A country of rich colors, wild tales and a sordid history. Of warm hospitality, expansive views and deeply independent people. Of genuine kindness and dreamy landscapes.
Although all of these words can be attributed to Scotland, perhaps the one that best encapsulates its spirit is this: enduring.
The mere length of the area’s history is enough to assign this particular adjective to Scotland, but it goes beyond that. What most impressed me was starting to truly understand how much unrest the country has faced over the last few millennia.
It’s estimated that there were humans dwelling in Northern Scotland as early as 8,500 years before Britain’s earliest recorded history, tens of thousands of years ago. Traces of the first known hunter-gatherer settlements date back to around 12000 BC — WHAT!?
Fast forward through the Bronze Age in 2000 BC, and the Roman invasion in AD 43, and a whole slew of invasions before and after that, and you finally get to the beginning of the Stuart reign in Scotland (often spelled Stewart, according to Our Patron Saint of Travel Hacks and Day Packs, Rick Steves).
I associate Scotland with the last few centuries of the British monarchy, and so it was completely mind-boggling to stand were someone was standing 10,000 years ago. More than the sheer oldness of it all, I was struck by how the Scottish culture has persisted for centuries.
The more I researched Scotland’s history, and the more I saw in person, the more evident it became that the Scottish have this Hagrid-like attitude along the lines of, “What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.” (Rowling, 2005).
Through rain and mud, through dullness and famine, the people plow ahead.
Scots are just so proud. To a fault. And I love it.
Besides being proud, Scots have another stereotype — being cheap.
I feel like there are many parallels that can be drawn between their frugal habits and their longevity, but it’s been a long day and I’m not sure I want to find them right now. Besides, you’re here for the pretty pictures, right?
En route to Edinburgh!
Edinburgh is the cultural and political hub of Scotland, and was one of my most anticipated visits. Brimming with an unmistakable literary heritage, Edinburgh has inspired a litany of characters ranging from Dr. Jekyll to Harry Potter. As a card-carrying member of Book Worms ‘R Us, I was ready to be totally immersed in this iconic ideatory of a city.
For context, we spent the first three nights of our honeymoon in Edinburgh at 6 Brunton Place, which turned out to be the perfect location and style for our city exploration, and at a reasonable price for what we got. Then, after driving to Oban, Isle of Skye and Loch Lomond over the next 9 days, we returned to Edinburgh for one last night before our flight out the next day.
UPDATE: Read about the second leg of the trip here —> Our Honeymoon Adventure Part 2 - Saints, Scotch & Sunsets
Experiencing Edinburgh — Faves, Saves, Splurges & Mistakes
When we (finally) arrived on Friday after an overnight flight, we did exactly what we said we wouldn’t: We took a nap.
Illustrated below, you’ll see why this was totally necessary.
Hostess: What will you be doing with the rest of your afternoon?
Me: Ah, well maybe walk and the um, gardens, just wandering really *looks desperately at husband for rescue*
Husband: - - -
Me: … but maybe a cafe to see, the um, music as well. I, not sure but also maybe a rest.
Husband: - - -
Me: No real plans.
Hostess: Lovely. I’ll leave you to it.
The nap was only 1.5 hours, but seeing that I couldn’t even form a complete sentence prior to it, I regret nothing. Plus, we were so utterly exhausted from not sleeping at all on the plane that we were toasted by 9 p.m. and slept like babies through the night.
After our nap, we trudged to an adorable cafe only a few blocks from our B&B and sat people-watching for a bit. That was followed by a bit more wandering aimlessly, and then we headed to…
1.) VooDoo Rooms
My husband and I are both indie rock lovers, and he’d stumbled upon a band through Spotify long before our honeymoon, and noticed they were playing a place call VooDoo Rooms in Edinburgh while we’d be in town. Though we didn’t have a clear plan for the night (see above), we decided this venue looked promising and managed to navigate ourselves there. The upstairs of the venue was chic, and the downstairs stage felt incredibly intimate for all three bands that played. We were able to snag one of the tables, which was crucial since the only thing keeping me from collapsing with exhaustion was the threat of public embarrassment and the music cranked to ear-splitting decibels.
Learned a lot that night:
Edinburgh Gin is blessedly on trend, and so I didn’t stand out as a clueless American with my G&T.
You get funny looks asking for a bourbon and coke (presumably because their own whisky is not to be bastardized by mixers. Tobermory Distillery tour guide’s words, not mine).
Tipping anywhere isn’t really a thing. More on that later.
Screamo music is still the worst. Looking at you, Band #2.
Even if you go to fetch pints or hide in the bathroom, you can’t escape the ringing in your ears from Band #2.
Band #3, the one we came for, was really tight. The Rainbreakers have this unexpected Southern rock influence, and dude can PLAY the guitar. Though they were entertaining, we didn’t quite make it through the entire set before deciding pizza and bed were calling our names.
I failed to get any pictures there because I 1.) was busy enjoying the music and 2.) am still a new blogger and forget these sorts of things.
2.) Palace of Holyroodhouse
As Queen Elizabeth II's official residence while visiting Edinburgh, this palace offered much more refined decor and opulence than the castle. Filled with elegant rooms and grand tapestries, this site is everything you’d expect of a royal palace.
And, it’s filled with lots of juicy drama. In fact, we stood in the spot where David Rizzio, the secretary of Mary, Queen of Scots, was violently murdered. Neat.
We perused 96 portraits of Scottish royalty and leaders, and saw the deep slashes inflicted by Hanoverian swords — though eventually repaired, the scars and story behind them remain. I highly recommend the palace for anyone with an interest in the British monarchy, but deem it skippable if that side of history doesn’t pique your interest.
One of the coolest parts was definitely the ruined abbey, which was destroyed by the English while Mary, Queen of Scots was alive. Controversial lady, this Mary. (She’s actually FASCINATING and multifaceted and I can’t stop reading about her. I’ll link the books I’ve enjoyed soon!)
We paid about £12.50 each for tickets, which included an audio guide — an equally dorky and necessary accessory needed to make the tour worth it. We did the palace tour only, and not the Queen’s Gallery. Although I’d love to see the collections of art that the royal family has amassed over the years, I was more enthused by the thought of getting off my feet and having some coffee at the particular moment that we arrived at the ticket counter. Alas, Canaletto loses out to caffeine, once again.
3.) Broughton Street
For both our stays in Edinburgh, we weren’t too far from this delightful street. Filled with trendy restaurants, hidden dive bars and a youthful glow, we found ourselves back on this street a number of times in our short visit. By far, our favorite discovery was a little place called Pickles. Like any good food lover, I’d scoped out a few top spots I’d wanted to explore; one glance at Pickles from the road, and I knew where we’d be spending the evening!
Set below street level, this cozy restaurant is full of rustic woods, twinkle lights and tartan. Oh, and there’re plenty of pickles, too. We had to wait for about 15 minutes, but were offered drinks while we did.
Then, we settled in at a table for two and ordered the house specialty — a charcuterie platter filled with cheese, meats, pickles (duh) and various dipping spreads. AND, I’m pretty sure it’s the best deal in town on dinner for two — we got all of that plus a bottle of the house Cabernet for just £30!
Move over, Edinburgh Castle; Pickles is swooping in as the must-see destination in all the city. I know this paragraph is about the whole street, but maybe I should rename it to fit this one restaurant because I’m so dedicated to it.
Cheese does have this affect on me.
4.) Edinburgh Castle
OK, I changed my mind — the castle can stay in the Faves section, despite its lack of cheese offerings.
I think what struck both of us most about the castle was how … fortress-y (?) it was. I think that in my head, castles are decadent displays of wealth and status, filled with the finest linens and plushest of carpets. This was straight.up.rock.
It was grand, yes, and it certainly displayed status and power, and took lots of money to keep up. But this wasn’t just a pretty place for a princess to let down her hair. This was a city stronghold. A military garrison. A citadel.
It’s seen royal births, many a banquet hall dinner and its fair share of blood shed.
It’s worth the visit — and the high admission price — in my honest opinion. Although, I regretted not at least having a self-guided audio to help me along. My memorization of a Rick Steves chapter can only take me so far.
The Great Hall looks like something straight out of a medieval storybook, and the prisons are maybe the most fascinating part. I’m quite sure the details get more gory the further back in history you go, but the treatment of prisoners during World War I sounded humane and — quite frankly — boring. They often passed the time making making arts and crafts, and selling them to civilians.
I never knew I had so much in common with a prisoner of war.
An eye-opening cultural experience, this castle.
1.) Surgeons’ Hall Museums
After wandering down around the University of Edinburgh district before heading to Holyrood, we stumbled upon the Surgeons’ Hall Museums — The Dental Collection. There’s also a history of surgery wing and a pathology museum, and since my husband has a special interest in some of these topics, we popped in.
It was FUNKY. Ancient dental instruments, hilariously terrifying paintings depicting extractions, and preserved diseased livers are just a few of the fun surprises these museums have in store. It was interesting and educational, and I only gagged twice.
APPARENTLY, there’s an admission fee to peruse these pleasant displays (post-lunch, I might add). Unfortunately for the Surgeons’ Hall Museums, the tickets counter is hidden away where only the sleuthy among us can find it, because my husband and I certainly didn’t see a sign or a ticket counter until we’d walked back out of the building. In other words, we accidentally snuck in to a dental museum. Which I can safely and objectively say is the absolute nerdiest rebellion that’s ever unintentionally occurred on a honeymoon. Apologies to the Surgeons’ Hall Museums, expect a random £14 donation in the near future. Whoops.
2.) Eating off schedule.
One of the most surprising things about our European honeymoon was that we didn’t really struggle with jet lag whilst abroad, but our stomachs certainly did. We’d get hungry at the strangest times. We found this actually saved us money, in a way.
We’d wake up and eat the hearty provided breakfast at our B&B, maybe have a snack or a coffee mid-morning, and find ourselves absolutely starving for dinner by 1 or 2 p.m. This worked in our favor for a few reasons:
Fewer crowds — you’re later than the lunch rush but too early for the dinner crowd, which often meant an open restaurant.
It’s typically less expensive to order lunch foods than dinner foods. So, we’d eat our largest meal later in the afternoon and then only want an appetizer or two to share for dinner.
It helped prevent sluggish afternoons. After filling a morning with castle exploration and museum hopping, we’d start to fade energy-wise about this time. By sitting, eating and recharging for a bit, we staved off the need for a nap and were able to enter the afternoon feeling rejuvenated and eager to explore. The pints probably helped.
It sounds like backwards advice — to not try to force your eating back on a properly timed schedule — but it worked for us.
3.) Making the most of happy hour.
It’s common for B&Bs to host a happy hour in the common room, or so we learned. We thought this was absolutely brilliant, and appeared on the couch at exactly 5 p.m., ready to make new friends and chat about where we’re all from. And NOBODY CAME!
We were kinda bummed that we didn’t get to meet other cool, international couples, but on the bright side, we were perched on a beautiful couch by a gorgeous fireplace and had the wine bottle to ourselves, which is definitely one way to save money. It was the perfect place to catch up on favorite parts of the day, and to get on our phones where there was Wi-Fi and make plans for the next day.
1.) 12 Picardy Place
Y’all. I’ve never felt more like a rock star than I did when I stayed at 12 Picardy Place.
I knew we’d be tired from all of our adventuring happening on the other 9 days of our honeymoon, so I wanted our last night in Scotland to be completely comfortable and memorable.
Supposedly, this chic spot is where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born, but the most mysterious thing about the actual hotel was what the second toilet was (cause it wasn’t a bidet!?). It has a prime location right in the heart of Edinburgh, and is less than a block from the airlink tram back to the airport, which I knew we’d want for our return flight.
The service was lovely, the lack of shower walls/curtains was *interesting* and the massage chair at the desk was put to good use, friends. I’ll put a video tour on my Instagram story highlights if you want a better look!
Upon re-reading my own words, I realize I sound like a redneck sipping the cucumber water in a Marriott lobby for the first time.
Whatever. Can’t escape your roots, am I right?
To summarize: the bathroom was more spacious and better decorated than my first apartment.
10/10 would stay again.
2.) Cab from the airport.
Some won’t consider a £30 cab ride through a completely unknown city to be a major splurge, but it felt like it to me. I did all the research and found the little tram from the airport to the city centre, but correctly guessed that we’d wander off our red-eye flight and out of the EDI airport like newly hatched puppies. Unable to see, crying and only wanting our mommies.
The flight over was less than stellar. I know, I know, I shouldn’t complain about literally flying across the world in 1/3 of a day because wow, the novelty. But also wow, the discomfort. I can’t recommend a United flight to anyone in good conscious, at least not internationally. And not in the peasant seats.
We were well-fed. Well, fed.
They gave us “food” consistently enough so that we didn’t revolt in anger, throw our fists through the windows and start paddling to the UK in the hopes that we’d at least have a little elbowroom without accidentally nailing the nice Dutch girl sitting beside you every five minutes.
So finding a cab and not having to navigate anything else was worth the money. As it turns out, it’s customary to either round up to the nearest dollar or not really tip at all there.
Not because we were trying to be ostentatious, but because the money machine at the airport dictated which bills we got, we gave the cabbie a £5 tip. Hearing him say, “Magic!!!” in thanks was worth EVERY PENNY. It’s our new go-to phrase.
1.) Fish and chips from that one place.
Don’t know the name, don’t need to.
We were groggy and hangry, and we had already passed 14 other “chippys” (chippies?).
If you pass one with blue/white awning that serves only mildly warm fish and chips that are reminiscent of rubber, you’ll know you found the place!
We realized too late that we’d made eye contact with the cashier — which, as any decent passive aggressive human knows, means you now have to order food here, lest you appear rude. In fact, that accidental eye contact may require that you stay the night chatting with the cashier. Good. You’re married to the cashier now. You have Scottish babies. They are your prize for stomaching the rubber fish. Magic!
Anyway. We had our FAIR share of fish and chips later in the honeymoon to make up for this underwhelming experience.
One afternoon after walking for miles, the sky absolutely opened up. Apparently, rain is kind of a thing in Scotland. Huh.
We ducked into a nearby Starbucks to find refuge and ordered two small hot chocolates. FOR £8!!!!!!!!!!!!! That’s roughly $10.45 in good ol’ US of A money. Thankfully, watching people shuffle along in the rain and go about their daily trek was worth this OUTRAGEOUS cost of admission.
3.) The long line at Holyroodhouse…
I’m not sure if this is entirely avoidable, but we hit the queue probably about 3 p.m. and it was slammed. So my only note here is to try a little later toward closing?
Whew. I think that’s all for now.
To be completely honest, that’s not it at all.
I could write a novel about this city and this honeymoon. Maybe I will, should Robert Burns’ muse ever make her way stateside.
For now, it appears she’s stuck in the middle seat of a United flight and cannay move.
UPDATE: Don't miss part 2, a recap of Oban, Isle of Skye and St. Andrews — even prettier pictures and the best cow you’ve ever seen in you life!
Read it here —> Our Honeymoon Adventure Part 2 - Saints, Scotch & Sunsets