How to complete your Scottish bucket list without ever leaving Edinburgh

31 October 2016

Shannon Beattie, Senior Visitor Assistant at the Scotch Whisky Experience shares some of some of the best things to do for a taste of the Scottish Highlands right here in Edinburgh!

Coming from Australia to Scotland only seven months ago, I know how hard it is to narrow down the list of all the things to see and try when visiting this beautiful country, especially when one only has a few days. Scotland is famous for a few key things, such as men in skirts or kilts as they’re technically called, rainy weather, hairy cows and beautiful green mountains and countryside. 

However, there are arguably five main Scottish things that should try and be achieved by all who visit. Luckily for those who only have the time to visit the capital, all of these things can be done without ever leaving Edinburgh. 

Survey the kingdom from a Castle

Edinburgh Castle Credit Historic Scotland 500X210

[Image credit: Historic Environment Scotland]

There’s a popular saying here in Scotland: ‘ABC’. It simply means ‘another blooming castle’! There are hundreds of them dotted around the country, and a visit to Scotland isn’t complete without seeing at least one. 

At the top of the Royal Mile, you will find Edinburgh Castle, the most famous in Scotland. With multiple museums and exhibitions, including seeing Scotland’s crown jewels, you could really spend all day here, but that’s not the end of the story. To the Northwest of the city centre there is Lauriston Castle, a 16th century castle with some Georgian and Edwardian influences. And to really fulfil childhood castle dreams, there’s Craigmillar Castle, a semi-ruined medieval castle with a tower, a prison and extensive gardens. 

Sample Scotch whisky like a pro

Credit The Scotch Whisky Experience 500X210

[Image credit: The Scotch Whisky Experience]

Now I know what you’re thinking… “What could an Australian possibly know about Scotch?” Actually I’m proud to say – quite a lot. Full disclosure time - I work as a whisky guide at The Scotch Whisky Experience. Yes, I’m more than a little biased, but like countless others, my love affair with Scotland’s national drink begun at this rather magical spot on The Royal Mile.   

After your Whisky Experience coaching, you might want to take your knowledge on a test drive, and there is a distillery located about 15 miles from Edinburgh. It’s called Glenkinchie and its whisky is known as the Edinburgh malt. The distillery offers a shuttle bus service which will collect guests from the centre of town and return them safe and sound.

Soak up some history

Credit Mercat Tours 500X210

[Image credit: Mercat Tours]

A trip to Scotland wouldn’t be complete without learning just a little about Scotland’s long, complicated, and riveting history of clans, castles, kings and queens. From Viking invasions to wars with the English, it is as brutal as it is fascinating. 

A great way to learn the history of any place you visit is by doing a walking tour, and luckily Edinburgh has options for all ages and budgets. 

For those travelling on a shoestring, Sandemans offer 2.5 hour free tours of Edinburgh every day. They start at 10am, 11am and 2pm outside of Starbucks, Tron Kirk. The way these tours work is that it starts off free, and at the end of the tour you tip your guide however much you feel it was worth. 

For those with a bit more to spend, Mercat Tours offer a truly eye-opening ‘Secrets of the Royal Mile’ tour, which lasts 2.5 hours and includes a ticket and fast track entry to Edinburgh Castle.  The tour runs daily at 1.30pm at Mercat Cross on High Street. The tour costs £29 for an adult ticket, but remember that does include entry to the castle which is £16.50 on its own.

Enjoy (really!) your first Haggis

Credit Amber Restuarant 500X210

[Image credit: Amber Restaurant]

Don’t get me wrong, I know eating a meal made of the not so appealing parts of a sheep may not be high on the priority list, but it should be! Haggis is a Scottish delicacy and once you’re able to look past what it is you’re really eating, it truly is delicious. 

Haggis is usually served on top of a bed of mashed potatoes with a hint of turnip (swede or rutabaga to non-Scots), and a creamy whisky sauce. All good Scottish restaurants in the city will have haggis on the menu, and our own Amber Bar and Restaurant uses overwhelmingly local ingredients and makes only traditional Scottish cuisine. 

If you’re more of a breakfast person, head to the Arcade Bar on Cockburn St. They offer a full Scottish breakfast; just like an English one but with extra haggis for good measure.

Shed those pounds with a Ceilidh

Credit Ghillie Dhu 500X210

[Image credit: Ghillie Dhu

Now that you’ve seen some sites and eaten and drunk until your belly is full, it’s time to party! A Ceilidh, pronounced ‘kay-lee’, is a traditional Gaelic gathering. The Scottish drink and dance to folk music whilst wearing their kilts and being merry all round. It’s a whole load of fun and a chance to get a little dressed up while away on holidays. 

Ghillie Dhu on Rutland Street hold a ceilidh every Friday and Saturday night, and they’re designed for newbies. The steps to each dance are taught before and during every song, so you’ll be able to dance like the locals in no time. The ceilidh starts at 7pm with a three-course dinner and welcome drink for £30 per person. If you’re just in the mood for a jive, the dancing starts at 9.30pm and entry is only £5. 

Get your walking boots on and do ‘The Highlands’

Arthur Seat Credit Visit Scotland

[Image credit: VisitScotland]

The Highlands of Scotland lie above an imaginary line running across Scotland from The Clyde estuary in the West to the Firth of Tay in the East. You can’t see the Highlands from Edinburgh, and if you have time to see this beautiful area of Scotland, you should. However, even around the seven hills of Edinburgh, there are ways to escape into a world of mountains and glens. 

The Pentland Hills that surround Edinburgh are great for an afternoon’s hike. Closer to home, try the Craiglockheart or Braid Hills. If you only have a very short time to blow the cobwebs away, walk up Edinburgh city centre’s mini-mountain, Arthur’s Seat, to get amazing views of the city below, and a real buzz from the achievement. 

So there we have it. If you’re here for a longer stay, of course you should explore everything Scotland has to offer. But I hope I’ve shown that when it comes to ticking off your Scotland bucket list in a short space of time, Edinburgh has it all!

Looking for some more Scottish restaurant options? Take a look at our food and drink section here>