One country that has always occupied my ‘top 5 places to visit’ list from as far as I can remember, is the charming country of Scotland (the other 4 currently being Kenya, Prague, China and Egypt). Its breathtaking landscapes and the rugged wilderness of the highlands, the widely known hospitality of its people, the very fact that Harry Potter originated here, it’s fantastic weather during the summer and the deep history, were some of the reasons I had always wanted to go to Scotland. During the summer of 2015, I was lucky to set foot on this beautiful country and explore Scotland (mostly Edinburgh and the Highlands) for just about a few days. Does that mean I’ve removed it from my top 5 list? No. Scotland will forever remain on the list no matter how many times I travel there.
Best time to visit
The ideal time to visit Edinburgh would be during the summer months of June, July and August. Unlike most other countries, the summer months are not very hot, with the average temperatire being 18 degree celsius – the ideal temperature to walk around the cobblestone alleys of Edinburgh. But an ideal weather means more tourists and expensive hotels.
One other option is to travel during spring – April or May. While the weather may be pleasant in spring in most other countries during these months, at Edinburgh, the temperature could go as low as 5 degree celsius. Which means you may have to layer up if you’re not used to the cold. But the hotel prices would be cheaper and fewer tourists.
How to get there?
You can either fly directly from India to Edinburgh. A return ticket for one costs roughly around INR 45,000 to INR 50,000 depending on how early you book the tickets. There are several airlines that fly to Edinburgh, the cheapest of the lot being Srilankan airlines, as you can see from the screenshot of a ticket below (skyscanner).
Another option is to fly straight to London and take another inland flight from London to Edinburgh in one of the budget airlines Ryan Air). A flight ticket to London could cost you anywhere between INR 35,ooo to INR 40,000, depending on how early you book your tickets.
And if you’re lucky, a return air ticket to Edinburgh from London could cost you as low as 18 Pounds (~ Rs. 1800). This option would work out cheaper only if you get a cheap Edinburgh-London air ticket.
Where to stay?
As always, my suggestion would be an Airbnb apartment. It’s cheap, it’s cleaner than your average hotels, plus you get to stay in a residential neighbourhood with the locals. What better way to experience a city? You could get a private room for yourself for as less as Rs. 2500/night and the rooms are lovely, much cleaner than hotel rooms and in no way, any less better than staying in a hotel, as seen below.
What to see?
Edinburgh Castle – One of the most popular tourist destinations in Edinburgh and I must say, a must see. It is Edinburgh’s iconic landmark and is classified as a UNESCO world heritage site. No trip to Edinburgh is complete without a visit to this castle. The castle being the former residence of the royalty, now houses Scotland’s crown jewels among other national treasures. The entrance ticket is 17 pounds (~INR 1700) and it closes at 6 PM during summer and earlier during winter. Make sure you enter the castle an hour before closing time.
St. Giles Cathedral – One of the most important architectural landmarks in Edinburgh, St. Giles cathedral is a historic city church located on the Royal Mile right at the centre, equidistant from both the Holyrood palace and the Edinburgh castle. At the cathedral, you can either admire the beauty of the stained glasses inside the cathedral for free or take a guided tour to the top of the church to enjoy spectacular views of the royal mile, for a fee of 5 Pounds (~INR 500).
Arthur’s seat – Located in Holyrood park at the end of the royal mile (very close to the Holyrood Palace), Arthur’s seat is the highest point/peak of a dormant, now extinct, volcano. One can trek up to the summit to get a panoramic view of the city. There are several routes to hike up to the top, some being more scenic than the other and some being more strenuous than the other. Here is a well-compiled guide to climbing Arthur’s seat
Holyrood Palace – Once the official residence of Mary, Queen of Scots (Scotland’s most well-known and much talked about queen in the history of Scotland), it is currently the official residence of the British monarch and is open to visitors all year round for a fee of 13 pounds (~INR 1300). Located, once again, on the royal mile, the last admission to the palace is at 4:30 PM during the summer months and earlier, during the winter months. At the palace, visitors can enjoy the beautiful gardens of the palace, the ruins of the Holyrood abbey and magnificent apartments.
The Royal Mile – A mile long (a Scot’s mile) road/path that runs from the Edinburgh castle to the Holyrood palace – two popular historic locations in Edinburgh. Most of the tourist spots and museums fall on this path. Take a nice long stroll through this stretch for and you would cover most of the tourist destinations mentioned above.
Elephant House Cafe – If you are a Harry Potter fan, this cafe is a must visit in Edinburgh. J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series of books frequented this very cafe during her early years of writing the very first book in the series. Overlooks the Edinburgh castle, this cafe is where Harry Potter was bought to life. There is a cemetery called Greyfriars Kirkyard close to the cafe that J.K. Rowling would step into for a quick inspirational walk. Quite a few names in the series were inspired by names in the tombstone of the graveyard.
Royal Yacht Britannia – Former royal yacht of the British monarch in service for almost 40 years, now is a popular tourist attraction. An adult entrance ticket costs around 15 pounds (~INR 1500) and the last entry is at 4:30 PM during the summer months and an hour earlier during the winter months. The tour includes a peep in to the state apartments, royal bedrooms, tea rooms, lounge, deck and also an ‘under the stairs’ tour to the laundry room, medical room and the engine room.
*If you plan to cover the Edinburgh castle, Holyrood palace and the Royal Yacht, I suggest you buy the Royal Edinburgh Ticket which offers you a discounted price of 52 Pounds for all the three attractions along with an access to the Hop on Hop off bus rides – perfect for getting around all the sites.
Camera Obscura & Our Dynamic Earth – Two popular modern attractions, the first being a tour showcasing mind blowing optical illusions and the second being an attraction that takes visitors through the history how the earth has changed from its ‘origin’ to modern day earth.
National Portrait Gallery and National Museum of Scotland – Entrance to both the gallery and the museum is free. While the former is filled with beautiful exhibits that houses national collection of portraits, the latter houses the Scottish antiquities and collections relating to the Scottish culture and history.
Walk along the Union Canal – A perfect path to take a stroll or cycle around.
Lauriston Castle – A beautiful castle located a little on the outskirts of the city. You can enjoy the beautiful Edwardian interiors and the gardens for a fee of 5 pounds.
Scottish Highlands – No visit to Scotland is complete without visiting the Highlands. You can either rent a car and drive through the Highlands or, like I did, you could book a day tour with one of the several travel agencies and go on a guided tour in a van through the highlands. Some places that you will cover on your trip – Glen Coe, Loch Ness – you can try spotting the Lochness monster/Nessie, Loch Lomond, Ben Nevis – highest mountains in the British Isles, Urquhart castle, Inverness, etc. to name a few.
What traditional Scottish cuisine to eat? (for vegetarians)
Not much, really. Most of the recipes make use of meat. However, you could try the traditional Scottish cuisine (Haggis, Fish and Chips, etc.) at vegan restaurants where they replace meat with a vegetarian substitute.
Where to eat? (for vegetarians/vegans)
Kalpna – An Indian vegetarian restaurant
Henderson’s Vegan – A vegan restaurant that serves western and Scottish delicacies like the Haggis (the vegan version with no meat)
Holy cow – A vegan restaurant that serves western and Scottish/English meals (fish and chips – the vegan version with a fish replacement)
Mother India’s Cafe – An Indian restaurant that serves meat but is vegetarian and vegan friendly
The Spice Pavillion – An Indian restaurant that serves meat but is vegetarian and vegan friendly
Budget souvenirs to buy
Walker’s Shortbread cookies – A mildly sweet, buttery and crunchy cookie, it makes a perfect accompaniment to your morning hot tea or coffee.
Scottish Folk Music CDs – the music is distinct and would make the perfect soothing music for road trips.
A Spurtle – a traditional wooden cooking instrument used to stir porridge (looks like a wand) and has its origins in Scotland
Tartan Woollen Scarf – Tartan is a criss-crossed pattern with horizontal and vertical bands in different colours (don’t buy the ones on display near the tourist spots. I got mine at a store on the way to the highlands for around 15 pounds)
Travelling to Edinburgh can turn out to be quite expensive however, you can cut down costs by staying in an Airbnb/hostel dorm and by booking your air tickets much in advance. As per my itinerary above, a trip to Edinburgh from India for one may cost close to INR 75,000 (5 day trip). The expenses break down is shown below.
Air Tickets – INR 46,000
Stay – INR 10,000
Highland Tour – INR 10,000
Other expenses – INR 10,000
To save on eating expenses, you could also consider taking some ‘ready to eat’ meals along with you – that needs just boiling some water. You would be provided with a place to cook in your Airbnb apartment. You could also survive on fruits for any one meal of the day. What I usually do is – have a very heavy breakfast and a late lunch. By doing this, I replace dinner with fruits bought locally. Eating anywhere in the UK can get very expensive considering the very high exchange rate. Another trick to ensure you visit all the free ‘tourist’ spots instead of the paid ones. They are just as beautiful and easy on the pocket.