“Travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer.”
The first time I read this quote, I remember getting the same feeling I used to get on the first day of school – butterflies in my stomach, heart beating out of my chest, flush in the cheeks. My mind starting racing through the list of all the places in the world I wanted to see: Paris, the pyramids in Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef. Ever since then, I’ve made it my goal to travel as often as possible and see as much of the world as I could. I’ve travelled through Italy with my mom, all over South Korea with Mike and places all across Canada and the U.S with friends and family. I’ve seen Tokyo, Venice and gorgeous islands in the Philippines and they have all been amazing experiences, but my latest adventure has to take the cake.
Just last week I returned from one of the most wonderful and exciting trips I’ve ever taken. Yes, I happen to say this every time I come back from a vacation, but this time I swear it’s true! Our trip was ten days in the beautiful country of Scotland, with a few days in England to visit family. We ate amazing food, saw fantastic sites and immersed ourselves in the overwhelming beauty of the countryside. There were so many things that we did and saw, it’s too much to put into one post, so I’m dividing our trip into three sections. Today, I am happy to share all the details about the first part of our trip: Edinburgh.
We left Canada on the red eye from Toronto to Glasgow, which had us landing at 6:30 in the morning. After a very brief reunion with some family who picked us up at the airport and drove us to the train station, we were off on the 8:30 a.m. train to Edinburgh. This brought us into the city bright and early at 9:30 a.m. leaving us the entire day to explore.
The weather was sunny and warm (and very un-Scotland-like!) which made it the perfect day to take in some city views. We found an adorable apartment rental located in New Town (which is still hundreds of years old) and only a ten minute walk from all the major city attractions. We wandered around the city, pausing to take in the gorgeous architecture and snap photos. We headed towards Princes Street Garden to take in the breathtaking view of the beautiful gardens at the base of Edinburgh Castle, a formidable fortress that looks as though it was born from Castle Rock, the dominating cliff overlooking the city. The walk to the castle went by quickly as we passed The Mound and The National Gallery. The streets were lively and full of people who had flocked to the city to participate and witness The Military Tattoo and Fringe Festival and everyone seemed to be just as in awe of the city as we were.
The castle sits at the top of The Royal Mile, a street that runs the length of Old Town with the castle on one end and Scottish Parliament and Holyrood Palace on the other. The views from the castle are breathtaking and if you’re interested in history, there isn’t short supply. We spent about an hour or so walking around the castle grounds, taking photos of the city and working up an appetite. For lunch we stopped in at a great pub near our apartment for 2 for 1 pizzas and beers. After lunch, we continued to walk around the city, popping in to some interesting shops while we waited for our apartment to be ready for us to check-in. Once we did, it was absolutely essential that we napped or else we might end up getting a scenic tour of the Edinburgh hospital after passing out from exhaustion. We were certain we would emerge 30 minutes later feeling refreshed and ready to take on the city.
Well, what we thought would be 30 minutes ended up being 2 hours of blissful napping in one of the comfiest beds I’ve ever slept it. By the time we woke up, we were feeling hungry so we headed back out for a casual dinner. One street over, the road was closed to vehicles for a Fringe event. There were a few different food stations with a beer tent, live music and an improv show gearing up to start shortly after we arrived. We chose to eat Chicken Udon noodle bowls with Pork Gyoza dumplings. Needless to say, it was the perfect end to our first day in Edinburgh.
We woke up on the second day feeling eager to take on the city. It started with a traditional Scottish breakfast at a cute café around the corner called Tani Modi. We added the most delicious chocolate croissant to give us the extra strength we would need for our action-packed day. Mike and I are not the type of people to park ourselves on lounge chairs on the beach for the day. We like adventure and exploring, and Scotland is perfect for this. Edinburugh, a thriving metropolis, is the best combination of bustling city streets, quaint and unique neighbourhoods and outdoor adventure. On this day, we were determined to see all three!
Our first stop was Holyrood Park to climb Arthur’s Seat, a 250m mountain on the eastern side of the city. There are various routes you can take up the mountain, some easier than others, but all of them lead to a 360-degree view of the city. While we were hoping to take an easier route, I’m pretty sure we ended up on the steepest, rockiest path. As it is with all things in life, anything worth having requires a little bit of effort. It took us about 45 minutes to climb to the top, adding in some stops for photos and water breaks. It required careful footing, but every few minutes when I’d look up from my feet, I saw sprawling grassy hills, patches of beautiful purple heather bushes and historic buildings way down below. It wouldn’t be Scotland if there wasn’t a little bit of rain, and the higher we got, the rainier and the windier it became which made it a little bit more challenging to climb the slippery, steep rocks all the way to the summit. But, once we got there, it was so worth the effort. We could see the entire city, all the way to Edinburgh Castle and beyond. It was incredible. Sitting on the top of that gigantic, ancient mountain, I felt completely at ease and beyond grateful to be there. It was the most perfect hike I’ve ever taken.
Once we made it down the mountain, the rain had subsided and we walked the entire length of The Royal Mile in search of lunch. We managed to find Cadenhead’s Whiskey Shop, a store specializing in unique and exclusive single cask whiskey. Mike, being a big fan of whiskey, was like a kid in a candy store, asking all kinds of questions, sampling different whiskies and getting all excited about the best way to use up our duty free allowance. We left the store with three bottles in tow and a little bit tipsy, headed for lunch to soak up some of the booze.
Being a Harry Potter fan, our trip to Edinburgh wouldn’t be complete without a trip to two of the Potter-est of Harry Potter locations in the city: The Elephant House and Victoria Street. The Elephant House is a small elephant themed café and restaurant that specializes in gorgeous desserts and is the self-proclaimed “Birthplace of Harry Potter”. J.K. Rowling spent many hours sitting in the café, gazing out the window at Edinburgh Castle while writing her early Harry Potter books. We stopped in for some Steak and Ale Pie before heading off to Victoria Street, Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley. The street is a winding road of colourful yet haunting buildings; you can practically see Harry and Hagrid walking the streets in search of Olivander’s wand shop or Flourish and Blotts for textbooks. We spent some time visiting Diagon House, a store full of Potter memorabilia and oddities of all sorts, before heading back to the apartment to get ready for a lovely Italian dinner and an evening of drinks at the pub.
Our trip to Edinburgh ended with a day of shopping at Primark, walking through Old Town and hauling our luggage through Waverly Rail Station. Though it was a short visit, it was the perfect way to start our Scottish escapade. So, off we went on the train bound for Glasgow for the next stage of our adventure.