Last month, I did something I’m almost ashamed of. I went to Scotland, but I only went for two days.
To SCOTLAND. For 48 hours. The SHAME!
If any of you have been to Scotland, you understand why this is such a pity. And if you haven’t been, please, give yourself much more than 48 hours when you go.
The silver lining is that any time in Scotland is better than none at all, and since I was on a trip to London, I only had a couple of days to make this mini excursion happen, and I wanted to make the most of it.
How Did I Do It?
I took a fast train from London to Edinburgh and arrived in just four hours. It was easy and comfortable, and I got the train from King’s Cross station in London.
I do suggest making this trip during daylight, as the countryside and the coast is beautiful.
I was fortunate to get a room at the Bonham Hotel in the West End, which was easily within walking distance of downtown Edinburgh.
I found that Edinburgh is actually quite walkable because most of the attractions are right in the center.
First Impressions of Edinburgh
Edinburgh is like being inside ONE GIANT CASTLE! Because of the hills, architecture, statues, cobbled winding streets and nooks and crannies, it actually feels like exploring a big castle. I’ve decided this is why Edinburgh has such a fairytale reputation.
Seeing men in kilts playing bagpipes on the Royal Mile may cause local eyes to roll, but I tell you what, as a (female) tourist, it was a magical addition to the ambiance.
How to “Do” Edinburgh in 48 Hours
Sorry, you can’t. I had several things I “definitely” wanted to do while in Edinburgh:
- Ghost Tour
- Walking Tour
- The Scotch Whisky Experience
- Hiking Arthur’s Seat
- The Edinburgh Castle (of course)
Unfortunately, 48 hours is just not enough time. I was feeling a bit under the weather, and I was also quite literally under the weather. Scotland is… rainy. Walking in Scottish rain feels like walking IN A RIVER. It took all of my energy to be outside as much as I was in the wet weather, so I didn’t end up hiking Arthur’s Seat or entering the castle.
Prioritizing the rest of my activities was actually pretty easy. Since drinking Scotch Whisky in Scotland has long been on my bucket list, I started with that to make sure I absolutely would not miss the opportunity. Since everything I wanted to do had tour times, I arranged them all to fit together nicely.
The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh
Do. Not. Miss. The Scotch Whisky Experience if you have any interest in learning about or sampling Scotch Whisky in Scotland. I wanted to learn about the distillation process as well as how to drink it “properly,” and I wanted to try different kinds from different regions and learn what those regions were. It was exactly what I was hoping for.
It is made for tourists, and there’s even a part where you sit in a “barrel” and go for a little coaster ride that teaches you about the making of the whisky.
There is a video showing incredibly beautiful sights and sounds of the five different whisky-making regions of Scotland, complete with sampling at the end. If you do the “Gold” tour as I did, you get to sample whisky from all five regions.
The tour ends in a bright, mirrored room that contains the largest collection of Scotch Whisky in the world. Some of the bottles are so old that they are empty because the whisky disappears after time. This is what they call the “angel’s share.” Magic.
The tasting room is high above the Royal Mile, overlooking Edinburgh and the hills beyond. As I sat with my very own glass (that I got to keep) sipping whisky from all over Scotland while it gently rained outside, I felt very content with what I had experienced. I definitely recommend this piece of culture to anyone visiting Edinburgh.
Fun fact: There is no “e” in Scotch whisky.
Edinburgh Ghost Tour
I once saw an episode of Ghost Hunters where the host spent a night underground in the vaults below Edinburgh, attempting to document paranormal activity. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to meet the ghosts and see these vaults for myself, and Mercat Tours is exactly the company that Ghost Hunters worked with, so I signed up for a tour.
Our guide, Amandine, showed up in a full black cloak, complete with hidden whips and knives that she actually used during the tour (of course, we were completely safe). The tour led us back in time to when Edinburgh used to have public executions, and Amandine used role-play demonstrations to show us what used to happen to rule-breakers back then.
It was entertaining and educational to explore some of the darker places in Edinburgh, both in time and space, and it gave a good glimpse into a very important time in history when it comes to the development and traditions of the city of Edinburgh.
I did a 5 pm tour, and we only got to spend about 15 minutes inside the vaults, touring through each room and learning about the spirits (some kind, some not-so-kind), that inhabit them.
In hindsight, I do think the tour was worth it, but I would recommend doing the last tour of the day, the 10 pm tour after dark because you get to spend an extra 15 minutes exploring the vaults on your own. Amandine said her groups get some sort of unexplained activity about every two weeks, so the more time you get in the vaults, the more likely you are to experience something ghostly. I would do it again and stay longer next time!
Apparently, they do offer overnight stays as well, though they aren’t advertised on the website because it’s only for the very serious ghost hunters. Does anyone want to do this with me? 🙂
Free Walking Tour Edinburgh
I am a full-supporter of Sandeman’s New Europe Tours wherever I can find them. They are generally 2.5-3 hour tours that bring history to life. I have never been disappointed and I have always learned a lot in all the different cities in which I’ve done them.
Edinburgh is no different. Our lively tour guide took us back in time, taught us dirty words (ask where the term “shit-faced” comes from!), and kept our spirits up even in the pouring rain. These walking tours are always a highlight for me, and since they are tip-based, they are within everyone’s budget to participate. They meet several times daily at the Tron Starbucks on the Royal Mile.
Eats and Drinks in Edinburgh
Craft Beer: Brew Dog Brewery in Old Town on Cowgate. Wonderful selections, these guys are serious about their craft and any beer aficionado will find happiness in one of their many flavors and styles. Be sure to ask about their rotators, as they like to brew small batches that you can only drink at the brewery.
Craft Beer: The Hanging Bat on Lothian Road. Craft Beer Heaven. They even had a delicious Black IPA which makes any brewery worth it in my book. Definitely stop here if you like beer.
Cheap Street Food: The Hog Shop in New Town on Rose Street. Stop in and say hi to the kilted owner Derek, ask him for his suggestion, and go with it (even if you can’t understand his accent). Nothing in that shop costs more than £5! Go early enough in the day to find him open, because when he runs out of pork, he’s done!
Smart Tips for Edinburgh
Say “Edinburra.” There is no hard G. Just say Edinburra, and you’ll sound normal.
Stay downtown. Once you are there, you can walk everywhere.
Take the free walking tour if nothing else. Being in Edinburgh and not learning about its magical past and secrets would be even more of a shame than spending only 48 hours there.
Walk around at night. The lights on the architecture make for incredible night photography, don’t miss it.
Talk to the locals. They are such nice people, get to know them and share a wee dram with them!
Cheers = Slàinte Mhath! Pronounced “Slan-ja-VA” which means good health!
- Edinburgh City Guide for Budget-Minded Travelers
- Thanks to my friend Kash for his Edinburgh tips in this post: 48 Hours in Edinburgh