Exploring Edinburgh in Winter

Edinburgh has long been a bucket list destination for me. We’ve crossed the border into Scotland a handful of times; I have fond memories of visiting Glasgow to see family as a young girl, and in 2017 we headed up to the Cairngorms National Park but I have never been to Edinburgh. Not only was I aware that it was a city full of history and architectural delights but it was also the first UNESCO City of Literature, which is quite an important feature of note for this bookworm. So for Christmas this year, James and I decided to forgo presents on the 25th and instead took a festive break (sans small people) up to Edinburgh for the weekend.

We actually stayed in two different places. On Friday evening we stayed in the Innkeeper’s Collection in Dalkeith. We opted for a double room which included breakfast and was extremely competitively priced (NB: accommodation in Edinburgh can be pretty pricey); although it was about 20-25 minutes drive from the centre of Edinburgh it was definitely worth it as we were very impressed with the hotel. On Saturday evening we stayed in an Airbnb which was less successful. Despite many 5 star reviews, it was a little more basic than we had perhaps accounted for and quite rundown. It also didn’t seem to be the cleanest place. Had James not burst his tyre on arrival (a story for another day…) I actually think we would have called the original hotel and gone back to stay there.

Practically, parking and driving through Edinburgh was pretty straightforward. On Saturday morning we drove and parked in an NCP paying £22 for the day. It made sense for us to do this as we were staying somewhere different on Saturday night and we planned to be in Edinburgh for the entire day, including seeing a show Saturday evening. Sunday (following the burst tyre disaster) we used ubers to get around and they were pretty fairly priced for a city.

christmas markets edinburgh
christmas markets edinburgh

Our primary reason for going (other than exploring the many secondhand bookshops) was the Christmas markets. I have spoken to plenty of people who raved about how impressive the festive markets were, and I have to agree, it was one of the largest I have seen complete with fairground! I was a little disappointed to realise they are no longer hosting an ice skating rink, as this was one of the things I was most looking forward to, but there were plenty of other things to do and have a look at. They are located right in the centre of Edinburgh making them very easy to access and I think if you wanted a good alternative outside of London, and particularly if you live in the north, this is a good option.

We also went to the National Museum of Scotland which was a lovely way to spend a few hours and get out of the cold. As we were short of time we opted to just do the highlights and although the plan had been to get us out of the cold, we actually spent a fair bit of time on the roof terrace admiring the panoramic views over the city. I’d highly recommend at least a quick trip to the roof terrace as the views are fantastic. The museum itself was also clean and airy, with plenty of interesting things to see. In fact, we spent pretty much the whole time talking about how impressed we were and how much the kids would love it so I definitely think a return visit is on the cards.

national museum of scotland edinburgh
roof terrace museum of scotland edinburgh views
royal mile edinburgh

There were a few places of note; Edinburgh is full of fantastic and diverse places to eat. Our favourite meal was definitely Howie’s on Victoria Street. We went here for lunch on Saturday and both absolutely loved our menu choices. On Sunday morning we tried to go for brunch to a couple of different locations and found them all fully booked, something worth bearing in mind. When I say we tried a couple of different places…we actually walked for over an hour to different options and couldn’t get into any of them. Not an ideal situation and something we will definitely learn from in future!

I have to add in that there were plenty of delicious looking food and drink stalls at the Christmas markets too. We both enjoyed a loaded hot chocolate on Sunday afternoon and it was good.

victoria street diagon alley edinburgh
ediburgh castle from kirkyard

James had booked us a Harry Potter walking tour for Saturday afternoon, through Airbnb and it was fantastic. We are both Harry Potter fans (I wouldn’t say mega fans but we both grew up with the books and enjoy the films as well) and it was fascinating to explore the city’s connections to J K Rowling and the books in general. Our tour guide, Katrina, was fantastic and gave us plenty of insights not only into HP but the history of Edinburgh in general. I think going during the winter was a smart move too; I felt like the inspiration for Diagon Alley, Victoria Street, was heaving but Katrina said it was nothing compared to the volume of people in summer!

I’m afraid I am becoming something of a cliche, and tend to hunt out all the hidden gem bookshops when we plan a trip somewhere, and this time was no different. Edinburgh is no stranger to gorgeous and quaint bookshops and although we didn’t manage to get round them all, my two personal favourites were Armchair Books and Tills Bookshop. One thing I would certainly say is that there isn’t a particular area of the city which is home to these shops, they are spread out quite widely so if you are interested in exploring some during your visit then I’d take some time to plan out which to visit and when. I’m not saying that we regretted parking at the other end of Edinburgh and then having to carry all our purchases back from Tills in the bitter cold but I’m probably saying next time we’d at least catch an uber.

armchair books edinburgh

Truthfully, I feel like we only scratched the surface of all that Edinburgh has to offer. You can see more of what we got up to in my vlog but I’d love to go back and perhaps go into Edinburgh Castle or climb Arthur’s Seat. Of course there’s Edinburgh Zoo and the famous pandas too to consider…so much more that we didn’t get to see! I’d love to take the kids as I mentioned as well as I definitely got family friendly vibes. Perhaps later on this year we’ll make it happen.

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