There is something in Scotland for everyone. This country has ancient history and archaeology, incredible museums, the Loch Ness Monster, fantastic live music, whiskey, men in kilts, and the potential for countless rugged outdoor adventures.
It’s so easy to fall in love with this country — I’ve raved about Scotland to every person who will listen, and, obviously, they know how much I love it since my husband, son, and I decided to settle here. However, I don’t think they truly understand until they visit. Each person who visits leaves saying, “I get it now. I can see why you’ve decided to call this country home.”
Though we have grown accustomed to everyday life in Scotland — we pay taxes to HMRC, eat haggis with relish, and consider a drizzly, 60-degree Fahrenheit day to be downright tropical — all of our micro-adventures around this beautiful country still feel like a cross between a staycation and a holiday. Because we live in such a unique place, plenty of friends and family come to visit, which means we have experiences in and around Edinburgh down to a science. If you plan to visit Scotland, are going to use Edinburgh as a base, and would prefer not to rent a car, these three micro-adventures are perfect for you.
A DAY IN THE CITY OF EDINBURGH
The first, obligatory adventure is experiencing Edinburgh itself. The Scottish capital has been rated one of the best cities in the U.K. and Europe — and for good reason!
First, set out along Princes Street to take in the Georgian New Town, and then wander over to Old Town, where the medieval architecture is distinctly different. Pass Edinburgh Castle, an imposing and majestic sight to behold.
Then, meander down the Royal Mile to our favorite first stop: the Piemaker on South Bridge. This is, hands down, the best place for pie — a culinary staple in Scotland. The pies are always fresh and delicious, and we usually purchase two or three per person and stuff them in our packs to enjoy later in the day.
Continue down the Royal Mile toward Arthur’s Seat. Along the way, we always point out St. Giles Cathedral, the John Knox House, Parliament, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the bottom of the hill. Standing in Holyroodhouse Park, Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags seemingly jut up out of nowhere. I still love the fact that we can indulge in such a stunning hike up a hill right in the city center! The hike to the top is straightforward and easy, so anyone — old, young, even the less-physically active — can manage the climb. And the views at the top are a real treat.
Looking out over the city from the top of Arthur’s Seat, consume your scrumptious — and still warm — pies while taking in some of the best views of Edinburgh. After a short rest, head down the back of Arthur’s Seat for a visit to the Sheep’s Heid Inn, a 600-year-old pub with an impressive list of famous patrons, including Bonnie Prince Charlie, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Robert Burns to name a few. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a pint by a cozy fire. After peeling out of your comfy seats, board the bus back to the city center and pay a quick visit to the National Museum of Scotland and Greyfriars Kirkyard. Then, it’s a delicious dinner at our favorite restaurant, the Outsider — always a fantastic way to wrap up a day of exploring the city.
SEASIDE ST. ANDREWS
The second day trip we do quite often is to St. Andrews, the seaside home of golf (and plenty of other interesting things, if you aren’t a golf enthusiast).
Get an early start and catch the Number 59 bus from Edinburgh, which is easy and much cheaper than taking the train. After arriving at the station in St. Andrews, head to Fisher and Donaldson. I can confirm, without a doubt, that they sell the best fudge donuts in the world.
After a donut (or two) and a cup of coffee, venture down the street to St. Andrew’s Cathedral. While there isn’t much left of the medieval cathedral, a walk around the ruins provides a pretty concrete idea of how absolutely massive and incredible the intact cathedral must have been in its heyday.
Just a short walk down the street and along the sea will take you right to St. Andrews Castle. This medieval ruin is always interesting to explore, and the visitor center is very informative. It’s fun to take a peek at the bottle dungeon (one of the most notorious in medieval Britain) and crawl through the 16th-century mine and countermine.
Once you’ve soaked up some medieval history, wander along the sea down to St. Andrews Golf Course before heading back into the town center for a few pints and snacks at St. Andrews Brewing Co. It’s easy enough to find a table for dinner at one of the inviting pubs or, if you’re feeling a bit tired, catch an early bus back home. It’s the perfect micro-adventure within a day’s journey from Edinburgh!
CASTLE EXPLORATION IN STIRLING
Our third, go-to day trip from Edinburgh is Stirling. The Megabus for Stirling leaves right from Edinburgh Bus Station and is inexpensive — although the downside is that there are usually only a few trips to and from Stirling each day. I’ve found that booking the onward journey for mid-morning and the late-afternoon return ticket home provides just enough time to see the highlights at a leisurely pace.
As soon as you arrive in Stirling, head up the hill to the castle. Stirling Castle is one of my favorites. It’s extremely well-preserved and, in a lot of ways, very similar to Edinburgh Castle — but it doesn’t have the crowds! The historian in me appreciates the restoration efforts that have been carried out at Stirling Castle. As a result, I think the experience is more cohesive than the one at Edinburgh Castle. The gigantic Great Hall is cavernous and lime-washed, looking much like it would have in the early 16th century. The adjacent Chapel Royal, built by James VI in 1594, is beautifully preserved, as is the Royal Palace across the courtyard, which contains the King and Queen’s chambers. The rooms in the palace have been restored with great care, and it’s easy to imagine what the castle might have looked like, fully furnished, in the 16th century, when James V and Mary Queen of Scots walked its corridors.
After wandering around the various buildings (a collection of halls, palaces, and chapels), continue on to the Portcullis, just a few minutes walk down the hill from Stirling Castle, for a pint and chips or a coffee and sticky toffee pudding. That usually leaves an hour or two for time in the shops or a more leisurely lunch in town before catching the bus back to Edinburgh.
These three micro-adventure day trips are always winners with our visitors. Even though I’ve done the trips many, many times now, I still enjoy them myself!
If you’re trying to decide on your next adventure and haven’t been to Scotland yet, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. And now, you have several day trips at your disposal to make the most of your time!