Western Europe


If you’re visiting Falkirk, taking a tour of the Callendar House should definitely be on your itinerary. This year, the house was closed for nearly six months due to world events. As it happens, I was their very first visitor when they reopened on September 10th. In case you’re not able to get to Scotland in the near future, or if you’d just like a taste of what’s in the house, here’s a little virtual tour. This is definitely not meant to supplant your own visit someday.

Where and What is the Callendar House

The Callendar House is the centerpiece of a 500-acre estate in the southeast part of the town of Falkirk. The manor house started off as a single, small stone tower in the 1300s. Over the past 700 years, it’s changed hands several times and also expanded considerably in size. Mary, Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie, and Queen Victoria are among the famous people who have stayed at the Callendar House.

The entrance to the Callendar House is less than a mile away from the city center. You could take the F16 bus there, but it’s just as easy to walk. It’s a bit awkward to see the eleven 15-story apartment buildings that were built at the beginning of the estate as part of a community development project in the last century, but once you’re through those, the beautiful estate grounds begin.

Callendar House

A Virtual Tour of the Callendar House

The Callendar House interiors have been restored to their Georgian-style glory and now most of the rooms contain a museum for the history of the house and other temporary and permanent exhibitions. There’s quite a bit to see and take in between all the exhibits. If you wanted to rush through and get the general idea of the place, you could probably see everything in about 45 minutes. If you’re more inquisitive and want to read all the panels, it might take you about 2-3 hours to get through all the exhibitions.

Rather than try to explain all the photos and panels, I’ll just let them speak for themselves. Hopefully, they’ll inspire you to visit in person. I apologize in advance that some of them aren’t crisp.

The Story of Callendar House

This is the first of the three permanent exhibitions as part of the self-guided tour of the Callendar House. I was amazed to see the progress of the mansion from a simple tower house to what it is today. There’s also a massive amount of history connected to the house, including reformations, revolutions, royalty in residence, etc.

The Antonine Wall – Rome’s Northern Frontier

The Antonine Wall was built 20 years after the more famous Hadrian’s Wall and stretched from the River Clyde near Glasgow to the Firth of Forth (similar to the route of the Forth and Clyde Canal). The wall was abandoned only 8 years after its construction and fell into ruin. The portions of the wall that remain are protected by UNESCO World Heritage status, including the section that runs across the Callendar Estate, although it’s now hard to recognize as a wall. There’s another portion of the wall you can visit at Rough Castle near the Falkirk Wheel.

Falkirk: Crucible of Revolution

If you read my article on the Kelpies, you’ll know that Falkirk played an important role in iron and steelworks for Europe. But I didn’t know how important that role was until I visited the Callendar House. Falkirk iron was actually exported across the entire planet; you can see manhole covers bearing the Falkirk Iron Co. stamp in small villages in Africa and Asia!

The Callendar House Georgian Kitchen

This Georgian kitchen speaks for itself. At the end of the eastern wing of the house, it dates back to the 1700s and still has much of its original equipment, including the iron pans, a large bread oven, and a massive fireplace. The contraption on the fireplace was fascinating. That iron door above the fireplace wasn’t a smaller stove. Rather, it was a fan in the flue which turned a series of gears and chains which rotated two spits in front of the fire, and two hooks for hanging poultry.

There will be a staff member dressed in character to show you around the kitchen and describe what the different artifacts were used for, how old things were, etc. I was particularly interested in the story about how children used to live and sleep beneath the large kitchen table. Their job was to ensure the fire never went out, using up to twelve buckets of coal a day, and sometimes sitting on the small iron bench next to the fire to turn the spit (before they installed the mechanical contraption).

The kitchen was also a filming location for the TV Series Outlander. In season 2, episode 11, it was used as the kitchen at the Duke of Sandringham’s home, Belhurst Manor. In case you haven’t watched the series yet, I won’t spoil what happened in that episode, but I will say it’s the scene with the famous line “I kept my word. I lay my vengeance at your feet”. The Callendar House is just one of many filming locations in Falkirk used for Outlander and other movies.

The Park Gallery Exhibitions

This is one of the temporary exhibition rooms. At the time of my visit, the exhibition was called “Uprooted” and covered a refugee movement. To be honest, by the time I made it into this room, I was running behind schedule and didn’t really have a lot of time to read everything. I don’t know how long each of the exhibits stays up for, but I believe there are about seven different exhibits that rotate each year.

Park Gallery Exhibition Room

Additional Exhibitions

Unfortunately, due to the world events of 2020, the Callendar House is no longer allowed to hand out floor plans, so I didn’t really know what exhibitions I was walking into or which room of the house I was in.  Here are some more photos from the last exhibits titled The Waters of Life, covering the construction of the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Union Canal, as well as the role that Falkirk had with shipbuilding and shipbreaking.

The Falkirk Archives

At the time of my visit, the Falkirk Archives were not open to the public, but I had a chance to peek into the room. I love old libraries like that, with floor to ceiling bookshelves.

A Virtual Tour of the Callendar House in Falkirk, Scotland 1

Booking Your Own Tour of the Callendar House

Perhaps the best part of the Callendar House is that it’s free to visit! You just have to prebook your tour in compliance with the new regulations due to the world events of 2020. At this time, there are only 6 people allowed in the house every half an hour, and a one-way system is in place for all the exhibitions. The Callendar House is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the last entry slot at 4 p.m.

As I said earlier, you could rush through in under an hour, but if I were you, I’d plan to be in the house for at least a couple hours. If you have more time, you can also spend a few hours walking around the grounds. Some of the sights to see are the Forbes Mausoleum, the remnants of the Antonine Wall, and Callendar Lake.

While you’re walking around the grounds, if you notice that the back of the house looks like it could have been the front, it actually once was. The castle-like facade at the current front of the house where the giftshop is located is a recent addition. The old entrance has since been bricked up, but those bay windows that looked out to the woodland were indeed part of the house’s original reception.

Callendar House Rear View

Another great thing to do at the Callendar House is Afternoon Tea, but at this time, the Tearoom is closed due to government restrictions. Hopefully, it will reopen in the near future. I’ll update this article when it does.

Lastly, make sure to pick up the Callendar House guidebook from the gift shop. It covers anything you might have missed about the house and grounds and gives detailed descriptions about the permanent exhibits and different rooms of the house. I’ve tried not to include too many details in this post simply because I want you to visit the house yourself someday and I don’t want to spoil it for you.

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Virtual Tour of Callendar House Pin

Further Reading

Headed to Scotland and looking for more activities outside of Edinburgh? Here are some other suggestions.

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

As far as unusual architecture goes, the Dunmore Pineapple just might be the strangest building in Scotland. It’s also rather hard to find, especially using Google Maps. On the suggestion of Visit Falkirk, I made it out to the Pineapple House to see just what was so special.

What is the Dunmore Pineapple

Pineapples were first brought to Europe from Guadeloupe by Christopher Columbus in 1493. They were considered an extremely rare and expensive delicacy. In 1761, John Murray built a greenhouse to grow pineapples next to his two walled gardens in Scotland. After the garden structures were built, Murray went to become the last Colonial Governor of Virginia. He returned to Scotland in 1776, and sometime thereafter he added a folly to the top of the garden house.

A folly is a decorative structure that doesn’t really have a purpose. They can look like a simple tower or something more extravagant and unique – like a giant, 46-foot tall pineapple. It’s uncertain exactly when the Dunmore Pineapple was built as a folly above the walled garden, but it’s certainly the most unique structure in its region of Scotland, although it’s not too far from the Kelpies.

The Dunmore Pineapple

Getting to the Dunmore Pineapple

The Dunmore Pineapple is a bit isolated in the Scottish countryside, and it’s not entirely easy to get to it. There is the F16 bus that goes to the Pineapple from Falkirk or Stirling. Get off at the North Green Drive stop in Airth and walk about 500 feet north along the highway. Make a left onto the road that goes to Cowie, and then an immediate right at the fork. Follow the potholed dirt road for about half a mile to the entrance of the Dunmore Pineapple. If you’re going by car, you can follow the same directions. There’s a small parking lot outside the gardens.

Unfortunately, Google Maps doesn’t currently give accurate directions to the Pineapple. It will try to take you to a private road to the north of the Pineapple with signs and cameras to prevent trespassing. Humorously, my taxi took me to this spot and then spent 10 minutes trying to convince me there was no way to get to the Pineapple. Thankfully, I was able to find the road in, as I was sure the tourism board hadn’t recommended an attraction that was inaccessible.

Dunmore Pineapple at Sunset

Exploring the Woodland Trails

There are several short trails to explore around the Dunmore Pineapple. Obviously, the Pineapple House itself and the walled gardens are the main attraction. Beside the garden is a small pond where newts live. Primary schools in the area bring kids on field trips to the Pineapple to research the newts and get some nature.

Dunmore Pineapple Gardens

The entrances to the garden give the sense that you’re stepping into a beautiful secluded spot, just like the Secret Garden. You kinda are, but the garden isn’t exactly spectacular, such as the garden at Drummond Castle. But it’s still nice to walk around the trails and through the forest around the gardens.

Garden Entrance

If you go through the gate to the left of the pineapple, you’ll eventually get to the ruins of the Dunmore House where they filmed a scene in the first episode of Outlander, one of the many filming locations in Falkirk. Unfortunately, I didn’t know about the house when I was at the Pineapple, and I was also short on time, so that will be on my itinerary the next time I’m in Falkirk.

Trail to Dunmore House Ruins

Sleep at the Dunmore Pineapple

Probably the best feature of the Dunmore Pineapple is that you can rent it as a B&B! Well, you won’t get breakfast, but four people can stay there for a weekend. The minimum booking is 4 days, but the rent is a spectacular £264, or $338. If four people stay for the four days, that comes out to only £16, or $20 a night per person. Make your reservation for the Dunmore Pineapple with the Landmark Trust, which also managed other cottages and bothies (a small Scottish hut, often abandoned) to stay at around the UK.

Update: The Landmark Trust advertizes staying at the Pineapple for as little as £264 for 4 nights, but in trying to book myself, I didn’t find a 4-day period within the next year that was less than £500. While it’s not as cheap as I was led to believe, it’s still one of the more unique places to stay in Scotland.

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The Dunmore Pineapple Pin

Further Reading

Headed to Scotland and looking for more activities outside of Edinburgh? Here are some other suggestions.

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

If there’s one tour in Edinburgh I’d recommend above all others, it would be the Real Mary King’s Close Tour. This tour has a little of everything – history, architecture, culture, and even a ghost story. Best of all, since the whole tour is inside and seemly underground (not really, but more on that below), it’s the perfect attraction for a rainy day in Edinburgh.

What is a Close?

To understand what a close is, I have to give a short history lesson. Over 300 million years ago, Edinburgh had some volcanic activity and the three hills of Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill and Castle Rock were formed. Later on, a glacier moved into the region, split on Castle Rock, and carved two valleys beside it. The original city of Edinburgh was built atop the basalt of Castle Rock. The town was fortified within a wall and only measured a couple square miles.

The layout of the town consisted of the castle at the top of the hill and a single main street running down the ridge of rock eastward from the castle. Small alleyways branched off this single road toward the valleys on either side. The homes of Edinburgh were built along these alleyways, stacked on top of each other to create the world’s first skyscrapers – some reached heights of up to 11 stories or more!

The Scottish names for the alleyways were close, court, entry or wynd. Wynds were public thoroughfares, although sometimes barely three feet wide (think windy – twisting and turning). Closes were private roads and therefore had a locked door or gate at the entrance. The alleyways were named after a notable person on the street, or after a profession that took place on the street. Some examples are Fisherman’s Close, Ceddes’ Entry, Bell’s Wynd and Writer’s Court.

My Tours of Mary King’s Close

The first time I took the Real Mary King’s Close tour, the day was sunny and snowing. In other words, beautiful and freezing. Maybe not the best day for a hike…not that the weather would have stopped me. If you are looking for something to do in Edinburgh that’s out of the cold or bad weather and doesn’t take too long, the Real Mary King’s Close is a perfect choice! I’ve since done the tour several times with different friends who’ve come to see Edinburgh.

I had the pleasure of getting Paul as my tour guide on my first tour. The others are just as good, but he definitely added his own flair and humor into the tour. And as my group was relatively small, it made for a great experience. After all, it’s only an hour-long tour.

I’m not going to spoil the tour too much, since I still want to you do the tour yourself, but here’s a summary of what you can expect.

The tour starts off in an exhibition room where you can see a 3D model of the original close and surrounding buildings. There’s also a video playing on the wall showing original maps of Edinburgh and the history of how the city was built. The guide will introduce himself or herself here and give you the rules, safety measures and expectations of the tour.

From there, a guide takes everyone down to Mary King’s Close to see some of the original dwelling spaces. The first several rooms are recreations of the lifestyle in the 1600s when Mary King resided in her chambers there. There is a gruesome tale of what happened with one of the residents of the close, not uncommon for that era, and another room with a really interesting audio-visual presentation covering some of the contemporary events in the 17th century.

The next few rooms are a bit more sinister, as they cover the story of the plague which decimated Edinburgh (and much of the world) in 1645. Due to lost records, it’s unknown exactly how many people perished during the plague, but considering how closely packed everyone was in those days (literally unable to leave the confines of a couple square miles), the mortality rate was extremely high. The rooms have recreations of the plague doctors and living conditions for those afflicted.

Another series of rooms show how some of the basements in Edinburgh were converted into bomb shelters during World War II. There’s another video in one of the rooms, but it doesn’t always play due to faulty (or perhaps cursed) wiring.

Lastly, there are the ghosts. While the tour primarily focuses on the history of Edinburgh, they just can’t avoid the topic of the supernatural in the most haunted city in the world. Various apparitions have been known to haunt the close over the centuries, possibly due to it’s proximity to the old Nor Loch (North Lake) where they used to carry out witch trials by dunking women into the excrement-filled lake. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, there’s one particular room which has built up a rather famous reputation in recent years.

The final part of the tour is a photo opportunity standing on Mary King’s Close. This is the only photo you’ll be able to get on the tour.

Is The Real Mary King’s Close Really Underground?

There are many tours in Edinburgh that claim to be underground. This is incorrect. As mentioned above, Edinburgh was built on an ancient volcanic hill, and digging into the basalt wasn’t really an option or necessary for the original settlers. However, The Real Mary King’s Close certainly appears to be underground, considering there’s a large building above it.

In 1760, the Edinburgh City Chambers was built across the street from St Giles Cathedral. The building was originally the Royal Exchange and was big enough to span several alleyways. Instead of finding a new location, the city chopped the tops off the medieval “skyscrapers” and built the Royal Exchange on their foundations, leaving the original streets and lower levels intact. These areas were off-limits to the public until the Real Mary King’s Close opened as an attraction, giving tours centered around the close named after the wealthy merchant Mary King.

Tips for The Real Mary King’s Close Tour

The first thing to know about the Real Mary King’s Close is that it’s built under a governmental building – the City Chambers – and the supporting structures are apparently confidential, so photography is not permitted. As such, don’t bother bringing your camera. You’ll be able to get the photo provided by the tour itself.

Bring a pair of good shoes that won’t slip. This really applies to all of Edinburgh. The Real Mary King’s Close is quite steep, and while there are handrails, it’s a good idea to have a good pair of shoes anyway.

Finally, bring a little toy or stuffed animal with you. You’ll see why on the tour; I’m certainly not going to spoil the surprise!

Booking a Tour

Located directly opposite of St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile, Mary King’s Close is easy to find. With tours every 15 minutes from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., you can almost always find the time that you want. Just book in advance during the summer as getting a tour as a walk-in is very difficult! Full-price admission is £17.95, with discounts for seniors, students, children and families.

The tour is quite user-friendly. Guides speak English, Spanish and Italian, and there are audio-guides in French, German, Spanish and Italian, Portuguese, Mandarin and Gaelic. You can also show up for the tour right off the bus or plane with your luggage. Large lockers are available for your gear and extra layers you might be wearing since the underground attraction can be considerably warmer than the outside temperature. Unfortunately, there is no access for wheelchairs.

Mary King's Close Tour

Updates for 2020

Due to the world events of 2020, safety measures have been put in place in the Real Mary Kings’ Close. Tour sizes have been reduced, allowing for social distancing. Hand sanitizer is provided throughout the tour, and you are requested to wear a mask unless you’re exempted. You should book in advance, partially to ensure you get a space on one of the tours, and partially as you’ll have to use a card which is better than cash.

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The Real Mary King's Close Tour Pin

Further Reading

Looking for other attractions in my favorite city in the world? Here are some more articles you might like.

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

Disclaimer: This was a complimentary tour organized in coordination with Visit Scotland and the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions, both of which have my utmost gratitude!
Image Credits: The Real Mary King’s Close Tours

I can’t believe it took me five years in an out of Edinburgh to finally go wild camping at Yellowcraig Beach. It’s only an hour away by bus and simply gorgeous! I can see myself going there once a month from now on whenever I’m in town. Here’s why I loved the beach there so much, and what to expect if you go yourself.

Getting to Yellowcraig

Yellowcraig is located only 20 miles east of Edinburgh along the coast, not far from the picturesque holiday village of North Berwick. The beach itself is just over a mile away from the bus stop on the main road. You can reach Yellowcraig with either the 124 or X5 buses – both leaving from Princes Street in Edinburgh’s New Town. You’ll need to get off at Station Road in the village of Dirleton.

From the bus stop, backtrack a few feet in the direction the bus came from and then make right toward the beach. The road is about a mile long to the parking lot, and then it’s just a couple more minutes to the beach.

Entering Yellowcraig Beach

Not long ago, I wrote an article in an online magazine about the best beaches in Scotland. At that time, I hadn’t been to Yellowcraig. Now I realize I should have totally had this beach on the list, if only for its close proximity to Edinburgh. I did mention Portobello, which is the beach right next to my new home, but Yellowcraig is much better and far less crowded.

Yellowcraig Beach

Broadsands Beach at Low Tide

Yellowcraig Beach stretches about a mile between two golf courses – Archerfield Links and North Berwick Links, and then continues into Broadsands Beach to the east. Directly out to sea from the beach is the stunning Fidra Island. This island has the ruins of a 12th-century chapel, once had a stronghold called Castle Tarbet, and now the prominent feature is a lighthouse built in 1885. Claims have been made that the map in Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Treasure Island was based on Fidra Island. It’s now a bird reserve, and you can see live camera feeds at the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick.

Yellowcraig Beach Sunset with Rocks

As with all of the coastline in Scotland, the beach is tidal, and the waters ebb and flow up to 15 feet up and down twice a day. As such, the beach looks completely different throughout the day. At high tide, the water comes quite close to the sand dunes. When the water recedes, the extensive rocks and tide pools become visible. Between the two extremes, there’s about a thousand feet difference where the water reaches.

Yellowcraig Beach at High tide

Yellowcraig Beach at Low Tide

Wild Camping at Yellowcraig Beach

Locals from Edinburgh and beyond camp all the time at Yellowcraig Beach. There are four different “settings” to choose from. You can pitch your tent directly on the sand, in the sand dunes, in the grassy field between the dunes and the forest, or in the forest itself. My friend and I opted to stay in the sand dunes, just a few steps from the sand, but with a small buffer from the wind and a bit of privacy too.

My Tent at Yellowcraig Beach

Yellowcraig Beach Forest

While it’s classified as wild camping at Yellowcraig Beach, it’s far more developed than most wild camping locations across Scotland. At the parking lot (known as a car park in the UK), there are bathrooms which are currently open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. There are also rangers routinely patrolling the beach to ensure everyone is following the rules of wild camping (see below) and keeping the beach clean. It only costs £2 ($2.60) per day to park at the parking lot between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. If you’re planning to camp overnight, make sure you purchase another pass in the morning before 8 to avoid a fine.

Yellowcraig Beach Bathrooms

The night we went, it was Friday on a sunny summer evening and there were about 100 tents set up either on the sand, in the dunes, on the grass or in the forest. The closest tent to us was about 50 feet away – the people on the beach were closer. At night, the beach was filled with campfires every few feet, and a couple also sprang up in the grassy field, although those were technically against the rules.

Tents on Yellowcraig Beach

I brought Polish kielbasa sausages and marshmallows for dinner, but I had yet to replace my camping stove which was stolen earlier this year. Instead, I put the sausages on a couple clean tent stakes and then found a group of students who had built their own fire for marshmallows on the beach. They were happy to let me cook the sausages, and we had a great conversation as we watched a truly epic sunset. We just couldn’t have picked a better night to go camping!

Dinner BBQ with Sunset on Yellowcraig Beach

Paddle Boards, Kayaks, Horses and Stunt Pilots

It’s nice to just relax on the sand and perhaps swim a bit…if you don’t mind water that peaks at 15°c (59°f) in August and gets as cold as 5°c (41°f) in the winter. Cold water never stops me, and I had a really nice morning swim while the tide was low. But for those who aren’t brave enough to swim in the cold, open water, there are plenty of other things on the beach to keep an eye out for.

Yellowcraig Beach Tidepool Reflextion

Many people bring out their watercraft – paddleboards, canoes and kayaks. The paddleboards stay around the shore, but some of the canoes go out to explore the islands – Firda close by, and the islands of Lamb and South Dog further out. Craigleith Island and Bass Rock are also visible from Yellowcraig Beach, although much further away.

In the morning, I was thrilled to see horseback riders on the beach. I would have loved to see free-roaming horses but, so far, I’ve only seen them at Luskentyre Beach on the Isle of Lewis and Harris.

Horses on Yellowcraig Beach

Finally, there were the occasional light planes and WWII jets doing tricks out to sea, presumably from the nearby East Fortune Airfield. There were also quite a few motorized gliders flying about, which I’d love to try out myself someday!

Plane at Yellowcraig Beach

Rules for Wildcamping in Scotland

Visit Scotland states: “As part of Scotland’s access legislation, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, you are allowed to camp on most unenclosed land.” In other words, you can wild camp in many places around Scotland (except around Loch Lomond), but there are quite a few rules and courtesies to observe.

  • Leave no impression. Anywhere you camp in Scotland, try to leave the area just as you found it.
  • Don’t leave any trash or waste.
  • Urinate away from water, bury feces underground, and take your toilet paper with you as animals can dig it up. (Sorry to make that crude.)
  • If you’re in view of or near a homestead, you should check with them to ensure it’s okay to camp in the spot you picked.
  • Don’t make a fire near dry bushes or grass. Build your fire on sand or rocks, or use a barbecue or travel stove in a controlled environment.
  • If there are neighbors around (homes or other campers), keep the noise level down when people could be sleeping.
  • If you have a vehicle, make sure you park it on a proper surface, not off-road in the vegetation.
  • You cannot stay in the same spot for more than 3 days.
  • Wild camping applies to arriving by foot or bike. You shouldn’t bring your vehicle to the spot you’re camping at.

All these rules apply at Yellowcraig Beach. Barbecues and fires are only allowed on the sand of the beach, not in the dunes, the grassy field or the forest. If possible, use the public toilets when they’re open. Make sure to completely clean up after yourself to preserve this beautiful location. I was happy to receive a “well done” by the rangers for keeping my campsite clean and organized.

Yellowcraig Beach Forest at Sunset

Packing for a Night of Wild Camping at Yellowcraig

Obviously, everyone has a different expectation of comfort when it comes to camping. Some people bring massive 4-person tents, inflatable mattresses, a crate of firewood, beach chairs, beach umbrellas, etc. I prefer to go minimalistic, packing only what will fit into my REI Grand Tour 85L backpack or Osprey Farpoint 40. Whatever your style is, there are some essentials to bring with you when wild camping in Scotland.

View of Yellowcraig Beach at Sunset

  • Waterproof clothing: It’s almost guaranteed to rain in Scotland; we were exceptionally lucky with our perfect weather while we camped at Yellowcraig Beach. A set of waterproof pants (trousers in British English) and a windbreaker will come in very handy. I recommend products from Craghoppers Outlet which ships internationally.
  • Good boots: With the rain comes mud. Even at Yellowcraig Beach where you’ll mostly be walking on sand or grass, there are still muddy patches where you’ll be glad to have proper footwear. Craghoppers Outlet also sells great boots.
  • Waterproof tent: My tiny, lightweight tent isn’t exactly proper for Scotland, even though I’ve used it throughout the country including on the West Highland Way. While I do recommend something lightweight for when you’re hiking, it’s a good idea to invest in something a little more durable and waterproof – or get the best of both worlds with a Bessport waterproof, lightweight tent). Alternatively, you can get a tarp to throw over the tent, which is what I use.
  • Midge repellent: As I’ve mentioned before, probably the worst thing about Scotland is the midge population. These tiny mosquito-like bugs attack in massive swarms, particularly in the Highlands over the summer. You won’t have to worry about them too much around Yellowcraig, but carrying some Smidge (the local midge repellent) is always a good idea. Personally, I use Avon Skin So Soft, as I get rashes from the DEET in Smidge.
  • Barbecue or stove: As mentioned above, you’re allowed to make a fire on sand or rocks, but it’s a much better idea to bring a suspended BBQ (one that doesn’t touch and scorch the ground) or camping stove. I had my own until it was stolen earlier this year, and I didn’t get a chance to replace it before visiting Yellowcraig Beach.
  • A proper sleeping bag: This one is really a matter of preference. I personally use the thinnest sleeping bag I could find, and if I ever get cold (which is really rare), I throw on a set of baselayers. If you tend to get cold at night, I’d recommend getting a sleeping bag rated for freezing temperatures.
  • Toilet paper, Ziploc bags, and a trowel: Make sure you bring the proper items for going to the bathroom. As a traveler, I’ve always got toilet paper on me, but you can’t leave it on the ground in Scotland. So the Ziploc bags are for the paper and a trowel is for other solid waste. Sanitary wipes are also a good idea if you want to keep things a bit cleaner.
  • A power bank: I don’t think I need to tell you to bring your phone, but you should also have an extra power bank in case your phone dies. I recommend an Anker power bank as they’re very reliable (except for that one time when one blew up on me). Other than my phone, I consider my power bank as one of the most valuable possessions in my travels.

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Further Reading

Looking for other activities in Edinburgh that aren’t necessarily weather-dependent? Here are some other options, as well as some recommendations on where to eat in Edinburgh.

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

In my search to find the most enjoyable activities in Edinburgh, I ran across the newly opened Chihuahua Cafe. What could be better than cuddling eight small dogs for an hour? In my opinion, not much. Edinburgh’s Chihuahua Cafe just might be the happiest place in town, especially judging by the massive smiles that all the patrons leave with.

What is a Dog Cafe

In 1998, the first cat cafe opened up in Taiwan. Its massive success prompted them to open up all over the world. As can be expected, cafes for other animals soon followed. Although there doesn’t seem to be any clear reference where or when the first dog cafe opened, in December 2017, Scotland saw the opening of its first dog cafe. Chihuahua Cafe is aptly named for the eight rambunctious chihuahuas who run around and entertain the patrons.

Chihuahua Cafe Fun

Cat and dog cafes (not to mention rabbits, ferrets, birds, snakes and even goats) are usually organized with the animals from a single owner. They often have to follow strict animal laws in the country they belong to, and the cafe environment is organized for the best treatment of the animals. After all, they are the pets of the owner, and no one wants their pets to be mistreated.

The Story Behind Chihuahua Cafe

Edinburgh’s Chihuahua Cafe is the brainchild of Tanya. She wanted to share the joy she receives from her eight chihuahuas with the world. Ama was her first dog. After adopting seven more, she conditioned her dogs into being around other humans by bringing them to different social events. Finally, it was time to open the cafe. Securing a space in Edinburgh’s historic New Town (this quarter is over 400 years old), the cafe opened its doors in December 2017, making it the second animal cafe in Edinburgh after the Maison de Moggy Cat Cafe in the Old Town and first dog cafe in Scotland (second in the UK behind Newcastle).

Tanya has a team of staff, including her mom, who help with the dogs. This includes resetting the cafe between each session, serving guests and walking the dogs in the nearby Princes Street Gardens. The cafe also offers an AirB&B Experience to walk the Chihuahuas in the gardens from time to time.

Chihuahua Cafe Staff

The ABC’s of Chihuahua Cafe

All eight chihuahuas at the cafe are girls. Just to make it easy, they are named alphabetically. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like Irina or Iona will be joining the pack anytime soon.


Ama is the founding member of the cafe and the eldest at 5 years old. I spotted her immediately as I walked in with the mini tennis ball in her mouth. She alternated between chasing after her ball and relaxing. She’s distinctive with her long black and tan hair. DOB – 04/11/12

Ama at the Chihuahua Cafe

Lady Bee

A word of warning – Bee loves giving kisses! Prepare to receive tons of affection from this white chihuahua. She also loves attention and will jump into any of the games the other dogs are playing. DOB – 02/11/16

Lady Bee at the Chihuahua Cafe


Perhaps the most independent of the dogs, Cleo didn’t interact with me a lot. The one time I took notice of her was when she was at the bottom of the doggy pile – literally. DOB – 25/11/16

Cleopatra at the Chihuahua Cafe


Although she’s a girl, the Duchess seems to be the alpha. Well, that could possibly have something to do with visiting on her birthday as she received the royal treatment in her birthday dress. She certainly got the lion’s share of doggy birthday cake. DOB – 08/02/17

Duchess at the Chihuahua Cafe


Also known as Sassy Pants and Elsa May, this snow queen was the poser. She was always getting in front of the camera and standing regally. It’s easy to identify her lilac coat. DOB – 02/02/17

Dad Feeding Elsa at the Chihuahua Cafe


When they say that Fae Fae is the diva, they’re not kidding. Whenever my hand was idle on the ground, she went over an sat on it, expect another massage. She absolutely loves cuddles and would position herself on everyone’s knee to receive them. DOB – 10/03/17

Faery at the Chihuahua Cafe


This cutie is often likened to a Golden Retriever by her mom. She loves her toys and sometimes would just sit quietly beside me with one in her mouth. Although she might not be named after a queen, she could pose just as well as Elsa. DOB – 02/03/17

Gatsby and Elsa at the Chihuahua Cafe


It’s almost impossible to pick one dog as cutest above the rest, but if I had to it would probably be Hepburn – AKA Red. I think she might have also been the smallest (hard to judge when you’re talking about Chihuahuas). DOB – 14/03/17 (the youngest)

Hepburn at the Chihuahua Cafe

Book at the Chihuahua Cafe

The cafe is located at 15 Frederick St above the Boozy Cow Restaurant in Edinburgh’s New Town. There are seven 50-minute sessions available from Thursday to Monday (Tuesday and Wednesday are the dogs’ days off). Tickets are £10 ($13) per person per session. You also have the option of booking a double session (available for the 10:00, 12:30 and 15:00 slots) which will also give you a chance to have the dogs to yourself during the 10-minute transition period. Make sure you book in advance as they do get sold out. Walk-ins are accepted at the beginning of each session if space is available.

Cakes and drinks are available for purchase individually in the cafe, or you can get a package with both for £15. Personally, I’d recommend just going for the dogs, but that’s just me. Not that the food isn’t good, but the dogs are the real attraction here. But seriously, don’t let that stop you from getting some food; this is a cafe after all!

Quick links

Is Chihuahua Cafe Worth It?

ABSOLUTELY! Excuse me for shouting, but unless you absolutely hate dogs, this cafe is simply awesome. I had the biggest smile on my face the entire time I was there, and long after I left too. In fact, if you’re in need of some therapy, this is as good as it gets. Even though the cafe has only been open a few weeks, there are regulars already onto their second loyalty card (8 visits gets you 1 free). I know I’ll be back for sure!

Chihuahua Cafe Therapy

Insider tip: Book your visit (one of them) to coincide with one of the chihuahua birthdays listed above. You’ll get to see the staff in their birthday hats, and feed the dogs birthday cake (peanut butter cupcakes).

Doggie Birthday Cake at the Chihuahua Cafe

Update for 2020

The Chihuahua Cafe closed for a few months in 2020 due to world events, but is now open once again with enhanced health and safety measures. Sadly, Dutchess has retired from the pack. On her third birthday – August 2, 2020 – she celebrated her final party at the cafe. The message from the cafe was “Duchess had a life-changing experience over Lockdown and has decided to leave the cafe life to go on adventures around the world.” I’m just thankful I got to celebrate her first birthday with her at the cafe.

The new changes and safety regulations the cafe has introduced are as follows:

  • All bookings are final upon payment. You can request a reschedule more than 72 hours before your slot, but changes aren’t guaranteed.
  • Social distancing will be observed in the cafe, incorporating smaller group sizes.
  • Groups must book together. Pre-established groups can sit together in the cafe.
  • You must arrive 10 minutes before your slot so you can be checked in smoothly. Government regulations require that personal details are collected upon entry.
  • Late arrivals will be refused entry and their payment is forfeit.
  • Hand sanitizer is provided throughout the cafe, and you’re requested to use it before and after each activity.
  • You must be comfortable with the dogs moving between groups within the cafe.
  • The staff will wear masks and practice social distancing but might have to approach you for various reasons.
  • At this time, there’s nothing posted on the website about whether masks are required within the cafe.

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Planning to Visit Scotland?

Looking for other activities in Edinburgh, or perhaps you’re allergic to dogs? Here are some other options, as well as some recommendations on where to eat in Edinburgh.

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

Lady Bee and the Duchess at he Chihuahua Cafe