Friday, June 14, 2019

Longer Travels {Scotland -- Edinburgh + St Andrews}

This is the second (and final) post about our amazing Scotland trip we took last month.  Read the first post about our adventures in Inverness and the Isle of Mull -- I wrote the posts a little out of order to make sense geography wise but this was our itinerary: St. Andrews --> Inverness --> Isle of Mull --> Edinburgh.  These are the places we stayed/spent the night, we also took day trips from these places or saw places traveling along the way.

And if you didn't read the first Scotland post then here are some quick tips -- we rented a car because it worked best for us, but be prepared to drive on the left side of the road.  And know that many places that serve alcohol don't allow children inside (this includes many of the distilleries). 

So here with go with St Andrew and Edinburgh (and area) --

St Andrews
Trevor and I both really wanted to see St Andrews -- so this was a great way to start off our trip.  We landed in Edinburgh and drove the hour or so to just outside of St Andrews and stayed at the most amazing bed & breakfast and never wanted to leave.  The room was awesome and the breakfast was so good (and so family/kid friendly).  Getting to St Andrews from Edinburgh is not easy without a car or a guided tour so this was why we decided to spend the first night in St Andrews rather than doing it as a day trip from Edinburgh.  Parking in St Andrews is readily available in pay lots -- either use coins in the machine or download the app to pay by card (which is what we did and it was very easy).
If you get to Falkirk (another town near Edinburgh), you should go to Maley's Chocolates which is owned by the same family as our bed & breakfast and the chocolate is fantastic!
We spent about a half day + lunch exploring St Andrews.  St Andrews is considered to be the home of golf and something to be seen if you have any interest in the sport.  Booking a tee time is an absolute must for any of the courses at St Andrews (the exception being the 9-hole course) and you have to have a certain handicap to play the famous Old Course.  Sadly, Trevor didn't get a chance to play but you can walk parts of the course or take a guided tour (book in advance) -- we opted to just walk the course ourselves and it was great, very impressive and amazing to see.  We also wandered through the town, saw the gorgeous university area and the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral, and walked past the ruins of St Andrews Castle before heading to lunch at Mitchell's and it was so good and so kid friendly (kids cutlery, kids menu, toys....).

After St Andrews we drove straight to Inverness with no stops because Serafina fell asleep in the car -- oops!  Read about our adventures in Inverness and the Isle of Mull here.  And after we spent time on Mull, we headed back to Edinbrugh by way of --

We drove from Oban to Stirling through the Trossachs and past Loch Lomond -- we choose this route as it is a little more main road/highway and we needed something less windy for our sweet little lady.  We arrived in Stirling later in the afternoon which worked in our favor since majority of the tour buses were gone making the whole area a lot less crowded.  We parked in the lower town and hiked up to Stirling Castle which is very impressive (and known from the movie Braveheart (but the movie was not filmed here)).  The castle is dated from the 14th century and was once the resident of the Stuart monarchs.  The castle is fairly large and so just wander throughout the various buildings and take it all in, including the gorgeous views of the town and valley below.  There was a hands-on area for kids which Serafina loved and also had so many unicorns throughout the whole castle so it kept her very entertained.  We used the stroller to walk up the hill but the actual castle isn't stroller friendly (lots of stairs -- so we tucked ours out of the way and left it while we wandered about, worked great)!
If you have the Explorer Pass you can use it here.  And the town is worth a wander through, especially the old town up on the hill -- we did it quickly as we needed to keep moving towards Edinburgh.  Stirling is an easy day trip from Edinburgh by car or train. 

We stayed in Edinburgh for two nights -- which gave us one full day and a morning to pack it all in before our flight back to Spain.  We stayed a little outside the main part of Edinburgh but still within walking distance of everything -- we stayed here and again, just fine.  And we shockingly didn't take any public transportation (we walked everywhere with the exception of the royal yacht); Edinburgh does have one metro line running through the city and to the airport and a very extensive bus system if you need it.  But Edinburgh is really walk-able especially for the main tourist sights -- most sights are along the Royal Mile (the main street running through the old part of the city).  Because we only had one full day, we stuck mostly to the main sights, so here we go --

Edinburgh Castle
The castle sits atop Castle Rock and at one end of the Royal Mile (I recommend starting here so then you are walking downhill the rest of the day).  The castle has been used as a royal residence (as early as the 11th century) and also a military stronghold.  The castle is large so take your time but also be prepared to wait in some lines to see the more famous items/places within the walls -- such as St Margaret's Chapel (oldest surviving building in Scotland) and also the crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny (ancient symbol of Scotland's monarchy).  Serafina of course absolutely loved the crown jewels -- and we got super lucky because it was pouring rain and had our stroller so we got to cut the long line into the crown jewels building and sneak up the back elevator!
You can use your Explorer Pass to skip the long line or buy tickets or buy online.

St Giles Cathedral
The cathedral dates from the 15th century and is worth a quick run through -- Serafina actually begged us to go inside as she has a love of churches and could spend hours looking at all the details and stained glass!  No pictures were allowed but there was a gorgeous stained glass window and the Thistle Chapel was very cool.
I broke the rules and took a picture
 Greyfriars Bobby Statuelife sized statue of a Skye terrier who stood vigil outside his police officer owner's grave in the 19th century -- capturing the hearts of many.  The statue is right near the kirkyard (churchyard) which you can wander through if you want.  Serafina of course loved seeing the doggy!
Princes Street + Gardens
Princes Street is like the Champs Élysées of Edinburgh (and is a famous shopping street).  Even if you aren't shopping (thanks sassy four year old), it is worth heading to the New Town to see.  You can also check out the Princes Street Gardens -- gorgeous gardens/park that was once a lake, the area is now known for its flower clock (which was being worked on when we were there).  The gardens separate the Old and New Town and worth a walk through.
Palace of Holyroodhouse
The palace is the Queen's official residence in Scotland and was home of Mary. Queen of Scots -- and you get to see her bedchamber where her secretary was murdered by her husband.  The self-guided audio tour was amazing; it was a hand held mini screen and they also had a kids audio guide (Serafina was sound asleep the entire time we toured the palace -- worked for us because we were able to take our time and thoroughly enjoy the palace, not so great for Serafina who probably would have loved the really big princess castle).  We took our time here and really enjoyed it, the self-guided tour was very well done and it was very cool seeing some more modern history unfold since the Queen has welcomed and entertained many people in the palace.  The bedchamber of Mary is not stroller friendly but Trevor and I were able to take turns seeing it and meeting each other on the other side.  The gardens were very impressive as well and you can hike Arthur's Seat from here and have an amazing view of the city and beyond.     
Just note that the palace is closed during royal visits so check the website for when it is closed -- we got very lucky and missed a royal visit by one day.

famous Abbey next to the palace
Royal Yacht BritanniaThe royal yacht was used by the British royal family as their home for holidays and foreign travel from 1953 until 1997.  The yacht is now permanently moored in Leith, the port of Edinburgh.  The tour is self-guided with an audio guide and again there is a kid's version as well as a teddy bear treasure hunt for kids.  As someone who loves the British royal family, I seriously loved touring the boat and learning more about the royal family.  I recommend trying the homemade fudge on board the ship too!
We drove out to Leith since we flew out that afternoon, but you can take a hop on/hop off bus or a city bus.  Parking was free at the Ocean Terminal Mall.  You enter the mall to access the museum/yacht -- there is a soft play area (pay by the hour) right by the museum, so if needed you could take turns touring the yacht while your kid plays! 

We ate really well in Scotland and that did not change in Edinburgh.  When we learned that Dishoom opened up in Edinburgh, we knew we had to go -- we fell in love with the Indian food in London.  Just be warned that Dishoom is very popular so make reservations if you can.  We also ate at Ola Kala an amazing Greek place, it was seriously so yummy and they were so kind to Serafina.  If you want good Scottish comfort food then head to Mums (we got unlucky and had a terrible waitress but the food was really good).  And finally, for the best breakfast (and a wonderful kids menu) -- head to Loudons, it was seriously so good.  And if you need a yummy ice cream treat (with a great view of the castle) go to Mary's Milk Bar.

For Harry Potter fans you can swing by The Elephant House (claims to be the birthplace of Harry Potter), head to Greyfrairs Kirkyard to see Tom Riddle's grave and walk up Victoria Street which was the inspiration for Diagon Alley -- there are many more places but these three are very easy to walk past yourself and are quite close to each other.

I know we are missing a lot of things to do within Edinburgh -- we had a rough start to our full day in the city (with a sassy little lady who was over traveling) so we made the most of it and hit the items that we for sure wanted to see.  One thing we wished had time for was the Scotch Whiskey Experience but we weren't sure how kid-friendly it was (even with a barrel ride through part of it).  A few other places that interested us were required to have a pre-booked guided tour which doesn't always work for our family -- we need to be able to go at our own pace and be flexible.  We had heard great things about the Edinburgh Zoo but ran out of time. Overall we really enjoyed Edinburgh and would love to go back one day!

Despite some not so great weather, we really enjoyed our time in Scotland and we loved exploring the gorgeous country.

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