Edinburgh! The capital of Scotland is a wonderful travel destination, with its rich history, jaw-dropping scenery nearby, and varied activities. Doug and I recently visited, and we highly recommend it.
But there’s more to know about Edinburgh before you go than that the weather is fickle and to watch out for midges, a type of biting bug. We learned a few essential tips that the guidebooks may not tell you. We’re happy to share.
1. Never Ask a Man What He’s Wearing Underneath His Kilt
Most guys do not go around wearing their kilts on a day-to-day basis; kilts are typically worn for ceremonial or other special occasions, such as weddings. However, it’s not uncommon to see a kilt on the street.
Locals told us that they hate being asked by tourists whether they’re wearing anything under their kilts. It’s akin to sexual harassment: imagine asking a woman whether she’s wearing something underneath her skirt. We actually witnessed such an encounter between one of our tour guides, who was wearing a kilt, and a woman we ran into. He was cordial to her, but told us afterward that had he not been wearing the logo of his employer he would have responded to her very differently.
2. Determine Whether You Want to Visit When a Festival Is Occurring
We chose to visit Edinburgh during August simply because it fit our schedule best. We were aware that there would be several festivals at that time including the Fringe Festival and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tatoo but we weren’t traveling specifically to attend one. If that’s your reason for visiting Edinburgh, then obviously you need to plan accordingly.
But if you want to avoid crowds, then you might not want to visit when a festival is occurring. The streets were packed, sometimes shoulder to shoulder, not everyone’s idea of fun. Hotel, restaurant, and other reservations are also harder to come by during festivals. Luckily we had purchased tickets to Edinburgh Castle months in advance; those tickets were all sold out on the days we were there. We saw plenty of very disappointed-looking people being turned away.
3. Try the Whisky – and the Gin
Scotland is renowned for its whisky. Even if you’re not a whisky drinker, it’s fun and informative to learn more about this quintessential drink. Several programs in Edinburgh offer whisky tastings. We thoroughly enjoyed our small group whisky and folklore experience operated by Little Fish Tours. The event, held in a local pub, provided us with a great overview of Scotland’s four larger whisky regions (Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside, and Islay), along with history and folk tales.
We even had an unexpected, unadvertised bonus: our guide Elinor also played the clarsach harp, Scotland’s oldest national musical instrument.
But please don’t neglect the gin! Scotland is also known for its gin and is home to 600 gin distilleries. We enjoyed a great tour and tasting at Edinburgh Gin, a tiny distillery that creates craft and flavored gins right in the heart of the city. We were able to sample a number of different gins and gin cocktails in two different tasting rooms. I felt like I was in a speakeasy. Very cool!
4. Don’t Dismiss the Food
Some still think that Scotland’s cuisine consists mainly of haggis (traditionally made with sheep liver, heart, and lungs) and smoked salmon. Huge mistake! Edinburgh has a vibrant and varied food scene. We had several fantastic dinners in Edinburgh, including tasting menus and fine wine at the historic Gardner's Cottage (which seats only about 30 people), Wedgwood the Restaurant, and the Number One in the Balmoral Hotel.
I’d also highly recommend a food tour to try a variety of local dishes. We really enjoyed our tour with Laurie of Secret Food Tours which included Irn-Bru (Scotland’s popular soft drink) traditional fish soup, cranachan (a form of ice cream), whisky, and yes, haggis (Laurie pointed out that if you can eat a hot dog, you shouldn’t be squeamish about haggis).
5. Be Prepared for the Hills
Edinburgh is a very steep city, which should be emphasized more so that tourists won’t be unpleasantly surprised. The city is on both upper and lower levels, and there are a lot of stairs. For instance, the entrance to our hotel was actually on the sixth floor of the building. I was mighty glad I did not bring heels on this trip!
We hope these five essential tips about Edinburgh that the guidebooks may not tell you help you plan your trip there. Do you have any tips to add? Please let us know! We’re at email@example.com.
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