Edinburgh is every architecture lovers’ dream! There are so many buildings, monuments, and castles to marvel at as you wander the city by foot. The panoramic views of the city from Calton Hill will leave you speechless. And the history of Old Town Edinburgh caught my attention, especially the myths surrounding Mary King’s Close. Plus, there’s plenty of shopping to be done – really, what more do you want from a city! I can’t wait to come back to Edinburgh one day because a weekend is not enough!
Edinburgh Castle sits on top of Castle Rock offering panoramic views of the city. I purchased an audio guide but due to time constraints, found the map to be more useful. My highlights were the Crown Jewels and the Scottish National War Memorial. The architecture of the memorial was detailed and elaborate – what a great way to honor the soldiers! As much as I love the royal crest, the State Apartments (Royal Palace) did not exude royalty like Windsor Castle and was fairly bare. I would highly recommend taking the complimentary guided tour first to better understand the history before exploring on your own (something I wish I did).
TIP: Make sure to stay for the firing of the One o’clock Gun. We went much too early to stay at the castle until 1pm but next time!
Yes, I know this is an American chain… but we had trouble finding a lunch spot without reservations. And you know what, it was my first visit and I really enjoyed the food here! I wouldn’t recommend it on your trip to Edinburgh but it’s a place I’ll go back to in the states.
To walk off my lunch, I went shopping on Princes Street. The street had popular stores like River Island, H&M, Top Shop, Zara, and Thomas Sabo. After feeling a bit old in Top Shop, I decided to skip the shopping and admire the beautiful architecture instead. I think the architecture in Edinburgh is comparable to that of Budapest, which is saying a lot! From Princes Street, you have a great view of Royal Mile and as you walk further towards Carlton Hill, you will also pass by Waverley Station and Scott Monument.
Going up to Calton Hill is a serious workout! I made the mistake of taking the stairs on Greenside Row, instead of walking up via Princes Street. The incline got my heart pumping and my knees hurting, but it was all worth it for the panoramic views! You will also find monuments like Dugald Stewart Monument, Nelson’s Monument, and National Monument of Scotland (an unfinished Athenian acropolis) at the top. As you walk around Calton Hill, you can also catch a glimpse of Holyrood Palace! This was my favorite spot in Edinburgh and I’ll happily hike up again for the view.
TIP: I went to Calton Hill around 3:30pm and ended up with backlit photos. I wouldn’t recommend coming at this time unless you plan on staying to watch the sunset (which would be beautiful from this spot).
This street between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace is lined with souvenir shops. I loved wandering the area and stumbling upon architectural treasures. I even stumbled upon Elephant Cafe – the supposed “birthplace of Harry Potter”.
TIP: You can go up to Royal Mile via the North Bridge or the stairs at Milnes Court (the two ways I used most).
St. Giles Cathedral
I stumbled upon this cathedral on Royal Mile. It is free to enter but £2 to take pictures inside. I opted not to take photos and just marveled at the high ceilings and stained glass windows. I love the detail that went into the interior and exterior of this building. For a cathedral, it felt a bit touristy with a souvenir shop and cafe. With that said, it is definitely worth stopping by!
Princes Street Gardens
On the way back to my hotel, I took a stroll through the gardens. It was very peaceful compared to Princes Street and you get a great view of Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile.
This is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland. I really enjoyed the audio tour through the palace. The walls are lined with tapestries and rooms are filled with unique pieces of furniture. Remember to look up because the plaster work on the ceilings is incredible! You also have the opportunity to learn more about Mary as you walk through the Bedroom of Mary Queen of Scots. Before leaving the grounds, I made sure to explore the destroyed abbey and the gardens on property. The palace may not be as impressive as Windsor but it’s certainly worth a visit.
Running parallel to Princes Street is George Street, lined with upmarket retail stores. It was on this street that I discovered the brand Jack Wills (just LOVE it). Other favorites included Lululemon, Mint Velvet, and Anthropologie!
For lunch, I made reservations to Gusto, a contemporary Italian restaurant on George Street. I ordered the Mussels Cooked With White Wine, Garlic Bread, and Duck & Onion Pasta. To my surprise, the garlic bread is shaped like a thin crust pizza and it was delicious! I love mussels but my dish tasted extremely fishy, like the mussels came straight from the ocean and onto my plate. Without complaining, the manager came by to ask me why I didn’t like the untouched mussels and even after admitting it was my fault, he still removed it from my bill! The good food and amazing customer service will keep me coming back.
TIP: Make sure to make reservations to popular Edinburgh restaurants or else it’s impossible to get in at the desired time.
Multrees Walk is the perfect spot for luxury shopping in the city, including stores like Harvey Nichols, Louis Vuitton, and Burberry. My bestie and I both happily bounced off with our Louis Vuitton purchases.
The Other Necessities
We stayed at Edinburgh Castle Apartments and Suites and it was the worst hotel experience I’ve ever had. My friend chose and booked the hotel for $565/night, thinking it was an upscale hotel close to Royal Mile. It wasn’t. We were given the room closest to the reception with no view. There was one bed with a nonexistent sofa bed. And the bathroom was in a separate, poorly ventilated room with lights that barely worked. Because of this experience, I will never blindly agree to a hotel choice again especially at such a high price.
Transportation to/from Airport
It is extremely convenient to get from Edinburgh Airport (EDI) to city center. We took the bus Airlink 100 for £7.50 round trip and it was a short 5 minute walk to and from our hotel.
TIP: Use google maps to find bus stop locations for Airlink 100.
Priority Pass Experience – No. 1 Lounge
While waiting to board our flight at EDI, we stayed at No. 1 Lounge thanks to Priority Pass. The lounge had soup, salad, and dessert options. Plus, you got to order one thing off the menu for free! There is also an open bar (minus champagne), water, and soda options. It was a comfortable experience!