My favorite part of our sojourn through Scotland was the highlands, hands down! But I would be remiss if I did not talk about Edinburgh and some of the castles that we saw. All right, the title says “cities,” but Castle and City just doesn’t sound catchy enough.
Our trip to Scotland started and ended in Ebinburgh, and while we were there, we spent most of our time on the Royal Mile. Even for outdoor buffs, this is a great place to spend a day or two, and it has all the things that most tourists like to check out while in the city. It goes without saying that there is a lot of tourist souvenir shops here, but there are also some authentic places along the way as well. There is great food all up and down the mile, as well as a lovely little tea room called Clarindas Tea Room that we made a point of visiting both days that we were in the area. Of course, I think the major draw to the Royal Mile, besides the food, shopping, and architecture, is Edinburgh Castle. It is a massive castle, and being there still impresses upon visitors the power of its original owners. Even so, I felt like it was more of a museum experience than a historic castle experience, but for those of you that really enjoy museums, I am sure that you will enjoy both aspects of this attraction. You could easily spend a few hours here exploring, and even if you don’t enjoy museums all that much (like myself) there are some very nice views of the city and the buildings themselves are beautiful. ALSO, before I dive into talking about castles more, if you are into castles and plan on seeing a bunch of them, check out some of the passes that are available, because we bought an Explorer Pass for the trip and it saved us a good chunk of money. Here is a link to the Scotland Historical Association which discusses the passes.
There were two things on the Royal Mile that were my favorite though, and neither the castle nor the shopping/dining scene won out. The first was Arthur’s Seat. This is a great spot for a little urban hiking, and if you aren’t going on a road trip out into the highlands, it is actually a nice spot to experience some Scottish nature, complete with gorse, and bugs of all sorts. Of course, this is a popular spot for people exercising and tourists, so it can get busy. If you want some peace and quiet, try going during the week. The second place that I really loved in downtown Edinburgh was the Real Mary King’s Close. This was a tour that we took which explores a now-subterranean street of old Edinburgh. You can’t take any pictures on the tour, so I don’t have any here, but it gave me a really clear (if somewhat horrifying) picture of what life was really like back in the day. We all know that it wasn’t just castles, and knights, and royalty, but that is most of what’s left of those times makes it feel that way. Seeing the ruins of what the city really was and how most people lived was very interesting. Furthermore, the guides on this tour are great and they get into character like you can’t believe. It was just an overall enjoyable experience, and I highly recommend it.
Now, in terms of castles, these were all the ones that I saw from my favorite to my least favorite: (1) Caerlaverock Castle, (2) Craignethan Castle, (3) Urquhart Castle, (4) Stirling Castle, and (5) Edinburgh Castle. So, over the course of two weeks we saw five castles, and this definitely wasn’t something that I was planning since I am more of an outdoor type, but after the fact, I would really suggest checking a handful of them out, especially if you have a car. And get the Explorer Pass if this ends up being your plan. Now, Edinburgh Castle I discuss briefly above, and I wasn’t a fan because I am extremely picky when it comes to museums, and it was also very busy there when we visited. Urquhart I discussed here.
My two favorite castles were two that we visited on-the-fly on our last day, because we were tired of Edinburgh. The first of the two, Caerlaverock Castle, is far south near the Scottish/English border, and was just super interesting because of how different it was. It is a ruin, so don’t go expecting anything like Stirling or Edinburgh castles, but it takes less imagination to put it all back together than Urquhart. What’s really cool about this particular castle is that is was built on a triangular plan, and it has some interesting examples of mixed architectural styles from Scotland and the rest of Europe that I didn’t see anywhere else. Now, my second favorite, Craignethan Castle, isn’t much to look at from the outside, but once you walk in, it is just amazing to explore. The rooms are very well preserved here, in terms of the structure of the building, and again, despite it being a ruin, it isn’t hard to bring the an image to your mind of this place in its better years. An added benefit to this castle is that it is right next to the Nethan Gorge, where you can take a short hike.
Finally, Stirling Castle– this place is fairly similar to Edinburgh as compared to the other castles that I mention above, but here they have been working on restoring the castle’s outside and rooms to what it once was. I know that there were a lot of people who weren’t happy with it being partially painted its historical color, but personally, I like when these things are done. I’d rather see what it was meant to look like than what we imagine simply due to having lived with the aged version for so long. I get where the other side is coming from, but on a personal level, I just like these efforts when carried out with care. And let me say, while there were museum sections here, my favorite part of the castle was the reconstructed section. While we were there, we chatted with some very friendly and knowledgeable staff, it was such an enjoyable learning experience. The other draw for us in Stirling was the Wallace Monument, which again, had lots of museum bits in it, so I wasn’t a huge fan, but it was pretty fun to climb all the stairs and the architecture of this building is worth a look for sure.
All right! Internet and God willing, I will be back in about two weeks with an entry on our adventures in the Inner Hebrides. And after that, I will sum up our experiences in Scotland with an easy-to-use fact sheet on where we went, and what places I highly recommend for people with similar interests. Please leave sweet, thoughtful comments and questions below, and I will get back to you ASAP. Until next time- explore safely!