Exploring Scotland Solo: Edinburgh, Stirling, and Doune Castle

Exploring Scotland Solo: Edinburgh, Stirling, and Doune Castle

In an earlier blogpost, I gave you a quick outline of my trip to Scotland last summer. Today, I will go into more detail and tell you all about my first three days in Scotland, in which I explored Edinburgh, Stirling and Doune Castle!

Day 1: my first day in Edinburgh

I started day 1 with an early flight from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport to Edinburgh Airport. There are multiple options to choose from when trying to get from the airport to the city centre. So, I picked a bus shuttle service, which was just planning to leave when I hopped on. No waiting for me, yay!. The weather was typical for Scotland (I think): one moment it was pouring, fifteen minutes later the sun was shining. In around half an hour I was in the centre of Edinburgh and could start my sightseeing.

The city (centre) of Edinburgh is divided into an Old Town (with its famous street the Royal Mile) and a New Town (which was built when the Old Town became too small. On my first day, I decided to explore the Old Town and Royal Mile first. I also visited the St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh (and had some cover from the rain).

After that, I was not sure what to do first, so I decided to undertake something rather ambitious: I was going to climb Arthur’s Seat. I had bought special walking shoes for this trip and I was planning to make good use of them. Of course, I lost my way and ended on the wrong side of the hill at first, but after the use of Google Maps, I found the right route, climbed a lot, and had an amazing view of Edinburgh and the sea. It’s truly amazing that there is this much nature in such a large city.

It was already late in the afternoon when I’d climbed Arthur’s Seat and I ate some pre-packed ‘dinner’ at the summit. I was starting to feel a bit tired, too. So, after a quick visit to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, I walked to my hostel (Cowgate Tourist Hostel) in the Old Town, and had an early night.

View of Edinburgh from Arthur’s Seat

Day 2: another day in Edinburgh

On my second day, I rose early. As I’m a huge fan of Harry Potter, I definitely wanted to visit the cemetery which gave J.K. Rowling the inspiration for several names of characters from the Harry Potter books: Greyfriars Kirkyard. And yes, I saw Tom Riddle’s grave. There, I also found the statue of Greyfriars Bobby, a dog who guarded the grave of his owner for 14 years until his death in 1872, and became famous because of this.

Next, I walked to the Grassmarket, and via Victoria Street (featured image of this post) I reached the Royal Mile once more. I have visited several parts of this large street multiple times, but this did not seem as a waste of time to me. The street is very beautiful, has many historical buildings, and each time you’ll discover something new.

My next stop was Edinburgh Castle, which was much busier than I had imagined; there was a very long cue. It was certainly worth the wait, but I’d have saved some time when I’d have bought my ticket online beforehand. I bought a 3 Day Explorer Pass, which is definitely worth your money if you plan to visit multiple castles in Scotland. There is a lot to see at the castle, such as the Scottish crown jewels (although less impressive than the British ones), and the firing of the One o’clock Gun (at one o’clock). Moreover, do take some time to take the guided tour, which is included in your ticket and leaves at certain times a day. The guided tour gives you just enough history and context to explore the castle on your own afterwards.

Lastly, I visited the National Museum of Scotland. I really like visiting history museums, because I am fascinated by the early histories (mainly <1000 AD) of countries. I especially liked the exhibit about the different languages that were spoken in Scotland and what traces of them you can still find back in the names of villages (possibly because I study (Classical) languages).

Edinburgh Castle

Day 3: Stirling and Doune Castle

On my third day, I took an early train to Stirling, roughly an hour from Edinburgh. The main attractions of Stirling are the Wallace Monument (which I didn’t visit, but only saw from the castle walls), the beautiful Church of the Holy Rude, and its main tourist attraction: Stirling Castle. I spent more than two hours at Stirling Castle, and there is definitely a lot to see and do. Besides the guided tour, some rooms are decorated and have people in medieval dress, and the walls have great views.

Less than 10 miles from Stirling lies Doune Castle, known as a film location for Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Outlander. The last one mainly being the reason that I wanted to visit this castle. The Castle itself is mostly bare, but the audio guide narrated by Monty Python’s Terry Jones and (since recently) by Outlander’s Sam Heughan makes this castle worth your visit, especially if you have seen this film or show. Moreover, both Stirling and Doune Castle are free with the Explorer Poss. Doune Castle is accessible by bus from Stirling Bus Station.

Doune Castle

At the end of the afternoon I returned by train to Edinburgh. After dinner, I decided to explore some of the New Town. I randomly walked through the neighbourhood and decided to climb Calton Hill and wait until the sun was set and I could see the city by night. In the end, it took too long to wait for that, but also at dusk, the views of the city centre were magnificent. Calton Hill might be my favourite spot in Edinburgh. It was a fitting end to my days exploring Edinburgh (and Stirling).

Calthon Hill, Edinburgh

This was my first visit to Edinburgh (and Stirling), and I definitely want to return in the near future, because I’ve certainly not seen everything there is to see! One of the things on my bucket list is the Rosslyn Chapel (known from Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code). Here’s a great post about the Rosslyn Chapel that you should check out.

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