When I found out I had been accepted into the AIFS London Internship program and that I would be studying abroad in Europe, I knew one of the biggest advantages I would have offered to me would be the ease of travel between country to country. It’s fast, easy, and so much cheaper than it is when traveling from the U.S. You’re able to choose from planes, trains, busses, and even ferries.
One of the first places that came to my mind that I knew I wanted to visit was Scotland. I have always been so interested in the country’s history, culture, and the beyond-gorgeous countryside views. From the traditional Scottish food, the kilts, the whisky, the roaring fields and rivers, to the breathtaking castles and palaces, Scotland is a country full of old-world beauty and culture.
Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland, so when planning my trip, I knew it would be the easiest city to fly into, with the most to offer in such a small time spent there.
This blog post is to help anyone wondering what they should do on their trip to Edinburgh or to inform those who have never even thought about it! There is plenty to do in two days, but Edinburgh is still small enough that you can cover it all. My advice, tips, and the details of our trip will hopefully help others make this amazing, sometimes overlooked, journey!
My roommate Brooke and I flew into the Edinburgh airport late on a Friday night and were able to get an Uber straight to our hostel. We stayed at the High Street Hostel, which is located right off of the Royal Mile, the central and most popular street in Edinburgh. This location was amazing because we were able to walk to EVERYTHING. I highly recommend this hostel. The staff was so accommodating, rooms and beds were clean and comfy, the breakfast was tasty and only cost £1.90, and for two nights it was only 40 pounds for each of us. Seriously, what a steal.
We felt that the easiest and most cost effective way to get around the city would be to buy tickets to a hop-on-hop-off bus that carried you throughout the whole city. With a 24-hour bus ticket, you were able to ride and hop on or off at any of the 14 designated stops the bus makes, for 24 hours. So, if you bought your ticket at 10 a.m, it would be valid until 10 am the next day.
Our tickets included fast pass tickets to the Edinburgh castle, which we were able to use any time that day. The bus ticket and the castle ticket together only cost £35, so it was much cheaper than hiring an Uber for any trip, and buying tickets to the castle without the affiliate discount.
Our first stop was The Scotch Whiskey Experience. This is an interactive excursion, which includes a barrel ride, video, and whiskey sample tasting. Scotland is known for their extensive whiskey brewing and distilleries, so this was a very cool experience to see what goes into making the whiskey, the different regions its made, and how important it is to the Scottish culture. Your ticket includes entry into the tour, a sample glass of whiskey, and a take away whiskey glass (there are different price packages, but we just did the standard and cheapest option). This was my favorite thing I did during my two days in Edinburgh.
Next we walked to Edinburgh Castle to use our tickets. This was such a time saver and made the process so much easier. We didn’t have to wait in any of the lines or fight the crowd to enter, so with our fast passes, we breezed through it all. The castle was breathtaking and an absolute must when you go to Edinburgh. It is located in the heart of the city, on a cliff overlooking the town below, and I’ve honestly never seen anything like it.
Inside the castle, you can see Queen Mary’s living quarters, the crown jewels, and actual weaponry used in the Scottish/British wars, along with much more. Inside the castle grounds, there are incredible views of the city and the sea, the oldest standing church that Queen Mary and other royals used to pray, and living quarters still used today.
We rode through the city, making a loop on the bus to see what the town had to offer. It was lovely to see the different parts of the city and hear the tour guide’s background info to it all. We felt this helped us be less stressed-out about trying to plan what to do next; we just hopped off when something at the stop interested us.
I suggest doing this and just walking around the central streets of Edinburgh. We walked up and down the streets and found the most quaint, local shops to buy souvenirs at, ones which we never would have seen if we hadn’t just happened upon it.
We strolled to the famous World’s End pub that holds much historical significance in Edinburgh history. When Edinburgh was a gated city and no one was allowed to leave, the pub stood not even three feet from the city wall, so the pub was literally “the end of their world,” hence the name.
We went to Palace of Holyroodhouse, the palace where the Queen and the royal family stays when she is in Edinburgh. She was actually in residence when we went, so we couldn’t go inside the palace, but were able to stand outside the gates and see it. It is surrounded by beautiful, wooded scenery, so it was easy to see why it’s said to be one of the Queen’s favorite places to stay.
While you’re next to the palace, it is smart to check our The Queen’s Gallery and The Scottish Parliament Building, as they are all in vicinity of each other.
Lastly, we went to Farmer’s Market to buy souvenirs, eat, and walk around the market place. This site was so cool, and it gave us a sense of what a regular Saturday in Edinburgh is like for the locals. I highly suggest this stop, as well!
We got up early on Sunday and rode the bus (still had time in our 24 hours left) and made the hike to Arthur’s Seat. We both were very excited about this and it did not disappoint! We had the most amazing view of the whole city and castle on one side and then the sea on the other; I’ve never seen such beautiful countryside. Allow about 2-3 hours for this journey though. By the time you trek up the semi-steep mountain, sit at the top and admire the view (and maybe take a few Instagram stories) and trek back down, quite a bit of time has passed by.
Next, we made our way to The National Museum of Scotland and Edinburgh Museum. Both of these stops were very informational and fun! I enjoyed the museums more than I thought I would, but they proved to be fun and interactive. If you’re a museum buff, you’ll love it, and if not, it’s still worth a try!
While walking to the museum, we were able to walk past the Greyfriars Bobby statue, a local treasure in the town. It is a statue of the beloved dog of Greyfriar Kirk. After he died, heartbroken Bobby would go and lay on his owner’s grave for years before he died too. It’s such a cool back-story to something so easy to miss.
Attention all my Harry Potter fans! Next, we went to The Elephant Café, the café where J.K. Rowling sat and wrote her thoughts and ideas about Harry Potter on a napkin. This was very cool, as I had always heard about it. Not only was it a HP lover’s stop, but it had amazing pastries, coffees and teas, so it’s worth a thought if you’re wanting to sit and grab treat!
Before we had to leave for the airport, we again, walked down the streets of Edinburgh to soak up its amazing, quaint energy. I can’t suggest this enough! I loved stumbling upon its hidden treasures.
Other honorable mentions would be to visit the Museum of Childhood, St. John’s Cathedral, The Edinburgh Dungeon Tour, Camera Obscura, and Waverly Bridge.
Food: Let’s be real, some of the best parts of traveling is the food. We ate at some great places while in Edinburgh, but Oink was my favorite—it is the best authentic Scottish roasted barbecue pork sandwich. It was amazing and I’m not exaggerating. The spices, juices, and smokiness made it some of the best meet I’ve had in a long time. Combined with their signature breading/stuffing, veggies and BBQ sauce made this sandwich unforgettable.
As you can see, we crammed a lot into two days, but it was very do-able. Edinburgh is a small enough city to fit everything you need to see into two fun days. I left Scotland feeling completely satisfied with what we had accomplished and seen. I now have a burning desire to visit the rest of the country and fall in love with its charm like Edinburgh’s.
I hope this list helped give ideas and sparked desire in others, because if you follow this list or a variation of it, I promise you will be as taken with it as I am!