Sunday, December 20, 2015

Edinburgh (a final Scottish recap)

Christmas decorations in Edinburgh

This is my fourth and final recap from our November Scotland holiday (previous posts covered south-west Scotland, Glasgow, and the Scottish Highlands). Edinburgh was our last overnight stop, but we drove to it via a large loop from the Highlands across to Aberdeen and down the east coast. This is far from the most direct route, but I was keen to see Aberdeen as my family nearly moved there when I was 8. My father's company wanted to relocate him (and thus us) to the area, and it took some negotiation to avoid the move. As a result, I've always been curious about Aberdeen and the possible parallel life I could have lived there.

Suffice to say, Aberdeen was not the highlight of our time in Scotland. Until we got there, I'd been increasingly convinced we should have moved when I was 8. Aberdeen, however, is rather different to the rest of Scotland. The sprawling outer suburbs held little appeal, and the city centre was as grey as its reputation (Aberdeen is often know as the granite city due to the use of granite in most of the central buildings). The city council building, pictured below, was impressive but I didn't find  much else to warm to.

Aberdeen's most attractive (grey) building

I was still glad to see Aberdeen and lay my could-have-been parallel life to rest. Driving down the east coast also allowed us to stop at Dunnottar Castle, an impressive semi-ruined castle perched right on the coast.

Dunnottar Castle 

The castle was magnificent and the picture above doesn't really do justice to its scale. However, if you look hard, you can spot a person walking along the path towards the castle. Their size helps to provide scale; so does the image below taken from one of the castle's towers. The site was a great mix of views, rooms you can explore within, and ruins you can wander around.

Dunnottar Castle (views from inner tower)

When we finally made it to Edinburgh, it was dark and late. We were pleased to discover the owners of our B&B were fellow ex-pat Australians, who were enthused to have Australian guests. We then had a low key pizza dinner and readied ourselves for a day of sight seeing the next day.

And sight see we did. Mr Bite and I had both been to Edinburgh before (separately) but as my visits occurred when I was a student, I'd mostly done the free sights. Being older and employed, I was keen to visit the castle, which perches above Edinburgh in a grand fashion.

Edinburgh - the castle is the complex to the top right

Whilst it is called a castle, it is really a state complex (akin to the Tower of London) with plenty of Scottish royal and military history. I enjoyed seeing where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to King James VI of Scotland and I of England, and the Scottish crown jewels.

Royal Mile, Edinburgh old town

The castle sits at the top of Edinburgh's royal mile, the stretch of road and shops that connects Edinburgh castle at the top of the hill to the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the bottom. The Palace of Holyroodhouse is the official Scottish residence of the current royal family. These two imposing buildings define the old town of Edinburgh, which is divided from the 18th century Georgian new town by the central railway line. I know I hinted in my Glasgow post that I prefer the west coast and Glasgow over Edinburgh, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate Edinburgh's grand glory. The buildings are elegant and the streets refined.

Scott Memorial and views from its heights

We crossed to the new town for lunch, but before eating climbed up the narrow, twisting spires of Scott Memorial (above). This is a gothic monument to writer Sir Walter Scott, and you can climb it by first making your way up one of the corner spires, and then up the central spire. There is limited space but the views are excellent.

Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh

For lunch, I first took us to Henderson's, the renowned vegetarian restaurant that has expanded to include a restaurant, more upmarket bistro, and deli/bakery. The three components are located around one street corner, but alas, none catered to Mr Bite's tastes. I bought a vegan chocolate sweet potato brownie and we wandered on in search of mutually agreeable food.

We found that in Social Bite, a sandwich shop that gives food to homeless shelters, gives all of their profits to charities and has a staff team where 1 in 4 staff were formerly homeless themselves. It was a nice place to support, especially as they provided me with a vegan falafel wrap. Mr Bite had the non-vegan falafel wrap and we enjoyed our respective lunches. There is seating within Social Bite, but it is limited and was full when we visited, so we took advantage of the autumn sunshine to eat in Princes Street Gardens.

After lunch, we deliberated between visiting the Palace of Holyroodhouse or climbing Arthur's Seat, the rugged peak that defines the adjoining Holyrood Park. Arthur's Seat won out. It is a steep climb and we navigated muddy sections to reach a wind-buffered summit.

After taking in views in the bracing wind, we climbed down and retired to our accommodation to rest our feet (and eat my vegan sweet potato brownie). We ventured out again only to take in dinner at a nearby Thai restaurant, which was enjoyable, but I neglected to photograph.

Atop Arthur's Seat

Therein concludes our time in Scotland - I hope not forever, but for now!

Details on Dunnottar Castle can be found at . Opening hours vary across the year so check before visiting. At the time of writing, entry is £6 per adult.

Details on Edinburgh Castle can be found at At the time of writing, it is open every day except the 25th and 26th December, although opening hours reduce in winter. Entry costs £16.50 per adult.

The Scott Monument is located in the Princes Street Gardens and details are available at It is open most of the year with some closure over Christmas and, again, opening hours reduce in winter. Entry is £4 per adult and child.

The Social Bite cafe has stores in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. All are open 7am to 3pm Monday to Friday, and are shut on weekends. We visited the new town Edinburgh store at 131 Rose Street, Edinburgh, EH2 3DT. Details are available at

Have you been to Edinburgh?


  1. Thanks for sharing your holiday experiences. I have been to Scotland twice, and loved it. Sounds like I can skip Aberdeen though :)

  2. I felt similarly disappointed by Aberdeen and impressed by Dunnotar castle - guess it is worth heading up there for the castle.

    I was quite disappointed at my first visit to Edinburgh castle because there is not one huge castle in the way I had expected from fairy tale like idea of castles but I have grown to love the assortment of royal buildings. I have had some really nice meals at Hendersons so am sad that I have recently read some less than positive reviews. And I had a memorable tour of arthurs seat to see the signs of the iron age (but you had to look pretty carefully to see anything).

    I think what your post does really nicely is highlight that Edinburgh is a town of splendid views. Glad to hear you enjoyed them!

    1. Thanks Johanna - and it's nice to learn you visited Dunnottar too. I think I was primed for Edinburgh Castle by the Tower of London experience (although they don't call the Tower a castle!) and we had seen so many 'real' castles I was accepting of the complex, but it is a bit of a misnomer.

      The views clearly make the town :-)

  3. Having never been to Scotland, Edinburgh is where I want to go first. I have heard it's great for shopping too.

    1. It is! Glasgow is as well for that matter :-)

  4. Thank you for sharing your Scottish adventure with us. It's been a real joy to read. I visited Edinburgh many years ago and absolutely loved my time there. I'd love to return one day x

  5. It must be so depressing to live in Aberdeen. I do hate grey! What a climate and what a shame it's all so drab. I hope you have a very Merry Christmas, Kari xx

    1. I think my mood would very much suffer!

      You too Charlie - Merry Christmas :-)

  6. Good thing you didn't move to Aberdeen when you were a kid (although the castle is rather beautiful).
    Social Bite sounds like a really cool! I wish there was a place around where I live like that.
    Looks like a memorable trip =)


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