Adventures in Edinburgh: Scottish Road Trip (Part 1)

We like to escape for the week-long May/June Whitsun half term holiday and after not really being able to get away in 2020 because of Covid-19 we decided to explore somewhere we’ve never been before: Scotland!  Scotland is a country of two halves – interesting cities juxtaposed with spectacular countryside and scenery – we wanted to see both.  We opted to spend four days having some adventures in Edinburgh before heading west to Loch Lomond for three days.

We’ve only ever done one city break with the girls before and that was exactly two years ago when we visited Boston, Massachusetts in 2019.  That was a ‘half-and-half’ holiday too – we explored the city first before heading to the beautiful beaches and countryside of Cape Cod to relax (and recover!) afterwards.  This strategy seems to work quite well for us as a family because it ticks everyone’s boxes of what they want from a trip.  I think it’s likely that we’ll continue to plan more travel in this way because it means we get to see the best of both worlds of wherever we end up.

 

HALF TERM ADVENTURES IN EDINBURGH

This was our first ever trip to Scotland and we couldn’t have been any more excited.  We’re so used to heading south towards our happy place in Cornwall that heading north instead felt like a grand expedition.  We figured it would be a good time of year to go and we were right – the weather was absolutely beautiful.  We were lucky enough to have blue skies and sunshine every day and not a single drop of rain.  I don’t think we could have planned it better if we’d tried!

There is so much potential for having adventures in Edinburgh because it’s such a historic city and it’s actually very walkable.  It was so hard to narrow down what we wanted to do in the four days we were there.

 

PLANNING OUR ADVENTURES IN EDINBURGH

I do extensive planning and research before every trip we go on, and this little adventure in Edinburgh was no different.  Even though it was only for a few days I really wanted to make the most of our time in the city.

Lonely Planet guides are always a faithful companion when we travel and this time I also drew inspiration from my friend Zoe, who lives in Edinburgh.  She blogs at My Little Wildlings and My Little Edinburgh and she has a vast array of suggestions for interesting places to visit as well as lists of the best places to get hot chocolate and ice cream.

We had a very long list of things we wanted to see and do whilst we were in Edinburgh and we pledged to work our way around as many of them as possible.

 

SATURDAY

We always leave our house at around 6am on the day we travel so that we get as much time in the place we’re going to as possible.  The journey north to Scotland is a little longer than we’re used to when we head south to Cornwall .  We made sure we packed all of the essentials for the trip – snacks, cameras, travel guides to plan our adventures in Edinburgh during breaks in the journey and hot drinks to keep us all awake – plus an updated family playlist on Spotify so we were prepared for all eventualities.

Road trip essentials

Thankfully the journey was smooth and it actually took less time than we had anticipated.  After marvelling at the stunning scenery as we crossed the borders from England into Scotland, we arrived in Edinburgh at about 11am.  First impressions… what a beautiful city!  We got some lunch and were grateful to be able to check into our AirBnB early.

It was such a gorgeous place – a top-floor apartment owned by an interior designer, so the styling was very detailed and with plenty of nods to Scottish heritage.  It was cosy, quirky, comfortable and bigger than I’d expected, absolutely perfect for our four days of adventures in Edinburgh.

The lounge at our AirBnB in Edinburgh was cosy and stylish

One of the bedrooms at our AirBnb

The apartment we stayed in was in Broughton, a suburb slightly to the north of city centre, full of eateries, bars, bakeries, florists and little independent shops.  It was close enough to be able to walk into the city centre in about 15 minutes and far enough away that we had some peace and quiet.  We picked up some basic supplies and spent the rest of the afternoon planning our adventures in Edinburgh for the next few days.

Cute little florist shop just up the street from where we were staying

I love researching and planning our travels and adventures as much as I enjoy actually doing them!

 

SUNDAY

After a comfortable night’s sleep, we awoke to a cloud of greyness outside the windows of our apartment.  Despite this, we stuck to our plan and headed eastwards in our car to Portobello Beach, just a 15 minute drive away, hoping it would clear a little.  It didn’t, but it didn’t matter – it all added to the atmospheric nature of this little excursion.

We later found out that this dense sea fog is called ‘haar’ – it happens when warm air passes over the cold water of the North Sea and then condenses before rolling inland with the wind.  It’s quite a unique phenomenon and it was pretty cool to experience it first-hand.

I was surprised at how busy it felt at Portobello.  I’d thought the chilly weather would have put the visitors off but the beachfront promenade was bustling with joggers, dog-walkers, tourists and families out for a weekend stroll like us.

We stopped at The Beach House Cafe and had ice cream at 10.30am (because why not?!): salted caramel; raspberry ripple and mint choc chip were the flavours chosen by the girls, who declared them to be utterly delicious.  There was a huge range of yummy looking pastries, cakes and drinks on offer too.

Ice creams devoured, we made our way onto the sand and headed in the general direction of the sea, unable to see more than a few feet in front of us.  We didn’t quite make it all the way down to the water – the tide was out and the girls got distracted with hunting for shells and playing in the sand, shoes haphazardly discarded.

We stayed until fingers, toes and noses went numb with the cold before returning back to our apartment with pockets full of treasures and a collection of memories made.

Portobello Promenade and the ‘haar’ rolling in off the sea

Playing in the sand at Portobello Beach

Drawing a heart in the sand is a family tradition

We stopped at The Beach House Cafe for a mid-morning ice cream treat

After a quick lunch at our apartment we set out in the opposite direction to the morning, on foot this time, and headed west.  We had tickets booked for the Royal Botanic Gardens at 3.30pm and wanted to explore a little bit further and have a few more adventures in Edinburgh ‘s different suburbs before we went in.

Our first stop was Circus Lane, which was every bit as quintessentially pretty and quaint as I’d imagined it to be.  Teeny cottages lined a curved, cobbled street; flowers were blooming in terracotta pots and window boxes; and colourful front doors offered a cheery welcome to the many visitors who’d had the same idea as us.  I can’t imagine what it must be like to live there with people peeking in your windows all the time.  Well worth a visit though – we were only there for ten minutes or so but as we left and stepped out onto a busy street thronging with pedestrians I felt warm and fuzzy, like I’d returned to real life after momentarily time travelling back to a bygone era.

Next we had a little wander around Stockbridge Market.  As it was later on in the afternoon many of the stalls were almost empty, having already sold the majority of their products.  That’s brilliant for the stallholders – I was really pleased that creators and small businesses do so well whilst simultaneously being kind of gutted that we’d missed out on what looked like some interesting items and yummy snacks.   Top tip: get there earlier in the morning when it first opens at 10am!  It’s only there on a Sunday.  If you miss out on Stockbridge Market, Grassmarket Market is open every Saturday, also from 10am.

I’d wanted to explore Dean Village too but we ran out of time before we had to head to the Royal Botanic Gardens.  We’re definitely going to have to come back and visit for some more adventures in Edinburgh again because that was one place I really hadn’t wanted to miss!

Wandering down Circus Lane – it’s so pretty!

Old entrance to Stockbridge Market

Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens are completely free to visit and I was so excited to explore them.  I grew up visiting Kew Gardens and National Trust properties with my parents so I love a good wander around beautifully landscaped gardens and green spaces.

Visitor numbers are limited each day due to Covid restrictions so we had to pre-book a time and date in advance.  I booked our tickets about ten days before we wanted to attend and there was already limited availability which is why our 3.30pm entry time was so late in the day (the gardens close at 5pm) – I’d been hoping to snag a morning slot so we could have as much time there as possible but there weren’t any tickets left.

It’s obviously a very popular place to visit and once we were in I could see why.  The rhododendron bushes were in full bloom, bringing gorgeous colour and vibrancy to the pathways; the glasshouses were magnificent (even though we weren’t allowed in); the greenery was lush and perfectly manicured and there were so many different areas to discover.

We stayed right up until closing time and would have stayed longer if we could.  We barely touched the surface of what there was to see so it’s definitely somewhere else we’re going to have to go back to for a return visit one day for sure.

The rhododendron bushes at Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens were spectacular

I would have loved to have gone inside the glasshouses at the Royal Botanic Gardens

There were so many different areas to explore within the gardens and they were all so varied from each other

 

MONDAY

Exploring the city centre and the Old Town was on the agenda for today.  An easy 15 minute walk from our apartment took us straight to Prince’s Street Gardens where we heard the unmistakeable sound of the bagpipes for the very first time on our trip.  We followed the music and came across a bagpipe player in full Scottish regalia, playing with all his heart and perfectly framed with a backdrop of Edinburgh Castle in the distance.

We’d had a fairly slow and quiet morning at the apartment after all the walking yesterday so it was pretty much midday by this point.  We decided to get lunch before heading any further into the maze of tiny streets and alleyways that make up the Old Town.  We made our way to Starbucks on Prince’s Street as I knew there was a fab view of the castle if we sat upstairs – the extensive research I do before every trip pays off sometimes when I manage to take us to cool little secret spots like that!

Absolutely thrilled to find this guy – his bagpipe playing was excellent!

A quick little rest before we moved on for more adventures in Edinburgh

View of Edinburgh Castle from Prince’s Street Gardens. The lilacs were still in bloom and it smelt heavenly.

Suitably refuelled with muffins and paninis and tea, we set off again for more adventures in Edinburgh.  I had a very rough route planned out to make sure that we saw all the things we wanted to see and at the same time I was also open to getting completely lost because I truly believe that’s the best way to get to know a place (and all of it’s hidden, little-known treasures).

We admired the Scott Monument, meandered back through the Gardens and up a hill where we accidentally stumbled across the School Of Divinity, a separate part of the campus of Edinburgh University.  It felt like we’d stepped straight into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and the girls were thrilled.  The architecture of the entire city is just phenomenal – tiny alleyways and steep streets and beautiful buildings are literally everywhere you turn and it’s just as important to look upwards as it is to look around you so that you don’t miss anything.

From there we moved on to Ramsey Gardens (where I immediately wanted to live because a/ such cute little houses and b/ the views) and then made our way up to Edinburgh Castle itself.  Sadly I hadn’t been able to book us tickets to go in and actually explore the Castle itself as they were completely sold out for the duration of our time in Edinburgh – I suspect they get booked up quite far in advance – but we admired the enormity of it from the outside and spent quite some time taking in the spectacular views across the city.  The girls were amazed to learn that Castle Rock, on which Edinburgh Castle is built, is actually an extinct volcano!

School of Divinity (aka Hogwarts)

Cute little houses in Ramsey Garden

Views of the city from outside Edinburgh Castle

From there we wandered down the Royal Mile, dipping in and out of secret side streets and making unexpected discoveries such as the Writer’s Museum (sadly closed – next time!) and pretty Ladystairs Close.  We paid a visit to beautiful Victoria Street (both levels of it – it has a terrace as well) and of course we had to go into one of the ‘Harry Potter Shops‘ and choose a couple of souvenirs.  On reflection, this one might have been a better choice as it solely focuses on Harry Potter whereas the one we went in had merchandise from other popular films and TV series too.  A quick stop to watch a street magician, an ice cream and then we headed back to our apartment for the evening, worn out and happy.

We had to pay a visit to one of the ‘Harry Potter Shops’ whilst we were in Victoria Street

After eating dinner and enjoying the evening’s installment of ‘The Masked Dancer’ which we watched all squished together on the sofa, I noticed that the sun was putting on a show.  I can never resist a sunset so I slipped out for a quick solo stroll to take it all in.

View of the sunset from our apartment

Had to go for a little walk so I could see it better 🙂

 

TUESDAY

Having spent yesterday exploring the city at ground level, I really wanted to see it from a higher perspective.  We debated whether to climb Arthur’s Seat but ended up opting for Calton Hill instead and I’m so glad we did – it ended up being my favourite thing we did!

It’s a fairly steep walk up but its 100% worth it because once you’re at the top there are spectacular 360 degree views across the entire city and over the Firth of Forth.  We were lucky enough to have a bright, clear, sunny day so we spent ages trying to spot all the landmarks we’d visited throughout our adventures in Edinburgh so far.  The summit is also home to a surprising variety of impressive structures – the National Monument and Nelson Monument to name just two.

It was quite busy with tourists but there was plenty of space and it felt good to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a short while.  10/10 recommend.

The walk up to Calton Hill is pretty steep…

…100% worth it though! The National Monument at the top of Calton Hill

Views out across the city towards the Firth Of Forth

Obligatory family selfie!

Nelson Monument

View from the other side of Calton Hill, looking towards Arthur’s Seat. We’re planning to climb that next time we have more adventures in Edinburgh!

Making our way back down to the city

We had a quick (late) lunch back at the apartment before heading into town again.  We’d pre-booked a 4pm slot for The Potter Trail and wanted to explore a bit more before we headed to the meeting place.

We descended the steep stone steps of Jacob’s Ladder with the intention of wandering down the second half of the Royal Mile that we’d missed the previous day in order to see Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh University (Ella has listed it as one of the universities she might like to attend in a few years time) and The Meadows.  Somehow we completely miscalculated the time though and ended up only having time for a quick ice cream at Grassmarket, an obligatory photo at the pink angel wings street art/mural on Candlemaker’s Row and then making our way to the statue of Greyfriar’s Bobby – the start point of the Harry Potter tour.

Jacob’s Ladder

I couldn’t resist a photo with the angel wings on Candlemaker Row

Greyfriar’s Bobby statue. His nose is gold because people rub it for good luck, so all the black has worn away.

The Potter Trail was excellent.  It’s completely free (they ask for a donation at the end) and public walking tours run at 12noon and 4pm between April and August, and 2pm only from September to March every day except Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.  As some Covid restrictions were still in place when we visited, tour group numbers were limited to 15 people maximum but I think larger groups will happen once the rules are lifted a little.  Private tours can also be booked (charges apply).

Our tour guide, Richard, was very knowledgeable and full of energy & enthusiasm for all things Harry Potter related.  I thought that Ella and Mimi, our resident Harry Potter geeks, would already know everything but there were some interesting facts that even they hadn’t come across before.  The tour took us through Greyfriar’s Kirkyard and to many of JK Rowling’s favourite writing spots as well and lasted for about an hour and a half in total.

It’s tricky to say what age range the tour is geared towards – there’s something for everyone.  It’s fun for little ones (you’re encouraged to take a ‘wand’ of some kind, either a real one or a stick or pencil if you don’t have an actual wand) and you can cast spells as you walk around the city, making traffic lights change from red to green for example.  Lola was entranced by the whole thing, bless her, and said it was one of her favourite things from our trip.  Well worth doing if you have a Harry Potter fan in the family.

At the start of The Potter Trail. Our guide, Richard, was very knowledgeable and entertaining.

This cemetery was where JK Rowling drew her inspiration for some of the character’s names in the Harry Potter series

Numbers were limited to about fifteen people per tour

 

WEDNESDAY

It seemed like our time in Edinburgh went by all too quickly – there was so much we hadn’t had the chance to see or do.  Today was travel day – we checked out of our Airbnb apartment at about 9.30am and made our way westwards to our next destination – Cameron Lodges, nestled along the stunning shoreline of Loch Lomond.

Our check-in time at Cameron Lodes wasn’t until 5pm and it only took us an hour and a half to get there from Edinburgh.  It was such an easy route once we were out of the city and we passed through more spectacular scenery on our way – Scotland truly is a beautiful country.

As we had a few hours to fill we decided to head to Loch Lomond Shores first.  You’ll have to wait for my next blog post to read all about that though!

 

MORE ADVENTURES IN EDINBURGH

There were so many more adventures in Edinburgh that we wanted to experience.  Edinburgh Castle, Camera Obscura, Edinburgh Zoo and Arthur’s Seat, to name just a few…

I guess we’ll just have to go back for another visit one day and next time we’ll definitely stay for longer and explore some more!

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