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When planning your trip to Scotland, make sure to include some attractions in Edinburgh for a rainy day. If there’s one certainty, it’s that it will almost always rain in Edinburgh. While most of my favorite spots in the city are outdoors, there are plenty of indoor attractions you can enjoy as well.

National Museum of Scotland

This is easily my favorite attraction in Edinburgh for a rainy day. To be honest, if you go to the museum, you don’t need any other attractions as you can spend days there. The museum has two parts. One side of the museum has the usual exhibits – biology, science, technology, fashion, etc, but with fantastic, modern, interactive displays. The other side of the museum is entirely dedicated to Scotland. Each floor covers a different period of Scottish history, right up to modern times. I’ve spent hundreds of hours there over dozens of trips, and I still don’t think I’ve seen everything. The museum is open almost every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and, best of all, as with most museums in the UK, it’s free!

Grand Gallery at the National Museum of Scotland. Copyright National Museums Scotland

National Galleries

The Scottish National Galleries span four buildings around the New Town. There’s quite a bit to see, and they’re all free. To keep you dry, there’s a shuttle van to take you between the main National Gallery and the National Gallery of Modern Art.

Scottish National Gallery

The Scottish National Gallery sits on what’s called The Mound – literally a huge mound of dirt excavated from where they built the train station – which bridges the Old Town to the New Town across a small valley. The beautiful, neoclassical building houses hundreds of works of art from the past seven centuries – mostly paintings but some sculptures too. The gallery is connected underground to the Royal Scottish Academy which holds many more works of art; it’s hard for me to personally see how the two collections are separate.

Scottish National Gallery

Scottish National Portrait Gallery

The Portrait Gallery is located on the east side of the Old Town, just across the street from the Central Bus Station. This gallery contains about 3,000 paintings and sculptures, 25,000 prints and drawings, and 38,000 photographs – including two portraits of Mary Queen of Scots, both of which were painted posthumously. I’ll admit – this is the gallery I’ve spent the least amount of time in, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t bad.

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

The modern art gallery spans two buildings near Dean Village (one of my favorite parts of Edinburgh). Both buildings host several rotating exhibits, so rarely will two visits be the same. Perhaps modern art isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve found some really interesting pieces each time I visit.

National Museum of Modern Art

Chihuahua Cafe

This is one of my favorite activities in Edinburgh and the perfect attraction for a rainy day. Honestly, what’s better than playing with eight adorable chihuahuas? The sessions are 50 minutes long for £10 ($13). You can add tea and cake onto your package for another £5 ($6.50). There are also birthday packages when one of the puppies has a birthday. The cafe is located in the New Town, and you have to book in advance if you want to visit.

Chihuahua Cafe Therapy

Read my full review on Edinburgh’s Chihuahua Cafe

Maison de Moggy

If you prefer cats over dogs, then Maison de Moggy is the place for you. Located next to the Grassmarket, this cafe has a dozen cats you can pet and play with…as long as they’re not sleeping – which they do a lot. One of the cats is a super-fluffy Persian, and another is the complete opposite – a hairless sphinx! Tickets are £10 ($13) for an hour, and the tea and cakes menu is a-la-carte.

Maison de Moggy Cat Cafe

Read my full review of Maison de Moggy

Camera Obscura

This is the best place to visit in Edinburgh with kids, although I enjoy it just as much as any child (says the child in me). Camera Obscura is a house of illusions, and it’s just awesome. This several-story building next to the Edinburgh Castle has things like a mirror maze, dozens of optical illusions, and a rotating light tunnel which is guaranteed to give you vertigo. On the roof is the namesake – a camera obscura or shadow camera that actually works to see around Edinburgh during the day. Tickets are £16.50 ($21.50), making it one of the most expensive attractions in Edinburgh, but it’s a load of fun and you can spend hours there.

Camera Obscura Interior Mirror

Read my full review of Camera Obscura or click here to buy tickets

The Real Mary King’s Close

If I were to recommend only one attraction in Edinburgh, Mary King’s Close would be it. This is one of the best history tours, cultural tours, and even a bit of a ghost tour. In a nutshell, several of the old streets of Edinburgh were “covered” when they built the City Chambers above them, and now you can explore the original street and dwellings from the time of the plague. The tour lasts an hour and costs £17.95 (save £1 if you book in advance).

Mary King's Close Tour

Read my full review of The Real Mary King’s Close or click here to buy tickets

Escape Rooms

Escape rooms aren’t exclusive to Edinburgh, as are most of the other attractions on this list. But they’re always great fun, and perfect for a rainy day. Edinburgh has several escape rooms, two of which I’ve done and can highly recommend.

Escape Edinburgh

Escape Edinburgh has eight rooms spread over three locations in Edinburgh. The rooms have different levels of difficulty, including two very hard ones which both have below 40% success rate. I played Houdini’s Workshop at the New Town location just behind the Georgian House. That room was one of the easiest, which was good as the two friends I brought had never done an escape room before. The rooms are £12.50 to £24 ($16.30-$31.30) per person, depending on the day of the week and how many people play (more people = cheaper per person).

Read my full review of Escape Edinburgh

Locked in Edinburgh

Once voted the Best Escape Room in the UK, Locked in Edinburgh is built into an old gin distillery in Summerhall – a hip community center with several other attractions for a rainy day. I went with a team of three other players (all newbies) and escaped from the Old Gin Distillery room with a time of 46:21. If you’re traveling with a large group, Locked in Edinburgh has one room which is big enough for 10 players. Rooms here are a flat rate of £20 ($26) per person.

Locked in Edinubrgh Escape Room

Read my full review of Locked in Edinburgh

Holyrood Palace

I’m not recommending Edinburgh Castle for a rainy day as much of the castle is outdoors. On the contrary, most of Holyrood Palace is indoors so it makes the list. This 16-century palace has been the Scottish residence of Queen Elizabeth II, as well as several monarchs before her, including Mary Queen of Scots. The audio guide of the palace lasts about an hour and costs £16.50 ($21.50). If you haven’t been to a palace before, I’d recommend this one. Personally, after seeing dozens around the world, they start to look the same.

Holyrood Palace Mary Queen of Scots Bedchamber

Read my full review of Holyrood Palace or click here to buy tickets

The Royal Yacht Britannia

There are a handful of really great ship museums around the world that I’ve been to – the Vasa in Sweden, the Cutty Sark, and the SS Great Britain. In Edinburgh, it’s the Royal Yacht Britannia – in service for the Queen from 1954 to 1997, and now one of the more popular tourist attractions in Edinburgh. You can take a tour with an audio guide of nearly every part of the ship. It lasts about an hour and a half and costs £17 ($22).

Britannia Banquet Table

Click here to buy tickets

Surgeon’s Hall Museum

Most British museums are free, but this is one of the exceptions. Nevertheless, I’d highly recommend the Surgeon’s Hall Museum, which just might be the best medical museum in the world. Before I visited, I had no idea that Edinburgh was the center of international medical research in the 18th century. Their massive room with visual displays of every physical malady should not be visited with a queasy stomach. Tickets are £8 ($10.50).

Mercat Ghost Tour

Did you know Edinburgh has been named the most haunted city in the world?! It’s true, and your visit to Edinburgh would not be complete without a ghost tour. While there are several in the city to take, by far the best one (in my opinion) is with Mercat Tours. They have four different tours to choose from, all of which are fantastic. They all center around the South Bridge Vaults – the 120 rooms built into the 19 arches of the bridge built in 1788 to span the valley from the Old Town to the Old College. The vaults are very definitely haunted, so prepare to get scared! The tours range from £15 to £19 ($19.50-$25), depending on which one you choose.

Mercat Ghost Tours in Edinburgh

Read my full review of the Mercat Ghost Tours or click here to buy your tickets

Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tour

If you want to see a lot of the city but still stay dry, a hop-on, hop-off bus tour is the perfect way to do so. Edinburgh actually has four different tours to choose from, all managed by the local bus company. Two of the tours stick to the city center, one goes to the harbor and botanical gardens, and the fourth goes to the Firth of Forth bridges and Inchcolm Island where you’ll find one of the best-preserved abbeys in Scotland. The three city tours are £16 ($21) each and the tour to the island is £25 ($32.75), or you can get all three city tours plus entrance to Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and the Royal Yacht Britannia for £59 ($77) – by far the best value with a savings of £38 ($50)!

Click here to buy your tickets

Red Bus Bistro Tour

While the hop-on, hop-off tour is good, a far better bus tour around the city center is the Red Bus Bistro Tour. Not only do you get to see the Old Town and hear a history lesson on Edinburgh, but you’ll also get fed some really good food which is made right on the bus. There are two tours to choose from – afternoon tea at noon and 3 p.m., and a Harry Potter-themed tour at noon and 6 p.m. All tours are only available Friday through Sunday, cost £37 ($49) and last an hour and a half. Along with Mary King’s Close, this is one of my favorite attractions in Edinburgh for a rainy day, or any day for that matter.

Red Bus Bistro Afternoon Tea TourRed Bus Bistro Afternoon Tea Tour

Read my full reviews on the Red Bus Bistro Afternoon Tea Tour and Harry Potter-Themed Tours

Georgian House

The Georgian House is a beautiful 18th-century townhouse located in Edinburgh’s New Town next to the residence of the Scottish Prime Minister. I’ll admit, this is one of the very few attractions in town that I haven’t visited myself, despite being invited to see it. A museum spans all five floors where you can see what the decorations looked like in the 18th and 19th centuries. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. March through November and costs £8 ($10.50).

Dynamic Earth

Another attraction I haven’t been to is Dynamic Earth. Since I haven’t been to this museum personally, I’ll use their own description: “A permanent visitor attraction which presents the story of the planet – how it was created; how it continues to evolve, the prospects for mankind and the effect of hazards both natural and manmade.” Honestly, I don’t know why I’ve never visited myself! Tickets are £15.95 ($21) and you can save 10% when booking online.

Click here to buy your tickets

Gilmerton Cove

The final attraction in Edinburgh I haven’t personally been to is the Gilmerton Cove. This is considered to be one of the spookiest places in the city. It’s also a complete mystery. Basically, it’s a series of caves on the outskirts of Edinburgh, but whether they were built 200 years ago or 2,000, and what their purpose was, no one knows. They’ve done rock soundings and found the caves are far more extensive than what they’ve discovered so far. I can’t wait to take the tour myself. It costs £7.50 ($10) and lasts about an hour.

Ceilidhs

Lastly, a great activity for a rainy day is a ceilidh (pronounced “kailey”). This is a traditional folk dance in Scotland, and they’re incredibly fun. Several places in Edinburgh put them on regularly, such as Stramash Bar and Summerhall. You can even find them outside when it’s raining, such as this one up in St. Andrews for St. Andrews Day:

Third-Wave Coffee

If you’re looking for something simple and just want to relax, you couldn’t have chosen a better city for the coffee culture. Edinburgh embraces third-wave coffee (from single-origin fairtrade micro-breweries) more than any other city I’ve been to. There are dozens of cafes around Edinburgh serving some of the best coffee I’ve ever had. Stay tuned for a full post listing out which are my favorites.

Black Medicine Coffee Mocha

Tips for Visiting Edinburgh in the Rain

  • Rule number one for visiting Edinburgh in the rain: don’t bring an umbrella. The wind here rips all but the hardiest umbrellas to shreds.
  • Wear a good pair of non-slippery shoes. The streets here can get really slick, even when they’re flat. I slide all the time even with good-quality shoes.
  • Bring a rain jacket, even if it’s sunny. Edinburgh has a micro-climate, and a sunny day can change to rain within minutes.
  • Expect to get wet, but not a lot. You’ll still need to get from one attraction to another in the rain, but the rain in Edinburgh tends to be light.
  • Don’t let the rain stop you from visiting Edinburgh. If you try to plan for a sunny trip, you’ll never arrive. It’s almost always guaranteed to rain here, but that’s just part of the charm of the city (in my opinion). Embrace it, and see why Edinburgh is my favorite city in the world.

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Attractions in Edinburgh for a Rainy Day Pin

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.

You can once again take a tour of Holyrood Palace, now that enhanced health and safety measures are in place. Among the changes are mandatory advanced bookings and a limited number of people in the smaller rooms, which will reduce the number of people who can take the tours each day. If you’re not able to visit soon, here’s a virtual tour of the palace in the meantime.

An Overview of Holyrood Palace

The original building at this site was the Augustinian Holyrood Abbey, founded in 1128. The name derives from either Old English “holy rood” or Scots “haly ruid”, both of which meant “holy cross”. The abbey was purportedly started with a fragment of the cross which Jesus was crucified on. Over the next four centuries, the abbey was used for parliamentary sessions, crownings and interments.

Between 1501 and 1505, a gothic palace was built next to the abbey by James IV. This was followed by a complete reconstruction in the 1670s, which is the design we see today. The building is three stories tall and built around a quadrangle – a rectangular courtyard. Three styles of columns, each more intricate than the level below, decorate the building around the courtyard.

Holyrood Palace Founding Stone

A Virtual Tour of Holyrood Palace

Your ticket to the palace comes with a free audio guide. It covers each part of the castle and grounds, and includes several royal and notable figures giving speeches about the palace.

For the first time ever, photographs are now allowed in the palace (not just in the grounds), which is how I’m able to give you a virtual tour of the palace. While this will give you the photos, I don’t want to supplant the full audio guide tour of Holyrood Palace. You’ll have to visit in person to get that.

Front Courtyard

The highlight of the front courtyard is the ornate fountain, built in the 19th century as a replica of the 16th-century fountain found at Linlithgow Palace. For several years, there were storage containers on the south side of the courtyard, blocking a view of the palace from passing tour busses, but those have recently been removed.

Holyrood Palace Fountain

Quadrangle

The quadrangle might appear to be simple at first, but architecture lovers will note the intricate detail of the columns and stonework.

Holyrood Palace Quadrangle

Kitchens

My tour this year was different than last year, and a new room was opened up which previously had never been on display – the kitchens. This is the only part of the palace where photographs are still forbidden, although they let me take a snap of the decorations beside the actual kitchens.

Holiyrood Palace Kitchen Decorations

Grand Staircase

The grand staircase isn’t as impressive as in some palaces, but still beautiful in its own right. At the bottom, you’ll find display cases and swords on the walls. Surrounding the staircase are huge tapestries and portraits.

Holyrood Palace Great Staircase Displays

Holyrood Palace Great Staircase Tapestries

Royal Dining Room

This is the room where the Queen would host meals, although it was originally a guard chamber. The gorgeous silver banquet service dates back to 1935 and was a gift to King George V and Queen Mary by Sir Alexander Grant, in honor of their Silver Jubilee.

Holyrood Palace Royal Dining Room

Queen's Portrait in Holyrood Palace Royal Dining Room

Throne Room

This room is pretty obvious. The two thrones on the righthand side were commissioned in 1911, and the wood paneling was added in 1929. The portraits are of Charles I, Charles II and his consort, James II and his second wife, and James VII.

Holyrood Palace Thornes

Holyrood Palace Thorne Room

Presence Chamber

This room used to be called the Presence Chamber of Charles II. There are 4 large tapestries from Buckingham Palace which Queen Victoria brought up in 1851. During the realm of Queen Mary of Scots, there were 13 sets of tapestries throughout the palace, but none of these survived to this day.

Holyrood Palace Presence Room

Privy Chamber

Privy here means private, not a toilet. This was the original private chamber of Charles II where he entertained guests. There are several beautiful works of art, paintings and other artifacts around the room, including the intricate details on the ceiling.

Holyrood Palace Privy Chambers

Holyrood Palace Privy Chambers Tapestry

Holyrood Palace Privy Chambers Decorations

Holyrood Palace Privy Chambers Ceiling

King’s Ante-chamber

This was the King’s Study and features many more beautiful works of art and tapestries, as well as luxurious pieces of furniture. The centerpieces of the room are the harp and harpsichord.

Holyrood Palace King's Ante-Chamber

Holyrood Palace King's Ante-Chamber Harpsichord

Holyrood Palace King's Ante-Chamber Tapestry

Holyrood Palace King's Ante-Chamber Harp

King’s Bedchamber

The highlight of this room is the ornate bed, which dates back at least to 1684, although it was restored in 1976. Only the most privileged guests were allowed to enter this room when the king lived here. It’s also the only room with a colored painting on the ceiling.

Holyrood Palace King's Bedchamber

Holyrood Palace King's Bed

Holyrood Palace King's Bedchamber Ceiling Painting

King’s Closet

This was yet another lavish room for the king, complete with two ornate sleeping chairs and a Flemish cabinet from the 17th century.

Holyrood Palace King's Closet

Holyrood Palace King's Closet Seat and Fireplace

Great Gallery

This is the largest room in the palace. Along the walls are portraits of all the Scottish monarchs, dating back to the 1680s. Some of the portraits were damaged (and later repaired) during the Jacobite uprising. The room has been used for state functions and banquets by the Queen, as well as to carry out investitures for Scottish recipients of orders (knighthood, etc.).

Holyrood Palace Great Gallery

Holyrood Palace Great Gallery Portrait of Mary Queen of Scots

Holyrood Palace Great Gallery Portraits

Lobby and Ante-Chamber

The next two rooms are quite similar to other rooms in the palace with their decorations, tapestries and portraits. There are also a few artifacts in display cases you can see, including a tartan dress which I particularly liked.

Holyrood Palace Tartan Dress

Holyrood Palace Lobby Artifacts

Holyrood Palace Ante-Chamber Artifacts #1

Holyrood Palace Ante-Chamber Artifacts #2

Holyrood Palace Ante-Chamber Tapestry

Lord Darnley’s Bedchamber

This wasn’t actually the bedchamber of Lord Darnley, but rather contains the bed which he used before it was donated to Holyrood Palace in 1682. Bonnie Prince Charlie slept in this bed in 1745. It’s now displayed behind a glass barrier to preserve the textiles.

Holyrood Palace Lord Darnley's Bedchamber

Holyrood Palace Lord Darnley's Bedchamber Bed

Mary Queen of Scots’ Bedchamber

This was the very bedchamber that Mary Queen of Scots slept in during the 16th century. The gorgeous room is filled with furniture and artifacts, many of which were gifted to the castle long after Mary Queen of Scots was in residence.

Holyrood Palace Mary Queen of Scots Bedchamber

Holyrood Palace Mary Queen of Scots Bed

Holyrood Palace Mary Queen of Scots Private Dining Room

Mary Queen of Scots’ Outer Chamber

This is the room where Mary Queen of Scots received her visitors, and included a small enclave on the east wall where she did her prayers. This is also where her secretary David Rizzio was stabbed to death. The reddish patch on the wooden floorboards by the window is attributed to the spot where he was killed. Now the room holds relics connected to Mary Queen of Scots, including the Darnley Jewel.

Holyrood Palace Mary Queen of Scots Outer Chamber #1

Holyrood Palace Mary Queen of Scots Outer Chamber #2

Holyrood Palace Mary Queen of Scots Outer Chamber Darnley Jewel

Holyrood Palace Mary Queen of Scots Outer Chamber Pomander

Holyrood Palace Mary Queen of Scots Outer Chamber Bible

Blood Stain of David Rizzio in Holyrood Palace

Holyrood Abbey

Unfortunately, the interior of the Holyrood Abbey is currently closed for renovations. It has been a ruin since the 18th century, but the medieval decorations and architectural styles are still evident.

Holyrood Abbey Front

A Virtual Tour of Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, Scotland 2

Holyrood Abbey South Face

Holyrood Abbey Flying Buttresses

Holyrood Abbey Interior

Holyrood Abbey Empty Window

Gardens

The gardens surrounding the castle are beautifully manicured by an expert team. Until now, the Queen has hosted a Garden Party every year in July during the week when she is in residence at the palace. In the northern portion of the gardens, there’s a sundial from 1633. You also have great views of the outside of Holyrood Abbey from the garden, as well as Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crag.

Holyrood Palace Gardens

Visiting Holyrood Palace in Person

The following information is the current opening times and prices for a tour of Holyrood Palace in person:

Opening Hours:

  • April 1st – October 31st: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • November 1st – March 30th: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays
  • Closed December 25th and 26th

Prices:

  • Adult: £16.50 ($21)
  • Over 60 / Student: £14.90 ($19)
  • Under 17 / Disabled: £9.50 ($12)
  • Under 5: Free
  • Family (2 adults and 3 under 17s): £42.50 ($54.50)
  • You can purchase a combined ticket with the Queen’s Gallery for a few dollars more.

As mentioned, you can only visit the palace with advanced bookings, and the tour sizes are limited. If you’re planning to visit Edinburgh in the near future and want to take a tour of Holyrood Palace, make sure you reserve your spot ASAP.

Things to Know When Visiting Holyrood Palace

Following the world events of 2020, enhanced health and safety features are in place throughout the palace. This includes hand sanitizer stations, social distancing, and extensive cleaning of all services. At this time, masks are not required to be worn in the castle. The safety features are also integrated into the audio guide.

Holyrood Palace Social Distancing

Holyrood Palace Safety Measures

The audio guide of the palace lasts about an hour, but you can take as long as you want to explore the palace (but take consideration that only a limited number of people are allowed in each area, except for the gardens, and social distancing is currently in effect. If you can, bring your own headphones to use with the audio guide.

Eating and drinking are not permitted within the palace, but there’s a cafe where you can get refreshments. You and your possessions might be searched before entering, and large backpacks and weapons aren’t allowed (obviously). Until now photographs were not allowed in the palace (as it was a government building), but due to the uncertainty of the Queen returning to the palace at this time, photographs are okay!

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Virtual Tour of Holyrood Palace

Further Reading

Finished with your tour and looking for other activities? Here are some other places to eat at, and activities to partake in around Edinburgh.

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

I’ve been using Trusted House Sitters for years in my travels, and some of my favorite memories have been from pet sitting my four-legged friends. If you want to spend less traveling the world, don’t mind settling a bit more in one spot, and love animals, house sitting is the perfect opportunity for you.

What is House Sitting

House sitting is the arrangement of looking after the home and (usually) pets of another when they go on vacation. The benefits to the host are possibly even greater than those of the petsitter. Taking your pet with you when you travel can be ridiculously expensive, but so can hiring a sitter or putting your pet in a kennel. It’s a lot better to leave the pet at home in familiar surroundings. Having a guest in the house will also help to deter thieves. I read that in Canada, some insurance companies won’t cover the house if it’s been vacant for more than 4 days!

For the house sitter, the main benefits are two-fold. First, they have a place to stay and, on rare occasions, food provided. Second, they get to have the company of animals!

Selfie with Dog on the Isle of Skye

The disadvantage is your freedom of movement can be a bit limited. You’ll need to be available usually at least two times a day to feed the animals, although sometimes you can make arrangements (with the approval or help of your host) to have a neighbor feed the animals, or you might be taking care of something that doesn’t need daily attention (like a reptile or a cat with an automatic feeding tray).

It might be something as simple as a single dog or cat. It might be a handful of either or a combination of both. You might be looking after chickens, geese or donkeys. Some have snakes, others have fish, and a lucky few have horses. There is even a small handful just looking for people to water the plants.

Joining Trusted House Sitters

Trusted House Sitters (or TrustedHouseSitters as the company spells it as one word) is a website you can join in order to housesit for people who have animals they plan to leave behind while they take a vacation. Membership is $119 for a year, which gives you unlimited applications for house sits.

Trusted House Sitters launched in 2010 in Brighton, England where the average pet sitter charges $60 a day for looking after just one dog. The site very quickly built up, and now there are usually about 2,000 house sits available worldwide, about a third of which are in the United Kingdom…except when international travel is shut down. Some countries only have one or two opportunities, which means they’re probably in high demand.

Pets at House Sit on the Isle of Skye

Along with Couchsurfing and Workaway or Worldpackers, Trusted House Sitters makes up the Holy Trinity for unique and wonderful websites that budget travelers can use to help with accommodations. Each has its benefits. As much as I love meeting locals on Couchsurfing, or volunteering for my bed and board on Workaway or WorldpackersTrusted House Sitters just might be my favorite, and for a very simple reason. You get to pet sit! You have to love animals if you want to housesit; I know I sure do!

Finding a Good House Sit

House sits are posted several months in advance in some cases, but others are posted last-minute. Some get dozens of applications, while others might not have any. As with any application site, you just have to send your requests and hope for the best.

In my first three months using Trusted House Sitters, I sent out nine requests and had five responses, two of which accepted me and three who had just accepted someone else. That’s much better odds than I had on other sites.

There are a few tricks I’ve used to improve my chances of getting a host. Applying for a job several months away is a good idea if you plan that far out. Many backpackers, such as myself, prefer to stick to last-minute planning. The house sits that are months away tend to have fewer applicants, at least until you get closer to the dates. Hopefully, the host takes taken down the house sit when they find a sitter so you don’t apply for something that isn’t available.

Very last-minute hosts are the best, especially if you’re already in the area or can get there fast. Unless you’re in a big city like London or Paris, chances are they’ll have only 0-3 applicants (Trusted House Sitters shows the number in ranges like this). If there are more than about 10 applicants, I won’t usually bother applying unless I have particular skills needed for that house sit (working with horses, etc) and it’s in an area I really want to travel to.

Walking the Dogs

The length of the house sit will also make a big difference in how many people have already applied. Shorter house sits generally have more applicants by backpackers who are just going to be in the area for a few days and are hoping to find accommodations through the site while having a pet to take care of. There are also a handful of travelers who use Trusted House Sitters almost year-round and try to find long-term sits for weeks or months at a time. There are fewer travelers in the latter category, so you have a better chance to find a host offering a place for a week or longer.

Lastly, the more remote the location, the fewer the applicants. I often find that house sits in the heart of Edinburgh have dozens of applicants. On the contrary, hosts in the Highlands or on the Scottish Islands will usually only have 0-3 applicants. If you’re able to get out to these locations, your chances of finding a house sit will improve greatly.

Dundee Trusted House Sitters View

Some Tricks To Improving Your Chances of Getting a House Sit

Know How to Take Care of Animals

This one should be a no-brainer, but some people do try to use the platform only to get free accommodations, and taking care of the pet is almost an afterthought. Having extra experience with animals and how to deal with problems they can encounter will go a long way to improve your chances of getting a house sit. You can always specialize in a species, whether canine, feline, avian, etc. Most hosts will have a strict regiment to follow with their pets, but it’s good to know what to look out for with the animals so you can notify the host or vet of anything that needs attention.

If you really want to have some fun with house sitting, learn how to take care of horses, donkeys or other less common domestic animals. I’m eternally grateful to my five weeks on a horsemanship training farm in Sweden and all the other work I’ve done to take care of horses over the years.

Selfie Training Horse #4

Have a Vehicle

There are plenty of urban house sits which are well connected to public transportation. If the house sit is more rural, you’ll probably need a car. There’s a tiny chance your host will have a vehicle you can use, but that’s pretty rare. Just like with Workaway or Worldpackers, it’s always good to pay attention to the exact location of the house sit, what kind of publication transportation goes to it, and where nearby shops and other services are.

Have a Very Thorough Profile

As with other memberships sites, the best way to improve your chances of landing a good house sit is to have a complete profile. Don’t just say how much you love animals (that should definitely be part of it), but also include all the experience you have housesitting, any training you have had with taking care of animals, pets you’ve had, etc. Also give details on any dietary restrictions, if you have a vehicle, what your travel plans are, etc. The more, the better.

Acquire Recommendations

After each house sit you complete, try to get a recommendation from your host. Some hosts don’t really care if you have recommendations or not, and they probably won’t bother to leave a recommendation themselves, but it helps to get more of them if you can.

Be Willing to Accept Full Responsibility for the Pets and Home

House sits are quite often more than just taking care of animals. You might get asked to water the plants, receive parcels, or do other weekly activities (I once had to report solar panel readings regularly to the city officials). It should be a given to keep the house immaculate. I try to leave the house better than I found it, although there have been a handful of times when arrived into a rather shoddy situation.

Some of My Experiences With House Sitting

Two-Week House Sit in Dundee

My first house sit was in the Scottish countryside outside Dundee for the first two weeks of August. My host was leaving down to London for volunteer work and needed someone to take care of her two old dogs. One was a Jack Russell and the other was a Bearded Collie. They were nearing the end of their lifespan, and my host even commented that it wouldn’t be unexpected if the Beardie wasn’t around when she got back. What was truly unexpected was the level of exchange I received from her. I don’t want to set any false standards here for house sitting, but suffice to say, some hosts really take care of you!

The dogs weren’t up to taking walks in the countryside, but I explored the many trails myself – although I had injured my feet just before arriving. I also got to go down to St. Andrews with the vehicle she left for me to see the oldest golf course in the world, and make a couple trips down to Dundee, where I was dealing with various medical problems. Mostly I just stayed at the house, which was absolutely gorgeous!

Trusted House Sitters

Three Days in Rural England

Then at the end of September, I was accepted at a house sit in central England less than an hour away from Luton airport, where I picked my dad up for the beginning of his own international adventures. We only stayed four days at this location, but watching the year-and-a-half-old Terrier was an absolute joy. The dog, Holly, had unlimited energy. She just couldn’t get enough of retrieving the tennis ball in the backyard or going for walks in the surrounding fields where Alpaca grazed.

By far the best part of that house sit was in the evening. Holly would wait outside my bedroom door until I was comfy in bed, and the quietly push it open. She’d come to the side of the bed, lightly jump up, crawl under the covers and snuggle on my arm!

House Sitting Holly

Five Weeks in Brighton, England

After a couple more short house sits, I had my first long-term stay in Brighton, my favorite city in England. The only problem was that the house was five miles away from the city center and the beach. Well, another problem was that the kitchen and pantry were overstocked with food I was allowed to use, but most of it was several years out of date and my host had no intention of letting anything be thrown out, no matter how spoiled it was.

Selfie Walking Dogs in Brighton

I was taking care of two Staffordshire Bull Terriers (known as Staffies). They were young, and absolutely determined to chew on everything in sight, usually to the point of complete destruction of the object. I had to ensure the door to my room was kept closed at all times. Despite a lot of rain, I was able to make a few trips out to the beach, although it was a hard choice between walking the 10-mile round-trip or spending several dollars on a day bus ticket.

Six Weeks on the Isle of Skye

I went directly from my long-term sit in Brighton to an even longer sit on the Isle of Skye – my favorite place in the world! For six weeks, I took care of a Springer Spaniel dog, two cats, four ducks and eight chickens. Aside from taking the dog on a walk each day (with one of the cats sometimes accompanying us), I also had to collect all the chicken and duck eggs, clean out their coop, and feed all the animals every day. It was a lot of work, but more than worth it.

View from House Sit on the Isle of Skye

The location was absolutely stunning, overlooking a bay with the most gorgeous sunsets. The house was a four-bedroom B&B with a massive kitchen and even bigger living room. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my own transportation for most of my stay, so I spent my days hitchhiking to my favorite spots around the island.

Selfie with Housesit Dog at Old Man of Storr

A Week at the Lanark Estate

A really interesting house sit was the week I spent on the Lanrick Estate in Scotland, not far from Doune Castle where they filmed Monty Python and Outlander. Lanrick Castle, as it was told to me, was built using the drug money that was acquired by the Scottish men who owned Hong Kong and used the territory to conduct opium runs from China to the West. The castle was torn down a few years ago after it went to ruin, but the Lanrick Estate is still gorgeous with the River Teith running through the center of the property.

Dog on Lanrick Estate

Where the castle was is now just a flat field, but you can still explore the ruins of the stables, the laundry house, the chapel and many other buildings. Fishermen are invited to rent the two fishing huts and spend the weekend in the river. The estate is also the perfect location for filming, but that’s a story for another article.

Lanrick Estate Ruins

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Further Reading

I believe that giving back in your travels is a huge plus, and I’ll always spend a few months out of every year doing volunteer jobs. Here are some more articles that cover volunteering, the pros and cons, and some of the experiences I’ve had.

Volunteering

House Sitting

Some activities in Iceland seem to be on everyone’s bucket list, such as relaxing in the Blue Lagoon, glimpsing the northern lights and taking a tour around Iceland’s Golden Circle. The Blue Lagoon is gorgeous but slightly overrated. The northern lights are elusive and some have been to Iceland more than once and yet still never seen them. The Golden Circle is stunning year-round and is an absolute must when visiting Iceland.

What is Iceland’s Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is a route you can drive or take a tour of, leaving from the capital of Reykjavik and heading east. It’s not a circle or even round. It passes by Þingvellir National Park, Bruarfoss waterfalls, the Fontana Geothermal Baths, Haukadalur Valley, and finally Gullfoss – Icelandic for Golden Falls, which is what the route gets its name from. From there, head back to Reykjavik on the southern highway, passing by the Skálholt Cathedral and Kerið Crater.

In total, it’s at least 180 miles of driving, depending on how many detours you take. Obviously, you can take as little or as much time as you want on the route, but I would allocate a full day to see all the attractions. As my tour with Reykjavik Sightseeing also included Snowboarding on Langjokull Glacier with the Mountaineers of Iceland, we were almost rushed through some of the Golden Circle attractions and missed others.

A Beautiful Sunrise at Þingvellir National Park

My tour with Reykjavik Sightseeing left the capital around 9:30 a.m. We were held up a bit waiting on a couple of the passengers, but it wasn’t too bad as it’s still dark at that time in November. Our first destination was Þingvellir National Park. At 10:10, the sun was just starting to peek above the horizon and we stopped on the side of the road so everyone could get some photos. Sunrises and sunsets in Iceland are both spectacular beyond belief. although they do look quite similar.

Luis Taking Photos at of Iceland's Sunrise

We made it to the national park around 10:45. Þingvellir (pronounced Thingvellir) is a fascinating location. First of all, it was the site of Iceland’s Althing, the world’s longest-running national parliament which held meetings there for nearly 800 years! The actual meeting site of the council happened to be where they filmed the entrance to the Vale scenes in Game of Thrones. We didn’t actually go to that part of the park on this tour, but I got to see it a couple days later on my Game of Thrones tour.

Thingvellir National Park

The park is also the meeting point of the European and North American tectonic plates, i.e. the continents. If you have more time and money, you can dive between the two plates and straddle the two continents. These plates moving apart are what cause the earthquakes and volcanos in Iceland.

Sunrise at Thingvellir

Homemade Icelandic Ice Cream

Just a few minutes after we got on the bus, we stopped to get something I wouldn’t have expected in Iceland in November. Apparently, the locals there love ice cream just as much as other countries. We stopped at the Efstidalur II Cafe. Their kitchen wasn’t open yet for lunch, but ice cream and coffee were available. Of course, I had to get some ice cream. They had their own farm with cows and sheep, and all their products were homemade. If you’ve ever tried Skyr yogurt, you’ll know that Iceland is really good with their dairy products.

Selfie with Ice Cream at Efstidalur II Cafe

Efstidalur II Cafe Calfs

Geysers Get Their Name from Strokkur

The next stop on our tour was the Haukadalur Valley. The highlights here are the two geysers. The first is called The Great Geysir, which is where the word geyser comes from. It can spew boiling water up to 230 feet in the air. Unfortunately, this geyser is all but inactive.

On the other hand, Strokkur Geysir is quite faithful. It erupts every five or six minutes and gushes up to about 100 feet. We spent quite a bit of time getting our photos and videos of this geyser. Granted, I’ve never been to Yellowstone (although my mom only lives a couple hours away from there), but this was easily the most beautiful geyser I’d ever seen.

Strokkur Geyser on Iceland's Golden Circle

Within the valley are about 30 other small geysers, not to mention all the sulfur pools. The geysers get a lot more active after earthquakes, but there hasn’t been that kind of activity there recently.

Gullfoss Rightfully Means Golden Falls

Finally, we reached Gullfoss. Gullfoss isn’t the biggest or the tallest waterfall in Iceland, but it’s the most spectacular waterfall which is relatively close to Reykjavik (it takes about 2 hours to drive there directly). Sadly, on the very day we went, the lower trail to the waterfalls had been shut down due to the icy conditions; the plume the waterfall creates is absolutely massive and everything gets coated with water or ice.

I was still able to walk along the upper trail for its vantage point and photos, which I’m assuming were no less spectacular than the lower trail. Just because it isn’t the biggest waterfall doesn’t mean it’s not magnificent. I just can’t wait to get back and see it in the summer when everything is green. It’s not that I don’t love the snow, but it does make the photos look a little monochromatic.

Gullfoss

Thankfully, the attempt to create a hydroelectric dam at the waterfalls fell through, but there have been developments there to cater to the massive influx of tourists as one of Iceland’s most popular attractions. There’s a large visitor center with a restaurant and gift shop where we stopped for our lunch. Prices were comparable to what I used to pay at Disneyland, but Iceland is crazy expensive in general. Expect to spend about $20 on lunch during your tour, unless you bring your own packed lunch from Reykjavik (which I highly recommend).

Snowmobiling on Langjokull Glacier

Our final activity of the day was snowmobiling on Langjokull Glacier with the Mountaineers of Iceland. They picked us up from Gullfoss in their Super Truck and brought us to their basecamp on the glacier where we were suitably insulated in layers of clothing and helmets. We then spent the next couple hours flying over the glacier’s terrain. Our tour also included climbing down into one of the small caves within the glacier (not the massive Ice Cave I did the next day with Reykavik Sightseeing).

Snowmobiles on Langjokull Glacier

Squeezing in the snowmobile adventure on your tour of Iceland’s Golden Circle makes it very hard to see all the other attractions along the route if you want to do everything in one day. You might want to consider spending a couple days driving around the Golden Circle, perhaps staying at one of the hotels or B&Bs near Gullfoss.

Missing Out On Kerið Crater, Fontana Geothermal Baths and Skálholt

As we didn’t get back to Gullfoss until after 7 p.m., several hours after the sun had set, we couldn’t see any more of the attractions along the Golden Circle. In the summer when you have daylight for nearly 24 hours, there’s no problem seeing all the attractions. My tour was in early November, which only gave us about 5 hours of daylight. As such, although our route home passed by Skálholt and the Kerið Crater, we didn’t get to stop at either.

The history of Skálholt goes back a full millennium. For 800 years, it was one of Iceland’s two ecclesiastical centers and you can visit their cathedral, although it was rebuilt only half a century ago. Iceland’s first school opened there in 1056 to educate the clergymen.

Kerið Crater is one of several crater lakes in the area. It’s nowhere near the size of Crater Lake in Oregon (which I visited as a kid), but with the red volcanic rocks on the steep cliffs surrounding the lake, it’s still beautiful. At least that’s what I’ve been told. Considering it was night time and everything was covered in snow, it was just as well my tour passed it up. Recently, they started charging a nominal entrance fee of 400 ISK ($2.75). Oh, and that last symbol in the word is pronounced “th” as in “this.”

Although most tourists flock to Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, there are actually over a hundred geothermal pools you can go swimming in. One of these is in Fontana along the Golden Circle. You can jump into their thermal baths for only 3,800 ISK ($26), compared to $59 at the Blue Lagoon.

One more waterfall you can visit on Iceland’s Golden Circle is Bruarfoss. Similar to Hraunfossar far to the north, the brilliantly blue water bubbles out of the lava beds into the river. The falls are located just a few minutes past the Efstidalur II Cafe, but apparently it can take up to an hour to hike to them. Just another reason I’ll have to return to Iceland someday. There’s just so many things to do around southern Iceland.

Taking a Tour with Reykjavik Sightseeing

Taking a tour with Reykjavik Sightseeing was a rather enjoyable experience. Their ultra-modern buses come with onboard WiFi, power outlets to charge your phone, audio guides in multiple languages, toilets, and really fun tour guides. They have several tours, including a dedicated Golden Circle Tour to see all the attractions. The tour I took was the Golden Circle and Snowmobile Tour, which is why I only got to see the main attractions along the route.

Golden Circle and Glacier Tour with Reykjavik Sightseeing

The Golden Circle and Glacier Snowmobile Tour

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Iceland's Golden Circle Pin

Further Reading

Iceland is the most beautiful country in the world I’ve been to so far. There are hundreds of attractions around the country, of which I only saw a small handful. Here are some more adventures I went on while there, and a couple other articles I wrote to help you out.

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

Already planning your next holiday? Forget France and Spain. If you want sun, sand and pristine water, it doesn’t get much better than Portugal’s southern coast. But if you’ve never been before, how do you choose where to stay in the Algarve when there’s such a superb choice of stunning locations in this part of the world?

Stay in the Algarve Capital – Faro

Faro is the capital of the Algarve and the site of its main airport, but it’s also a wonderful walled city with a lively history that includes extended periods of occupation by the Romans and the Moors, while it’s also endured attacks from the English too!

The old town is characterized by cool cobbled roads, whitewashed buildings with charming terracotta tiled roofs, and historic buildings like the Faro Cathedral and the Episcopal Palace.

Historic Building in Faro

The first place that I recommend you visit in Faro is the port of the city. Despite not being huge, it has a lot of charm. On the banks of it, there are some restaurants and a place to have a drink. It is quite lively and from there, you will be able to see (and also hear) the planes that leave Faro Airport. If you want, you can also jump on a boat tour here to see the region.

Another beautiful place to see in Faro is the Arco da Vila, one of the old medieval gates of the city. The door is characterized by having a small niche with the figure of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Once you cross it, you enter the historic center and oldest area of the city (Villa Adentro).

Faro - Where to Stay in the Algarve

Tip: Rent a vehicle in Faro with Enjoy Car Hire and you can explore the rest of the Algarve on your own terms.

 Delve into History in Lagos

Lagos is another legendary Algarve destination with much to recommend it. The stunning seafront has a fantastic, tiled promenade lined with pretty palm trees and a modern marina where boats bob gently in the breeze.

The town also boasts the lovely San Antonio Church and the 17th-century Bandeira Fort museum. If you venture out of town, you’ll adore the Ponta da Piedade sandstone cliffs which are permeated by smugglers’ caves, sea arches and grottos.

Lagos differs from other Algarve coastal cities in its history, a heterogeneous past visible in the variety of buildings and historical monuments. Among others, you can visit the Mercado dos Escravos, the first slave market in Europe. Take time to explore the historic center and lose yourself in its narrow cobbled alleys to enjoy traditional houses and the beautiful walled port that preserves the memory of the Age of Discovery during the 15th to 17th centuries.

Old Town Lagos

The Fortress of Pontea da Bandeira, as well as the magnificent Castles of the Governors of Arab origin, are still preserved from that time. Very close to the castle, you can visit the Casa da Dízima, an interesting building through which you can take a tour of civil architecture from the 17th to the 19th century.

Lagos is one of the few towns in the Algarve that guards such a variety of historical buildings, which is a reason for its growing popularity as a destination for lovers of history and heritage.

Tip: The Onyria Palmares Beach House Hotel in Lagos is highly rated on Tripadvisor. 

Dance the Night Away in Albufeira

Albufeira has attracted holidaymakers for generations and no wonder – combine golden sand beaches with azure blue waters and a lively nighttime economy with bars, cafes and restaurants aplenty serving fresh local cuisine and refreshing drinks, and you’ve got a recipe for pure pleasure.

Furthermore, with the Aquashow, Aqualand, and Slide and Splash water parks nearby, Albufeira is a great location for families as well as solo travelers and bachelor or bachelorette party weekend groups. 

Without a doubt, one of the musts is to discover the beaches or “praias” of the southern coast of Albufeira. Small, charming coves surrounded by cliffs and rocky shapes that will lead you to imagine them as different animals. In addition to these remote beaches, an excellent option is to plot a route on foot or even kayak to explore caves along the coast. Benagil Beach, the most impressive cave in Algarve, and many others are accessible by sea. This means that you will have to rent a kayak or traditional boats that will take you to explore the coast in a different way.

If you are passionate about marine fauna, do not miss any boat excursion that will give you the opportunity to see dolphins in their natural habitat, swimming in the open sea. These routes leave from the Port of Albufeira Marina. But not everything is related to the marine environment. There are also water sports and activities that will allow you to enjoy the sea in a different way. One of the most exciting is parasailing which, in addition to giving you an adrenaline rush, will allow you to enjoy spectacular views of the Albufeira coast.

Algarve Coastal Beach

Tip: If you’re a fan of international cuisine, tuck into the superb sushi at Happy Sumo in Albufeira. 

As you can see, Portugal’s Algarve has a little something for everyone. 

If you’re a culture buff who loves looking at ruins and taking a step into the past, locations like Faro and Lagos practically ooze living history, plus they’re lively enough to satisfy the needs of families or other travelers who don’t necessarily desire wild nights out for the entire duration.

And in Albufeira, you have a pretty location where you can lounge on the beach by day and dance the night away in the company of fellow revelers – then get up and repeat the entire experience the next day!

If you want the best of both worlds, why not book a two center holiday and spend the first half socializing and dedicate the remainder to rest and relaxation? 

Whatever your choice, I’m sure you’ll agree that the Algarve is awesome and has the potential to be one of the most unforgettable trips of your life. You could even skip the hotels and bring your campervan to Portugal for some more scenic living.

Further Reading

If you happen to find yourself further north, here are some things to do in central Portugal.

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