Reminiscing about one of my favorite trips to date…
Earlier this summer, Andrew and I were thrilled to head to the UK with my parents for a ten day getaway. Growing up playing tennis, my family and I are still huge fans of the sport and have always talked about going to Wimbledon. This year worked out to be a perfect opportunity to attend the renowned tournament and we decided to tack on some extra vacation days in order to fully enjoy London and explore Scotland as well. None of us had ever been to Scotland before, thus it was exciting to visit the country with fresh eyes. As you will see below, it certainly did not disappoint and we were all entirely awe struck by the history surrounding Edinburgh, the stunning rolling countryside, and extremely warm people. (I kept today’s post just to Scotland to avoid this turning into a rambling overview, but be sure to check back next week for the London travel diary).
When we arrived in Scotland, the weather was definitely on the cooler side. Most days, it was in the 60s and could be quite windy, with a fair share of passing rain showers. I, of course packed entirely inappropriately (i.e. a million sun dresses) with only one thinner rain coat. Thus, my advice when packing for this trip would be to pack layers and a few chunkier knits for those chillier days. Unless of course you want to do some shopping upon arrival. I heard that this store has some beautiful knits and cashmere, but we did not have too much time to shop on this leg of the trip – adding it to the bucket list for next time!
We stayed in Edinburgh at The Howard and I could not recommend it more. The hotel is centrally located with large rooms, big bathrooms, and an extremely friendly and accommodating staff. They offer fresh breakfast every morning (porridge for me) 🙂 and complimentary tea every afternoon. We also made it a bit of a ritual to sit in the bar at night with my parents and unwind after a full day of being out and about. Something to note is that it stays light out extremely late, think 10:30pm. This made for quite leisurely, relaxing dinners, where we typically did not get back to the hotel until about midnight.
I was beyond thrilled by the incredibly high quality of food that we enjoyed while in Scotland. Almost all of the ingredients are sourced locally and the Scottish embrace a seasonal approach to cooking – serving fresh produce that is actually coming out of the ground during that time of year. It seemed that no matter where we went – from a roadside stand to a Michelin star restaurant – the food was fresh, comforting, and delicious. I especially enjoyed all of the soup that seemed to pop up on every menu. Carrot soup was a stand out for me and everywhere we visited had a version – prepared without any cream or dairy – the richness of the vegetables completely shines. Additionally, it is typically served at a scalding hot temperature, warming you from the inside out.
The Kitchin – We dined here our first evening in the country and even while fighting some serious jet lag, this meal did not disappoint. It has been awarded the best restaurant in Scotland, with a Michelin star, and it is easy to see why. There are four tasting menus to choose from (around 6 courses each) and the chefs were more than happy to whip up a vegan version for me. The main emphasis at this husband and wife run establishment is on fresh, local produce and it shows in the unparalleled quality of their dishes. At the beginning of the meal we were each handed a small map souvenir of Scotland that pinpointed exactly where each ingredient served at the restaurant, down to the salt and water, were sourced from. I thoroughly enjoyed every bite and would say if you are looking for a memorable dining experience when in Edinburgh definitely head here – but make reservations early as it tends to book up.
The Gardener’s Cottage – Another favorite meal of the trip was at this quant establishment right in the heart of Edinburgh. The restaurant is small, featuring two large communal tables, so you definitely get to know your neighbors! This is pretty much the idea as it is meant to feel like a welcoming, family style environment – perfect for locals or visitors looking to meet some new folks and enjoy a meal together. We certainly had a few interesting characters at our table, making it all the more memorable of an evening. Again, a mouth watering seasonal tasting menu was prepared and the chefs were excellent at creating a vegan version. The food was presented in a delicate manner, but not fussy at all if that makes any sense? I ate every last bite as it was comforting and all together delicious without leaving us so full that someone would have to roll me home 😉 The vibe of the Cottage is a bit 1970s hippie, with a record player humming away in the background and dainty wildflowers on each table. In other words, right up my alley!
Each day we used Tours by Locals and that would be my number one recommendation for this trip. It was fascinating getting to know the country through the eyes of someone who has grown and lived there – while also feeling casual enough that we could change around plans if something new struck our fancy. In a way it is like Uber or Lyft for touring and I have to say I loved being in someone’s car rather than in a large group vehicle or bus, which can start to feel kind of stale and tiresome at the end of the day.
Walking Tour of Edinburgh – Edinburgh is a fascinating city full of history, art, literature greats, and architecture. However, it is quite small and we were able to walk through most of it with our guide in just a few hours. This was our first day activity after getting off the plane and even though we were all exhausted, it was worth it to keep moving and get acclimated to the local schedule. A few of the magnificent sites we saw included Edinburgh Castle, The Royal Mile, The Grassmarket, and Calton Hill. I was a big proponent of Calton Hill as it led to some incredible views of the city – but be forewarned it can be super windy once you get up there!
Stirling Castle – Located just about an hour outside of Scotland, we visited this castle on our second day. It goes without saying that the architecture and stained glass here is stunning – not to mention the tour of the otherworldly Highlands that we received en route.
Glengoyne Distillery – It goes without saying, that when in Scotland, you need to partake in some Scotch! We toured this distillery on our second day and even though I am in no way a whiskey aficionado – it was pretty eye opening to see the entire process from start to finish. Also, the venue itself is picturesque, a white farmhouse set off in the Scottish countryside. Coincidentally my parents enjoyed some Glengoyne whiskey the night before at The Kitchin and we each ended up bringing a small bottle back with us.
Arthur’s Seat – On our final day in Scotland and my 25th birthday, we got up early and hiked Arthur’s seat. We lucked out as this also happened to be our nicest weather yet, with beautiful blue skies. It is not too difficult of a climb, but certainly gets a little steep at the top with a few jagged rocks so I would say throw some sneakers on if you have them. The view from the top is well worth the trek and something that I will cherish forever. But again, be prepared as it is insanely windy at the summit! This is definitely the time to whip out that windbreaker.
Hopetoun House – This sprawling estate should not be missed if you are heading on a day trip out of Edinburgh or just want to see a breathtaking Scottish landmark. The Hopetoun family still lives in one wing, but the rest of the property is open to visitors, weddings, and events. I especially loved the look out deck at the roof of the house – a perfect vantage point to see the property and gardens in all of their glory. Apparently this is also where bits of the show Outlander are filmed.
St. Andrews – On our last day, we ventured out to St. Andrews, again utilizing Tours by Locals. (As a side note, our guide Toby was the wonderful, so friendly and knowledgeable). Our main goal of course was to see the iconic golf course, but I wasn’t prepared for such an adorable seaside town. We explored the Cathedral as well as a little bit of the University, not to mention stunning views of the water. We all agreed that we would love to come back and spend some more time here to truly soak it all in.
And that about sums up our three days in Scotland! Although it is not exhaustive of everything we did – I think that these were certainly the highlights and bits I would suggest if you are planning a trip anytime soon. As I said we did not have too much time for shopping or roaming around as we aimed to pack in as much as we could (check out the forthcoming London post for that), with the short time that we had in Edinburgh. I also heard fabulous things about this all vegan cafe – Hendersons, (I think the first in the UK)! Another one to add to the bucket list for a return trip. Putting this post together made me so nostalgic for the country, even though we were only there a short time. All four of us agreed that we would love to go back and spend more time in this magical place – especially taking a trip up to the Isles in the future. And if you’re interested, remember to keep an eye out for the next post with my London travel guide coming soon!