Hairy Coo Fiona, Scottish Highland Cow

Three Days in Edinburgh – Scottish Castles, a Hairy Coo and Lush Landscapes

Posted on Posted in Itineraries, Scotland
Edinburgh Castle Coat of Arms windows
One of many stained glass windows in Edinburgh Castle

For my Memorial Day trip this year, I decided a quick three days in Edinburgh would be a perfect diversion from my normal London visit.  I would still go to London for two nights before flying home to see friend. With such a short visit to Edinburgh, you’d think I would have done advanced prep but didn’t as it felt that I would wing it and be ok. Only a few days before arrival, I sent the concierge team at the Sheraton Edinburgh a note for recommendations.  For me, Edinburgh would be my base as I was keen to explore away from the city.  The concierge team advised a bunch of restaurants, a few tours and local attractions. Looking at my weather app, it proposed sun for two of my three days so I figured best to take advantage of the good weather and go from there.





Day One in Edinburgh – Castle, Closes and Steak Night

Arriving near noon from my overnight flight from Philly with a connection through Heathrow (note for future, to fly direct), it was near noon when I arrived at the hotel.  While I noted in my reservation a request for an early check-in, I was prepared to drop my bags to go explore.  Lucky day for me when told not only was my room ready but I was upgraded the SPG preferred floor with a view of Edinburgh Castle.  I was using my Starwood points for the three night award stay so the upgrade and better view were both bonuses.  After a much needed shower to wash off the travels, I was ready to go explore Edinburgh.

Sheraton Grand Edinburgh King Room
The King Room at the Sheraton Grand Edinburgh
View of Edinburgh Castle from the Sheraon Grand Edinburgh
View of Edinburgh Castle from my room at the Sheraton Grand Edinburgh

First stop food!  In the Festival Square area, there are many food options mostly U.K. chain restaurants and pubs but that provided me easy comfort as I was familiar with the names from London.  I easily slipped into a booth at Bryon and tucked into a burger and fries (the first of many “there are no calories on vacation” meals).  Healthy?  Not at all!  Tasty?  Absolutely.  Satisfied with my fueling, I walked about ten minutes to Edinburgh Castle (the concierge arranged the ticket for quick entry).

The Royal Mile of Edinburgh three days in Edinburgh
Edinburgh’s Famous Royal Mile

While you can walk the long way around to the bottom of the Royal Mile, I chose to go the slightly more cardio route which was through the streets to the first of many steps up to the castle entry.  Holyrood Palace, the Queen’s Scotland residence was closed during my visit or I would have started there and made my way up the Royal Mile ending at Edinburgh Castle.   Edinburgh Castle is quite steep with cobblestones so wear good shoes and tread carefully lest you twist your ankle or fall. With a good amount to see, I opted for the audio guide over the free guided short tour.

Edinburgh Castle hill Scotland three days in Edinburgh
Edinburgh Castle up on the hill
Scottish Guard at Edinburgh Castle
Scottish Guard at Edinburgh Castle

After spending time at Edinburgh Castle, I was intrigued by Mary King’s Close tour of the underground that Edinburgh was built upon.  If you’ve visited Seattle or Naples, the underground tours are somewhat similar and each a fascinating look at the history of the city.  For Edinburgh it’s all about the hills and steps and boy are they steep (working off the chips and the whisky no doubt).

Mary King's Close tour Edinburgh three days in Edinburgh
The Real Mary King’s Close tour of the underground – no photos allowed
Edinburgh close
One of many closes with a bunch of steep steps to get your cardio in Edinburgh

Back up in the sunlight, it was nearly 6 p.m. (the sun would set after 9 p.m.) and still hot (it was a high of 85 degrees during my visit which is unusually hot) so I walked toward Princes Street, home of shopping, outdoor pop ups and acres of parks.  With the amazing sunny day, it seemed that everyone was out of their house and enjoying the open spaces and sun with friends (and a bottle of wine) in the park.  As it had rained for nearly a week, the sun in any form was a highlight. Walking through the park was a nice contrast to the history you can view up on the hill.

Princes Park Edinburgh Sunny Day Three Days in Edinburgh
A beautiful day in Edinburgh to relax in Princes Park

As I rounded the street back toward the hotel, my loop of a half day was a good one – Edinburgh Castle, Mary King’s Close and Princes Street & Park.  Now for dinner, my feet basically stopped across the road from the hotel at The Beer Kitchen gastro pub on steak night and I went in to enjoy Scottish beef and would have a lovely conversation with an older couple from Missouri seated next to me.

Day Two in Edinburgh – Out to the Highlands & Stirling Castle

The concierge warned against the day trip to Loch Ness given the time on the bus and I agreed especially as I had visited Loch Ness more than twenty years ago – no monster then and I hazarded a guess no monster now.  I, instead, chose to visit the Scottish Highlands and Stirling Castle with Timberbush Tours (one of two small group tours recommended).  The sixteen passenger bus would have a fantastic day out of Edinburgh with a wonderful guide.  The agenda included the famous Forth Bridge, a boat ride on Loch Lomond, a stop to see a hairy coo named Fiona and Stirling Castle along with bad jokes, traditional music and a drive by of the Kelpies, a modern art structure of horses along the highway. It was still a long day returning to the city by 7 p.m. so I chose to eat at the hotel restaurant and call it an early night.

Edinburgh Forth Bridge Firth of Forth
The Forth Bridge, the railway bridge across the Firth of Forth not far from Edinburgh
Loch Lomond boat cruise Three Days in Edinburgh
Boat cruise on Loch Lomond in Scotland
Hairy Coo Fiona, Scottish Highland Cow
A Highlands Cow, aka the Hairy Coo. Her name was Fiona and she loves carrots
Scottish Highlands landscape photography
Gorgeous day to be out of the city in the Scottish Highlands
Scottish Kelpies horse head sculptures
Scottish Kelpies modern art sculptures as seen from the highway

Day Three in Edinburgh – Out to St. Andrew’s

The sun tried to stay but was overpowered by the clouds, grey and rains.  After having such a great small group tour the day before, I opted for the last seat on the tour to St. Andrews, famous for its university but more important for the origin of golf on the Old Course. The concierge did provide an alternative to take the local train for an hour and then wander the town (next time I’ll do that).  Once we arrived at St. Andrews, I was able to view the famous cathedral ruins and cemetery (the free part, opting not to pay the entrance fee further).  From there, I wandered about the university buildings before finding lunch at a cute café just as the sky opened up to pour out the rains. Arriving back at the pick-up point, across from St. Andrews Old Course, I was able to take a few quick pictures and see the happiest of golfers (mostly men) having finished their dream golf outing.

Kingdom of Fife landscape Three Days in Edinburgh
Along the coast in the Kingdom of Fife with a quickly diminishing sun
St. Andrews Cathedral cemetery
St. Andrews Cathedral and cemetery
The Old Course St. Andrews Three Days in Edinburgh
The Old Course at St. Andrews Public Golf Course

Back in Edinburgh, I was armed with a few great restaurant recommendations and in search of the oasis to Scottish foods and fun on Rose Street, a paved pedestrian only area of pubs, restaurants and shops.  The first recommendation, Wildfire, had a sign in the window “no bookings left for tonight”, another had a long wait and no bar for one, and the third was blah.  Using my backup list and Google Maps, I walked toward Waverly Train Station and then the Royal Mile area to find a few in the hidden streets and alleys and when I looked at the menus, I was blah about much of the offerings or the crowds waiting to get in.  I was now just hungry, tired and grumpy in that “I’ll just eat chips and wine” kind of way so found just that to feed my cravings.  Rather than go back to the hotel the easy way, I decided to walk that way and of course got lost, even Google Maps was like “Why don’t you listen?” so I hailed a black cab to haul me back to the hotel and say “adieu” to Edinburgh.

The Virgin East Coast Train from Edinburgh to London

Rather than fly back to London, I booked a first class seat on the Virgin East Coast train.  A nice 4.5 hour journey from Edinburgh to London.  Lucky me as the British Airways power outage and flight fiasco was happening at Heathrow so I managed to avoid that mess.  It was quite a pleasant trip with free wifi, movies via the BEAM app, food and drinks (no alcohol on weekends, boo!).

Virgin East Coast First Class Edinburgh to London
Virgin East Coast First Class from Edinburgh to London

Three Days in Edinburgh – Final Thoughs

So could I have done more?  Yes.  Seen More? Maybe.  Immersed myself in the culture and food scene? Absolutely. But my three days in Edinburgh was perfectly paced for what I wanted to do which was revisit the city after a twenty year hiatus. Castles don’t change, Lochs don’t change but I have changed and now my time is best spent with a mix of sightseeing, relaxation and comfort (note: I would have added whisky tours/tastings but sadly was still on meds related to my bug incident from last month so my drinking was severly curtailed which also affected my mood for nightlife). I feel that I could appreciate the history, the beauty and the culture so much more now than when I was just out of college and seeing things for the first time. You could spend a whole day just shopping in Edinburgh if that’s your thing, a day enjoying the many unique restaurants and chefs that the city celebrates.  My three days in Edinburgh were castles, a hairy coo and lush landscapes and that was a nice treat to remind me to come back later to explore Scotland more in depth. Reminder noted.

Stirling Castle view
View from Stirling Castle on the Highlands Tour of Scotland

Have you visited Edinburgh?  If so, what were your highlights? How would you spend Three Days in Edinburgh?

5 thoughts on “Three Days in Edinburgh – Scottish Castles, a Hairy Coo and Lush Landscapes

  1. Sounds like such a relaxing trip to Scotland! I’m going on a Timberbush day tour for the first time soon and am very excited. I also did the Loch Ness day tour with Rabbie’s before and really enjoyed it. It was a lot of time in the car, but it was November, so the entire long drive back was on the dark – I had a nice snooze 🙂 Have you ever been through to Glasgow? Also a great day trip from Edinburgh!!

    1. I’ve not been to Glasgow yet – it’s on my list on my next visit to Scotland to stay longer. Rabbie’s was booked up when I was looking which is why I picked Timberbush – as both are small busses of 16 passengers, the guide is key to the experience. I hope you enjoy your visit and Timberbush tour. I did Loch Ness a long time ago and it was a long day in the bus, as I can’t sleep in planes or busses, I envy those who can.

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