When to visit it?
It is obvious that Scotland and its capital city can be visited at any time of the year, but please keep in mind that from early autumn till beginning of spring, it is better to have an umbrella with you, and that most tourist attractions may be closed or open very shortly. We have visited Scotland in the first week of October, and it was about 14-16 degrees Celsius, blue sky and beautiful sunshine. In fact, we were very lucky, because usually at this time of the year it is rather cloudy, wet and cold. Edinburgh itself, is probably a nice place all year round, but during summer months is experiencing a real siege of tourists, as host of numerous fairs, festivals, performances, shows and parades.
The most popular are: Edinburgh Festival Fringe – concerts of classical music, theater and ballet, Military Tattoo – the ceremonial drill military bands or Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival – the oldest event of its kind in the UK.
In 2016, Scotland, together with all the UK – was still a member of the European Union, but did not belong to the Schengen Area. That meant that there was required border control. Customs clearance in Scotland is rather a formality and is mainly based on the verification of the identity of the travel documents (for citizens of the European Union, this means the ability to use the ID card or passport). Owners of the latest generation of the biometric passports, can take advantage of automatic passport control, during which computer will do the final verification based on the pattern of the retina of the eye or the face. I recommend this automatic route since the queue waiting is much shorter compering with the traditional way (personal meeting with the custom officials).
How to get from the airport to the city center?
Bus – AIRLINK100
From the airport to the city center the easiest and the fastest way is bus Airlink100. With Airlink you can travel in a comfortable, double-decker bus. The cost of one-way ticket is 4.5 pounds, 7.5 pounds return one. Their service is available 24/7, during night it turns into a bus N22 and runs less often. Journey to the center (to Waverley Bridge), takes about 25-30 minutes. Tickets can be purchased at the Airlink kiosk located just outside of the arrivals hall, on-line or directly from the driver.
From the airport to the city center, you can also get by tram, which gets to the city center in a similar time as described above bus. The unique attraction of this transport is that it is the only tram line in the city. Edinburgh Trams for many years disappeared from the streets of Edinburgh in the late 60s of the previous century, then after nearly 60 years – returned. In the original plan there were few tram lines planned in the city, but after many long and tough discussions there was a final decision, that tram network will not be be extended.
The route from the airport to the city center runs through almost 10 km. One way ticket is 5.5 pounds, 8.5 pounds of a return one. Tickets can be purchased at vending machines placed at every tram stop (in the tram such a possibility does not exist). At the airport, I met the ground staff wearing tees with logo of the “Edinburgh Trams” who were approaching tourists and offering help, providing guidance, and even answering question – where to stop the journey if you had a specific address in your mind. Payment for purchasing tickets can be done with credit card or coins (vending machines do not take banknotes and does not give change). I do not recommend you to travel by tram without a valid ticket, as there is a conductor in each tram who checks tickets of each passenger.
The official currency of Scotland’s is the British pound sterling, but Scottish banks are also issuing their own National currency. Fortunately, and for the convenience of all tourists – Scottish pounds and British pounds have the same value, and it is possible to use them both when visiting Scotland.
So, before entering Scotland equip yourself with any pounds. In Poland, you can buy Scottish pounds and what has surprised me, they were slightly cheaper than the British currency. When it comes to pay with credit cards: Visa or MasterCards are those once we were using in Edinburgh and during our trip to the Isle of Skye.
Please be aware that hotels were also accepting credit card payments, however in our private accommodations we could pay by cash only. So, it is worthy to check before which method of payment will be accepted, and be prepared with enough cash in your pocket, otherwise you may experience a lot of problems.
Food and drinks:
The Scotch Whisky
It is produced only in Scotland, there are 100% malted barleys (single malt), or mixed with other cereals (blended Whiskey). If you want to know Whiskey production process or to learn which regions of Scotland produces its various species, I recommend you to visit one of the “experience centers” which are few in the city. We were in “The Scotch Whisky Experience” located right next to The Edinburgh Castle. It is truly nice journey through a replica distillery and the World’s Largest Whiskey Collection which houses almost 3500 individual bottles. With a resident ghost and expert guides who will assist you in exploring the aromas and flavors in your chosen dram, you’ll learn a lot and have a nice time there. Please note that voice of the guide is available in 15 languages (including the polish one). There is also Whiskey shop which stocks over 300 different Scotch Malt Whiskeys, blends and liqueurs including limited editions and rare (and expensive) Whiskey.
This dish is a specialty of the national cuisine, made with sheep’s offal mixed with onion, fat and spices, sewn and stewed in a sheep’s stomach. In the restaurants, Haggis are often served with cooked potatoes or vegetables and are really tasty, so even if you do not really like offal or the above description does not encourage you to eat – Haggis is worth to try. It is also worth because it is always better to have your own opinion if the taste is good or not, and due to the fact, that being in Scotland it is really the only opportunity to eat Haggis prepared according to the original recipes.
Fish and Chips
It’s a popular take away or low price dish like “fish dipped in a batter and served with chips”. This is a typical dish to the region throughout the UK, but in Scotland there are bars that every year win the main prize in a competition for the best “Fish and Chips” places on the islands. This is not something that you could eat every day, but fishes which we had were fresh and exceptionally tasty. I personally recommend you to consider that the best places for such a dish are located along the east coast of Edinburgh (ie. in the town of Anstruther, 9 km from St. Andrews).
If you did not like the above description of Haggis or “Fish and Chips” – this dessert which I now want to write about, is so much incredibly sweet and hypercaloric, that for me personally absolutely something not possible to eat. There are places in Scotland, where you can order chocolate candy bar (ie. Mars or Snickers), chilled before battering to prevent it from melting into the frying fat, dipped in a batter and deep-fried in the oil. In those bars, there are also available different types of breading, bars can be sprinkled with powdered sugar, poured with extra chocolate, sprinkled with coconut or served together with the ice cream or whipped cream. The product has not received support from Mars, Inc who has officially said that deep-frying bars would go against their commitment to promoting healthy and active lifestyles. You must decide yourself.
Greyfriars Bobby – a little hero
When you are in Edinburgh, you should visit a monument to man’s most faithful friend – small Skye terrier dog. This is a story that happened in the mid-nineteenth century. Bobby was a small dog, whose owner (named John) worked as a night watchman for the Edinburgh City Police. To keep him company through the long winter nights John took on a partner, a small Skye Terrier, his “watchdog” called Bobby. Together John and Bobby became famous as always seen together, no matter the seasons of the year was or weather conditions – they were faithful friends. After many years spent together, John eventually died of the tuberculosis and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard. Bobby soon touched the hearts of the residents when he refused to leave his master’s grave, even in the worst weather conditions. The family of John, gardener and keeper of Greyfriars tried on many occasions to evict Bobby from the Kirkyard but he remained faithful guardian and for 14 years did not leave the walls of the cemetery. He became a local hero and a favorite of all children. After his death, the citizens set a monument to him, seated on a marble statue ended with a small fountain. Monument has been placed just next to the entrance to Greyfriars cemetery, where Bobbie stayed with his master for 14 years. Almost 100 years later, based on this story there was a book written and Walt Disney did a movie. Up to those days, the story of Greyfrias Bobby seems to be close to us and touches our hearts.
During our visit in Edinburgh we stayed in two hotels:
- Ballantrae Hotel, York Place, Edinburgh. Description by Boooking.com: historical Ballantrae is an elegant Georgian building in the heart of Edinburgh city center. It offers rooms with free Wi-Fi. The hotel is a few minutes’ walk from the Princes Street and George Street, where there are many shops and restaurants. The property has been recently renovated and some of the spacious rooms with ensuite bathroom, offers magnificent views of the surrounding countryside and original, stylish features. Each room has a TV and tea and coffee making facilities.
This below, is a description that has encouraged me to do the reservation, but on the spot, it turned out that there are some “small exceptions” vs official note. It appered that not all rooms have been renovated, in our room there was no city view or wireless Internet access. Hotel itself is very interesting, stylish one, and it is visible that it was recently renovated. Unfortunately, we have got a room located in the basement, or even 1 level below the basement.
The room was spacious, with a niche for a large wardrobe, a large bed and a spacious bathroom. Unfortunately, the room at the level of -2 was equipped with the only one and tiny window, placed at the height of the ceiling. The only thing we could see was the level of the sidewalk. Our room was situated in front of the street and the tram line, so from early in the morning till late at night we could hear all the sounds coming directly from the street, the tracks and the pavement – happening almost directly over our heads.
In addition, there was no internet access, some contacts did not work and some shining lights over the bed were out of order. Due to the fact, we spent there only evenings and nights, we did not change the room to another one, but after 3 days we felt tired of staying “in the basement” without daylight. I strongly do not recommend accommodation at the level below the street, but I still recommend the hotel, due to its convenient location, stylish furnishings and medium-level prices. Average rating on Booking.com is 8.0, because I can imagine that those rooms which have been recently renovated, can be comfortable, so you can stay in a comfort.
- The second hotel we stayed in was “Motel One Edinburgh-Royal” and it was a very positive surprise to us. If we could imagine before that this would be such an interesting place and we could have a room with a spectacular city view, we would replace our first hotel booking with this place. Description by Boooking.com: Motel One Edinburgh-Royal is located in the city center, a 5-minute walk from the train station and just 800 meters from the castle. The historic Church of St. Margaret fortress, Half Moon Battery and David’s Tower are within a 10-minute walking distance. The rooms which are featuring flat-screen satellite TV, are tasteful, with modern furnishing and a private bathroom and shower. From my perspective – Motel One is primarily a great location, with modern style, professional service, clean and nicely decorated. As it is a motel type of accommodation – I find that offer very interesting (not cheap but good value for money). There is an average rating at Booking.com as 8.9 for this place, which speaks for itself. I do reccomend it!