We met up with family visiting Edinburgh, Scotland in October and enjoyed a nice long weekend. We were there right before Halloween. This was a perfect time to visit this city which is rich with a history of spooky folklore including witches, grave robbers, flesh traders, and more. With gray, damp weather and dark, old buildings, it was easy to picture what life has been like in the city through many different periods of time. You can sense the history all around you in Edinburgh.
Where We Stayed
We stayed at the Fraser Suites Edinburgh. This hotel, just steps off the Royal Mile is in a great location if you want to be in that part of the city. It’s in a cool old building that used to house a newspaper business. The staff there was very nice and helpful. We used the concierge, Kevin’s, assistance for quite a few things and were never disappointed.
They had a few extra details I appreciated. One was that they had a few bookcases in the lobby stocked with a variety of books for guests to peruse and presumably borrow. The other was that they had printouts of maps with detailed self-guided walking tours of the city available. These were handcrafted by someone local, not mass-produced brochures plastered with local advertisements.
Our only complaint was related to our room. We had a suite with a kitchenette and were also positioned over a restaurant. Between the lingering scent of a meal cooked by previous guests and the wafting smell from the nearby restaurant, our room always had an odor to it. The hotel did their best to address the issue for us with air fresheners and extra cleaning, but it never fully went away.
What We Did
With our hotel essentially being on the Royal Mile, we never really left this historic, yet highly touristy, center of town.
At one end of the Royal Mile sits Edinburgh Castle. We spent half a day touring the castle, enjoying beautiful views of Edinburgh all around us. You could definitely spend a full day at the castle, but it was very cold, wet, and windy when we were there, and one of our family members has mobility issues, so we didn’t stay as long as we could have.
Some of the highlights at the castle are the One o’ Clock Gun (a canon that shoots every day at 13:00 hour/1 o’clock), Mons Meg (another canon, made in Mons Belgium, where my husband’s family lived when he was a child), St Margaret’s Chapel, The Scottish National War Memorial, The National War Museum of Scotland, The Crown Jewels of Scotland, The Stone of Destiny, The Prisons of War, the Great Hall, the castle’s state apartments, and the cemetery for soldier’s dogs.
The Castle offers guided tours, as well as self-guided audio tours. We opted for the audio tours. We also picked up a complimentary Castle Explorer Quiz for children. That and the audio guide kept our son interested and engaged during the visit.
Like much of Edinburgh, the castle has a lot of hills, stairs, and uneven cobblestones. They have assistance for visitors with accessibility concerns which we took advantage of and appreciated. If you need assistance getting around, you can ask for these services at the main castle entrance.
At the other end of the Royal Mile is Holyrood Palace and Arthur’s Seat. We took in views of the exterior of Holyrood Palace (the Queen’s residence in Scotland) on our way to Arthur’s Seat.
We were able to hike about half of Arthur’s Seat and took in some pretty good views of the city before having to leave to catch our flight home. I regret not giving ourselves enough time to make it all the way to the top, but we enjoyed what we could.
Halloween Underground Tour
As I mentioned, Edinburgh is full of spooky history, so ghost tours are readily available. We took an early evening tour, a special “Halloween Underground” tour, that was being offered by Mercat Tours. The tour mostly took us though some “closes” (the narrow alleyways throughout the city) and into the underground vaults owned by Mercat. The tour focused on stories of ghosts that allegedly frequent the area. The tour was just spooky enough for our son, who had begged to go on it. If it had been any spookier and we might have had a problem!
I enjoyed seeing a few quirky monuments in Edinburgh. One was the Greyfriars Bobby (a dog) statue outside of the Greyfriars Kirkyard. We enjoyed a spooky evening stroll through the Kirkyard as well.
The second was the Witches Well. Sculpted in 1894, it commemorates the hundreds of women who were executed or burned at the stake for suspected witchcraft in the city during the 1500’s and 1600’s.
There are countless shops along the Royal Mile, many of which sell the same merchandise, namely cashmere and wool scarves, sweaters, and other winter attire. Because I didn’t pack well for the cold weather we experienced, I did buy a new scarf, hat, and gloves! There are also plenty of whisky and gin shops. We did a bit of shopping in Royal Mile Whiskies for some local gin and gifts.
There was a nice, unique gift shop located in Gladstone’s Land, one of the oldest buildings on the Royal Mile. It was fun to shop here and feel like I was visiting a museum at the same time. I also enjoyed The Red Door Gallery on Victoria Street. They had some cute prints, cards, and other art and accessories. Victoria Street had some other fun stores, but we mostly window shopped.
Edinburgh is home to a lot of used bookstores. A few caught my eye on West Port, most notably Edinburgh Books. They had a big selection of Scottish authors and Scotland-related books. They also had a room full of sheet music which was fun to browse. I decided this was the perfect place to buy my son a copy of Edinburgh-born Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”. I talked myself out of buying a beautiful old copy of Stevenson’s “Travels With a Donkey” which I soon deeply regretted. I dropped the hint to my husband that this would be a great Christmas present, as Edinburgh Books does take mail orders, and he made me very happy on Christmas morning with it!
Where We Ate
There are a lot of dining options in Edinburgh along the Royal Mile. We had some great meals and some not-so-exciting meals.
We don’t usually eat huge breakfasts, so most mornings we just ran to a nearby Starbucks and grabbed coffee, muffins, and croissants. One morning, however, we did go to Saint Giles Café Bar right next to our hotel. They had some nice options for breakfast like bacon rolls, waffles, and croissants. I really enjoyed the special Edinburgh Mist hot tea (hot tea with steamed milk and cinnamon). My son tasted it and really liked it too, and is now apparently a tea drinker.
Deacon Brodie’s Tavern was a great spot for lunch. Their menu had lots of options including typical Scottish dishes and a lot of local seafood specials. They are a Nicholson’s establishment, so they also had a nice variety of gins. They had a kid’s menu with activities, and since we ate there on Halloween, our son got a bag of candy after the meal. He was happy!
My husband and father-in-law got a quick, to-go lunch one afternoon of pulled pork sandwiches at Oink. While it wasn’t North Carolina style barbecue that we are used to, they said it was good, and they enjoyed the variety of sauces to choose from.
We really enjoyed dinner at Ensign Ewart Pub. We were seated in a cozy little nook that was perfect for a cold night. We enjoyed their traditional Scottish menu. We had a gin tasting flight and tried their haggis, Scotch eggs, homemade soup, and a Scottish venison casserole. For kids, they had a sandwich bag with a sandwich, chips, dessert, and some activities inside. Everything was good. Their menu is small because their kitchen is small, but you can tell it is all fresh and authentic.
We had another amazing meal one night at Gordon’s Trattoria, a family-run Italian restaurant. They proudly displayed many stickers on their door that indicated their kid-friendly-ness and awards for being a local favorite. They were so friendly and for a moment, it felt like we were in Italy instead of Scotland. We had their gnocchi special (with spinach and cheese), lasagna, and pizza, and it was all superb.
A final dinner at the Filling Station was not as thrilling. Specializing in American food, they delivered exactly what we expected, decent American style food in an “American” style bar setting. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great, but it was fast and familiar, much like most restaurant chains in America, so it gave us what we needed on a night where were travel-weary and ready to get to bed.
What We Missed
As I mentioned, we never really left the Royal Mile area of Edinburgh, except for a day trip way out of the city to Killin. So, I am sure we missed a lot of things to do in Edinburgh. I am definitely bummed that we didn’t get to the Writer’s Museum, which contains collections related to the Scottish writers, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. The building alone is awesome in its architecture. Unfortunately, we got there right as it was closing.
One thing that would have been fun for our son was Camera Obscura and World of Illusions. It is near the castle and we enjoyed some of its silly mirrors outside of the building. We saw a cute dog get really confused by them, too!
To get a sense of the dark, plague-ridden history of Edinburgh’s closes, a visit to The Real Mary King’s Close would have been informative. It looks like there are a lot of other hidden gems in Edinburgh that we could have enjoyed.
One night, as soon as we were back in our hotel room for the night, I started to hear loud booms outside. I couldn’t tell what it was at first, but the sound was amplified as it echoed off the buildings around us. I couldn’t see anything outside our windows, so I walked out to the front of the hotel to look at the other side of the city. The booms were erratic, and I am sad to say, my first concern was that they were some sort of gunshots or explosions.
Well, I was sort of right. Fortunately, I was relived to see that they were just fireworks. It looked like they were being shot from the nearby Princes Street Gardens. I wish we had known about them sooner because it would’ve been fun to go see them. But at that point, we were snug in our room for the night, so we had to just enjoy what we could see from there, which wasn’t much.
Edinburgh proved to be a fun destination for us for a long weekend. It was easy to get to and easy to do a lot of things right in a small, walkable area. I will warn you that it is very hilly and very cobblestoney. It is not the best city for travelers with mobility issues! Still, it was fun for all of us!