A few days in a new destination is never enough, but with a day and a half to explore Edinburgh – as part of our #VeganInScotland quest – we gave it our best shot to see it and collect five pics and travel tips for Edinburgh for you to enjoy.
Both of us have visited Edinburgh before, though independently and on separate occasions. Franca has many fond memories from her previous visit with friends, whereas on the other hand I’d not the fondest of memories from the Scottish capital.
I’d travelled and spent a week in Edinburgh back in 2009 during the first few weeks that Franca and I were dating. I’d booked a ridiculously cheap £4 return train ticket from Birmingham to Edinburgh via MegaBus (the same company we used to travel from London to Edinburgh for £20 on this trip) and for accommodation had booked a tiny room that must have been a storage cupboard in a former life.
As much as I tried to explore the city and make friends in noisy pubs and bars, I was doing solo travel completely the wrong way. It was my first trip alone, and it showed. Once back on the train home following the end of the week I could only focus on my disappointment, and not the nice parts of the city which I’d enjoyed.
Leaving Edinburgh for a second time this week and it’s only the positives I can see.
Beautiful buildings and how much the city feels more like a small town and not a sprawling giant.
An active vegan community and the delicious food to be found.
Historical sites and the beautiful sculptures, paintings, and photographs that fill them all.
Five Pics and Tips for Edinburgh
Edinburgh is full of many beautiful and brilliant moments that are waiting to be discovered, and we’re really happy to share some of what we’ve uncovered with you for your own travels to the city that surrounds Edinburgh Castle.
Download a PDF of 15 Free Things To Do in Edinburgh
1. Walk though Dean Village in the heart of Edinburgh
Nearby to the airbnb in which we’d be spending the night – which first time users get a $25 discount to – was a stretch of greyish-brown town houses that followed a climbing and slightly curved street that ran parallel to the passage of a small stream or river next to it. Our mutual admiration for good architecture pulled us down that small street, but it was the footpath down to and alongside the flowing water that drew our curiosity.
Further down this path we came across Dean Village, one of the oldest areas of Edinburgh and a significant part of the reason that Edinburgh finds itself listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
It’s a quiet and quaint village that we both enjoyed walking through with just the sounds of flowing water in the background, and the view of the the city that lies behind it obscured by tall trees which gives the feeling of total seclusion.
If you were driven there with a blindfold on, you’d be hard pressed to determine if you weren’t instead in a small town in a Scottish valley and not in the middle of a busy city like Edinburgh.
It’s the contrast in age and styles between these old mill houses and cottages against the straight roads, green spaces, and modern architecture of 19th Century Edinburgh that make it so deserving of its status on the heritage list; plus there are so many angles for great pictures and several beautiful and #BrilliantMoments.
Dean Path, Edinburgh, EH8 8BH
2. Eat Haggis (the vegan way) at The Auld Hoose
As we continue to search and discover new countries we also endeavour to find interesting veggie-friendly and vegan restaurants to try and recommend to our growing group of vegan and travel-hungry friends.
One of the most important aspects of our vegan travels is to uncover local recipes that are vegan by default; a difficult task in many countries, and especially the case in a country where beef is one of the best selling items on the menu.
Sometimes when the recipes aren’t forthcoming we have to instead investigate vegan creations based on the classics, and our time in Edinburgh was to be no different.
At a student loved and alternative pub called The Auld Hoose we had the chance to try vegan haggis, a food that typically is as far from veganism as you could possibly be, but replicated really well by this incredibly vegetarian and vegan-friendly alternative pub that’s only a 15 minute walk away from the Royal Mile.
The vegan haggis with neeps & tatties we ordered was really nice, and filling too; and the vegan breakfast with vegan sausages and a slice of lightly fried haggis was just as good too. Both we’d recommend, but if you’re looking to replicate the original then it’s got to be the haggis and mash combination that wins outright.
Stopping by and sampling the nommy food at The Auld Hoose was our first stop during our #VeganInScotland travels, and we’re more than happy to recommend it to you all. It’s not just for vegans.
The Auld Hoose
23-25 St. Leonard’s St, Edinburgh, EH8 9QN
3. Join A Free Walking Tour
Time wasn’t on our side on this occasion to do some of the activities in the town that we’d have loved to dedicate some time to – walking up Arthur’s Seat, watching local football team Hearts play, etc – so we were unable to join up with the free walking tour of Edinburgh, one of the best tours I’ve ever been on.
I’d joined up with the tour on my first visit to Edinburgh and it was the highlight of my week. It taught me so much about not only the sights, but also the history that makes the city so special; and I’d hoped that together we’d be able to join up with the tour again to see what new information has been added, what has been taken away, and for Franca can take her first walking tour of Edinburgh to learn more about it.
If the Edinburgh tour is anything like the same Sandemans New Europe free walking tours we’ve taken in Berlin and Amsterdam then there’s no doubt it’d be both fun and informative.
Sandemans New Europe – Free Walking Tour, Edinburgh
124 High Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1QS
4. Explore the Scottish National Portrait Gallery
When the Scottish rain came down on our day in Edinburgh we decided that heading back to the apartment in which we were staying would be the best (*read: dry) idea, but fearing the worst of the storm we instead took a quick detour to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
We’d walked past the gallery on our early morning arrival into the city and couldn’t help but take notice of the advertisement for a photography exhibition – one of our favourite formats – and the budget-friendly free entrance to all; so visiting at some point was already a possibility. We’re both so glad that the weather persuaded us to visit because the building itself is beautiful.
Given the age and beauty of the buildings that surround it, from the outside it doesn’t exactly stand out from the crowd, but once through the entrance doors and into the central foyer it’s hard not to instantly adore it.
The classically themed design and paintwork within looks so beautiful under the light which streams in through the windows and is quite mesmerising. So too is the artwork on the three floors that make up the gallery, and the photography exhibition was as nice too.
The highlight from all three floors was the showroom for the most recent Scottish Portrait of the Year competition. The many entrants and eventual first, second, and third place winners are all worthy of inclusion in the gallery and featured works deserve admiration not just today, but for many years to come.
Scottish National Portrait Gallery
1 Queen Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1JD
5. See Greyfriars Kirkyard – and not just the home of a dog & Lord Voldemort
Many international visitors to Edinburgh may already know of the graveyard of Greyfriars Kirk thanks to the tale of Greyfriars Bobby, a dog who supposedly sat upon the grave of its deceased owner for fourteen years following its masters death. Some visit the graveyard due to the naming of Harry Potter’s arch-nemesis Lord Voldemort which was inspired by one grave stone in the graveyard which has carved upon it the name of a person long deceased called ‘Thomas Riddle‘ – but it’s not for that reason that I wanted Franca to see it.
The graveyard itself is quite beautiful and offers a really interesting viewpoint of the city and the buildings that surround it, but it’s the true story of the ‘Covenanters‘ and the prison in which they were contained following a nearby battle at Bothwell Bridge.
Men, women, and entire families were rounded up following the religious battle and were left in this small sealed grass courtyard through the winter months to either choose to sign an oath to follow the rules and laws of their persecutors, or wait to die.
Though today it’s sealed to visitors, looking through the iron gate and into the field in which so many people stood and held to their principles and beliefs is incredibly moving, even to those who hold no faith like ourselves. What’s most baffling is how the same religious persecutions still exist today, though the names of the faith have shifted and changed.
Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh, EH1 2QQ
What Are Your Travel Tips for Edinburgh?
We adored our time in Edinburgh and I personally have had a complete reversal of thought on the city and can now look fondly back on nice memories of a beautiful city, incredibly and mixed architecture, a unique and strong history, and a collection of great artworks and even better food.
Download a PDF of 15 Free Things To Do in Edinburgh
As ever, we hope that you not only enjoy our tips and find them useful in finding a side to Edinburgh that you love and want to share with people; and we hope that you too will share your own travel tips with us so that we can explore them when we again return to Scotland and the beautifully aged city of Edinburgh.
What are your travel tips for Edinburgh?