When you think of Edinburgh you might immediately conjure images of writers at work on masterpieces. (The first UNESCO City of Literature was once home to the likes of Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and J.K. Rowling.) Or, if you're a golf obsessive, images of its storied, lush courses. But no one can ruminate on Edinburgh without thinking of castles. The whole of Scotland once had as many as 3,000 of them, and Edinburgh is still home to many. So we're going to build our 48-hour itinerary around some of the castles in the area to show just how magical a short trip to Dùn Èideann can be.

Day 1

The queen's summer residence and Edinburgh's most famous castle


Relax like a Queen

Apex Grassmarket Hotel via Website


Edinburgh is amazingly compact. Despite the steep hills, you don't need to worry about complex city structure and getting hopelessly lost in the wrong neighborhood.

Check into Apex Grassmarket Hotel for a central location, spacious rooms and views of Edinburgh’s most famous castle in one go. Or do like queens do and stay on the Royal Mile in the Radisson Blu Hotel. This hotel is also reliable for a hearty breakfast and, on a day with good weather, sunshine on a terrace. Plus, you will be well placed to see your first castle of the day.

Apex Grassmarket Hotel, 31-35 Grassmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2HS, Scotland. 0800 049 8000; apexhotels.co.uk
Radisson Blu Hotel, 80 High St., The Royal Mile, Edinburgh EH1 1TH, Scotland. +44 131 557 9797; radissonblu.com

 

Palace of Holyroodhouse

via Website


It's utterly British to encounter a castle that's still used for its original purpose. Okay, so Holyrood Palace is technically not a castle, but is where Queen Elizabeth II spends two weeks each summer, performing various royal functions. You can visit the palace, bask in the glory of royalty past and present, and learn something of the complex French-Scottish relations  as long as the palace’s royal resident is not spending the night.

Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8DX, Scotland.
+44 (0) 303 123 7300​; royalcollection.org.uk

 

The Royal Mile

Photo by Byronv2 via Flickr


The Scottish Parliament gives the start to a street unofficially called the Royal Mile. Here you'll see beautiful buildings and can admire the complex architecture of Edinburgh’s Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the New Town), as well as landmarks such as St Giles' Cathedral, with its iconic crown steeple. You'll walk past curious tunnels and passages that serve as streets to take you down the steep hill. Called “wynds” or “closes,” some have positively threatening names (see: World's End Close), so keep an eye out for the signs over the narrow arches. Needless to say, they make for killer photo ops.

Parliament building, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh EH99 12P, Scotland. 
+44 (0) 131 348 5200; parliament.scot
St Giles' Cathedral, High St., Edinburgh EH1 1RE, Scotland. stgilescathedral.org.uk

 

The Most Famous Castle

via Facebook


While you burn all your breakfast calories climbing the volcanic Castle Rock — the remains of a 350-million-year-old volcanic pipe  you will see the city's most famous castle looming: Edinburgh Castle, which goes back to the Iron Age. This magnificent fortress overlooks the entire city and gives it the grand atmosphere it carries day and night. Check in to see the stunning Great Hall, the Honours of Scotland (crown jewels), the Scottish National War Memorial and more.

Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG, Scotland.
+44 (0) 131 225 9846​; edinburghcastle.gov.uk

 

Eating and Exploring in New Town

Jamie’s Italian via Website


You will no doubt be famished after that trek — and provided the weather is its normal self, quite possibly drenched in rain. Now is a perfect time to do some other form of sightseeing, exploring Edinburgh’s newer neighborhoods and nourishing your body after that workout. Jamie’s Italian, as the name suggests, is an Italian restaurant by the famed chef Jamie Oliver. Not only will dishes like the wild mushroom ravioli and Truffle Shuffle pizza give you new life, eating here gives you an excuse to descend the man-made hill called The Mound. Once you're revived, continue exploring New Town to discover Edinburgh's modern architecture, high-end boutiques and art museums. Outstanding cultural destinations include the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the Victorian Gothic monument to Sir Walter Scott, the world's largest monument to a writer. 

Jamie's Italian, The Assembly Rooms, 54 George St., Edinburgh EH2 2LR, Scotland.
+44 (0) 131 202 5452jamieoliver.com
Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 1 Queen St., Edinburgh EH2 1JD, Scotland. +44 (0) 131 624 6200nationalgalleries.org
The Scott Monument, E. Princes St. Gardens, Edinburgh, EH2 2EJ, Scotland. +44 (0) 131 529 4068; edinburghmuseums.org.uk

 

Edinburgh by Night

The Witchery via Website


When the moon and stars come out, Edinburgh is bewitching. It’s all atmospheric lighting and Gothic grandeur, painting a very magical picture indeed. In keeping with this theme, do book a table at The Witchery by the Castle. Set inside an exclusive and lush hotel, it offers wonderful food, but that isn't even the major selling point. What you must see is the haunting decor of its two distinct rooms: The Witchery and The Secret Garden. We suspect the latter’s verdant foliage, painted ceilings, mirrored panels and French doors are what prompted Andrew Lloyd Webber to call it “the prettiest restaurant ever.” Hint: Book well in advance, even for dinner on a random Tuesday.

Castlehill, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh EH1 2NF, Scotland. +44 (0) 131 225 5613; thewitchery.com

 

Whisky and Other Nightcaps

The Scotch Whisky Experience via Facebook


Incidentally, The Witchery is right next to The Scotch Whisky Experience, where you can taste Scotland’s most famous export to your heart’s content. The center closes between 5 and 6 p.m., so book an evening tasting to lead you into dinner. Finish the night by popping into Edinburgh’s oldest (and most ghostly) pub, The White Hart. This cozy place dates back 500 years and its name comes from an 1128 hunting outing by King David I in what is now Holyrood Park. There's live music most nights, making it an excellent place to wrap up your day in Edinburgh.

The Scotch Whisky Experience, 354 Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NE, Scotland.
+44 (0) 131 220 0441​; scotchwhiskyexperience.co.uk
The White Hart, 34 Grassmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2JU, Scotland. +44 (0) 131 226 2806; whitehart-edinburgh.co.uk

 

Day 2

Braveheart and haunted castles


Venture Out

via Facebook


Edinburgh is glorious, but you'd be missing out if you didn't go beyond city limits to explore other towns in the area. Rent a car and drive through the green Scottish countryside — most attractions are just about an hour's drive away. But before you embark, start your day with an acai bowl or avo sourdough toast at Hula Juice Cafe. You'll need the fuel for your adventures.

103-105 W. Bow, Edinburgh EH1 2JP, Scotland.
+44 (0) 131 220 1121hulajuicebar.co.uk

 

Freedoooom!

Photo by John McSporran via Flickr


Scots must be bored witless of hapless foreigners looking for that Braveheart vibe, yet they do acknowledge the appeal of the protagonist. Drive toward Stirling for about an hour to see the William Wallace monument, overlooking the grounds of the famous battlefield where the Scots beat the English in an unlikely showdown in 1297. Climb the 246 steps to the top and view the place of victory as well as the breathtaking natural landscape.

 Abbey Craig, Hillfoots Rd., Causewayhead, Stirling FK9 5LF, Scotland. 
+44 (0) 178 647 2140​; nationalwallacemonument.com

 

Another Day, Another Castle

Linlithgow Palace via Website


Stirling has a castle of its own, perched high atop the picturesque town. However, if you want something more imposing, stop over at Linlithgow Palace. It’s only a 30-minute drive from Edinburgh, so finding it won’t be difficult. Now in ruins, the enormous castle still looks grand, sitting on the side of a loch (lake). It's missing a roof now, but back in the day it was home to James V and Mary Queen of Scots, among others. Climb the tower above queen's chamber for a view of the surrounding area, to soak up that Labyrinth feel or to simply appreciate that Karl Lagerfeld once staged a Chanel fashion show within these walls. Stop over for lunch at the picture-perfect vintage tearoom Brodies of Linlithgow for a hearty soup or a scrumptious sandwich. Bookings are recommended at peak hour, but if you arrive just a little before or after lunchtime, you will probably get a spot in this whimsical cafe. 

Linlithgow Palace, Kirkgate, Linlithgow EH49 7AL, Scotland. + 44 (
0) 150 684 2896​; historicenvironment.scot
Brodies of Linlithgow, 121 High St., Linlithgow EH49 7EJ, Scotland. +44 (0) 150 684 3036Facebook

 

Experience a Haunting

via Website


Only in Scotland would you actively seek out a haunted castle to rest your head in. Airth Castle is one such venue. Combining stories of ghosts with a luxurious spa, the hotel truly has something for everyone. Book a room in the "proper" castle and you will be rewarded with tall ceilings, views from medieval fortress windows and the knowledge that William Wallace once stormed this place. The regal bathrooms alone will make you feel like you should be wearing a crown. Tip for the restaurant: Book well in advance, as it's the only dining option on the premises.

Airth, Stirlingshire FK2 8JF, Scotland.
+44 132 483 1411airthcastlehotel.com


By Bella Sovmiz

Bella Sovmiz is a bilingual Russian-born blogger who resides on the sunny island of Cyprus. She writes for a variety of online publications and is the creator, contributor and editor of The Other F-Word blog, which brings fashion, travel, lifestyle and beauty under one roof. An avid traveler, Bella loves to share all things entertainment and culture from her many urban escapes.