The first time I went to Edinburgh, I was 20 years old. I went with two of my best friends from college whilst we were studying abroad, and it was a weekend full of way too much whiskey, a ghost tour with drunk Scottish mums, and a run-in with a group of oompa loompas (don't ask). This time, I went away for a solo weekend of relaxation and exploring, and I'm pleased to say that the second go around, I had just a slightly more cultural experience - though I can't promise there was no whiskey imbibed.
Below, I've compiled a list of the fifteen things you must do if you visit the Scottish capital.
1. See Sunrise or Sunset from Calton Hill
Easily one of the most picturesque spots in Edinburgh is Calton Hill. Set above the city, you can see across all of the beautiful architecture, and it's a great place to spend a sunrise. The hill is home to several impressive monuments as well, including the Dugald Stewart monument, the Nelson Monument, and the Scottish National Monument.
2. Admire the Beautiful Circus Lane
Truly one of the most beautiful streets I've ever seen, Circus Lane is located in Stockbridge, which is well known for being home to artists, poets, and musicians in the Northern part of the city. Stop at the adorable St Vincent pub at the end of Circus Lane for the full experience!
3. Visit the Royal Botanic Garden
Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Garden is a sprawling park of gorgeous foliage, a stunning Victorian glasshouse, and gardens dedicated to honouring the travels of the Queen Mother. Though the glasshouse was closed to the public for refurbs, the rest of the garden is absolutely beautiful, and well worth a visit. My favourite was the Botanic Cottage and its surrounding gardens, full of herbs and beautiful greenery.
4. Indulge in Some Amazing Local Seafood at Cafe Royal
One of the best meals I had in Edinburgh was at the Cafe Royal, where I ordered one of their Seafood platters for one. Scottish seafood is easily some of the best in the UK, and this certainly didn't disappoint. I had a very enjoyable afternoon eating my way through local lobster, mussels, oysters and more, with a lovely glass of wine to accompany it. I highly recommend you put this on your list of must do's if you're a fan of great seafood!
5. See the Stunning Royal Residence at Holyroodhouse
At one end of the Royal Mile stands Holyroodhouse, which is the Scottish residence of the Royal Family. It was also home to another famous Queen - Mary, Queen of Scots, and contains many interesting details about her life and her private chambers. Also on-site is the stunning Holyrood Abbey, which was founded in 1128, and stands in beautifully haunting ruins today.
6. Find Thomas Riddell's Grave at Greyfriars Kirkyard
Walking around Edinburgh, it's not hard to see why the city inspired the stories about a certain very famous boy wizard. Greyfriars Kirkyard is home to one of the most obvious sources of inspiration - a grave of Thomas Riddell that is likely to have given the name to the evil antagonist of the series.
7. Explore the Iconic Edinburgh Castle
At the opposite end of the Royal Mile from Holyroodhouse, is Edinburgh Castle. Around since at least the Iron Age, Edinburgh Castle is one of the oldest fortified castles in all of Europe. It's definitely worthwhile to go inside to see the incredible Great Hall, and learn more about the Castle's history. And don't be surprised when you hear the guns going off at 1 o'clock - it happens every day except for Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas - and it definitely made me jump when I heard it!
8. Try a Deep Fried Mars Bar
The unofficial Scottish national food, a deep fried Mars Bar is about as indulgent and honestly ridiculous as it sounds. It's a melty, chocolatey, super over-the-top snack. I'm not sure I would have one again (it literally feels like a heart attack in just a few bites) but I'm very glad I tried it. If you're a chocolate fan, this one is definitely for you!
9. See the Best View of the City at Vennel Viewpoint
Easily the best spot for a photo of the castle is Vennel Viewpoint, a side street off of Grassmarket. Walk up the steps for the most beautiful view of Edinburgh Castle, and snap a few pictures. I went around mid-morning on a Sunday, and it was very quiet. I swear there are no bad angles here, every picture came out fantastically! Such a beautiful spot that should definitely be on your list.
10. Sample Some Whiskey Cocktails at a Top-Rated Speakeasy
One of the recommendations given to me by a local was Panda & Sons - a speakeasy bar in Edinburgh New Town. What looks like a barber's shop from the outside is actually a basement bar, serving some truly delicious and innovative cocktails in a very cool, relaxed prohibition-style bar. I highly recommend getting the X cocktail, which includes elderberry elixir and local whiskey. It was also recently ranked no.32 in the World's 50 Best Bars list!
11. Try Some Haggis
If you're a little afraid of the idea of haggis, you're not alone. As a vegetarian, I knew I wanted to try the iconic Scottish national dish, even without the controversial bits of sheep's innards. I found a great independent restaurant - Makar's Mash Bar - on The Mound, not far from the Royal Mile. The way the menu's set up, you choose your protein and then you choose your accompanying mash (there are loads of flavours to pick from!) I went for the veggie haggis and the applewood cheese and dill mashed potatoes, which was accompanied by truly the best gravy I've had in my entire life. An absolute must-try for your visit.
12. Check Out the Gorgeous Victoria Street and Grassmarket
Another street which apparently inspired the fictional Diagon Alley, Victoria Street is stunning, with its colourful shopfronts, and drinks terrace. Poke into a couple of the magical-inspired shops, smell some of the gorgeous candles at the Isle of Skye Candle Co., and then reward yourself with a delicious smoothie from the Hula Juice Bar at the end of the street.
13. Climb Arthur's Seat
This is something I unfortunately had so skip on my most recent trip, due to the insane amounts of blisters I amassed on my first day walking around the city in Converse (oops) - but I thought it deserved a spot on this list, nonetheless. This popular hike just on the outskirts of the city rewards you with fantastic views of the surrounding area, and is a great way to spend a sunny morning. Please enjoy this picture of me and my two friends at the top of the hill from when we visited in 2013 - note my red hair and Scottish cap as my horrendous attempt to blend in with the locals!
14. Take a Walk Around Dean Village
I was skeptical that Dean Village would be a worthwhile spot to visit purely from its description - a quiet residential neighborhood north of the city centre - but I'm so glad I decided to go. The architecture is so beautiful and entirely different from the rest of the city, and walking around the area, it feels almost like stepping into a small provincial town in France. For an enjoyable stroll, follow the walkway along the River Leith from Dean Village - it goes on for an impressive 18 miles!
15. Relax at the Beautiful Nira Caledonia Hotel
I can't say enough about how lovely my stay at Nira Caledonia was. Located in the quieter New Town neighbourhood in Edinburgh, it was the perfect mix of being close to attractions, whilst still feeling very safe and relaxing - something that's imperative to me as a solo female traveller. The rooms were beautiful and very comfortable, and the staff on site were incredibly helpful (one of them went on a wild goose chase to help me find the Amazon package I had delivered to the hotel when I forgot my camera battery charger!) I can't wait to come back to the city and stay at this gorgeous place again.
Have you ever been to Edinburgh before? Which of these things would you most like to see or do? I would love to hear your thoughts! Also - make sure you're keeping up with my current travels on Instagram at @elise.abroad! See you next time!