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I can’t figure out how I’ve never written a guide for spending 48 hours in Edinburgh, considering this is my favorite city, my home base, and the place where I’ve spent more time than anywhere else since I started traveling the world. Maybe it’s because I could never decide how to cram everything into just two days (considering I’ve been exploring this city for months and am still finding new gems all the time), or maybe because I’ve already written journal-type posts about days I’ve spent here. Whatever the reason, here’s my recommendation on how to spend your weekend (or week-day) city break in the capital of Scotland.

Why Choose Edinburgh

Edinburgh quite literally has it all – castles, volcanos, beaches, history, ghosts, dancing…you name it! The city is also relatively small. Under half a million people live within the city limits – which makes it easy to explore most of the attractions in a short amount of time.

Both the New and Old Towns of Edinburgh are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site – one of the six in Scotland. Edinburgh also became the first UNESCO City of Literature in 2004 – not surprising considering how many great authors are from or wrote in this city: Sir Walter Scott, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Iain Banks, and J.K. Rowling…among others.

If you’re a fan of J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, Edinburgh is fantastic. None of the Harry Potter movies were actually filmed in Edinburgh, but many spots of the city gave inspiration to the stories, and Rowling wrote in several of the cafes in town. If you want to see some of the famous filming locations, many can be reached on a day trip from Edinburgh, such as the Hogwarts Express steam train and Glenfinnan’s Viaduct.

Edinburgh Itinerary – Day One

Scottish Breakfast at Seven Cafe

The best way to start off your first day in Edinburgh is with a full Scottish Breakfast. If you’re not familiar with the full Scottish breakfast, it’s similar to the English breakfast…but bigger. The English breakfast comes with an egg (fried and poached are most common), bacon (British bacon is softer than American bacon), sausage links, baked beans, fried tomatoes and mushrooms, and toast, with tea on the side.

In addition to all that, the Scottish breakfast includes some or all of the following items: Lorne sausage (a square Scottish sausage), black pudding (a blood sausage made with oats), haggis (my favorite Scottish dish), and a tattie scone (potato pancake). You’ll also usually get coffee instead of tea.

Cafe Class Scottish Breakfast #2

Some cafes and restaurants serve rather unpleasant breakfasts that would only be good if you’re hungover, but there are quite a few places that have fantastic Scottish breakfasts. My personal favorite is Seven Cafe, which used to be called Cafe Class (my cafe!). Their meals are made with very high-quality ingredients. Their Scottish breakfasts include Cumberland sausages (my favorite), thyme-roasted mushrooms, and homemade bread. The price has gone up a few times since I’ve been going there – currently £7.80 ($10), but it’s still one of the cheaper breakfasts in town.

Explore Greyfriars Kirk and the Special Graves

Just a short walk up the hill from Seven Cafe is Greyfriars Kirk and graveyard, known as one of the most haunted graveyards in the world. “Kirk” is “church” in Scottish. There’s nothing particularly special about the church; there are hundreds of churches around Edinburgh and some of them are really magnificent. Instead, it’s the cemetery surrounding the church which is of particular interest.

At night, you can take the City of the Dead Tour to get all the information about the graveyard and all the ghost stories associated with various tombs and crypts. There’s also a section of the cemetery which is off-limits for safety reasons, but the tour will take you in there to discuss how it used to be used as a prison, as all the crypts were surrounded by iron bars.

Black Mausoleum of George Mackenzie in Grayfrair's Kirk

The reason for those iron bars might be jokingly chalked up to keeping the zombies from escaping, but it was actually the other way around. Grave robbers were a big thing in Edinburgh, and the bars were installed to keep the cadavers from being stolen for medical research. On the other hand, that line of work contributed to Edinburgh being the world capital of medical research in the 18th century.

Even more interesting are the graves which inspired a certain famous author. Scattered throughout the courtyard are tombstones with names such as Scrymgeour, Moodie, McGonagall, and Potter. Yep, several characters from Harry Potter can be found in the graveyard. J.K. Rowling used to wander through the graveyard, although apparently only two of the gravestones were consciously used for inspiration. One is William McGonagall (a fantastically bad poet in Scotland) and the other is none other than Thomas Riddell – Lord Voldemort himself – although the spelling was altered for the anagram in the story.

Gravestone in Thomas Riddell in Greyfriar's Kirk

One more point of interest here is the school next to the graveyard – George Heriot’s School. This school was clearly an inspiration for Hogwarts with its fantasy architecture and the four houses which students are divided into based on their academic talents. The school also started off as an orphanage for boys in the 17th century. Rumor has it that when J.K. Rowlings’s daughter asked her if she could go to the school, instead of saying the school was out of her budget (at the time), she said the school was only for wizards.

Check Out Greyfriar’s Bobby

Just outside of Greyfriar’s Kirk is a small statue of a black dog. This is Greyfriar’s Bobby. The story of Bobby goes back to the 19th century. The details change from one telling to the next, but the premise is there was a Skye terrier that was adopted by a city guard, but the guard died a couple years later from tuberculosis. The Skye terrier, Bobby, spent the next 14 years guarding his master’s grave.

The statue is at the top of Candlemaker Row. For years, it has been a tradition to rub Bobby’s nose for good luck. Although there are hundreds of statues meant for rubbing around the world, the locals in Edinburgh don’t like the damage it’s causing the Bobby, and have asked that you refrain from rubbing him. Perhaps just give him a nice pat as you walk past.

Statue of Greyfriar's Bobby on Candlemaker Row

Wander Through the Grassmarket

Down Candlemaker Row from Greyfriars Kirk is the Grassmarket, so named for the bovine and equestrian market that used to be located here from the 15th century. This is where many of the executions in the city were performed, and the image of a gallows is embedded in the paving stones to mark the location.

The Grassmarket is one of the key tourist streets in town, along with the Royal Mile and Princes Street. You’ll find quite a few restaurants and bars lining the big open area, some of which are better than others. One of my favorite restaurants in town is the Beehive Inn, which gets all its ingredients from local farmers and butchers. They change their menu every three months so I can’t really recommend a specific dish.

A couple of the best ice cream parlors in town are also on the Grassmarket. One is at the western end called Mary’s Milk Bar. The other is on the eastern end and is located in the tiny green police box. That’s Over Langshaw Ice Cream, which is the name of the farm south of Edinburgh where the ice cream is made using all their own ingredients. If they’re open when you’re passing by and you’re not dairy intolerant, I’d definitely recommend getting a cone. Try their apple and Scottish bramble flavor!

Over Langshaw Ice Cream Stand

Walk up Diagon Alley

There are several different streets that claim to be the inspiration of Diagram Alley, three in Edinburgh alone. One of the streets making the claim is in York, and J.K. Rowling said she never went there!

Another is Victoria Street, leading up from the Grass Market toward the Royal Mile. Although she never said exactly which street directly inspired Diagon Alley (if any), it’s true that in 1993 when the first book was written, there was a bank next to a stationary store at the bottom of Victoria Street, just like Gringot’s Bank, and Flourish and Blotts in Diagon Alley.

Victoria Street, the inpiration of Diagon Alley in Harry Potter

Nowadays, you’ll find two very popular stores on the street – Museum Context and The Boy Wizard. Both shops sell Harry Potter memorabilia. Museum Context is the better store, although I confess I haven’t spent a lot of time in either.

Museum Context, Full of Harry Potter Memorabilia

Grab a Bowl of Cullen Skink

By now it should be about lunchtime. Although you’re probably still full from that massive Scottish breakfast, there’s a good restaurant on Victoria Street for another popular Scottish dish. Cullen Skink is a cream-based soup made with haddock, leeks and potato. Not all the restaurants serve it (as it takes a bit of talent to make it well), but Howie’s at the top of Victoria Street makes a fantastic bowl. Unfortunately, they’re not cheap.

Howies Cullen Skink

If you’re on a budget, or have a dietary restriction (vegetarian, vegan or dairy-free), head to the top of Victoria Street and turn right. About 5 minutes down the street is a cafe called Union of Genius. They serve some of the best soups in town, and at a fantastic price. Each day they have six soups – two with meat, two are vegetarian and two are vegan. Most of their soups are dairy-free, and nearly everything in their cafe, including all their bakery items, is gluten-free.

Visit Edinburgh Castle

This next attraction is probably the most obvious in Edinburgh, but it’s not one I particularly recommend. As far as tourist attractions go, this is one of the most expensive in Edinburgh, and it’s a bit underwhelming. Stirling and Dunvegan are more impressive as occupied castles. If you want to see castle ruins, there are almost too many to recommend – Urquhart, Eileen Donan, Duntulm, Dunnottar, etc. Having said that, Edinburgh Castle is still Scotland’s most visited paid attraction, and second in the UK.

The Edinburgh Castle is more symbolic than anything else. At one o’clock, they fire the cannon which used to set the time for the nearby harbor. In August (except in 2020), the Military Tattoo is the highlight of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where the Scottish military and other international outfits perform nightly with a fireworks finale. There are museums to explore, and a church dating back to the 12th century. This is also where you’ll find the Honours of Scotland, informally known as the Scottish Crown Jewels.

Edinburgh Castle Front Entrance

If the £15.50 ($20) tickets are out of your budget, I’d recommend viewing the castle from the outside. The aforementioned Grassmarket is an excellent vantage point for photos of the castle, and you can get photos of the city from the large parade ground in front of the castle. The castle is built on an ancient volcanic plug, and the city sprawls in glacial valleys formed in the Ice Age. As such, it’s one of the best spots for photos.

View From Edinburgh Castle Looking South

Take a Tour of Mary King’s Close

Now head back down the Royal Mile to one of my most recommended attractions. As an aside, the Royal Mile is the street stretching almost exactly a mile from the castle to the palace (hence royal). The street changes name three times along its length, which is very common in the UK.

About a third of a mile down the street from the castle is The Real Mary King’s Close, a truly unique attraction. The original streets of Edinburgh date back to the Middle Ages. These streets are called “closes” or “wynds”, probably because of how narrow and windy they are. In 1879 when they wanted to build the City Chambers across the street from St Giles Cathedral, instead of bulldozing the side of the hill to build the new building, they decided to simply cut the tops of the already existing buildings and then construct the city chambers on top.

As a result, the original streets beneath the city chambers are still preserved, along with many of the old dwelling spaces. The Real Mary King’s Close takes you on a tour of the old street to explore what life was like 400 years ago in the capital, the effects that the plagues had on the city, and even a ghost story or two. After all, Edinburgh has been labeled the most haunted city in the world, but I’ll talk more about that below.

Mary King's Close Tour

Find the Angel with Bagpipes at St Giles Cathedral

After you finish your tour, head across the street to St Giles Cathedral, the 12th-century house of worship for the Church of Scotland. The building has gone through many upgrades over the past couple centuries, and now is a rather fantastic piece of architecture – which you can see briefly in the Avengers: Infinity War movie when they’re battling Thanos’ minions.

St Giles Cathedral

The cathedral (Scotland and Brazil are the only two countries which call some of their Presbyterian churches cathedrals), is still active and holds four services every Sunday. You can visit the church Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. While you’re inside, see if you can find the statue of an angel with bagpipes.

Another key attraction within St Giles Cathedral is the Thistle Chapel. This is the small room where the Queen meets with the sixteen Order of the Thistle knights and ladies. It’s a beautiful chapel at the back of the cathedral, but a lot of people miss it.

Thistle Chapel for Knights in St Giles Cathedral

Visit Holyrood Palace

Holyrood Palace started as Holyrood Abbey in 1128. The original palace was constructed in the early 1500s and then reconstructed in the 1670s. It’s currently the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland, although there is currently some doubt on whether she will be returning to Edinburgh with her current health and age.

The current tour of the palace allows you to explore several rooms, including the royal dining room, the throne room, the king’s bedchamber and antechamber, the Great Gallery, and the bedchamber and antechamber of Mary Queen of Scots. You’ll also be able to visit the ruins of Holyrood Abbey (when it’s not under renovation) and the palace gardens where the Queen held her annual garden party with Arthur’s Seat as a backdrop.

Holyrood Palace Mary Queen of Scots Bed

The palace is one of the more expensive attractions in Edinburgh – £16.50 ($21), so if you’re on a budget, I’d definitely consider skipping it. On the other hand, if you’ve never been to a palace, visit this one. Make sure to book in advance – the only way to visit nowadays. Plan to spend about an hour and a half there, an hour of which will be for the audio guide.

Brave Some Haggis, Neeps and Tatties

Now it’s time for dinner, and what better than the number one dish in Scotland. Haggis is a delicious, healthy, ground meat dish made with…well, maybe I shouldn’t say. Let’s just say it’s made with parts of a sheep, oats, onions and spices.

The most common way haggis is served is with neeps (mashed rutabaga or yellow turnip) and tatties (mashed potatoes). You’ll usually get a “stack” of all three and sometimes some gravy on the side, although British gravy is a lot thinner than American gravy.

MUMs Comfort Food Haggis Neeps and Tatties #3

Many of the restaurants around Edinburgh serve haggis in one form or another. I used to recommend the Beehive Inn on the Grassmarket, but they changed their menu and now only offer it as a starter (which is still good). Another good restaurant that serves it is MUM’s Comfort Food across the street from Greyfriar’s Kirk. Since you’re by the palace, head back up the Royal Mile to the Tolbooth Tavern for the Haggis Stack. Unlike the US, pubs and taverns in Scotland serve some of the best food, and usually source their products from local farmers and butchers.

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, there’s a vegan version of haggis which is honestly just as good as the real stuff. Most of the places that serve haggis also have the vegan version available.

View the Sunset from Calton Hill

The final stop of day one should be on Calton Hill. Depending on what month you visit in, you might be able to make it up for sunset. For the longest day of the year, sunset is after 10 p.m., and twilight in the northern sky remains all night long. Conversely, the shortest day of the year sees the sun set before 4 p.m.

Whether you get to the top of Calton Hill before sunset or afterward, the view is just as wonderful. You’ll have a full panoramic vista of Edinburgh. Scattered around the top of the hill are several monuments. The Parthenon-looking structure is the National Monument of Scotland, although it was never finished. The tall tower that looks like a spyglass is the Nelson Monument, and the circular structure with nine columns and Edinburgh Castle in the background is the Dugald Stewart Monument.

Edinburgh with Dugald Stewart Monument, Free Attractions in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Itinerary – Day Two

Get Started with Some Scottish Salmon

Scotland ranks 3rd in the world when it comes to salmon production. The quality is fantastic, and many restaurants serve salmon-related dishes. If you wanted to head back to Seven, they have a salmon and avocado sandwich on homemade bread. Union Brew Lab is another good cafe that serves salmon and cream cheese on fresh sourdough.

Castello Coffee Salmon and Eggs #3

To put you close to the next attraction, I’d recommend heading down to Toast Cafe by Leith Harbor. They serve a delicious toast benedict topped with Scottish smoked salmon. Their views of the harbor are also beautiful, although this spot really gets gorgeous in the evening. Their prices are a little more than the other cafes, so perhaps stick to Seven Cafe if you’re on a budget.

Visit the HMY Britannia

Half a mile away from Toast Cafe is the Ocean Terminal Shopping Center. Head there next for the next attraction. The HMY (Her Majesty’s Yacht) Britannia was commissioned in 1954 and used by Queen Elizabeth II until it was retired in 1997 and put on display in Edinburgh as a leading tourist attraction.

Royal Yacht Britannia

You can now take a full tour of the yacht with an audio guide which will describe all components and features throughout the ship. You can tour through all the exquisite cabins for members of royalty, the state dining rooms, and the Royal Deck tea room. On the lower decks are the crew quarters, infirmary, kitchens, laundry facilities, and many more rooms. The tour spans five decks of the yacht and lasts about an hour. Entrance tickets are £17 ($21.50).

Take a Tour to Queensferry and the Forth Rail Bridge

While we’re on the subject of ships, it’s time for another tour, this time to Queensferry and the three bridges. The Forth Rail Bridge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the world’s second-longest single cantilever bridge. Beside that is the Forth Road Bridge, now only used by passenger buses, bikes and foot traffic. In 2017, the Queensferry Crossing replaced the Forth Road Bridge, which had been showing severe signs of wear.

Three Forth Bridges

One of the four hop-on-hop-off bus tours in Edinburgh goes to the three bridges for £25 ($32.50) and includes a boat tour in the Firth of Forth. The tour includes a boat tour to Inchcolm Island, although you have to buy an additional landing permit if you want to explore the island…which I highly recommend. Inchcolm Island has one of the best-preserved Augustine abbeys in Scotland, as well as old battlements from both World War I and World War II.

Ride the Red Bus Bistro for Afternoon Tea

Now for some lunch. One of my favorite tours in Edinburgh is the Red Bus Bistro Tour. Leaving from Waterloo Place at the end of the New Town, the Red Bus tour takes you around Edinburgh for 90 minutes while giving you a delicious meal and lots of interesting information about the city. There are currently three tours to choose from – an afternoon tea tour, a gin tour and a Harry Potter-themed tour.

The Ultimate Guide for Spending 48 Hours in Edinburgh 1

All the food for these tours is prepared on the bus before departure. The afternoon tea tour includes finger sandwiches, scones and jam, mini quiches and various petit fours and small cakes, with tea or coffee on the side. The gin tour is actually the same tour, but with the addition of a glass of gin. The Harry Potter-themed tour is in the evening and includes a choice of homemade pizza or an Italian antipasti platter. What’s fascinating is how the food stays on the plates while the bus bounces around the cobblestone streets of Edinburgh.

Red Bus Bistro Afternoon Tea TourRed Bus Bistro Afternoon Tea Tour

The tours start at £37 ($48), which isn’t a bad price for a nice dinner and a tour around Edinburgh. Another thing I really like about this tour is that the information they give is unique from the other tours available. In fact, I had done several tours before taking this one, and still learned quite a few new facts about the city I love so much.

Explore Rosslyn Chapel

If you’ve seen the Da Vinci Code, you’ll be familiar with this next attraction. Just outside the city is one of the most beautiful chapels in the world. Rosslyn Chapel was built in the 15th century. The current structure was originally intended to be the choir of a grand church, but funds ran out and the church was never built. However, the chapel alone is completely full of beautiful artwork. Perhaps the most impressive piece is called the Apprentice’s Column – carved with incredibly intricate designs.

Interior of Rosslyn Chapel

The outside of the chapel is gorgeous too. Everything was built with the local sandstone, which varies between white and rose colors. The Rosslyn Trust has taken great care to restore the chapel as much as possible despite how easily sandstone wears down in the Scottish climate. You can take a self-guided tour of the chapel at your own pace, and every hour, a tour guide will give a lecture about important features about the building inside and out.

Mr William at Rosslyn Chapel

If you have a bit more time, you can walk down to the little-known Rosslyn Castle behind the chapel. There isn’t much left of the castle beyond a wall and the central keep house, and an awesome bridge leading to it. The castle was built on a rather unique, steep hill which gave it an excellent defensive position. While Dan Brown connected the chapel to the Knights Templar, there’s not a lot of evidence to support that theory, but you should go to decide for yourself. Admission to the chapel is £9 ($11.50).

Rosslyn Castle

Rosslyn Chapel is one of my favorite attractions in Edinburgh so I had to include it on this list, but they close at 4:30 p.m., which means you won’t have enough time to visit if you take both bus tours. But if you want to skip one of them, then you can replace it with the chapel. The chapel is also significantly cheaper than the bus tours.

Hike Up Arthur’s Seat

It’s rather unique to find a city with a volcano in the middle. Portland, Oregon has one, but it’s small and anti-climatic. Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh is the remnants of a 300-million-year-old volcano, nad definitely the dominant feature of the city. Many people consider it quite a strenuous hike, and many local residents have never been to the top, but I really don’t think it’s that bad. There are two main ways up – one is a long, steadily sloping path and the other is mostly stone steps to the top. Either way, it takes about 30-40 minutes at a comfortable pace to get to the top from the parking lot. On a good day, I can run it in 20 minutes.

Selfie on Arthur's Seat

There are quite a few trails around Holyrood Park, in which Arthur’s Seat is located. Near the parking lot are the ruins of St. Anthony’s Chapel, possibly built in the 1300s and overlooking St Margaret’s Loch. On the back side of Holyrood Park is Dunsapie Loch. Both lochs (Scottish for “lake”) have several swans and perhaps a heron or two. The parking lot behind Holyrood Palace is paid, but the one a little bit further down the road is free.

Freak Out on a Ghost Tour with Mercat Tours

You can’t leave Edinburgh without doing a proper ghost tour. As mentioned above, Edinburgh is the most haunted city in the world, and one of the most spooky locations is the South Bridge vaults. In 1788, 120 rooms were built into the 19 arches of South Bridge, which spanned the valley from the city of Edinburgh to the Old College. The bridge wasn’t waterproof, and the businesses in those rooms soon moved out, leaving them open for unsavory businesses and trades to move in. There’s even a rumor that the graverobbers of Edinburgh used it as a repository for cadavers.

Mercat Ghost Tour

Quite a few people have been known to run out of the vaults absolutely terrified from an apparition they saw, and a full paranormal investigation was once done in the vaults with very interesting findings. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, this is still an awesome tour to take, and you’ll also get a lot of Edinburgh’s history from the guide.

Mercat Tours have access to several of the rooms, and offer several different guided tours through them. One of the tours covers quite a bit of Edinburgh’s Old Town as well before heading down into the vaults, and another tour has a gin tasting at the end. Tours start at £15 ($19.50).

How Much Will 48 Hours in Edinburgh Cost?

Accommodations

Due to the annual Fringe Festival in August which draws in millions of visitors to the city, there are hundreds of hotels, hostels, guesthouses, Airbnbs, Couchsurfing hosts and every other manner of lodging throughout the city. Aside from Couchsurfing, prices range from as little as £7.50 ($10) a night to upwards of a grand. Some months are cheaper than others, and prices rise significantly in August when everything is sold out on the weekends.

Some of my favorite hostels in town are in the £7.50-£11 ($10-$15) range. You can easily get a nice guesthouse or Airbnb for about £40 ($52) a night. The better hotels start at around £100 ($130) a night. So your budget for accommodation will vary wildly (between £15 and £200) depending on what kind of place you want to stay in. Personally, I’d recommend one of the great Airbnbs in town, although some are definitely better than others.

Nira Caledonia Bedroom

Food

Edinburgh is known as the second-most expensive city in the UK, after London. That’s probably most apparent with the food. Per Numbeo, the average meal at an inexpensive restaurant in Edinburgh is £15 ($20)! I can attest that’s about right. In my years living here, I’ve found quite a few places to eat on a budget, although I need to update that article. If you’re savvy, you can find a good lunch for as little as £5, or you can get the meal deal at Tesco for £3.

If you want to splurge, you could easily spend £30 on a meal. So again, this part of your budget will really depend on your preferences. If you eat the places I’ve recommended above, you’ll be looking at about £50 ($65), not including the Red Bus Bistro or dinner on the second day…since I didn’t recommend anything for that. That includes basic drinks and coffee, but your bills will be quite a bit more if you want to add alcohol to your meals. Then again, this is Scotland, and you might want to try a dram of whisky.

Selfie Tasting Whiskey at Glenmorangie Distillery #6

Attractions and Activities

Unless you choose to stay at a luxury hotel, attractions and activities will probably take the biggest chunk out of your budget if you manage to get to all the attractions listed above. Here’s a summary of the costs.

  • Edinburgh Castle: £15.50 ($20)
  • The Real Mary King’s Close: £17.95 ($23.50)
  • Holyrood Palace: £16.50 ($21)
  • HMY Britannia: £17 ($21.50)
  • Queensferry and the Forth Rail Bridge Tour: £25 ($32.50)
  • Red Bus Bistro Tour: £37 ($48)
  • Rosslyn Chapel: £9 ($11.50)
  • Mercat Ghost Tour: £15 ($19.50)
  • Total: £203.45 ($265)

Of course, you can skip some of those activities if they’re out of your budget. And if you’re really on a budget, check out my list of free attractions in Edinburgh.

Summary of the Perfect Itinerary for 48 Hours in Edinburgh

To summarize this rather long article, here’s a schedule for 48 hours in Edinburgh. Obviously, this will vary depending on your speed, preference in attractions, and where in the city your accommodations are, but at least you can use it as a general guide. Granted, this is a very fast-paced itinerary, and you’ll have to move quickly to get from one attraction to the next to squeeze everything in. Did I mention that 48 hours isn’t nearly enough time to explore Edinburgh?

Day 1

  • 9 a.m. – Scottish breakfast at Seven Cafe (Opens at 10 on Sunday)
  • 10:30 a.m. – Greyfriars Kirk and Graveyard
  • 11:30 a.m. – Grassmarket and Diagon Alley
  • 12 p.m. – Cullin Skin at Howie’s Restaurant
  • 1 p.m. – Edinburgh Castle
  • 3:30 p.m. – Mary King’s Close Tour
  • 4:30 p.m. – Holyrood Palace Tour
  • 6:00 p.m. – Haggis, Neeps and Tatties Dinner
  • Sunset – Calton Hill

Day 2

  • 9 a.m. – Salmon breakfast at Toast Cafe
  • 10:30 a.m – HMY Britannia
  • 12:05 p.m. – Three Bridges Bus Tour (only Fri-Sun, don’t be late)
  • 3:00 p.m. – Red Bus Bistro Tour (also leaves at noon if you want to skip the bridges tour)
  • Optional before 3:30 p.m. – Rosslyn Chapel (if you want to skip either bus tour)
  • Sunset: Hike Arthur’s Seat
  • 9 or 10 p.m. – Mercat Ghost Tour

Itinerary Map

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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.

Volunteering in Northern Ireland at a food truck by the Giant’s Causeway was an absolute blast this summer, and a great way to get back into traveling after the world events this year. Unfortunately, I only went for a week, which wasn’t nearly enough time, especially with all the places in Northern Ireland to visit in my free time. I was just lucky to find the opportunity with Worldpackers.

Volunteering in Northern Ireland

First, a brief geography lesson. Northern Ireland is on the island called Ireland, but not part of the country called Ireland. It’s part of the United Kingdom, along with the three countries (England, Wales and Scotland) on the other big island (called Great Britain) in the British Isles. The British Isles are all the islands put together – Great Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man, and all the other islands of the individual countries, like the Isle of Skye in Scotland.

Thus, volunteering in Northern Ireland follows the rules and regulations of volunteering in the UK, rather than the EU (European Union). Ireland (the country) is part of the EU, has the euro, and has different visa requirements. Legally, you need a work visa to volunteer in the UK or have British citizenship. However, there are many people who volunteer “under the radar.” There was an old Chinese lady in Northern Ireland who got stuck in the country during the lockdown and ended up helping out unofficially as a volunteer.

There aren’t currently a lot of volunteer opportunities in Northern Ireland. It’s a small country and, other than the Giant’s Causeway and a few Game of Thrones filming locations, there aren’t a lot of major tourist attractions. On the other hand, if you’re a fan of beautiful nature and scenery, it’s a great country to visit, although it’s better if you have your own mode of transportation.

Finn McCool’s Hostel and the Hungry Giant

Finn McCool’s Hostel is only about 300 feet from the visitor center of the Giant’s Causeway. The house was originally built nearly a century ago as social housing. Back then, it was a good idea to put that kind of house out in the remote countryside. Now it’s a highly coveted location with great views of Portballintrae Beach. The hostel has been there for a few years now, and the Hungry Giant food truck was added in August 2019.

I applied for the job through the Worldpackers volunteering website. After several months confined to Edinburgh, it was great to get out of the country, or rather to a different part of the UK, as Northern Ireland is still technically the same country. The hostel had remained open throughout the lockdown as a refuge to those stuck or stranded in Northern Ireland, and they were happy to accept volunteers to help out. Visitors were also picking up at the Giant’s Causeway for the end of the summer holidays, particularly Irish who had never visited the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

At the time of my arrival, two volunteers were already at the hostel, and two more arrived before I left. There weren’t a whole lot of jobs to do at the hostel, especially on weekdays. However, when I asked if the manager needed any help in the food truck on the basis of my past experience as a chef, he was happy to put me in there. For the next week, I served a steady stream of customers, especially on the weekend when I set the record for sales by a volunteer!

Living at the hostel was quite nice. For the first couple nights, I was able to stay in one of the regular dorms. After that, I moved into the volunteer’s room, a dorm behind the garage. One of the other volunteers was rather messy, but otherwise it wasn’t a bad room, although there was a bit of a debate on whether to have the heater on. The room seemed to be too hot when it was on, and too cold when it was off. The WiFi in the hostel was great (although it didn’t reach the volunteer’s room), and the views just couldn’t be beat.

Selfie Working at Finn McCool's Hostel with View

When I arrived, I did a big online order for food for the week. There was a local market about three miles away from the hostel, but the prices were about twice as much as the big online supermarket, even with the delivery fee.

The Giant’s Causeway

The Giant’s Causeway is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland. The unique formation is made up of around 40,000 basalt columns that were created around 50 million years ago as the result of odd volcanic activity. Ther are other similar formations around the world, but this one is the largest group of columns.

Giant's Causeway Panorama

The reason it’s called the Giant’s Causeway is connected to the mythical warrior Fionn mac Cumhaill, or Finn McCool as it’s written in English. According to legend, Fionn built the causeway to challenge the Scottish giant Benandonner to a fight. Upon seeing that Benandonner was far bigger than he was, he went home where his wife disguised him as their baby. The Scottish giant arrived and saw how big the baby was and how sharp his teeth were, and assumed the father must be much bigger than himself. So he turned tail and fled, destroying the causeway behind him.

Giant's Causeway Columns

The other end of the causeway is said to be Fingal’s Cave on Staffa Island in Scotland. That’s a place I’ve always had on my bucket list, but I’ve yet to make it there.

People have been going to the Giant’s Causeway for centuries, but it’s only since the 1700s when it really became popular after a watercolor painting was made of the location. In 1897, a law was set in place making the Giant’s Causeway a permanently free attraction. Then in 1986, it gained UNESCO World Heritage status. Since then, the National Trust has been purchasing the land around it and opened a visitor center in 2012. While it’s free to actually walk down to and on the causeway, parking at the visitor center costs a small fortune.

The Giant’s Causeway isn’t the only awesome feature in the area. Just a little ways further down the path is the Giant’s Organ where the basalt stones form the side of a cliff. In the distance are the Chimney Stacks with the columns rising in the air. A large, curved boulder on the beach is called the Giant’s Boot, and a slippery staircase leading up to the top of the cliffs (which is usually closed due to safety measures) is called the Shepherd’s Steps.

Giant's Organ

Exploring the Giant’s Causeway is definitely not a drive-by photo stop. In the week I was volunteering in Northern Ireland, I walked down to the causeway nearly every day and spent hours taking photos of the rocks and scenery, hiking the many trails along the cliffs and coast. If I were you, I’d plan to spend at least half a day at the Gaint’s Causeway.

Hitchhiking in Northern Ireland

As I wanted to keep the trip as budget-friendly as possible, I opted not to rent a car for the week. Instead, I relied on hitchhiking. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect after the world events of 2020 and how friendly the world would still be. I learned that people are still incredibly friendly, at least in Northern Ireland.

After getting out of the airport in Londonderry, I walked to the main highway (about half a mile away) and stuck out my thumb for a few minutes. A couple cars passed by and the drivers smiled at me, but no one stopped. Then I switched to the successful tactic of using a sign. I didn’t have any paper, but I was able to write the town I wanted to go to on my tablet and enlarge the font. I was actually surprised when the very next car stopped to pick me up! He had to do an errand on the way, but I was happy to wait in the car.

He couldn’t take me all the way to the Giant’s Causeway, but he brought me to the town halfway there, even driving me to a hamburger restaurant. He then did something completely unexpected…offering me buy me dinner! I was hesitant to accept, but he made it clear that it was just out of the goodness of his heart. To be honest, I love buying or cooking meals for my friends or Couchsurfing hosts and guests, and it’s quite nice to get the generosity back when I travel.

After dinner, it was only a few more minutes with my thumb out before another car stopped to pick me up and drive me directly to the hostel, which was a little out of their way but they were more than happy to help out.

Selfie Hitchhiking in Northern Ireland

Both drivers mentioned they were a little surprised to see hitchhikers, but they certainly weren’t put off from picking me up. In turn, I’ve always been happy to pick up hitchhikers when I’ve had my own vehicle (as long as I had room in the car). Sure, there are a handful of bad stories out there, but the evil people of the world are a) a tiny percentage and b) not limited to any country, group, activity, etc. Don’t let the insanity of a small handful of people put you off from following your dreams or trying something new. I’ve hitchhiked all around the world and only had good experiences. Anyway, rant over. On with the story.

Later in the week when I had a day off from the hostel, I hitchhiked out to Dunseverick Harbor and Waterfalls, and then to Ballintoy Harbor. Dunseverick was beautiful, but the waterfall was a little anticlimactic. There’s also the Dunseverick Castle, but the hostel manager said not to bother as it was just the remnants of one wall, which is what it looked like on Google Maps too. Ballintoy Harbor was far more interesting, as it’s also one of the filming locations for Game of Thrones.

Dunseverick Waterfall

After a really nice lunch at The Red Door Cafe, I made my way to Larrybane Quarry – another Game of Thrones filming location, and then to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Unfortunately, the rope bridge was closed due to social distancing measures. After that, I wanted to get down to the Dark Hedges, but no one was going in that direction, and after a couple hours of trying, I finally got a lift back to the hostel.

Other Budget Tips for Volunteering in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland isn’t that expensive of a country, and volunteering is a great way to stick to a budget. It’s quite easy to hitchhike along the coast and visit the key attractions, such as the Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge, Ballintoy Harbor (where they filmed scenes for Game of Thrones), Portballintrae Beach, Portrush, etc. Unfortunately, some of the attractions (like the Dark Hedges and Castle Ward a.k.a. Winterfell) are very difficult to get to if you don’t have your own mode of transportation.

If you’ve got the money, consider taking a tour such as with Shamrocker Adventures. The tours aren’t particularly cheap, but considering transportation and accommodations are both included, they’re a pretty good deal, especially if you want to cover a lot of ground in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

If you’re looking for food around the Giant’s Causeway, I have to throw in another plug for the Hungry Giant food truck. Their homemade burgers are delicious, and the prices are quite reasonable. Otherwise, I’d suggest stocking up on provisions at the large supermarkets in the cities (Belfast, Londonderry, Coleraine, etc) before heading out on your adventures. While working at the hostel, the online food purchase I made at the beginning of the week helped to keep my budget very low.

Selfie with Hosts at Finn McCool Hostel

In fact, I was able to spend just over £100 ($130) for my entire trip to Northern Ireland, including the flights from Edinburgh. It would have been under £100, but we choose to make a detour into Belfast on the final day to see the city and attractions like the Titanic Belfast. We didn’t really have that much time before our flight back to Edinburgh, but it was certainly worth the extra couple pounds for the train ticket.

Sign up for Worldpackers

Worldpackers is my new favorite volunteer website. They’re a bit newer than Workaway and HelpX so they don’t have as many hosts, but the quality of their hosts seems to be a lot better. I’m already looking for my next assignment, although it looks like it might have to be next year as a lot of opportunities are closing down for the winter months.

The price for a Worldpackers membership is $49 a year. That’s a bit more than the $40 that Workaway charges, but if you click on this link to sign up, you can get a $20 discount, bringing the cost to a meager $29! Or use the promo code SKYETRAVELS when you sign up. Also, for a limited time, get a bonus 6 months on your membership for free! Join now!

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Volunteering in Northern Ireland Pin

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 pro’s and cons, and some of the experiences I’ve had.

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

If you’re looking for a good excursion from Edinburgh in Scotland, Falkirk is a great choice. This city is located only half an hour away from the capital and has plenty of fantastic attractions, including the world’s largest equestrian statues and the only rotating boat lift in the world, not to mention a few filming locations from Outlander as well as the most unique folly in Scotland. Here’s a guide on how to spend 48 hours in Falkirk.

Getting to Falkirk from Edinburgh

Falkirk is located roughly 20 miles west of Edinburgh, about halfway to Glasgow. You can drive there in about half an hour on the M9 highway. Just make sure you get off the highway at Exit 5. I’ve missed the exit several times, thinking there’s an exit at the next big roundabout, but there isn’t and then it’s an 11-mile detour to backtrack.

If you don’t have your own or a hired car, you can take the bus or train to Falkirk. There is usually a train that runs from Edinburgh to Falkirk in under half an hour. Just before I went in August 2020, the railway was damaged by flooding and the service was temporarily unavailable. Otherwise, it’s the fastest and cheapest way to get to Falkirk.

The other option is the X38 bus, which will take you straight from Princes Street in Edinburgh’s New Town to the center of Falkirk in a little over an hour and a half. If you’re going straight from Edinburgh Airport to Falkirk (as I did), then get the 909 bus and jump off in Grangemouth, which is about 20 minutes away by foot from the center of Falkirk.

Falkirk City Center

Where to Stay in Falkirk

Falkirk doesn’t have the largest variety of accommodations to stay at. When there are events in town, such as a concert at the Falkirk Stadium, everything is fully booked. There also aren’t any hostels or budget accommodations in town at this time. The cheapest hotels start at around £30 ($39) a night.

SGE Leapark Hotel

My hotel was actually in Grangemouth, the town just on the other side of the highway from Falkirk. The SGE Hotel Group is a family-run chain of five hotels around Scotland. Just like the hotels in Edinburgh, SGE Leapark Hotel is built into an old stone building, but with nice, modern amenities. I was spoiled with a large executive room. There was a large space with a desk where I could catch up on my work, and a raised portion of the room where the bed was. The bathroom was quite large, especially by UK standards. I found the bed very soft and comfortable, and the WiFi was not bad.

Leapark Hotel Room

I didn’t actually get a chance to eat in the hotel’s restaurant just due to time restrictions. Usually, that’s where breakfast would also be served, but due to the world events of 2020, breakfast is in a separate dining room. You have to tell them when you plan to eat breakfast, but otherwise, there weren’t really any restrictions. Breakfast options included a big Scottish breakfast, a smaller breakfast, a vegetarian option, eggs benedict, or a breakfast sandwich. On the side were optional toast, porridge, coffee, tea, and orange juice.

Scottish Breakfast at Leapark Hotel

Dunmore Pineapple House

The Dunmore Pineapple is one of the most unusual structures in Scotland. It’s a folly (a decorative structure on one’s property that doesn’t usually serve a purpose) in the shape of a 46-foot tall pineapple. The pineapple sits atop a garden wall that contains two gardeners cottages. The best part is that you can rent out the cottages. They sleep four and cost as little as £500 ($650) for 4 days. The website advertises them for as little as £264 for 4 nights, but the cheaper times must already be fully booked for the next year.

Dunmore Pineapple House Entrance

Airbnb

While not significantly cheaper, another option is to stay at an Airbnb. There are about 90 properties around Falkirk and Grangemouth, starting at about £24 ($30) per night. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, use this link to claim up to £40 off your first stay.

Great Restaurants and Cafes in Falkirk

The town of Falkirk only has about 35,000 residents, but there are still plenty of restaurants and cafes to choose from, particularly in the city center. There are also a few gems out in the suburbs if you know where to look. While I’m sure I could write an entire book about the different places to eat in Falkirk, here are the couple that I had a chance to visit during my 48 hours there.

Pots Cafe

The first cafe I visited in Falkirk was Pots Cafe, the brainchild of Nicky Don. Located just a minute away from the Falkirk Steeple in the center of town, it’s a good place to head to if you want something convenient…or if you’re looking for fantastically good food. On the recommendation of Nicky, I had the haggis, chili and cheese toastie, served with salad, coleslaw and chips. As far as toasties go, it was one of the best I’ve ever had! Surprisingly spicy by Scottish standards, it was a really nice use of their fresh haggis from a local butcher.

Haggis, Cheese and Chili Toastie at Pots Cafe

If you’re not looking for a big meal, the drinks and cakes are also fantastic. All the cakes are homemade by Nicky and change daily. I had the raspberry cheesecake, with a chai latte on the side. The latte was delicious, especially as it was made from chai powder and not a teabag as some cafes do. The cheesecake was simply perfect. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, they have a large menu just for you.

Selfie Eating Raspberry Cheesecake at Pots Cafe

Arnotdale House Cafe

The Arnotdale House Cafe opened in September 2019 in Dollar Park. The cafe and house are managed by the Cyrenians charity organization. Per their website, “Cyrenians serves those on the edge, working with people at risk of becoming homeless and supporting them to transform their lives by beginning with their story, helping them believe that they can change their lives, and walking with them as they lead their own transformation.”

The cafe serves homemade food using locally-sourced ingredients. Some of their vegetables come from the Dollar Park garden, and they plan to eventually source all their produce from their own garden. The menu isn’t big, but the dishes are fantastic.

Their signature dish is the Stornaway stack – something I’d somehow never had in all my years living in Scotland. It uses Stornoway black pudding – a blood sausage from the Western Isles of Scotland. The stack is bread, Stornoway black pudding, a large portobello mushroom and a poached egg, topped with crispy bacon bits. It was delicious! The Stornoway black pudding is much better than the generic black pudding that many cafes in Scotland will serve.

Stornoway Stack at Arnotdale House Cafe

I also had a stack of salmon pancakes on the side, just because they looked so good. I would never have considered topping fluffy American pancakes with cream cheese, smoked salmon and capers, but it turned out to be a really good combination. Add in a ginger beer on the side and the lunch was perfect.

The Lobster Pot

If you make it out to Blackness Castle, you’ve got to stop at the Lobster Pot. This quirky pub has some really fantastic decorations, all put together by the owner. I didn’t actually have any space in my stomach for another meal after my massive lunch at the Arnotdale House Cafe, but I did get a small snack of potato wedges while I waited for my bus back to Edinburgh.

One thing to know about the pubs and taverns in Scotland is that, contrary to what you would find in the USA, they usually serve the best food in town. Their ingredients are often sourced from local butchers and farmers, and the chefs are really creative. Considering how busy the place was in such a small village (and the castle was closed that day), I’m assuming the quality of their food was quite good. If you’re not hungry, at least stop by and see the awesome decorations inside and out.

Things to Do in Falkirk

There are a surprising number of attractions to see in the urban region of Falkirk, which is why I consider the town seriously underrated. Some of the attractions are better known than others, but I found that there’s actually far more to see than you can comfortably squeeze into 48 hours.

The Kelpies and Helix Park

In 2013, the Kelpies were constructed as a tribute to the steel industry of Falkirk, as well as the importance of the canal system in Scotland. Located at the beginning of the Forth and Clyde Canal where it branches off the River Carron about a mile and a half away from the Firth of Forth, these two massive steel horse statues tower 100 feet in the air. The Kelpies are also representative of mythical kelpies – water spirits in Scotland which often take the form of a horse.

Small Statues at the Kelpies

The Kelpies are part of the Helix eco-park. The Helix opened in 2013 as the center of 17 miles of trails that connect 16 neighborhoods in Falkirk. The Helix has a large play area for kids, a lake and the Plaza Cafe.

Helix Park

The Kelpies were completed in 2014 with a visitor center to accommodate 300,000 visitors a year; it saw over a million in the first year after its opening! If you’re hungry, you can grab a snack from the visitor cafe or one of the food carts outside, or a pizza from The Horsebox on the other side of the statues.

Food Truck at the Kelpies

If you’ve seen the Kelpies as you drive by on the nearby highway, you should know that you really can’t appreciate them unless you stand beneath. They’re a lot bigger than they look from the highway. I’d also recommend going at night when they’re lit up with colors, which is easier to do in the winter as sunset in the summer is around 11 at night! The Kelpies themselves are free to visit, but you have to pay for parking…r you can park by the Helix which is only about five minutes away.

Falkirk Stadium

One attraction you probably won’t visit in Falkirk unless it’s a special occasion is Falkirk Stadium. Built for football matches in 2006, it holds nearly 8,000 people. Although relatively small, it’s a decent music venue. The biggest music venue in Edinburgh – Usher Hall – only holds 2,200 people. As such, most people head to Glasgow to see their favorite concerts.

Recently, bands have started performing at Falkirk Stadium, which is only half the distance to Glasgow from Edinburgh. This year, The Killers were supposed to perform, but they were postponed until 2021 due to world events. On the other hand, if you’re into football (as I am), you could watch a match at the stadium.

An interesting feature of the stadium is the electric vehicle charging hub. With 26 stations, it’s the largest charging hub in Scotland. There is a huge push to reduce carbon emissions in Scotland and make it a greener country with renewable energy. Electric vehicles play a big part in that. Large charging centers like the one at Falkirk Stadium are being installed along the major highways of Scotland. The Scottish government has planned to phase out the need for new petrol and diesel cars by 2032, and will even give you an interest-free loan up to £35,000 ($45,000) for the purchase of an electric vehicle.

The Falkirk Wheel

The Falkirk Wheel has been on my list of places to visit for years, but somehow I only made it there this year. As the only rotating boat lift in the world, it’s a really unique and fascinating attraction. Built in 2002, the lift can take a flat-bottomed canal boat from the Forth and Clyde Canal up 86 feet to join the Union Canal which leads to Edinburgh. From the wheel, the Union Canal goes through a tunnel and then up two locks before maintaining the same level (no more locks) all the way to its terminus in Edinburgh.

Falkirk Wheel

The Falkirk Wheel is quite a marvel of engineering. The mechanism uses the power of eight electric tea kettles to rotate two boat-carrying gondolas each weighing 250 tons! You can take an hour boat tour up the lift to the first of the locks on the Union Canal and back down for £13.50 ($17.50). I highly recommend the tour, as the guide continuously gives you information about the Falkirk Wheel, the construction of the canals, what you can see around Falkirk from the top of the wheel, etc.

Falkirk Wheel Boat Tour

 

If you have a bit more time, walk out to Rough Castle and the remains of the Antonine Wall, one of Scotland’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Antonine Wall was the wall built 12 years after Hadrian’s Wall to keep the Scottish out of Britannia (what the Romans called England). It takes about half an hour to walk from the Falkirk Wheel to Rough Castle. Due to a tight schedule, I didn’t actually make it out there myself. I’ve been told there’s not much to see of the two-thousand-year-old fort, but I still like visiting all the UNESCO sites that I can. I’ll get out there the next time I’m in Falkirk.

The Dunmore Pineapple

I’ve seen some really unusual buildings in my travels. The Dunmore Pineapple is definitely one of the strangest. In 1493, Christopher Columbus brought the first pineapples over to Europe from Guadaloupe. At that time, they were extremely rare and valuable commodities. In 1761, John Murray built a greenhouse on his estate by the Firth of Forth to grow pineapples. Shortly afterward, he sailed across the Atlantic to become the last Colonial Governor of Vermont. Sometime after his return to Scotland, he added the concrete pineapple structure atop the greenhouse.

The Dunmore Pineapple

The Dunmore Pineapple is considered to be a folly. In Scotland, a folly is a decorative structure on one’s property that doesn’t really serve any purpose. There are towers and strange structures all over the UK that classify as follies, but I think the Pineapple is the most unique. It’s free to explore the gardens around the pineapple. If you want to see inside the structure, you can rent out the garden cottage beneath the pineapple for the weekend, which sleeps four.

Check out my article on the Dunmore Pineapple for directions on how to get there (it’s not that easy to find), what there is to do around the pineapple, and how to rent it for the weekend.

Callendar House

One of the most popular attractions in Falkirk is the Callander House. The house dates back to the 1300s, although it started out as a simple stone tower house. Over the past seven centuries, the house has expanded into a gorgeous Georgian estate. Many notable figures have stayed at the house, including Mary, Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie, and Queen Victoria.

Callendar House

The Callendar House has three permanent exhibits full of panels and displays – The Story of the Callendar House, The Antonine Wall: Rome’s Northern Frontier, and Falkirk: Crucible of Revolution. The Georgian Kitchen is also a permanent attraction where you can see the original equipment, ovens and fireplace. A guide dressed in character will show you around, provide information on the history of the kitchen, and give you some samples of the original food they used to serve (although that last is temporarily suspended due to current world events). There are other additional temporary exhibits in the galleries of the house which change from time to time.

Callendar House Kitchen

Just like the Kelpies, the Callendar House is free to visit. At this time, you have to book in your slot in advance. You could rush through the house in about 45 minutes, but I’d recommend spending a couple hours to really take in all the information. You can also spend a few hours exploring the grounds and woodland trails, which include the Forbes Mausoleum, another section of the remnants of the Antonine Wall, and Callendar Lake.

If you can’t make it to Falkirk in the near future, feel free to check out my virtual tour of the Callendar House.

Dollar Park

Dollar Park is where you’ll find the aforementioned Arnotdale House Cafe, but the cafe isn’t all there is to the park. Behind Arnotdale House is a large community garden where volunteers and the homeless can help out, although there are also experienced gardeners to help maintain and supervise things, including one of only two floral clocks in Scotland (the other being in the Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh).

Dollar Park Garden

Before the other popular attractions in Falkirk opened, such as the Kelpies and Falkirk Wheel, the Dollar Park was a hub for the local community and visitors. Since the Cyrenians have been helping out, the park has been revitalized, with renovations to the playground, tennis courts and the house itself. Even the local bridge club returned to the park after nearly 50 years away.

Dollar Park Playground

If you have the time, Dollar Park is a nice place to relax a bit, grab a bite to eat and enjoy the flowers.

Blackness Castle

Blackness Castle is a fantastic attraction to visit, especially if you’re an Outlander fan. I was there before on my Outlander Tour, but I didn’t have a lot of time to explore that day.

The castle was built in the 15th century in a crucial defensive position on the Firth of Forth, protecting the nearly Linlithgow Palace which was one of the Scottish monarch’s residences at that time. The castle has the shape of a ship about to sail into the Firth of Forth, with three towers nicknamed Stern, Mast and Stem. Considerable defensive improvements have been made over the centuries, including reinforcing the walls to up to 15 feet thick in some places! The entrance to the castle is one of the most advanced kill chambers (known as a caponier) for its day in Scotland. As such, the castle was recently used as an ammunition depot before it was turned over to Historic Scotland.

Blackness Castle Interior

The castle grounds are free to explore. If you want to enter the castle and also walk out on the pier (which has the best views of the castle and is protected by one of the last draw bridges to be constructed in the UK), admission is only £6 ($7.75). To get to Blackness Castle from Falkirk or Edinburgh, take the train to Linlithgow Palace and then the F49 bus to Blackness. There’s also the C19 bus which will take you straight from Blackness to Princes Street in Edinburgh’s New Town.

Blackness Castle from Pier

The Perfect 48 Hour Itinerary for Falkirk

When I first considered spending 48 hours in Falkirk, I didn’t think there were enough attractions to fill up two days. Now that I’ve done it, I can say that two days isn’t really enough time, especially if you want to explore the outdoors around the Falkirk Wheel, Dunmore Pineapple and Callendar House. Without any additional exploration and sticking to a tight schedule, everything above can be completed in two days.

I went to the Kelpies and Helix, Falkirk Stadium, Falkirk Wheel, and Dunmore Pineapple on my first day, and then Callendar House, Dollar Park and Blackness Castle on my second day, but that’s mostly because Callendar House was still closed on my first day. It might be a better idea to visit the Callendar House on the same day as the rest of the attractions around the center of Falkirk (Kelpies, Wheel and Dollar Park) and then get to the Dunmore Pineapple and Blackness Castle on the second day. That would also give you some time to explore Linlithgow Palace on the way to Blackness.

As some tips, aim to visit Callendar House in the morning before it gets busy, and the Kelpies in the evening to get the best lighting for photos (and free parking). The last boat tour at the Falkirk Wheel is at 3 p.m., so make sure to take that into account with your schedule. While I’d highly recommend visiting both Pots Cafe and Arnotdale House Cafe, it might be hard to work them into your schedule if you’re going to be out at the castle and palace on the second day.

As to a budget, considering there are no hostels in Falkirk, expect to spend at least £60 ($75) a day between accommodations, food, transport and the few paid attractions. If you’re really on a budget, you can consider getting a hostel in Edinburgh or Stirling and commuting each day to Falkirk, but that wouldn’t technically be a full 48 hours in Falkirk.

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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 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 3

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.