If you are not sure where to go or eat on a trip, the best thing to do is ask a local. After a short flight from London to Edinburgh, we took a taxi into the center of town to the hotel. During the cab ride we chatted with our taxi driver, Alex, and asked what should we see and eat in town.
Alex recommended that a great highlight of the old city is the Royal Mile. It starts at the top of the hill at Edinburgh Castle and ends at the footsteps of the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It is a great way to engulf yourself with Edinburgh’s history. Alex told us that it is best to start at the top and work your way down the hill.
At the top of the hill you can explore Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh’s famous fortress that was lived in by royalty, fought over in wars and even maintained a military presence as a base and prison. The entrance to the castle is big and bold with towering gates and magnificent views overlooking the city of Edinburgh. Some highlights are the great hall, the royal palace, the crown jewels and other mini museums within. You can experience part of the past when the one o’ clock gun that is shot every day at the castle (except on Sundays). For a little bit of Scottish treats, visit the Whiskey and Finest Foods Shop by the St. Margret’s Chapel. The shop offers free samples of whiskey on tasting days.
Palace of Holyroodhouse & Abbey nave
As you make your way down the Royal Mile, there are many souvenir shops, restaurants and pubs to stop by. Eventually you will reach the end of the mile at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the residence of the Queen when she is in Scotland. The gates of the palace are ornamented with a lion and unicorn on opposing pillars. These are representative figures of the union of England (lion) and Scotland (unicorn). The palace is stunning with the Victorian forecourt fountain, the gardens, the ruins of the Abbey nave, the Great Gallery and the famous Mary, Queen of Scots’ chambers. The palace offers guided and self-guided audio tours of the palace and grounds daily.
The café at the Palace of Holyroodhouse is a great way to grab a quick meal. They offer soup, sandwiches, salads, hot meals and baked goods. I had the vegetable casserole and croquettes with olive tapenade and goat cheese medallions. The goat cheese gives tanginess in contrast to the saltiness of the olive tapenade and crunch of the croquette. The vegetable casserole had bitter kale mixed with starchy potato chunks, green peppers, sweet onions and zucchini that were well seasoned. The vegetables were covered in a spicy tomato sauce that gave a warm kick to tingle to the palate to balance out the flavors. The meal was served with a side of house salad of arugula with onions and oil. There is also the option to have afternoon tea between 1pm and 4pm with cakes, pastries, sandwiches and a choice of tea.
After visiting the palace, Alex suggested that the climb to Arthur’s Seat that shows the greenery of Scotland. It is located at the highest part of Holyrood Park (currently the Queen’s Park) at 250.5 meters above the city on volcanic rock. Edinburgh is known as the city of fire and ice since the city is made from volcanic rock carved out by glaciers. Taking a hike up to Arthur’s Seat is worth the climb to get some of the best views over Edinburgh. It is best to make the hike on a clear and sunny day with good hiking boots or sneakers with good traction. The hike is a moderate level since some parts of the climb could be slightly steep and the top could be windy depending on the conditions of the day.
As we were arriving in Edinburgh just before dinnertime, we asked Alex what and where we must try some traditional Scottish food. He explained that we must try haggis and Aberdeen steak while in Scotland, but must go to a proper steakhouse operated by experienced butchers to get the best Scottish grub. Alex recommended McKirdy’s Steakhouse, which happened to be just down the block from the Fountain Court Apartments we were staying at.
McKirdy’s has been in the Edinburgh and East Lothian since 1895 serving high quality meats and their award winning haggis. Owned and operated by experienced butchers, their menu selection is mainly meat and has only a couple of vegetarian options. I thought it would be great to start off the meal with their haggis tower and black pudding. Haggis is known as a national Scottish food made from ground low cuts of meat of the sheep (heart, lungs and liver) mixed with oatmeal, suet, spices and minced onions stuffed inside a sheep’s stomach. Traditionally the haggis is served with turnips and potato (neeps and tatties). The haggis tower at McKirdy’s has a fluffy potato and turnip mash on a slice of savory and slightly salty haggis that comes with a side of brandy gravy. Black pudding is a blood sausage that is typically made of pig’s blood and oatmeal. It is usually grilled, fired or boiled and served as part of an English breakfast. The black pudding came sliced with sliced grilled apples with a sweet Bramley apple sauce on the side. The pudding had a melt in your mouth velvety earthy texture and a crispy outside. The apples and sauce gave a subtle sweetness to the meal.
For the entrée, I had the rack of lamb severed with sautéed red onions, potatoes, a side salad and a cherry port jus. The char-grilled lamb was juicy and not too gamy. The cherry port jus was mellow in flavor that complemented the lamb. The buttery potatoes and red onions were well seasoned and went well with the lamb. The peppery arugula salad brought freshness to the dish. I had sticky toffee pudding to end the meal on a sweet note. You can see the review of their sticky toffee pudding in the post: Save Room, a Sweet and Sticky Dessert to Never Pass Up in the UK).
For more information, see below:
The Royal Mile
Edinburgh EH1 2NG
+44 0131 225 9846
Summer Hours (April 1st-September 30th) 9:30am-6pm/ Winter Hours (October 1st-March 31st) 9:30am-5pm, Last entry 1 hour before closing
Admission: Adult £16.00, Child (Ages 5-15) £9.60, Under 5 Free, Concession (60 yrs+ and unemployed) £12.80
Palace of Holyroodhouse
The Royal Mile
Edinburgh EH8 8DX
+44 020 7766 7334
Summer Hours (April – October) 09:30-6:00pm/ Winter Hours (January – March, November & December) 09:30am-4:30pm, Last entry 1 hour before closing
Admission: Adult £11.00, Over 60/Student (with valid ID) £10.00, Under 17 £6.65
Under 5 Free, Family (2 adults, 3 under 17s) £29.25
151-155 Morrison Street
Edinburgh EH3 8AG
+44 0131 229 6660
Fri & Sat 5pm-10:30pm
Closest Train Station: Haymarket Station