City Exploration · United Kingdom Travel

Edinburgh – A Tale of One City: Two Perspectives, Part 1


“This is a city of shifting light, of changing skies, of sudden vistas. A city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again.”


Alexander McCall Smith

Three flights, and two layovers later, and I was almost regretting my decision to land directly into Edinburgh instead of London Heathrow and taking the train north. At London Heathrow where I went through customs, I carried my luggage up the jet bridge after being coached to the propeller plane that would take me to Edinburgh Airport. I had sighed when realizing my assigned seat was next to the propeller. My feelings immediately changed when the short flight began to descend and I could see an entirely different atmosphere – vividly green with rolling hills, and miraculously a clear sky revealing the city. It was truly a good omen to arrive in such pleasant weather in Scotland and I knew I was in store for a treat.

How to get to city center? Where to stay?

As far as getting to the city center from airport – Edinburgh has several affordable options of getting from airport to the downtown Waverly or Haymarket/Princes street. There is an Airlink bus that is a steal at as little as 5 pounds per person one way, and there is alternately a tram just outside the entrance to the airport that I regrettably learned was the rather slow and methodical way of getting downtown. It was, however, also affordable and a good way of seeing what parts of the city I would be interested in exploring. I chose to stay central – and wound up choosing budget friendly but very accommodating Motel One off of the Royal Mile. They have a 24/4 front desk, bar, and lobby area with plenty of places to lounge. It was a great location and at most a two or three minute walk from Waverly train station and adjacent to Advocate’s Close. A “close,” is an alley way in Edinburgh often times up a significant length of stairs that similar to particular one would take you to a central part of the Royal Mile. Climbing up Advocate’s Close takes you very close to St Giles Cathedral. Edinburgh is littered with them, and if you press here, you can check a list of “closes” off of the Royal Mile.

One of the “Closes” next to my hotel
Edinburgh is a true “Castle on a Hill,” or in this case, a dormant volcano

Edinburgh Castle: The Trek Uphill

The first thing that I did after checking into my hotel was explore…When you have 48 hours in a city that seems straight out of an historical fiction or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel, you must combat jet lag by attempting to explore and walk by foot immediately. I did not realize in my overexcitement the challenge it would be combatting jet lag and fatigue to climb up to Edinburgh Castle from where I was staying at the Motel One. It was an uphill hike, and there is a reason that some may refer to Edinburgh as a calve-killing experience. The first thing I immediately noticed when making the ascent was the particular brutality of the wind and the mist that wasn’t quite rain but something that felt in between winter and spring. A local put it well when they informed me that Scotland often experiences three seasons in the course of a day, and being from the Midwest, that wasn’t completely a foreign concept to me.

Mons Meg cannon and I…

The cheaper way to do castles if you are staying for more than a day or two or anticipate going to at least two or three of the castles would be to research tour options, or research Scottish heritage passes. You can check out seasonal hours, and ticket prices at Edinburgh Castle‘s website. The complex of Edinburgh Castle, seated on the site of an 350 million year old dormant volcano, is more like a series of museums: the most interesting focal points to me being the National War Memorial of Scotland (no photography allowed), and St Margaret’s Chapel. It is a place where you can spend at least 3 to 4 hours exploring the fortress if not longer. Edinburgh Castle also houses the Scottish Crown Jewels and the legendary Stone of Scone, and a dog cemetery for fallen canine Scots buried in a plot of the Castle erected during World War II. For military buffs, the famous 15th century Mons Meg cannon gifted to James II, King of Scots (not to be confused with James II of England) is quite the behemoth.

View from highest wall of Edinburgh Castle
The Cemetary for Soldiers Dogs
St Margaret’s Chapel, oldest building in Edinburgh

Where to eat in Edinburgh?

After exploring Edinburgh Castle, I was hungry. One of the aspects that makes me nervous when solo traveling is figuring out which restaurant to select in a large and diverse city such as Edinburgh. First, I would always suggest talking with locals or even the front desk staff at wherever you are staying. Word of mouth is truly invaluable. Alternately, you can check out apps or food centered tours on sites such as City Pals, Get Your Guide, or Viator that have private and group food tours and options to link up with a local guide. TripAdvisor is good if you are weighing a few specific restaurant options and want to see people’s reviews. Another option is researching an area of town, and exploring around some of side streets – restaurants in the biggest tour hubs tend to be a little pricier and less of an authentic vibe. As with any big city – be aware of surroundings although Edinburgh felt quite safe in the areas I went to especially in the daytime as a solo, female traveler.

Interior to cozy Queens Arms Pub
Most pubs/eateries play on Edinburgh’s literary renown

I was fortunate to connect with a fellow travel enthusiast, Serial Jet Setter and at her suggestion we met up for dinner in Queens Arms Pub, a pub off of Frederick Street of which had a unique and inviting vibe. It was dimly lit, and decorated equally with Mary Queen of Scots memorabilia and books produced by local authors. Suffice it to say, it was a pretty good time. It was a place where locals would do trivia, and enjoy a Sunday Roast. We ended up ordering the same meal – falafel sandwich paired with roasted veggies including cauliflower. I wasn’t as familiar with blackening cauliflower and made the asinine comment of “the broccoli looks odd”, in which my friend looked in genuine astonishment whether or not she needed to distinguish that it was not in fact broccoli but cauliflower. Thankfully, I corrected myself in enough time, and she was happy to regard that as a side effect of the jet lag! I truly think if you are lucky enough to know somebody somewhere when traveling – make plans to see them. Sharing a meal and visiting a restaurant you may not have otherwise known about is a great introduction to any city.

Dinner at Queens Arms Pub

When I travel, I am on a genuine traveler’s high and like to see as much as I can with whatever time I got. I had only 48 hours in Edinburgh, and Scotland overall. So the next morning I decided to wake up early to explore some of the different areas I had seen photos of but wanted to experience with my own eyes including Circus Lane despite only capturing blurry photos. It was also the perfect time to capture and admire St Giles Cathedral without the throngs of tourists flocking around it.

St Giles Cathedral
Both “New” and “Old Town” Edinburgh are equal parts charming

I then walked on the downwards slope of the Royal Mile towards Holyroodhouse Palace and Abbey to continue my quest to see more “historic highlights,” and thoroughly enjoyed both of those attractions. It was easier on the legs than walking the uphill climb to Edinburgh Castle. I can also tell you that Edinburgh feels very safe from a solo traveler’s perspective to walk around in, and if you need a break on the legs or want to explore a different borough such as Leith, buses and public transit are readily available as is Uber.

Front entrance beyond the gates of Holyroodhouse Palace
The fountain in front of Holyroodhouse Palace

Holyroodhouse Palace and Abbey

Holyroodhouse Palace is where the Queen is formally welcomed when in Edinburgh. Although you cannot take photography in the actual Palace but you can around the gardens and the Abbey next to it. Pro tip: if you look on the back of the ticket when buying admission at the Palace, if you select and notify the staff at time of purchase to consider the admission a donation you can returned for admission the rest of the year as a sort of annual pass. I certainly would take that up if having stayed longer. Do take advantage of the complimentary audio guide that gives you a “highlights” walking tour around the palace.

For history buffs or those intrigued by the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, – the quarters where she stayed the night her secretary Rizzio was murdered after being dragged from her tiny supper room is still there. There is a slight reddish stain from allegedly the dried blood on the oak flooring allegedly from that same murder orchestrated by Mary’s second husband Lord Darnley, and accomplices. You walk up the very same path the conspirators would have up a narrow, stone staircase into the outer chamber adjacent to where they were dining. There are also embroideries that Mary herself had done as well as other items such as a coin purse supposed to have belonged to the infamous queen.

Holyrood Abbey, originally founded by King David I of Scotland
Medieval Royalty were buried; commoners cremated, ashes stores in walls
Interior of the Abbey

The Holyroodhouse Palace gardens were closed the day I was at the palace, but the Abbey is the last stop in taking the audio guide around palace. It had been partially destroyed by a fire, but as you wander, you will find that you are wandering over the graves or both commoners and royalty – such as the ill fated Lord Darnley – himself. Keeping with the “spooky” and “historic attraction” theme, I ventured up to nearby Calton Hill and the Old Calton Burial Ground and Calton New Cemetery which contains a remaining structure of the former Edinburgh jail that was built centuries before on site. The graveyard and hill provide probably one of the best aerial views of Old Town Edinburgh as well as a glimpse of Arthur’s Seat which I did not climb for fear that I would require being airlifted down.

View from the cemetery

I got very lucky with the weather in Scotland that second day I was there. The weather was sunny and warm which makes the wind tolerable. I would highly suggest making sure you have the proper pair of walking shoes with padded soles because even I thought I had proper shoes – walking was still a challenge with both the steep inclines, uneven steps, and the cobblestone streets. Also, know your limits – I normally do 5,000 steps a day at as I work in an office but in Edinburgh wound up walking nearly 30,000 a day which was tough. Even with that step count I had elected not to do Arthur’s Close as I knew the rockier terrain and steep incline could negatively impact me with the altitude and I tend to be of a clumsier disposition so attempting that alone would have been foolish.

You never know what you can find…

One thing I enjoyed about strolling around Edinburgh was that I never knew what was to be found. I walked down one street and found a paper mache swan and multiple book exchange swaps for literary fans to exchange one book and leave one behind. There were also endless series of monuments paying tribute to Edinburgh’s iconic authors, economists, and politicians. One of the spectacular ones is the below pictured Burns Monument .

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Burns Monument

Day Trip Options

I wound up deciding to travel to Linlithgow and then Stirling in search of making the most of my time in Scotland and wanting to stray outside of the bigger city. These cities are both marvelous in their own right and less than an hour’s journey away. It is quite easy to hop on a ScotsRail train and buy a single or return ticket utilizing ticket machines or even your mobile device on some routes. * There are also tours that include Stirling Castle as part of a Castles tour, but many tours are lengthy and heavily itinerated with less time to explore the towns so it is best to rent a car or take a train to those cities especially since both Linlithgow and Stirling have centrally located train stations. It is also feasible to do as I did and visit both of them in a single day, and return to Edinburgh in time for an early dinner or sunset opportunity.

** With shorter routes you don’t save money by buying ahead – prices are stable except for during prime commuter hours Monday-Friday = 6-8 AM, 5-7 PM. You can also use Trainline and Omio for purchase single or roundtrip tickets, monitoring train times for delays and reroute

Mezze Plate a Laila’s Mediterranean

More Culinary Options…and a slice of Harry Potter

When I returned to town, I opted to visit Laila’s Mediterranean Bistro and ordered the mezze platter with deep fried halloumi with cranberry sauce, house made hummus, salami, and pitted olives. At the recommendation of the wonderful waitress , I also visited the Arcade Pub across the street and ordered haggis bon-bons and a Scottish Cider called The Thistly Cross. No Scottish culinary experience is the same without trying haggis although I will warn the reader – it is an acquired taste. If you are a fan of whiskey (of which I am not), Serial Jet Setter recommends Devil‘s Advocate (we had almost gone there instead of Queens Arms) also within walking distance of Waverly and most parts of Old Town. When wandering back for the hotel, I discovered a shop front that Harry Potter fans should recognize as a sly reference.

Haggis Bon-Bons at Arcade Pub
“Borgin & Burke’s” which some Harry Potter fans may recognize

Edinburgh truly is a mammoth city with incredibly rich history and with enough to do that I could easily have spent one or two weeks if not longer there. I would return in a heartbeat and feel that I could experience and visit an all together different part of the same city – Leith, and Portobello are two of the parts I would have loved to experience in depth in addition to the New Town and Princes Street. I do feel like it is a similar to Madrid in that this city is truly best experienced by walking, and by interacting respectfully with the locals whether on a walking tour (which I would have done had I more time) or naturally as you explore, shop, and sightsee.

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The Scott Monument


“Edinburgh isn’t so much a city, more a way of life… I doubt I’ll ever tire of exploring Edinburgh, on foot or in print.”


Ian Rankin

43 thoughts on “Edinburgh – A Tale of One City: Two Perspectives, Part 1

  1. Nice one, Kara! I so have to do Scotland & Ireland soon even though I lived in England for years. This is giving me serious nostalgia & Edinburgh Castle is a unique place to visit for its alleged hauntings.

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    1. Great read Kara! We have been to Edinburgh, but I’d like to go back and do a few of the things you mentioned that we didn’t do.

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      1. Thanks so much Miri! Edinburgh seems absolutely one of those places you could visit on two separate ocassions and easily do completely different stuff uniquely contrasting. I would have probably done one of the late night graveyard tours had the jet lag not crept up by the end of the day. There are a ton of free galleries and museums as well!

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    2. Yes! I still need to see more of the greenery of Scotland and Inverness is a dream. Ireland would be fabulous too – I think you and I have same idea of what is exciting when traveling with castles, spooky stories, and gorgeous churches! Where did you live when you were in England?

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  2. What a beautiful article Kara! I felt like I was there with you. The castles are beautiful! I totally agree with you about combatting jet lag. But it will catch up to you in the end. I’m adding this place to my bucketlist.

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    1. Thank you so much Jane for reading it! And yes, it wound up kicking me the second night in Edinburgh I went to bed at only nine and crashed! I think the castle that I am most excited to share in an upcoming post is Stirling Castle! It looks quite straight out if what in my imagination what a medieval castle should look like.

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    1. It is so so worth it and the audio guide is fab! I did notice it could actually close at a whim if any of the Royals including Queen and Prince Charles is so one of places you wouldn’t want to buy too far ahead! I wish photography was allowed in the actual Palace but I tried to depict as best I could how fascinating and yet creepy the remaining portions where Mary Queen of Scots had stayed were!

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    1. Thanks so much Lara! I am so glad that you took the time to read it and am so glad that you felt it captured Edinburgh! I think you will enjoy Part 2 as well which is being written by Bailey on her experiences visiting!

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  3. So enjoyed reading this, Kara! Glad you didn’t climb anything you had to be airlifted out of, and that you recovered so nicely from your cauliflower faux pas. 😉 Edinburgh sounds amazing, I love all the Mary Queen of Scots history and the literary history. Learned a lot more about it from your post. Congrats on a wonderful first article! Look forward to many more.

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    1. I am glad you understood my humor 😂! And yes, thankfully I did recover from my cauliflower mistaken identity. It is an incredible city and I would return further still to discover the Jacobite roots and wander around the Leith and Queensferry district. It is the world’s very first UNESCO World Literature site which I found interesting! Thanks so much for reading it, Cynthia, and thrilled to bits that you enjoyed it 💕

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  4. Good grief the place is beautiful! Love the photographs. What an incredible trip to have been able to take. So, so cool.
    Also, I really like the “frame” for the pictures. Adds to the reading really well.
    Great travel report!

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    1. Thanks very much for reading it! I am glad the frames fit well with the article, I had hoped it wouldn’t be terribly distracting. And I was so fortunate – Edinburgh is beautiful and I beat the odds and was able to experience it when it was sunny and mildly warm! Thanks again!

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  5. Great read!! I will definitely use this if I make it to Edinburgh this summer…the St Giles cathedral looks amazing and would love to explore both the old and new towns… Keep up the good work..
    Zarina (Zee xxx)

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    1. Thank you for reading, Zarina! And I hope you get to make it to Edinburgh. I feel like it is a great city to explore and so many little gems to be found even in the massive historic significance. And yes, St Giles is truly majestic and so unique compared to most Scottish churches architecturally! I couldn’t go in when I was there – there was service going on as well as some interior rennovation but would love to return to see the inside! Thanks so much for reading this 💞❤️

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  6. Enjoyed reading your post, Kara. So looking forward to visiting Edinburgh again for the Fringe this summer. Ms B & I think of Scotland as the UK’s best holiday destination and we usually try to visit the Highlands at least once a year. Looking forward to your next posts, good luck with everything.

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    1. So very glad you enjoyed reading it! And I bet that will be so wonderful, I have Edinburgh truly lights up during Fringe season. I can understand why – even from the parts I saw, Scotland’s greenery and beautiful landscape is beautiful and if I lived much closer I would return at earliest opportunity! Thank you so very much for reading this 💞

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  7. Loved the post. I love Edinburgh, it’s alleyways and it’s architecture. Interestingly I stayed in the a motel One opposite to Waverley Station and found it convenient. Looking forward to reading the next part.

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    1. Hi Usha! So very glad that you enjoyed the post and so happy that you took the time to read it! The Motel One on Princes was another place I thought of staying and I think I would to that next time although this one wasn’t too far from Waverly either! Did you find the accomodations nice? And I am excited that you are looking forwaed to reading part two. Bailey will be writing about her experience!

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    1. Thanks so much Alecia! That was exactly what I was trying to do – make it so that someone visiting could know a few highlights, or at least an idea of how to arrange a trip especially if with more limited time! And I am happy to hear that you learned a lot from it!

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    1. You would love the UK! Scotland and England are so very gorgeous. Every time you go into an old castle or palace it truly truly feels like a movie esque scene. A huge misnomer is that the UK doesn’t have good food But that is not true! So much variety although there of course are traditional foods too! And yes, Laila’s was amazing and I actually got a to go box of the hummus that night and I had smuggled it back to my hotel in my purse 😂

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  8. I have wanted to visit Edinburgh for some time now, the castle is high on my list for sure. It was a pleasure to read your post and you have inspired me to try and make my visit happen, thank you.

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    1. Thank you very much for taking the time to read this post, Robert! I am glad that you enjoyed it and that you are inspired to want to visit. My favorite thing about it is I believe honestly that everybody that visits that city can have an authentic, and truly unique experience and the people are wonderfully friendly in Edinburgh.

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    1. We couldn’t agree more! There is so much for people of all ages to enjoy about the history there, and so much to be seen. The Royal Mile is incredible even if it is hard on the legs at times! Thank you so much Annelize for taking the time to read and enjoy this post as well as commenting. We are checking your blog out as well!

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  9. I loved the honest first-person take in this post, Kara! I think it’s really important to assess individual situations and work within realistic boundaries so that travel is enjoyable, and not a burden. The pictures are breathtaking, and the food looks so interesting 🙂 Justin has tried haggis, but it’s a pass for me! I’m glad you were able to make so many fun Travel Tribe connections during your travels. Congrats on a great first post!

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  10. This was a great read and opening post to the blog! I love Edinburgh so much, hopefully I’ll be returning there this summer so I’ll keep in mind some of your tips that I haven’t done already. Hope you get a chance to return too! 🙂

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  11. HI there. Thank you for sharing your adventures and great ideas/suggestions. We were in Edinburgh for a couple of days several years ago, but didn’t get to see or do much sadly. I really looked forward to visiting again and exploring some of these sites on your post. Thanks for the info about the tram, etc. We try to take public transportation when we can. Thanks for sharing and happy travels.

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  12. Wonderful post on Edinburgh with such great information! I visited there two years ago and after reading your post I am wanting to go back!

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    1. There truly is something incredible about Edinburgh. It is one of those places that at least to me keeps me curious to return! I feel its a place there are infinite places to discover and I already long to go back too although I reckon it might be a little crazy trying to walk around the steep inclines in the depths of winter!

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  13. Edinburgh is perhaps the one city that we have loved the most among all we have visited. Your post is such a beautiful capture of this enigmatic & historic city. It actually brought a lump to our throats as we remembered our two visits to Edinburgh. Truly the place we will go to without thinking twice!

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    1. I can absolutely see why! There is something truly magical about it with all the history and wonderful people. I would absolutely go back again without thinking twice as there is so, so much to see and experience there!

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