Best Walk: Anywhere at sunset
I can find something to admire about every city I visit – well, almost (looking at you, Myrtle Beach) – but it is rare that I truly love every single thing about a place. That said, I love Edinburgh.
The city is easy to navigate even as the cobblestone streets wind up, down, and around hills and mountains. The architecture is reminiscent of a children’s fairytale book come to life: bricks and limestone, turrets and rounded facades, and pastel or primary-colored shops below old-world brick offices and apartments.
While the Royal Mile is filled with both local artisans and tourist traps, the off-streets provide the much of the same architecture with less people and a more appealing array of shops. Try to get lost traversing the city with its architectural details – lions in the handrails and kitschy designs in the closes/alleys – and when you’re ready to find your way back just ask a friendly local passing by on the street.
Best Food: Chicken Curry Pie at Aberfoyle Delicatessen & Trossachs Butcher
Flaky, delicate, light crust; fresh, juicy, lean chicken; seasoned, warm, smooth sauce. This is what pie should taste like.
This place, while technically in Aberfoyle and not Edinburgh, was easily the most-missed when we left the city. Between the two of us, we had indulged in (vegetarian) haggis, fish & chips, fresh fish, black pudding, Aberdeen beef, scones, and various sausages but the best meal came from this quaint deli. The meat is butchered on the premises, which explains the freshness and seriously unmatched flavor of the both the chicken curry pie and the meat pie. The tiny shop smells sweet and savory like a grandmother’s kitchen and fills with locals over the lunch hour. Most of the seating is outside – and there is very little – with views of the village’s main street and the mountains beyond it.
We both tried the pies and the pasties, both worth a trek into the tiny mountain town, for approximately £8 total. Take appropriate cash.
Best Tour: The Hairy Coo: Scottish Highlands Tour
J and I aren’t big on tours – we usually don’t do them because we would rather explore on our own (unless we aren’t allowed to do so) without the distraction of other tourists. That said, when I read about this particular tour I knew we had to do it and I am so glad that we did.
This tour provided me with some of my favorite moments of the trip: feeding the hairy coos (even though it could be considered akin to feeding the “native cows” in Iowa or seeing the “native crocodiles” in Louisiana), viewing an unexpected art installation in the middle of the forest, and tasting that delicious chicken curry pie.
The Hairy Coo Scottish Highlands Tour is free: it operates on a tips-only basis once the tour has concluded back in Edinburgh. People in our group of 18 gave anywhere from £5-£50 each, with most falling around the £30 mark. It is worth at least that much based on the places you get to experience: Forth Bridge, Wallace Monument in Stirling, views of Stirling Castle, Lake of Menteith, Aberfoyle, Loch Katrine, Doune Castle, a waterfall and art installation in the forest, and a trip to feed the hairy coos (the company provides the bread). Now, add to that the awesome tour guides – native to Scotland, very knowledgeable, personable, and genuinely interested in what they do – and you have an unforgettable tour for a very small expenditure.
The groups aren’t too big, you’re free to wander off on your own during the lunch break in Aberfoyle, and you can choose which other tours you want to do (at Doune Castle, for example). You do a fair bit of walking/hiking in the Trossachs but you also have downtime on the bus listening to Scottish music or the guide’s stories while he takes you from one place to the next.
You’ll learn some odd facts about the window tax and the color of buildings and whether they were financed/built by the city of Edinburgh or Glasgow (sand stone vs. red stone) as well as pieces of history about William Wallace and the UK in general.
If you needed another reason to love this tour company, then it might be of use to know that they are committed to sustainable tourism. You can check out the details of how they support the environment and what they do on their website.
This tour gives you beautiful views, an entertaining history lesson, delicious food, and a long list of activities for whatever price you deem worthy. What’s not to love?
Best View: Calton Hill or Arthur’s Seat
While Arthur’s Seat is most renowned for its unparalleled views of the entire city, the views at Calton Hill are nothing to ignore. Arthur’s Seat does live up to its reputation in that you can see the ocean, the city below, the mountains in the distance, etc. However, it is more difficult to get to the top than Calton Hill and will require proper shoes and clothing to do so. Calton Hill, on the other hand, also grants you view of the ocean, the mountains, and the city but without the difficult hike. I cannot pick one over the other – as I enjoy hiking and chose to do Arthur’s Seat for that exact reason – but just know that you do not have to do both in order to witness the gorgeous views that Edinburgh has to offer.
-M. Ray Hall