48 Hours in Edinburgh, Scotland

Scotland — By on July 4, 2011 at 1:00 pm

By Sarah Brown
Special to The Lost Girls

It’s the land of tartan plaid, bagpipes, and lush, green countryside, home to Sean Connery, the Loch Ness monster, and an accent that can only be described as lyrical. Scotland boasts an exciting history, a rich culture, and promises to fulfill all your vacation expectations. Whether you’re looking to play one of the world’s most challenging golf courses, spot wildlife in the Highlands, or hit the club scene in Edinburgh, you will surely be amazed wherever you go! While I cannot dream of writing a single article on all that Scotland has to offer, I do propose a 48-hour itinerary for Edinburgh, the country’s capital and second-largest city. With everything from the Queen’s official residence, a centuries-old castle, and the pub where J.K. Rowling first scrawled her notes on Harry Potter, Edinburgh will surely keep any traveler occupied.

8 p.m. Friday

Dine at one of Edinburgh’s most avant-garde restaurants, L’escargot bleu, a Scottish-French fusion restaurant that will please any sophisticated palate. With dinner for two ranging from 50 to 80 pounds, you can opt to indulge in a delightful three-course meal, or simply enjoy a main course. But you were warned: Skipping dessert here is not advised! With a French chef in the kitchen, there’s a reason crème brulée is their specialty. Using fresh, Scottish ingredients is proprietor Fred Berkmiller’s game. Most of the fish and meats you’ll find on the menu come from around the country. However, a few things on the menu do not escape their French origins, so when a selection of French cheeses comes your way, be prepared to be transported to the likes of Paris, Lyon, or Marseille with just one bite.

10 p.m.

Home to the University of Edinburgh, the city swells with a diverse student population. At night you’ll be hard-pressed to find a local watering hole that isn’t filled to the brim with the university’s finest—unless it’s exam time! If clubs are your thing, Edinburgh’s scene is more than satisfactory. With practically a different club featured each night of the week, there is always somewhere to go. Why Not on Mondays, Cab Vole on Tuesdays, Opal on Wednesdays and Fridays, and the ever-so-cleverly named Po Na Na on Thursday. But if standing for hours on end in a crowded club filled with students is not your cup of tea, don’t worry. Edinburgh also has its fair share of pubs and bars. Check out Rose Street, where you can find a whopping 39 pubs lining the sidewalks! Local dive bars include El Barrios and Garabaldi’s, which can also promise a good time.

8 a.m. Saturday

Grab breakfast at Urban Angel, an earthy café/deli that serves only the best local, organic, and free-range produce. With good food at more than fair prices, Urban Angel definitely lives up to its hippie-like reputation. For breakfast, go with the eggs benedict, served with your choice of bacon, spinach, or smoked haddock. Add on your traditional Scottish black pudding, free-range sausages, haggis, or organic Summer Islesmoked salmon. If you’re more traditional, try the homemade, organic muesli with Greek yogurt and berry compote. There’s a reason we call hippies “crunchy”!

10 a.m.

Begin your sightseeing adventure with a trip to the Scott Monument. Designed by George Meikle Kamp and completed in 1844, this towering Victorian Gothic monument to Sir Walter Scott gives unparalleled views of the city below. You can see from Calton Hill and the Palace of Holyroodhouse all the way up to the formidable Edinburgh Castle. But beware! The climb up the 287 steps to the top viewing platform is a workout, and not for the faint of heart. And be sure not to wear any headgear you’re don’t want to lose, as the winds blowing up that high are quite aggressive.

11 a.m.

From the Scott Monument, walk five minutes to your next stop, the National Portrait Gallery. One of only five national portrait galleries in the world, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery was built in 1889. All of the staff wear tartan plaid pants or skirts so you can easily spot them within the museum, and speak with the lilting accent of a true Scotsman (or woman). When you arrive, you are ushered into the first floor Portrait of the Nation exhibit, which is completely devoted to memorializing Scottish identity. There are sections devoted to contributions in science, war, society, politics, and writing, each with larger-than-life portraits of the most famous Scots in their fields. The remaining part of the floor is devoted to European art from the 16th to 19th centuries. There are works by Rubens, Velazquez, El Greco, Bernini, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, and JMW Turner. In the Italian art gallery there are a few Titians, Raphaels, and Da Vincis, but the best by far is the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist gallery, complete with Cezanne, Degas, Van Gogh, Seurat, Rodin, Monet, Sisley, and Pissarro.

1 p.m.

Finish up at the museum and walk up to the Royal Mile, the large stretch of cobblestone road that goes from the Palace of Holyroodhouse at one end, to Edinburgh Castle at the other. Along it you will find numerous cashmere stores, shops filled to the brim with touristy Scottish trinkets and treasures, and even a place where you can buy your own tartan plaid outfit. Turn off the Royal Mile onto George IV Bridge, where you will find The Outsider, a snazzy, modern restaurant whose small but eclectic lunch menu features dishes such as mussels au jus, roast garlic, potato, and cumin soup, and a delicious steak sandwich. The stylish and avant-garde looking restaurant boasts incredible views of Edinburgh Castle out the back, a menu that changes constantly, and prices that allow two to lunch for 25 pounds or less. While the food is great and the fizzy elderflower water even better, there have been some complaints about slow service and not-so-nice wait staff. However, if you’re the patient kind who can simply sit back, relax, and wait for good food, The Outsider won’t disappoint!

2 p.m.

After lunch, walk up the Royal Mile towards Edinburgh Castle. Sitting atop Castle Rock, and providing an amazing view of the city and its surroundings, the castle is an impressive sight. There has been royal castle in this location dating as far back as the reign of David I in the 12th century. It was used as a Scottish royal residence until the Union of the Crowns in 1603. The castle has played a central role in many Scottish historical conflicts, and it is where James I, son of Mary Queen of Scots, King of Scotland and later, King of England, was born. The castle itself contains many different museums, including the Museum of theRoyal Scots Regiment and the Scottish National War Museum. It is also home to the crown jewels of Scotland, also known as the Honours of Scotland. The crown, sword, and scepter date back to the 15th and 16th centuries, and are the oldest set of crown jewels in the United Kingdom. They were used at the coronations of Mary, Queen of Scots, James VI and Charles I. The Stone of Destiny, a block of red sandstone used in the coronation ceremonies of Scottish kings and queens for centuries, is also on display. It is still used today in the coronation ceremonies of the Kings of England, and it will be taken and moved down to London for the coronation of England’s next king.

4 p.m.

From the castle, take a leisurely stroll down the entire length of the Royal Mile until you reach the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the other end. The official residence of the Queen in Scotland, the palace has been a royal residence for over 500 years. As it is still a working palace today, tours are only available when the royal family is not present. The palace itself sits on 650 acres of gardens, with the Salisbury crags providing an amazing view out the left-hand side. Each summer the queen is in residence here, and there are many ceremonies and traditions that take place with her arrival.

As you walk into the palace grounds, you notice that it is quite symmetrical, with two large towers on either side. The left-hand tower, as you’re looking at it, is where Mary, Queen of Scots, had her private apartments when she lived in the palace. The way in which you progress through the palace is along the royal processional route. From the grand staircase, decorated with tapestries, paintings, and a portrait of the Queen, you will go to the royal dining room, which can seat up to 30 people. As you approach the chamber where you would meet the king or queen, the rooms get continually grander, with more elaborate plaster moldings on the ceiling, and finer tapestries and paintings on the walls. In the very impressive Great Gallery, there are portraits of all the former kings and queens of Scotland, which decorate the walls from floor to ceiling. After you pass through the Great Gallery you enter a small room, in which there is a display containing the regalia of theOrder of the Thistle, the highest order of chivalry in Scotland. Established by James II of England, the Order of the Thistle is comprised of 16 knights who have committed some extraordinary deed for the monarchy.

When you finally enter the private chambers of Mary, Queen of Scots, you will see that they are adorned with relics of her time period, including bejeweled swords and pendants, and some locks of Mary’s hair even kept in a glass case. While you’re walking around this part of the palace, the complimentary audio guide spells out the story of the tragic life of Queen Mary, who was eventually put to death by Elizabeth I for treason. When you exit the palace and the old abbey, you come out into the gardens, which are only open in the spring and summer months. These gardens are the site of one of the largest parties in Scotland, the Royal Garden Party, which has over 800 guests.

*Sunset times in Edinburgh vary depending on the time of year, but make sure you catch a glimpse as the sun goes down behind the castle. The sky lights up in brilliant colors, and sets Edinburgh Castle in an ethereal glow.

7 p.m.

Head to St. Mary’s Street, where you’ll dine at Stac Polly for a traditional Scottish dinner. Now in its 22nd year, Stac Polly is one of the city’s original restaurants for authentic Scottish food and atmosphere. With a staggering array of Scottish beers and single malt whiskeys, you’ll have a truly authentic experience inside these stone walls. Try one of their modern twists on traditional Scottish cuisine, including baked puff pastries filled with haggis, whiskey cured Scottish salmon with wasabi mayonnaise, chicken stuffed with black pudding farce, or breast of pheasant wrapped with smoked bacon. Want the quintessential Scottish meal? Order the haggis, neaps, and tatties in a game jus reduction followed by sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce. Enjoy two courses for only 19 pounds, or three courses for 24 pounds.

10 p.m.

It’s a Saturday night, so head to any of the bars, pubs, or clubs in Scotland’s capital city for a good time! Unlike on weeknights, where there is a specific club to go to each night, on Saturday all of Edinburgh’s clubs are fun and happening places to be.

8 a.m. Sunday

If want to try the full Scottish breakfast, your best bet is to try and find a local dive, where you can jump head first into a meal you wont easily forget. On George Street, try Browns or Standing Order. If you’re near the Royal Mile try The Filling Station, or head to Circle Café on Brandon Street. Not for the small-of-stomach, these hearty Scottish breakfasts generally include a fried egg, baked beans, sautéed mushrooms, black pudding, white pudding, fruit pudding, Lorne sausage, bacon (referred to as rashers), fried tomatoes, haggis, and a potato scone.

10 a.m.

Take a walk up to Calton Hill, the so-called “Acropolis of the north” found in central Edinburgh. Home to many iconic monuments and buildings, the hill’s history is profound. In ancient times it was used as a place of execution, for sporting tournaments, and then later as a stage for open-air theater performances. A monastery, a leper hospital, and a burial ground were all built on the hill during the 16th and 17th centuries. Today, one can find St. Andrew’s House, the home of the Scottish Parliament, on the steep southern slope of the hill. On the summit, the Scottish National Monument, originally intended to be another Parthenon and commemoration to Scottish soldiers killed in the Napoleonic wars, is only partially built, as funds for its construction ran out and it was never completed. In nice weather, a morning or afternoon on Calton Hill can be quite enjoyable. Bring a blanket, a good book, and soak up the sunshine while gazing over the city of Edinburgh.

Noon

Drive out to Duddingston, a small town just outside Edinburgh, for lunch at the Sheep’s Heid, Scotland’s oldest pub. Established in 1360, this pub has had many a famous visitor, including King James VI,Prince Charles, and Sir Walter Scott. The drive to the pub is gorgeous, as you pass through the crags, by lakes, and through the lush, green, Scottish wilderness. For lunch, the Sheep’s Heid serves your typical pub fare: fish and chips, haggis and neaps, hamburgers, etc. Try something from their traditional menu, which includes homemade smoked haddock potato cakes, black pudding and apple topped with goat’s cheese, shepherd’s pie, Duddingston fidget pie, sausages and mash, or Fisherman’s Mornay, which is a mélange of smoked haddock, cod, and salmon. Refresh yourself with a pint of cider or Scottish ale, and you will quickly become part of the drinking tradition that characterizes Scotland’s oldest public house.

With your day winding down and a flight to catch back home, you’re time in Edinburgh has come to a close. Bellies full of traditional fare and hearts opened to the beauty and bounty that is Scotland, you’ll leave satisfied with 48 hours well spent in one of the country’s most charming cities.

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