top of the Royal Mile and is the nextdoor neighbor of the Edinburgh Castle pretty much.
Because t is so amazing, it gets booked up very quickly so we ended up getting 3 beds in a 10-bed co-ed room. There are options for all female rooms, rooms for single travelers or in small groups, so there are options for any kind of group (as long as you book early enough). I didn’t mind the 10-bed co-ed at all. It ended up being about 50/50 but the only time we saw people was when we came back at night or woke up. There are also lounges, a kitchen, and co-ed and female only bathrooms. Very clean and they played music in the bathrooms! Each room also had funny names. It was very cheap, run by attractive staff (which always helps), and I would highly recommend staying there.
With a good night’s rest under our belts, we headed out early in the morning to see Edinburgh Castle. It made the most sense to go there first because we were staying right next door and it ended up getting very busy by the time we left! Tip: The sooner you can get to a huge tourist thing, the better. Crowds will build up no matter what time of day. Also look to see if you can purchase tickets ahead of time!
Thankfully we had gotten there early enough and didn’t have to wait in a long line, but it was a bit expensive to get into the castle, around £15 without an audio guide. Those were an extra few pounds to rent. Upon reflection it might have been worth it, but there are lots of signs and plaques around the castle that give some basic information about the castle.
Located at the top of the Royal Mile and on top of a hill, Edinburgh Castle is a fortress that was built in the 12th century and has been used as a royal residence, prison, and now is home to a the National War museum of Scotland, Scottish National War Memorial, the Honours of Scotland and the famous summertime Edinburgh Military Tattoo. We mostly just walked around and went through the different buildings, including a very old chapel, the War Memorial (which you aren’t allowed to take photos of), and a banquet hall. It was all very surprisingly ornate for such a rustic, rough and tumble exterior.
It’s pretty much exactly what you think of when you think of a Medieval fortress. That, or Game of Thrones. Sturdy stone structures, a bloody history, and some beautiful jewels! The Honours of Scotland are more commonly known as the Scottish Crown Jewels. They consist of the Crown, the Sceptre, and the Sword of the State. The Honours have had a rather turbulent history, having to be hidden under the skirts of a woman while the castle they were in was being invaded and then stored in a chest and almost forgotten about before being put on display and then hidden again during World War 2! They were taken out in 1952 and presented to Queen Elizabeth before being put on official display in the Castle. Along with the Honours is the Stone of Scone (or known as more epically the Stone of DESTINY), what is believed to be the stone used for coronation ceremonies of Scottish monarchs and eventually British monarchs when the stone was moved to Westminster Abbey for a while until it was stolen by some students and then brought back to Westminster before it was finally returned in 1996 to Scotland. There is a whole exhibit about the Honours and the Stone at the castle and you’re not supposed to take photos of them, but I managed to sneak a little one!
There was also a ton of cannons, and a cemetery dedicated to the dogs of soldiers:
So essentially, the castle has something for everybody! Definitely a good way to spend the morning, we were there for about two hours, and it was worth the admission price.
By this time we were pretty hungry and one thing that Edinburgh is well known for, oddly enough, is being the birthplace of Harry Potter! Where is this place in particular? The Elephant House Cafe. J.K. Rowling first started writing her acclaimed series in this adorable little shop. Located about a 15 minute walk from Edinburgh Castle, this place is not to be missed for both Harry Potter and cafe fans alike. There are a ton of elephants EVERYWHERE in the cafe and the food was delicious and very well priced! Also check out the sign they had on the counter…
My homemade steak + ale pie was £6.25 and came with a ton of mashed potatoes, and then I also got a cappuccino with the cutest design for the usual price of £2.50. My friends and I got a couple of slices of cake to share, so I picked a lime + coconut one that ended up being £3.25. My pie was probably one of the best things I’ve eaten while abroad. Perfectly hearty and warm for the cold weather without feeling like I had eaten a lump of clay.
The best part though, surprisingly enough, was the bathroom. The entire thing was FILLED with Harry Potter themed graffiti. My personal favorite was the one that said “Ministry of Magic this way” above the toilet.
We soon had our fill and the cafe was getting very busy, so we left and embarked on our journey down the Royal Mile! Acting as the main street in “old town” Edinburgh, it runs between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace, the official lodgings for the Royal Family when they visit Edinburgh. It’s very hilly, but thankfully we were going downhill! The mile is littered with cashmere shops, pubs, and souvenir stores. We stopped in a few and milled about, enjoy the culture, and ended up at St. Giles’ Cathedral.
St. Giles’ is a pretty iconic building in Edinburgh due to its crown-shaped steeple. It dates back to the 14th century and is named after Saint Giles, the patron saint of Edinburgh. It is absolutely beautiful inside, very different from most of the churches I’ve seen so far, and free to visit, so well worth a pop inside to peek around!
Finally, we reached the end of Royal Mile which meant one thing and one thing only: Climbing Arthur’s Seat. Surprise surprise, I’m not known for my athletic abilities so I was dreading this part a little bit, but it actually was pretty fun and not too bad a climb! There are many different paths to get up the giant hill plopped in the middle Edinburgh, we took the path from the east which is a more gradual ascent. It took us about 2 hours to climb it due to lots of stopping to take photos and take in the sites, but I think would only take about an hour for most climbers.
It was about 5:00 pm by the time we got to the bottom, so we headed back up the Royal Mile a little until we got to Princess street, which is located in the “new” side of Edinburgh. I use quotation marks because that part of the city is still hundreds of years old. Princess street was fine, basically just a lot of shops and department stores, but that’s where we met up with Lorcan for dinner!
We ended up heading back to the “old” town to Cockburn Street (pronounced CO-burn, FYI) for some pub fare at the Malt Shovel Inn. We wanted some traditional food, so a pub was the best place to go. I ended up getting another pie to test the difference between the two, and they were actually different! This one, for one, came with chips and was definitely a lot denser than the one from Elephant House. Still good, just different!
The night was spent drinking, catching up, talking about TV shows, and getting introduced to the game “What Are the Odds?”. I’ve played it a few times before, but not in years. Essentially, somebody asks another player “what are the odds that you’ll _____”, and then that player responds with “___ out of 10”. The remaining players than go “3…2…1” and then say what their odds out of 10 would be for completing that dare! If their answers match, then the player has to fulfill that dare. We played a few simple rounds, and the Lorcan ended up buying us jägerbombs via both the game and his own choice. Not your usual pub drink, but pretty fun and good?? It reminded me a lot of being back at Fordham…
ANYWAYS! We ended up staying at the pub for about 5 hours until we finally headed back to the hostel. It was amazing to catch up with Lorcan and hopefully he’ll be back in Jersey soon!
Day 2 started out very early, because we were heading off to the highlands on a bus tour!!! We booked our trip through Rabbies, which offers a number of tours around Scotland. For £45 each, the tour was a 12 extravaganza through the Highlands, a brief stop in Glencoe, and most importantly… LOCH NESS! That’s right, we were basically monster hunters.
Our bus was a mini bus and brand new, very comfortable. We commandeered the 3-seater back row, which ended up being perfect. Our tour guide Mav was very friendly and very knowledgeable, though I wish he had worn a quilt like the other guides He went through a lot of history in the beginning of the morning before our first “comfort stop” aka toilet break about an hour into the trip in a little town which I don’t remember the name of. I did, however, pop into a bakery and get a fresh baked scone! I have had quite a few here and I have to say that they have all been fairly different from one another, though all delicious.
Soon it was back on the bus! We stopped a few more times to take photos along the way at some lochs and Glencoe, one of the most historic and famous glens in Scotland. It was there that we found a mn bagpiping in full Scottish garb! It really added to the breathtaking views (even though he wasn’t the best bagpiper out there. Our tour guide agreed).
We were very lucky that it was so sunny and nice out! It was about 12:30 pm when we finally arrived at Loch Ness. Spoiler Alert: I did not see Nessie. I know, I’m just as disappointed as you are. It was an absolutely beautiful lake though and we ended up getting lunch at a little lake front restaurant. I wouldn’t recommend it. Overpriced and not very good, but the views were great! Here are some photos from our time at Loch Ness:
We only had about an hour and a half there and to be honest, I would have liked more time there in order to explore a bit more. It wasn’t enough time to eat and explore. We stopped a lot of times on the way back from Loch Ness for comfort breaks, which I could have done without because the total travel time wasn’t that long. That, and I learned as a kid to hold it in! I did try Irn Bru, the top selling soda in Scotland even over Coke (the only country in the world where Coke isn’t the top seller), and found it to be basically bubble gum in soda form. Not terrible, but definitely not an everyday drink in the slightest!
Here are some photos from the trip back before it got too dark:
We arrived back in Edinburgh just before 8:00 pm and set out in search of dinner. We settled on Bella Italia, located on the Royal Mile. For some reason, Italian just seemed to be what we all wanted! I ended up getting a lamb ragu pasta and a Stella Artois Cidre which was delicious! The pasta was fine, nothing to rave about.
At last, it was time to head back to the hostel. We had an early morning flight on Sunday because it was by far the cheapest, so we had an early bedtime! Overall, I would give Edinburgh about an 8.5. Very fun, lively, and an approachable city, but it is a bit small and the admission prices to attractions can be pricey (We didn’t go into Holyrood Palace or Mary Queen’s Close because they were both expensive). The more traditional food was great though and there definitely is a distinctive Scottish culture! Nonetheless, it was a great, easy weekend trip with the girls that I loved.
I won’t be traveling for some time now, so stay tuned for some more London and England adventures a more comprehensive rating of my trips!