Edinburgh: a Weekend Guide

It’s getting to that time of year where the nights draw in and everyone is getting into the festive spirit.

Our local Christmas Markets are open in York and everything just seems to feel about 10000% busier, but the smell of mulled wine in the air makes it all okay.

Now I seem to have a fair amount of time off recently as we get to the quiet period of people booking holidays so I thought i’d book my own little time away.

It’s safe to say my life this year has been a little bit mad with finishing university, starting a new job, going through a break-up and my mum being in hospital. I haven’t had a holiday abroad this year so weekends away are the perfect solution to my travel bug crying at me.

I like writing about my weekends away which you can read all about here:

I have never been a very spontaneous traveller, normally everything has to be planned months in advance with every detail booked and organised. One weekend, I was working and saw that I had a long weekend off and thought I wonder if I could go away then so I decided to look for a little break for my mum and I.

I had a little thought about heading to Edinburgh, I went last year but only for the night and vowed that I had to go back and spend more time there. You can check out my little Scottish adventure here:

Booking my train tickets

Now my railcard ran out in August and I thought I was waving farewell to cheap tickets. I decided to look on Trainline anyway and was happily surprised. I looked at the start of September so around the 6 weeks mark before I was thinking of travelling.

This so happened to be a wonderful time to buy tickets, now normally it’s said that 12 weeks before travel is the best time but 6 weeks worked really well for me.

I managed to get two single tickets both to and from York to Edinburgh for just £40 in total. I didn’t really have a choice when I saw how cheap it would be so we just went for it.

The Journey

When it came to us travelling we left around half 9 from York and the journey took around 2 hours and 30 minutes so we got into Edinburgh for lunchtime.

Normally I feel more comfortable buying open tickets, not having to worry about a specific time but knowing it was so cheap and so far in advance it was well worth it.

I always dread the thought of getting up for an early train but I always think on the flipside you get to your destination at the middle of the day which gives you so much extra time.

Our Hotel

We stayed at the Ibis Edinburgh South Bridge, I’ve stayed here before and it is extremely central. It was a 10 minute walk from Edinburgh Waverley station and just around the corner from the Royal Mile.

The staff are always very welcoming and they left us a lovely little note and some chocolates in our room thanking us for our stay.

Little gestures like that is what keeps my loyalty, we didn’t ask for anything but it was so lovely to walk into our room to see that.

It was a nice quiet hotel with a rather large room just for the two of us and I slept like a baby every night.

The breakfast we also had included with a buffet with nearly every option you could ask for us to prep us for our busy weekend.

I would highly recommend this hotel as you are within a short walking distance to the main sights but just off the main busy road.

Edinburgh Castle

I knew there were several spots I had on my list to cover whilst we were in Edinburgh and going into the castle was the first. As we arrived into Edinburgh around lunchtime I thought what better way to start off our weekend than to walk up the castle.

We made our way up the Royal Mile and were greeted with the stunning castle.

Now I hate heights but people were getting photos on the wall and they must have looked great, but a little mother and daughter selfie was good enough for me.

We got our bags searched and headed through to the Castle.

Tickets for the castle for Adults are £18 each, for children its around £11. At first, I thought that the price was quite hefty until I realised how long you can spend in the castle. If you book your tickets in advance online you can save a couple of pounds so that would be worth planning. 

You could also get the headsets with an audio tour for an extra £3.50 which was available in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Russian and Mandarin.

If you go to the Edinburgh Castle website you can find little itineraries to follow so you can visit everywhere in the grounds.

We entered through the Portcullis gate and wandered our way around the battery to Mons Meg, St. Margaret’s Chapel and coming back around to the Prisoners of War Exhibition which was fascinating, The Great Hall and I made my way up to the Crown Jewels.

If I was to go back again I would definitely invest in the headsets to get a bit more information but even freely roaming around the huge castle grounds we learned so much.

Southern Cross Cafe

After well and truly tiring ourselves out we went for a well-deserved coffee and cake.

We found a lovely little independent place called the Southern Cross Cafe (@southerncrosscafe) on Cockburn Street, we were completely enticed in by the window full of cakes.

We well and truly recharged with a coffee and walnut cake and I felt so relaxed in this lovely little coffee haven. If I lived in Edinburgh it would be 100% be my regular stop to recharge.

The First Evening

Let’s just say we felt well and truly exhausted from making the most of our first day so we decided not to stray too far from the hotel and went into a restaurant just around the corner called Spatch (@spatchchicken).

We arrived at the perfect time and had the entire restaurant to ourselves. We ordered Pink Gin cocktails and burgers that we were extremely ready for.

Now I’ve been to my fair share of amazing burger restaurants, but good god this chicken burger was by far the best I’ve ever had. It was so juicy and I ended up ordering a side of Haggis fritters that I couldn’t even touch because we were so full.

It was just off the Royal Mile and I’d highly recommend it as we ended up taking a walk back up to the castle to burn off the food babies we gained.

It was lovely getting images of Edinburgh Castle at night being all lit up even if it was raining I’d highly advise it to wrap up your first day of Edinburgh.

The Red Bus Tours

I had some thoughts about how to tick off the major sites and coming from York I constantly see those red sightseeing buses going around and thought it would be perfect.

We headed down to Edinburgh Waverley so we could join at the first stop.

We paid around £15 each and got given earphones so we could listen to the commentary. Which, again comes in over 10 languages including a Horrible Histories kids commentary.

These tickets are a hop-on-hop-off and valid for 24 hours from when you purchase it. You can basically use this as your mode of transport helping you to cover all of the key sights with ease.

I became very aware that after my mum had surgery she does get a tired a bit quicker and having this ticket really helped us to take this day with ease.

We stayed on the bus for the entire trip around plotting the points that we’d head to including Grassmarket, Victoria Street, Palace of Holyrood and Dynamic Earth (the final stop – which helped us get to Arthurs Seat).

Before we headed to the key sights after our tour we had a walk through the war memorial for the First World War centenary. There was a stunning display and people were putting crosses in the ground in memory of loved ones they lost in the war.

We then decided to head to our key spots for the day:

  • Grassmarket – This area is the historic marketplace of Edinburgh, it gave me feelings of being back in York with the cobbled and winding streets. I can imagine in summer this square would be bustling with seats outside for drinks and food in the sunshine. The square is filled with unique restaurants such as Mamma’s and Maison Bleue and historic pubs including the White Hart Inn dating back to 1740.
  • Victoria Street – Just leading off the main square is this iconic street and probably one of the most photographed places in Edinburgh. For many reasons including it’s slight curve and brightly coloured buildings. It is also said to have been added inspiration for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter. You’ll find some great quirky shops here including of course a spot to get your Harry Potter merchandise.

  • Palace of Holyrood – Many people around the world will recognise this as the Queen’s residence in Scotland and this stands right at the end of the Royal Mile. Tickets for the Palace cost £14 for adults, £8 for those under 17/disabled, £12 for students and over 60’s and children under 5 go free. With your ticket you can actually use it is as a yearly pass to go back again (find out how here).
  • Arthurs Seat – We definitely underestimated this walk but it is a perfect way to get a view of Edinburgh. Set in the grounds of Holyrood park. I never realised that Arthurs Seat is actually an extinct volcano and sits around 250m above sea level. There are several levels to this walk for those slightly more prepared than us…especially me in my loafers (not suitable footwear at all). We set our sights on St. Anthony’s Chapel which was a lovely viewpoint to get some photos without going too high up.

We decided to set our sights on revisiting on a much less windy and warmer day to get to the top for next year.

Little Coffee Spots

We definitely made the most of this day and having our hop-on-hop-off ticket was an absolute blessing. We then decided to head back to Cockburn Street (my current favourite street in Edinburgh). It is full of independent restaurants, quirky shops and coffee spots to sit and watch the world go by.

We decided to go into The Edinburgh Press Club (@edinburghpressclubcafe) for coffee, rested our feet and warmed up, we had such a warm welcome and I could easily sit in any of these coffee shops all day.

This probably sounds ridiculous but a really great way of finding some different coffee places is to go on Instagram, it became a perfect source of information for me. Especially as I always wish to visit as many independent places for food and drink that I can. I came across The Milkman (@themilkmancoffee) on Instagram and we tried to go in but it was constantly busy (which is great) but there were no seats so I’ll definitely try and go back to try it out.

Our Second Evening

We decided to go for a bit of a longer walk on this night and went up to George Street, definitely the spot for those wanting to do some strong spending with shops such as White Stuff, Louis Vuitton and Reiss. I thought we would take a walk down as they had some gorgeous Christmas decorations to get us in the festive mood.

We ended up going to Las Iguanas which was right at the end of George Street and is a strong favourite of mine for good cocktails and food. After our Mojito and food we wandered back to the hotel for an early night ready for another busy day ahead.

Off to Glasgow we go

We got the train from Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Central early in the morning and were greeted by my mum’s best friend Tracey. We had a little wander around and decided to start the day off in the best way possible, a Gin and Tonic.

We had a walk through the centre of Glasgow around the shops including St. Enoch’s and even the Christmas Markets walking around with the smell of pine and mulled wine in the air.

Now this may seem silly to you reading this but I did not realise that Glasgow had an underground tube system. We took the tube to Hillhead and discovered the ‘West end‘ of Glasgow.

It only cost us around £4 return and I got to discover the iconic ‘Ashton Lane‘ for myself. You’ll find bars, restaurants and even a cinema down here. We went during the day but at night it is all lit up and I can imagine in summer the atmosphere would be buzzing with all of the outside seating.

Tracey also took us to Oran Mor, from the outside you’ll think ‘oh this looks like a gorgeous church‘. Which I mean you’re not wrong you can get married in the chapel upstairs.

But head through the little side door…

…and you will find a pub buzzing with people which completely took me by surprise and I absolutely love it.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in a lovely local called The Aragon with some of Tracey’s friends and were supplied with endless Gin & Tonics and before we knew it we needed to head back into the centre for our dinner reservation.

Revisiting Halloumi

When I visited Glasgow last year we went to Halloumi (@halloumiglasgow) and you can probably guess from the name it is a Greek restaurant, with hands down the best Halloumi fries ever. You feel like you’ve set foot in Santorini surrounded by the white brick and beachy blue accents.

We ordered about 6 dishes in total with Gyros, Keftedes, Deep Fried Feta and of course those Halloumi Fries.

The food is incredible and the service was really quick, you really do not need to order that many dishes as we got full up so quickly. I even ended up taking the Halloumi fries that I didn’t eat away with me…they are that good they can not go to waste!

I would highly recommend Halloumi to anyone visiting Glasgow and would visit it any time that I return. If you do plan on going then make sure you pre-book as it is very popular to avoid disappointment.

We then got out train back to Edinburgh full of Halloumi, Gin and with big smiles on our faces. It was so lovely to be able to get to Glasgow and finally see Tracey again who was a wonderful host. It’s always great to have a bit of insider knowledge when visiting places.

Our Journey home

Before we knew it we were waking up to go and catch our train. We may have had a little sleep in (well deserved I must say) so we ended up grabbing breakfast at the station for our train back home. Another simple just over 2-hour journey and we were back in York before 12:00.

Reflecting on our weekend away

We managed to fit in so much in our long weekend away including Edinburgh Castle, doing our own mini version of the Arthur’s seat walk and even taking a day trip to Glasgow.

This is the reason I love doing little city breaks you can always take them at your own pace but you will always be surprised with how much you can achieve in such a short space of time.

Scotland definitely holds a special place in my heart as it truly is an absolutely beautiful part of the world that took me so much by surprise on my road trip last year.

Edinburgh and Glasgow are so easy to get to and they can be used as the ideal hub to start off your own trip around Scotland as you can hire a car and head up to the Highlands and discover the Scottish countryside in all its glory.

I have loved reflecting on my little trip and I hope it’s provided you with some information for your next city break.

I’d love to hear from you guys where should I plan to visit next?

Even though I included so much in this weekend away, I definitely have more to do and see in Edinburgh. Keep your eyes peeled as I’m going to be writing all about what’s on my list for next time.

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Thank you so much for reading,


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