During Fall Break, while our kids had time off school, we spent three days in Scotland! We loved it so much. We spent time in Edinburgh, and spent a day on Isle of Skye doing three famous hikes — The Fairy Pools, Old Man of Storr, and The Quiraing (the image above is from The Quiraing hike). You can find a full report from our trip in the Instagram Highlights called Scotland and Scotland 2.
When we were planning the trip, we received so many helpful DMs with advice and recommendations, and I thought I would share them here for anyone else planning their own visit to Scotland. Note: Our trip was the first week of November, so the advice below may or many not apply depending on when your trip is scheduled.
Oh man I’m from the Bay Area but lived in Edinburgh for two years and I apologize in advance for the essay of recommendations I’m going to send your way. I will say that I was a student there, so most of my recs will be around the university, but personally that’s my favorite part of the city anyways.
For food, I highly recommend Outsider (Scottish food, very good and inexpensive!), which is conveniently just up the street from both the Cafe where jk Rowling is said to have started Harry Potter, as well as Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, which is the cemetery where you can find several names used in the books (Tom Riddle, McGonagall, etc).
Other food recs are Saboteur (Vietnamese) and Ting Thai Caravan (Thai) which are owned by the same people who own Outsider and are completely delicious!
I’d recommend seeing Victoria Street, which is very picturesque and colorful (also near Outsider). There’s a couple nicer and tasty restaurants, a place that makes many varieties of slo gin that you can sample (Covid maybe changed that), and a couple cute trinkety shops.
In terms of the university, Bristo Square has some cool architecture, and the student Union (called Teviot, which is in that square) is worth walking around inside. Comparing it to the student Union at UC Santa Cruz was a trip 😂. The Old College is very pretty and sort of an iconic university of Edinburgh visual.
The castle and the palace are both very cool. The castle is a bit pricey, but it has free tours inside as well as the Scottish Crown Jewels. I’ve been to the castle a couple times and the palace once, and personally I liked the palace more. I’d recommend one or the other, but the castle will get you better views.
For outdoorsy things, Holyrood Park is lovely to walk around, which is where Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags are. Arthur’s Seat is a lot of stairs but only takes about 20 minutes to get to the (very windy!) top. You get an amazing view there.
For a less trekked upon path, if you end up in Morningside (super cute neighborhood!), Blackford Hill is also a quick hike up and will also give you an amazing view that includes Arthur’s Seat.
Overall Edinburgh has really good food and is an extremely walkable city! I never took the bus except to and from the airport, even when it was rainy. It’s very interconnected and has multiple levels. A fun fact is that the university owns tons of the buildings in Old Town, so keep your eye out when you’re strolling and you’ll come across some fun uni departments etc!
My last rec is if you want a cute tea experience, Clarinda’s tea room on the Royal mile is fun and has lots of homemade scones and cakes. It’s a bit frilly (think Dolores Umbridge’s office 😂) but everyone is very friendly! (After all this I think it’s worth saying I am anti Jk Rowling but do love Harry Potter, so it’s a fun city for HP Easter eggs if you do too). Apologies that this is an overwhelming amount of things! Have so much fun there, and enjoy!!
Southern Cross Cafe on Cockburn St for breakfast, they have a delightful Scottish fry up with haggis! Mary’s Milk Bar in Grassmarket Square for gelato (really good flavours!). Deli Gasta on Skye is good for lunches, or The Oyster Shed for fresh seafood. Scotland is absolutely sgoinneil!! Enjoy 🏴
My son spent 4 years there at U of Edinburgh. So much to do!!! My absolute favorite coffee shop in the city is called The Wall on famous Cockburn Street. AMAZING sandwiches, teas and breakfast and the decor is just perfect for a crisp or rainy day in Edinburgh! Also, Mother India’s for the best Indian in Scotland (says lots of people!!) and a favorite place for Uni kids to take dates (very budget friendly).
SCOTLAND SUGGESTIONS! We were just in Edinburgh this past August! Holyroodhouse Palace (Mary Queen of Scots bedroom etc here) is a must do! Also, Mercat Tour company for walking tour of Edinburgh is fantastic. Very well done. Those are my top two of musts. We did Edinburgh Castle add on for our Mercat Tour. Nice, but I’m not that into military stuff. If do there do see room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James I. Also see Crown Jewels. Then pop into dungeon to see American flag carved into door. Btw, cafe has fab scones and clotted cream. 😉
Fishers Restaurant has great fish.
We did day tours to St Andrews and Sterling Castle. Sterling Castle historic. Can do quick pop in to golf course and University. Dumferline Abbey is on way and just down the street is birthplace of Andrew Carnegie. Closed so can’t personally recommend.
Wonderful place! I didn’t expect to fall in love, but did!
Happy travels! xx
Isle of Skye: you should walk up The Old Man of Storr and check out the view. The legend is magical too! A quick google search tells you about it. Isle of Skye is at the end of the tourist season so there might not be a lot open. This is a good thing as you have don’t have the crowds but might be hard finding shops and places to eat too. Just to be aware.
Just sent this to another friend in town this weekend. 😊 It’s Guy Fawkes this weekend so Google or ask about good bonfires to go to and check out the fireworks. 😊 We also recommend the national museum (mostly free) strolling around Comely Bank/Stockbridge area or Morningside for shops/food and charity (thrift) stores and also Google The Pitt for food trucks, high tea at a fancy hotel is fun Princes Street Gardens (free) and Botanical gardens both beautiful. Castle is subpar — visit Parliament and Holyrood Palace instead and wander up Arthur’s Seat. 😊
If it’s a clear day hike The Quirang. Town of Portree. On the way there obviously drive through Glencoe. Enjoy! Scotland is one of my favourite places on earth.
Scotland is so great for a holiday. We adored out last trip to the Isle of Skye and Blair castle is so great. On Skye there are so many things to do but my favourites were the fairy pools (go for a dip!) and the old man of Storr (epic). There was a great cafe in a yurt . We stayed for a week so hit most places but the ones that stick in my memory were the three chimneys and the red roof. There are great independent shops around the island but a standout was west coast weavers. She made beautiful blankets and at the time was serving lunch and tea from her Croft cottage. Enjoy!
PS — we always stop at Dunkeld if we are driving that way and go to the Aran bakery. It’s very special
Highly! Recommend the Scottish Storytelling Centre. It’s centrally located on high street.
Omg Skye is my favourite place on earth!! You guys are gonna die. Defintely visit the fairy pools, and/or Old Man of Storr.
Edinburgh is SO wonderful. The bus system is fabulous, as well, for anyplace you want to go in the city. Royal Botanic Gardens are beautiful! The farmers market on Castle Terrace runs Saturdays 9-2, if you happen to be back by then—there’s also the slightly smaller but similar Stockbridge Market on Sundays. Full of lots of favorite local goods. Loudons is beloved for brunches, Mary’s Milk Bar is an artisanal-flavor gelato fan fave (with a gorgeous castle view), and Tupiniquim is a little phonebox gem with Brazilian-style crêpes that are some of my favorite food in the city! Eteaket has lovely locally made tea blends that make a great souvenir or gift (they also separately run a little, more casual tea room). Enjoy ☺️
Oh and one more rec, this is a gorgeous little home goods store in a pretty part of town, if you end up out that way!
A few tips: restaurants in Skye are short staffed these days (I was there in September). Most close at 5 PM, the ones that do not are at max capacity. If you choose to eat out you will need to make reservations in advance. This doesn’t apply to Edinburgh, though. If you get a sunny afternoon in Isle of Skye, I’d recommend Neist Point. Have a great time in Scotland!
The Witchery Restaurant on the Royal Mile. Buy a tartan scarf. On Skye, Old Man of Storr hike (2 hrs return).
These Kelpies are near Linlithgow, on the highway between Edinburgh and Glasgow. There is Scottish lore about Horses coming from the sea…or something. But they’re giant and cool and they move. Lit up at night, and white during the day.
Edinburgh recommendations: for amazing panoramic views of the city definitely check out Calton Hill in the New Town. And if you have time for a hike, climb Arthur’s Seat. Princes Street Garden is also beautiful, and there’s a postcard-worthy view looking up toward Edinburgh Castle from the Ross Fountain. Hope you and your family enjoy! I spent my junior year studying abroad in Edinburgh and had the best time.
Oh Edinburgh (and Scotland) is the absolute best! As you’re headed to Skye tomorrow, try to hike to the Fairy Pools. If not possible, then hike up the Old Man of Storr. Even just a walk through a wee town like Portree is fun. I think you don’t drink alcohol but if you’re interested in the process at all, you can visit the Talisker distillery.
For Edinburgh: Best curry: Kismot
Nice food: the outsider, Howie’s, Wedgewood
Good bar/cafe: under the stairs, cafe marmalade
If you’re into Harry Potter: the elephant house cafe
To do: walk up and down the royal mile, walk to the top of Arthur’s seat, if you like ghost stuff- do a ghost tour that goes into the vaults and/or visit Mary King’s Close, National Museum of Scotland, Camera Obscura, walk up Calton hill, the Scotch Whisky Experience (again only if you’re interested in learning about the process/culture of whisky in Scotland).
My husband and I lived in Scotland for three years while he did a PhD and visited Edinburgh often. We loved the cafe Urban Angel and the Indian food restaurant Mother India Cafe. We always stopped at the Art Museum (and the portrait gallery is lovely too). On the Isle of Skye, the Fairy pools and Old Man of Storr hikes are classics for a good reason. We always stayed in Portree which was a cute Scottish town. Try the Cullen Skink if you get a chance, it’s a delicious and very Scottish smoked fish creamy stew. Have a wonderful time!
Faire Glen (farie mounds) and faire pools. Two different places on the Isle of Skye both feel other worldly. The faire Glen is more fanciful, and a shorter hike. The pools are mother nature at her finest but a bit more of a hike. The drive between is amazing as well. You are going to love Scotland, but especially the Isle of Skye!!
We were in Edinburgh in June! Our family loved it, and my son loved it so much he wants to live there! Highly recommend walking along the Water of Leith Pathway through Dean Village (and if you’re into it, the Royal Botanical Gardens are gorgeous). If you take the Glasgow route driving to Isle of Skye, you’ll go by Loch Lomond and through Glencoe–absolutely gorgeous area, highly recommend (we did that drive also in June).
Was there in April this year. Had brunch at the cafe on top of Calton Hill. It was delicious and the views of the city are spectacular!
Yes! My favorite Scottish dish (and very under-known in my opinion) is Cullen Skink. Delicious creamy soup made with veg, potatoes and smoked haddock. Yum.
Oh man we just got back from a trip to (among other places) Edinburgh and Skye and every moment was just enchanting. Highly recommend the delicious Cafe Cuíl on Skye (it was run by our airbnb hosts and made a delicious rarebit!!)- it’s on the way to the fairy pools on Skye and not far from Dunvegan Castle. Have a gorgeous trip!! Also loved the Storr- couldn’t do the whole hike bc we were travelling with a 2 year old, but it was gorgeous and not far from a beach where at low tide you can see dinosaur footprints preserved in the rocks! Skye was just the best.
Hey Gabrielle, I’m so excited about your visit to Scotland! I’ve lived in Edinburgh all my life and it brings me such joy whenever I get to see it fresh though a visitor’s eyes. My favourite place is the National Museum of Scotland. If you look for the Scottish history sections there’s a lot of super interesting galleries that are usually overlooked, and very quiet. there’s also a wonderful view of the city from their rooftop terrace.
Camera Obscura, Holyrood Palace, Magnificent Mile, Edinburgh Castle. Oh, and this restaurant! https://www.caferoyaledinburgh.com A friend who lived there told us about it. We loved it!!
Edinburgh is such a friendly safe city. I went alone and really enjoyed walking. Victoria St. is great. Then I went to Skye to go on a woman’s hike through Wilderness Scotland. So fun. Great women. Nice little hotels. I ate seafood every day! You will ❤️! PS My name is McFarlane! Dad born near Glasgow.
World’s End Fish & Chips really are worth the hype!
A hike up to Arthur’s seat before sunset is a great view of the city as the lights sparkle on. Might be a bit mucky on the trail? Need a flashlight coming back in the dark!
I’m so excited to see you are in Scotland! My tour company is @marysmeanders. I’m based outside Edinburgh in a small town called Linlithgow where Mary Queen of Scots was born in the palace here. Sadly it is closed for repair but only 5 minutes down the road is the wonderful Blackness Castle and then we have Midhope Castle which is the absolute Mecca for Outlander fans. There’s also the historic village of Culross which is literally like walking back in time! There are so many places to see.
A few tips for your return journey from Skye: A walk at The Hermitage which is near Dunkeld would be stunning at this time of year. There’s a beautiful quirky building that contains a surprise you would love! If you are looking for food – Atholl Arms Hotel in Dunkeld is super and it’s a lovely town too. When you get back to Edinburgh I think you’d enjoy Camera Obscura on the Royal Mile.
Restaurants on/near the Royal Mile that our guests love are The Angels Share, Makars Mash Bar and The Whiski Rooms.
Super authentic Scottish “comfort food” at Mums on Forest St in Edinburgh.
Must eat: cullen skink, a divine fish chowder you’ll see in menus by the coast. Haggis must be tried, I prefer the vegetarian version. Wool products are amazing, sweaters, coats, hats (thrift them!) + fabric and yarn if you’re crafty.
I made a full Wanderlist map for our Edinburgh trip back in June! Let me find the link! https://wanderlog.com/view/rbytfrpagr/trip-to-edinburgh/shared If you have the opportunity to go out to Inchcolm, I’d highly recommend it!
We did a short trip in June in Scotland. Highlights for me on the Isle of Skye:
1) road from Lealt Falls to Quaring, as well as the views on both spots
2) Fairy Glen: the landscape is really magical and uniquely formed
3) Portree: cutest village, really tiny
I would highly recommend Glasgow: Botanic Gardens and shopping in the West End on Great Western Road and down the little alleys in Byres Road. Extremely cool. Do it instead of your last day in Edinburgh. Barring that, I loved the ferry to the Isle of Skye (rather than the bridge)! My husband is from Scotland! You’ll love it!