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