Edinburgh & the Highlands

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My travel partner and I rode from London to Edinburgh (pronounced Ed-in-burra) on the Caledonian Sleeper Train. Many of the trains leave around 11:00 or 11:30 PM and arrive to Edinburgh early the next morning, making it a great alternative to the cost of a hotel stay and having to spend a full day of your trip traveling. The berths are tiny (just enough space for bunk beds, a sink, and luggage storage) but were fine for the short amount of time we were actually awake. They’ll bring coffee or tea in the morning, along with breakfast for an added fee. More information can be found at https://www.sleeper.scot . If you’re traveling with a party of two or more, get the 2 Together Railcard for 30 pounds and save 1/3 of the cost on the sleeper and other train travel in Scotland (https://www.twotogether-railcard.co.uk). For our trip, the 2 Together Railcard quickly paid for itself.

We stayed at the Castle Rock Hostel, which has a picturesque view of the Edinburgh Castle at the entrance. It’s located just off the Royal Mile and is any easy walk to the Princes Street Gardens and the castle. We stayed in a spacious 4 bunk room, had a hearty breakfast each morning for 1.50, and got recommendations from the front desk staff about things to do.

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A top priority for us was making sure to see Edinburgh Castle, one of the most popular sites in the city (and for good reason). Particularly if you’re traveling peak season, I recommend going early to beat the crowd and make sure you have plenty of time to explore. The castle opens at 9:30am; we went around 9:15 and there was already a large crowd, though the line went quickly. Tickets cost about 16 pounds apiece, which includes an optional guided tour, viewing of the royal Scottish jewels (lower your expectations if you’ve seen the jewels in London), and seeing a cannon dating back to 1861 fire at 1:00 to inform ships of the local time. If you get peckish, the tea room is on-site for a quick bite; I had a great vegan carrot soup. If the weather is nice before or after your castle visit, it’s convenient to stroll through the Princes Street Gardens while you’re in the area. Make sure to see the Ross Fountain and the flower clock, among the other monuments and memorials throughout the park. You’ll also get yet another beautiful view of the castle.

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It’s nearly impossible to visit Edinburgh without walking along the the Royal Mile. If you like touristy shops, you could spend quite a bit of time there, or if you don’t you can take a 15 minute walk to get the gist. Take a short stop to see St. Giles Cathedral and the Heart of Midlothian (bricks embedded in the walkway in front of the cathedral, in the shape of a heart). The heart was used as a site for public executions until early in the 18th century. Before my trip I read that people often spit on the heart, though I didn’t see anyone do this, nor did I see anything that looked like spit on it, so I passed. Find information about why people might spit on the heart of the midlothian here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=32H9WORvpj0

Also on the Royal Mile are a million signs advertising free walking tours. We opted for a free 1.5 hour haunted walking tour. As someone who has been on a number of haunted tours in various cities, I wasn’t super-impressed with the stories, but it was free, fun, and I learned a few tidbits about the city.

Another “must” is Calton Hill, which features gorgeous views of the city, along with a couple unusual and seemingly Greek-inspired monuments. The walk uphill is 10 minutes; though I read the walk was easy, I was huffing a little when I got to the top đŸ˜‰ As a bonus, on the way to Calton Hill we saw Trainspotting II being filmed, along with a bunch of young women hoping to catch a glimpse of Ewan McGregor (no such luck as far as I could tell).

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One of the highlights of my time in Scotland was a 12-hour tour of the Highlands and Loch Ness that departed from Edinburgh. We took this tour from a company called Rabbies. I got the impression that some details of the tour depend on weather and your tour guide, though I will say that my experience was fantastic. Our tour guide, Ewan (not to be confused with Ewan McGregor) told us many stories about Scottish history, played both traditional and modern Scottish music, and wore a kilt and talked about how it’s worn now (usually just for special occasions like weddings). He took us on a short hike to a waterfall, stopped for whiskey tastings, and gave us carrots to feed the highland cows. There’s an optional (14 pound) boat ride on Loch Ness, which was completely worth it. See Nessie pictured below. Lunch isn’t included but there’s time to sit outside and eat at Loch Ness before getting on the boat.

The route of our Highlands tour:

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Packing musts:
Layers to prepare for the unpredictable weather
Snacks for any day trips

Options for vegetarian or vegan travelers:
The Auld Hoose (options such as vegan nachos, vegan onion rings, vegan haggis)
Stop at grocery store M&S; their prepared section often has great grab & go options
See this list for a great overview: http://www.peta.org.uk/blog/vegan-edinburgh/

Safe travels from Suitcase Envy!

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