Awake & Energized in Edinburgh

Is there anything better than a great night’s sleep? How about a great night of sleep that lasts for about 11 hours after basically not sleeping at all the night before? Yeah, that’s how today felt! It was sooooo nice to a) go to bed at a decent time (930p) and b) still wake up in plenty of time to enjoy your day (8a) in an exciting location. And to top it off, we also didn’t have to deal with any rain (well, mostly)! If that doesn’t sound like a good day, I don’t know what does.

Truly, it was bliss to get a good night’s sleep (especially as I sometimes take a night or two to acclimatize when sleeping in a hotel) and to feel like we could get out and spend the day in this great city. We didn’t have anything in particular planned, which meant that we didn’t have to rush out the door to be anywhere, giving us time to relax (more) before showering and hitting the hotel restaurant/bar for breakfast. I have to say that the breakfast at the hub I stayed at near Westminster Abbey was better as it was a continental buffet (pastries, fruit, yogurt, etc.) with a few good hot options (eggs, bacon, beans), but what we had at this location was still serviceable. We pre-paid the cost with our reservation, so we just have to show up before 11a and place our order, with a choice of something a little heartier (we had bacon sandwiches) along with fruit and juice. So not bad by any means (especially for £5/$6 USD), but it was nice to have more options during my last hub experience. Still, we ate, we enjoyed, we left. And we’ll do it again the next three days!

Post-brekkie, we made our plan of attack for the day. On the agenda were stops at:

  • Greyfriars Kirk – a very old (but still active) church in the Old Town, originally built in 1602 (completed in 1620) on the site of an (even older) monastery.
  • Gladstone’s Land – one of the oldest buildings on the Royal Mile that has some great architectural elements and gives a glimpse into what life was like in the 1600s.
  • The Scotch Whisky Experience – a bit of a tourist trap, housed in a former schoolhouse, that teaches tourists all about, you guessed it, Scotch whisky. It’s actually really well-done, so don’t assume it’s not worth visiting!
  • Edinburgh Castle – a historic fortress on Castle Rock.
  • Scott Monument – a tall, Gothic structure built in the early 1800s to honor Scottish author Sir Walter Scott.

First up, church! On a Sunday. Seems appropriate. 🙂 This was a new-to-me place as I didn’t visit on my previous Edinburgh trip all those years ago, so I was excited to see it. The weather was mostly sunny, with some clouds and a nice breeze, which is pretty much perfect walking weather in my opinion. We got to walk along more of the Royal Mile (that’s a collection of streets that runs between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace) and see some really interesting buildings along the way as our hotel is in a perfect location and Edinburgh is eminently walkable, which makes getting from place to place that much easier (and more enjoyable). Although we reached the church with no problem, we didn’t get the chance to explore inside of it as there was a service happening, but we may try and go back before we move on to Belfast. We still enjoyed getting to walk around the grounds though. And also getting to learn more about Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye terrier who gained fame in the late 1800s by standing guard over his owner’s grave…for 14 years! His own headstone is in the graveyard outside the church.

Photos from both our walk to Greyfriars and of the church itself follow!

We regularly pass by the Tron Kirk to get to our destinations. It’s a 17th-century building that served as a church until 1952, but is now home to Edinburgh World Heritage.

I liked the name and look of this hotel.

The National Museum of Scotland isn’t on our itinerary, but it’s a neat-looking building.

There’s a collection of these Oor Wullie (Scottish comic strip) statues around Edinburgh.

At first we thought Bedlam Theatre was Greyfriars!

Greyfriars Bobby has a pub name after him! Alas, we didn’t stop, but it certainly is a gorgeous building.

Here’s the actual church.

Greyfriars Bobby’s headstone. It sounds like he was a very good boy indeed.

Some of the graveyard that surrounds the church.

More of the space outside the church.

After our church visit, we made our way to Gladstone’s Land. Once owned by Thomas Gledstanes (Gladstone is an aberration of his actual last name), this tenement building now stands as a record of the architecture of the early 1600s. It’s not a very big building and, consequently, isn’t a long tour, but it was still interesting. It starts on the second floor, where a helpful guide gave us a ten-minute history of the building and the Gledstanes family. There was just the one room to see on that level, with another four rooms to see one level below, all furnished with period-appropriate furniture, though none of it is original because the building saw lots of other owners/tenants over the years. Of particular note are the painted ceilings, which Thomas commissioned and, at the time, served as a visual representation of his family’s wealth. Note that the the ceilings on the first floor are in better shape because, in the preservation of the building, the ceilings on the second floor were varnished over, which took away some of their beauty. At £7/$8 USD, it’s not a terribly expensive place to visit, but it is worthwhile one. Add it to your Edinburgh to-visit list!

Check out photos from Gladstone’s Land (and the walk to it) below.

I love all the old buildings and curvy streets here!

Scott was happy to find a place that would make fresh juice for him. Thanks Hula Juice!

I found the outside of this joke/novelty shop to be amusing. Good way to draw customers in, I suppose!

Outside Gladstone’s Land.

The painted ceilings look good on the second floor…

…but not as good as they do on the first!

Huge bed with a not-so-huge mattress.

Living space.

It was a VERY short walk to our next stop, The Scotch Whisky Experience, as it’s just a little ways up the street from Gladstone’s Land. As I said above, it’s a great place to visit if you’re looking to learn more about Scotch whisky, including a neat little “ride” at the beginning (a very slow-moving “barrel” that moves you through the different stages of the process of creating this brown liquor). This is something I did on my previous trip, but it actually is pretty interesting to learn about the whole process (even though neither of us really enjoys Scotch whisky) and we had a fabulous tour guide who made things interesting. After the short “ride”, you learn about the five regions where Scotch whiskey is made, including a fun scratch-and-sniff card to give you a sense of the distinct flavors each region produces, and you also get the chance taste the whisky from a region of your choosing. The experience ends with a tour of the 3,300+ bottles of Scotch whisky collected by Claive Vidiz. Yes, that’s as much as it sounds like! And even though the liquor inside all of the bottles is largely the same color, the bottles themselves vary widely and make a great finale. If you buy Gold Tour tickets (£28/$34 USD), you get to sample more whisky at the end, but not being connoisseurs, we opted for the Silver Tour (£16/$19 USD), which was just perfect for us. And as an added bonus, everyone gets a free dram glass! Not sure we’ll have a use for them, but nice to get a parting gift.

Whisky, whisky, whisky! Who wants to see whisky?

The Hub was built in the 1840s as church meeting hall and was then used as an actual church until becoming the home of the Edinburgh International Festival.

We tried to get into St Columba’s Free Church, but it didn’t seem to be open. Love that red door though!

We talked about going to Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, but it seemed much more kid-themed than we originally thought, so we scratched it off the list. I took a picture of it instead. 🙂

Heading in to learn all about Scotch whisky!

The “ride” at the beginning.

Our excellent guide, Laithan.

Each colored circle represents one of the five regions where Scotch whisky is produced, so we placed our dram glass on the color of the region from which we wanted our sample to come (I chose Campbeltown, in the south, and Scott chose Speyside, in the north). And the multi-colored circle in the upper-left was there for people who wanted a blended whisky.

We finished our experience in the room where (most of) the giant collection is housed.

The bottles look almost like an art installation!

The six bottles in front of all the others get pride of placement because the collection started with them.

Some of the more decorative bottles (and our reflections) in the other part of the collection, in the bar area after the official end of the experience.

You can’t visit the United Kingdom (or many other European countries) without going to at least one castle, right? I thought not, so our next stop was Edinburgh Castle. Set atop Castle Rock, it’s a very imposing building (a nice feature for a defensive barrier, I should think) and I was happy to get to visit it again after my first (and only) time there several years ago. Being at the top of a hill on one end of the Royal Mile, it’s quite easy to find (and it happens to be right next to The Scotch Whisky Experience), but I recommend buying tickets online (must buy at least a day early) to save yourself £2 (£17.50/$21 USD rather than £19.50/$23 USD), with the only catch being that you need to select your arrival window, so you have to be a little planful if you go that route. It’s totally worth the visit though as you not only get to see all the buildings of the castle (interesting in and of themselves) and some cool stuff like The Honours of Scotland (AKA the Scottish crown jewels), but you also get some amazing views of Edinburgh and the surrounding area. We didn’t opt for the audio guide, but still enjoyed walking around the various small museums and buildings on the grounds. Although it doesn’t really have have any official role in defense or military operations today, it’s a very well-known and visible symbol of Edinburgh and really can’t be missed.

Castle comin’ at ya!

Heading into the castle.

Really glad we had such nice weather for this visit so we could really enjoy views like this.

What better way is there to enjoy a view than to take a selfie with it? It’s the highest compliment, really.

It was such a good view, we took a selfie together, too!

There are several buildings like this that all come together to make the castle.

The rear view of the Scottish National War Memorial (no photos allowed inside this one).

And this is the front.

The Great Hall was built for King James IV in the early 1500s.

A recreation of the military prison conditions in the Prisons of War building.

A look down the stairs to the lower level where prisoners were actually kept.

A statue of Sir Douglas Haig, the 1st Earl Haig.

It was time to break out the panorama views for this photo!

To wrap up our day, we hoofed it over to the Scott Monument, with a stop at Princes Street Gardens to get the best views of the castle. The good weather really continued to make the day pleasant (though we did end up with a tiny, quick shower while we were at the monument). The monument itself is just a tall (nearly 200 feet, though we can only walk up to about 150 feet), Gothic structure, with a statue of Scott (that’s Sir Walter Scott, not my Scott :D) at the bottom. On my last trip, I was certain I just walked on up to the top, but they now have guided tours and the fourth (top) level is totally closed off. We hit the tour guide jackpot with another good one, Roz, who was full of useful information about the history of the monument and its architecture. It was £8/$9.50 USD to get in, which is worth it for the history lesson and the great views, but if you’re at all scared of heights and/or you don’t do well with narrow stairs and lots of them (something like 250 to get to the third level), this may not be a good place to visit. We’ve had experiences like this before and some definitely had more than 250 stairs, but it’s still a lot! If you can do that though, this experience is worth it.

We made some monumental memories – see them below!

Part of the world’s first floral clock, commissioned in 1903, in Princes Street Gardens.

I told you this park had great views of the castle, didn’t it?

The Edinburgh Festival Wheel is right next to the monument.

The Scott Monument, in all its TALL glory.

The front of the monument, complete with statue.

Roz gave us some interesting info about the history of the monument on the first level.

One of four stained glass windows in the space where we had our quick info session.

Outstanding views!

More great views of the castle.

A selfie, of course.

Would you believe I walked all the way to the top of Arthur’s Seat on my last trip? Yep, all 820+ feet! Not sure if we’ll make it there on this trip or not, so it was good to see it again, if only from a distance.

Sunny selfie with both of us.

And one more, this time with the castle as our backdrop.

If you think that sounds like a packed day, you’d be right! We loved our first (full) day in Edinburgh, but were happy to head back to the hotel and relax before dinner, if only for an hour or so. It gave us a chance to rest our feet for a bit and to start getting photos organized for this post before we walked back to where we’d been to have dinner at The Witchery. It has a fun name (it’s a hotel, too) and neat ambiance as it’s through a close (AKA a passageway) off the Royal Mile (right by The Scotch Whisky Experience) and then downstairs, so it’s kind of dark and moody (perfect for witches!). It definitely leans more fancy and the food and price reflect that, but everything we had was really good. Scott got a ribeye steak (it was supposed to be medium-rare, but it definitely wasn’t) while I got the two-course theatre menu, which had a few options for both a starter and main course – I opted for a small charcuterie and grilled presa (Spanish pork). Despite the steak being cooked wrong, everything was juicy and flavorful, so we still left happy.

Did you think I wouldn’t have dinner photos? Silly reader!

Outside The Witchery.

My small charcuterie had some really nice sausages.

There wasn’t a lot to my main dish, but I still enjoyed it (that’s grilled gem lettuce, similar to romaine, with it).

Tomorrow is another day and we’ll be making the most of it. Click here to read about it!

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About thejeffelston

Based in St. Paul, MN and love to blog about travel. Comment, follow, and join me on my journey!