Our first stop in Europe was Glasgow, Scotland. From what we’d read, it had quite a different ‘feel’ from our later destination, Edinburgh.
Haggis, Castles, and Cliffs
Glasgow is more modern, while Edinburgh maintains much more of its old buildings. Glasgow is more artsy and musical, Edinburgh more aesthetically pleasing. Glasgow has the great shopping, museums (many of them free), and night life, while Edinburgh is more touristy because of it’s beautiful architecture and the famous castle on top of the hill. Glasgow is much bigger and more cosmopolitan, and Edinburgh small and compact enough to move around more easily. Unfortunately, most of our information about Glasgow is based on research, and not actual experience since we only spent a day there. Which is why the majority of this post will focus on Edinburgh.
Our one day in Glasgow was a day of full rain and the type of chill that goes straight to your bones. We were tired, jet lagged, and carrying 3 months worth of luggage on our backs in the rain with very little knowledge of where we were going. Nevertheless, rain cannot stop beautiful buildings from peeking through, and the charm from the people of Glasgow is really what made us fall in love with it. I don’t think there was a minute that would pass before someone would stop to help us. I will never forget their thick accents and jolly demeanor! Nobody seemed rushed to send us this way or that. All of those who helped us would stop, ask us where we were from, and where we would like to go. It was such a wonderful way to enter The United Kingdom.
The unfortunate side of our experience in Glasgow is that we really didn’t have the chance to do just that; experience it. We were there for a day, in miserable weather, and a concern about venturing too far away from our departure location. Plus, Scotland was never originally a part of our itinerary, so we did little research on it and had a short period to spend there. That is why we had to decide whether to split our precious time between two amazing cities evenly, or spend more time in one: We chose the latter and the lucky city ended up being Edinburgh.
We spent some time exploring around before attempting to find where we were staying. Jonny had organized for us to spend our 2 nights with a women named Margaret through HomeLink (Home for Exchange). HomeLink is a marketplace for homeowners who wish to essentially swap their home with another family for a temporary period of time in order to save money while travelling. Jonny and I didn’t have our own home, nor a membership with the exchange website. His Aunt Jen, however did, and she offered to send out messages to families living in countries we’d be visiting to see if they’d consider us as guests. Luckily, there were some and Margaret was one of them!
She was a very sweet hostess. She had a guest room set up for us, immediately asked if we would like to shower, and she was very interested in sitting down and talking to us about our plans and experiences so far. She even cooked us an amazing dinner and we ate with both her and a close friend she’d invited to join. He was a lovely man, so kind and knowledgeable. We felt like these strangers had taken us under their wing and genuinely wanted to without expecting anything back. We are so grateful to have had such a neat time with them.
Gardens and Churches
Our first morning in Edinburgh was a day of wandering. We walked all over! We started off in the Royal Botanical Garden and admired the flowers, aging trees, and exotic plants. It was free and worth a visit.
Next, we headed for Princess Street for a view of the castle and Edinburgh’s impressive skyline. Along the way, we saw beautiful old churches like St. John’s Victorian Church and The Parish Church of St. Cuthbert. There is a cute little book store with some great postcards under St. Johns’s called St. John’s Cornerstone Books. There, we bought a few postcards to send off to friends and family.
The Castle on the Hill and the Royal Mile
We walked up to the castle as close to the entrance as possible, but we didn’t want to pay to get in. It costs 16.50 pounds per. adult which is almost $30.00! Besides, you can Google Earth yourself in for free and I think the interior of the castle walls isn’t exactly amazing nor worth the entrance fee.
From the castle, we descended down the famous Royal Mile which takes its name from the distance between the castle on the hill and Arthur’s Seat at the bottom. Jonny had downloaded a Rick Steve’s podcast tour of the Royal Mile, so we popped our ear buds in and explored the mile; just the three of us.
I would really recommend this as it muffled the tourist noises, gave us something to experience together, and we learned and saw things we would have missed had we simply wandered unknowingly alone.
The Heart of the Midlothian can be seen near St. Giles’ Cathedral. We noticed old and fresh gobs of spit on the heart mosaic and thankfully our Rick Steve’s podcast was able to shed some light on why that was. Apparently, that site used to be where public executions took place since a prison used to be there. The spitting is to either show disdain or for good luck.
The Hub (as seen below), a former church, is now the location of Edinburgh’s International Festival. There tickets can be purchased and it also houses a cafe. The spire is the tallest point of the city and can be seen towering over the rest of Edinburgh.
One of our goals for Scotland was to have whiskey at a swanky bar on the Royal Mile. There was of course, “The Whiskey Experience” which is recommended on many websites as a top attraction on the Royal Mile, but that in turn means that it is very touristy, likely quite expensive, and lacking in the authentic experience we wanted. We walked further down until we found a smaller, old fashioned looking bar lined with whiskey bottles at the back and its patrons were mainly old Scottish men. This was what we had been looking for. Each of us ordered a whiskey; mine was sweet and ‘lighter’ by whiskey standards, while Jonny ordered a darker, ‘smokey’ whiskey. I guess you could say that after we sipped our drinks, we floated down the rest of the mile with wider and dumber smiles on our faces.
I highly recommend doing the hike up to the top of Arthur’s Seat. It is a must when visiting Edinburgh and possibly one of my favorite parts about the city. We walked down the Royal Mile then hiked up the mountain on the trail nearest to us. You can hike up Arthur’s Seat from any side; however, the East side has the easiest assent. At the top, we enjoyed the panoramic views of the city. It was a perfect day with a little bit of sun and a slight breeze. We took many pictures of ourselves, and our wedding cake toppers. Yes, we brought the ‘little Jonny’ and ‘little Rachel’ wooden toppers that I had painted for our wedding cake. We decided to take pictures of them along our journey for a fun, ‘us’ thing to do. Poor ‘little Jonny’ almost fell off of Arthur’s Seat during our photo shoot!
Another thing that we simply had to try was Scotland’s well-known delicacy: Haggis. We used foursquare to find a pub that served it, and ordered one to share along with 2 beers. I did not think that I would enjoy it as much as I did, and even now my mouth waters just thinking about it. The meat was delicious with all of the spices, and the cheese sauce on top was surprisingly a perfect addition. It was the ultimate comfort food and I highly recommend that you try it at least once.
I absolutely loved Edinburgh. It was such an amazing city, just like a fairytale. Glasgow was beautiful and an intriguing city as well, but we really had too little time to give our full opinion on the city. I think Scotland is a wonderful country and definitely underrated as a travel destination. We had not intended to visit Scotland, but I am so glad that we did. It was such a great way to begin our honeymoon in Europe, and I will always feel my heart strings tug a little whenever I think about that amazing country.