I had heard mixed reviews of Edinburgh. Some had told me it was absolutely enchanting and worth multiple day stay. Others told me it was a boring playground for rich old people. Today we were to form our own opinion!
Our drive to Edinburgh brought us through Inverness. The city was mentioned often in one of my favourite television shows (Shetland) so I was excited to see it. Iverness turned out to be the biggest city we’d seen since Glasgow! The little we drove through had a very suburban feel to it. There were gorgeous stone row houses with pretty little gardens. The city was drab and lovely all at the same time – how is that possible?
On the A9 highway, a 4-lane divided highway with 130kph speeds, we saw two signs placed apart that read “HIGH SCHOOL CROSSING Please cross with care.” We couldn’t imagine crossing a four lane highway with cars zipping by back home. Whoa!
Cairngorms National Park
We drove through the Cairngorms National Park on our way from Loch Ness to Edinburgh. The National Park from the highway was a little unimpressive after the Skye and Loch Ness. There were evergreen forests, rolling hills of farmland, intriguing ruins, and grand houses. We were surprised to see a National Park being used for cattle and sheep! There was industry and villages inside the park too – different than parks back home!
Old Packhorse Bridge
One of the top things to photograph in Scotland is the Old Packhorse Bridge in Carrbridge. It is the oldest stone bridge in Scotland, built in 1717 – which is very old by settler-Canadian standards!
I was delighted to find it has two unobstructed views that are perfect for picture taking. No people wandering into your shot either – just the bridge, trees and water! I was quite pleased.
We stopped for ice cream at the Carrbridge Kitchen. For £2.50 each we got a scoop of Isle of Arran Ice Cream, a local Scottish Dairy. It was delicious! Perfect for wandering about town admiring the little country cottages (and a Shetland pony too!).
Continuing our drive through the National Park, we saw an interesting set of ruins atop a mound. Had we not been pressed for time for our AirBnB checkin, it would have been fun to stop! They’re called the Ruthven Barracks, built in 1721 where a castle had once stood since 1200’s! Even more impressive is that my research said the mound was natural! Hard to believe looking at it – it looked like a perfectly shaped giant pile of dirt.
BBC Radio 3 appeared to be playing choral music all day, which was fine for me but not for the driver. So we put Jain’s new album on as I googled the various questions we had about Scotland – like why every building was whitewashed, how speed cameras work, and the trees in the area (when we had service).
Cellular service was intermittent even though we were on the main road in civilization. The highway switched back and forth between four lanes and two. We had sunshine for most of the drive – a rarity in Scotland!
We stopped in Pitlochry for coffee as we were both feeling tired. Stewart had recommended the village to us, advising we avoid Perth as it was very confusing to navigate. It was a very touristy town but still quite sweet despite the crowds.
We were greeted by bagpipes as we strolled into town. Turned out to be three young boys busking – two on drums and the third on the pipes! They stood below a Celtic cross in memorial to the fallen soldiers of WWI with a garden in bloom behind them.
A lot of places downtown were closed as it was after 4:00pm on a Sunday. We stopped into Cafe Calluna for coffee and a yogurt flapjack cake to perk us up. We could still hear the bagpipes over the babble of people.
AirBnB in Edinburgh
Our AirBnB in Edinburgh was in walking distance to the city centre and apparently a trendy, up and coming area of Leith. We parked our car on the street and I was a bit nervous when we first entered the apartment building. The walls had big holes in it and peeling red paint brown from dirt. The apartment we were staying at was in stark contrast to all this! It was clean, bright, modern, and recently renovated and decorated to all the current trends! It was gorgeous!
Our room was spacious with a window bench that overlooked the courtyard. The bathroom had a deep bath tub, a rain shower head, a hand-held shower, and of course the European staple we have come to love so much: a towel warmer!
Dinner in Edinburgh
I fancied a traditional Sunday dinner of roast beef and vegetables. Our host recommended Chop House, her favourite restaurant in the area. However, the waiters were in dispute whether they could seat us. One put us at a table while the other was still in doubt, and at first asked us to move. They discussed behind the bar as we waited for their verdict. Another waiter came by to take our water order, but disappeared after we asked for tap and didn’t return to fill our glasses. I felt very underdressed as the place was quite chic. Another well dressed couple came in and were seated at the bar across from us. I was concerned we had been given their table! So, we vacated the premises.
Nobles Cafe Bar & Restaurant
I had my heart set on a roast beef dinner in a cozy pub, but Yelp and Google wasn’t giving us any bites. We wandered around aimlessly, hungry and anxious before we saw Nobles. They didn’t have a Sunday special or roast beef, but it had a high rating on Yelp and looked reasonable.
Entering the door, there was a giant photo of the pop star Bjork with a polar bear. Matt took this as a sign. Furthermore, the menu had truffle oil and rabbit in the menu – two of my favourite things. The waiter was very friendly and laid back, sitting us in a cozy, quiet corner by the fireplace.
We ordered the steamed Shetland mussels to start. I was cranky and famished, so they brought out the bread first so I’d have something to eat, which we appreciated. The mussels were served in a cream sauce with lemon and chives, and not one middle was bad! We then ordered the cheapest main – burgers with rosemary chips. I got the Black Isle beef burger and Matt got the vegetarian haggis and beetroot burger. He declared it to be the best vegetarian burger he has ever had – and he’s had many! I concurred – the bite I had was delicious!
The interior of the restaurant was all rich brown wood paneling with moulded detailing around the ceiling and a blue and gold mural of ships round the top. It looked very old! Matt was enamoured with the pop culture references and art on the walls. We asked the waitress what the place had been before. Apparently it was once a wine merchant, then a strip club before it was turned into a restaurant ten years ago!
Edinburgh at Night
After our amazing dinner, we walked towards Calton Hill to see the city at night. There were lots of drunks on the street even though it was 8pm on a Sunday, and one even tried to pick a fight with Matt! We got lost trying to find the Hill and didn’t feel comfortable walking through an unlit park at night in a place we didn’t know, so headed back home to bed.
Morning in Edinburgh
We had breakfast at our AirBnB and checked out around 9am and walked up to Calton Hill. From there you could see all of Edinburgh and islands in the distance! Matt loves to take a good panoramic photo on his iPhone – and me, well, I am up for any opportunity to take a good shot! The hill is also home to the Scottish government, many monuments, and has played an important role in Scottish life since prehistoric times.
The Edinburgh Castle is one of the top tourist attractions in Scotland. It was a royal residence from approximately the 12th century to 1633 before becoming military barracks. It is said to have been sieges 26 times in its 1100 year history, making it one of the most attacked places in the whole world! You wouldn’t think it now with all the tourists clambering about it.
Next we went to the Royal Mile and viewed the Edinburgh Castle from just inside the gates.Medieval Mile in Old Town Edinburgh is a favourite tourist spot and an World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It would have cost £18.50 to go into the castle itself. We were content with its outside walls.
We visited the Museum of Edinburgh (free!), saw the John Knox medieval house, the Scottish Poetry Library, and walked through an old graveyard. Matt found a tree with a plaque saying it was planted by Queen Elizabeth II upon her first visit to Edinburgh in 1952. I was too sick with a bad cold to fully appreciate it all – I just wanted to sleep!
For lunch, we went to the John Lewis department store. It had been recommended to us by a shopkeeper and turned out to be absolutely perfect! The fifth floor cafeteria had an excellent panoramic view of the city from above. We each got a hearty slice of rye bread and a hot bowl of soup with a glass of water for £11 total – felt like a real bargain for Edinburgh! The meal was superb – a hot soup was just what I needed.
The store itself was a delight for the senses. They had so many beautiful things! Had we more time, I would have liked to peruse the aisles of colourful handbags and tailored garments, but we were on a schedule. I pined over a bright red radio for £35 before heading on our way. I didn’t need a radio – even one as beautiful as it!
The Drive from Edinburgh to Glasgow
The two cities were very close to one another. It was like going from Toronto to Hamilton back home – but the character of the cities themselves were like Montreal vs Ottawa. You could totally work in Edinburgh and go see a show in Glasgow, then drive back in an evening.
I was happy to be returning to Glasgow. I felt at home there. I’m glad we saw Edinburgh, but I’m in no rush to go back. Tomorrow we go to our real home – Toronto! Only a few more hours left in bonnie Scotland…