Things To Know About Scotland – a brief recap of a quick trip to Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a beautiful city filled with lovely people. Here’s a brief recap of my quick trip there and a few key things to know about Scotland.

Disclosure: I recently attended a sponsored nutrition communications conference held in Edinburgh, Scotland. While I paid for my airfare to/from Scotland and a fee to attend the conference, my local ground transportation, the majority of my meals, all of my excursions, and my hotel stay were all paid for by the conference organizers. This post is not sponsored by them in any way. It is a recap of my takeaways from my time in Scotland. To hear more about the nutrition topics I learned about at the conference, be sure to subscribe to the podcast where I will be sharing nutrition insights in future episodes. 

Frequently Asked Questions about my recent travel to Edinburgh, Scotland, and basic Scotland travel tips

Were the people in Edinburgh friendly?

Yes! The Scottish people were exceptionally warm and friendly. They’re also much easier to understand for this English-speaking American than I was expecting. There are indeed some variations of the Scottish accent that are harder to discern, but for the most part, it’s just a lovely version of English that was enjoyable to listen to.

What is the best way to get to Edinburgh, Scotland?

My rule of thumb when traveling is it is always best to go direct, when possible. But during January (I was there over a long weekend), I only noticed one direct flight from the U.S., and it was out of Newark. I was surprised to see that Atlanta (which is the closest major airport to me) didn’t have any direct flights. I’m guessing during the warmer months when tourist travel is higher, there might be a direct flight to Edinburgh out of Atlanta. If you get that option, take it. It almost goes without saying — connections are often the enemy of smooth travel. 

That said, I would offer this one tip that I have learned after attending this and a similar nutrition conference in Europe over the last 10 years. If you can avoid connecting through CDG in Paris (this is especially important for Delta passengers since many of their European flights go through Paris), avoid it. For Delta passengers, go through Schipol in Amsterdam instead. It is a smaller airport, easier to navigate, and I find the people to be much more pleasant to deal with. Plus, they typically speak English, an important consideration if you don’t speak French, which I don’t. 

Is Scottish food good?

I never had a bad meal while in Edinburgh. BUT, I will confess that I didn’t try some of the classic Scottish dishes, like traditional haggis or Lorne sausage. (Maybe it was just the version I saw, but Lorne sausage looked undercooked to me. Not my thing.)

I did however have a vegetarian haggis at the hotel we were staying in (The Waldorf Astoria Caledonia) and it was good! I also got to try “Neeps and Tatties,” which are basically mashed turnips (aka “swedes”) and potatoes. Yum. 

I’m a huge seafood lover, and minus the raw oysters served at one of the group dinners, I ate seafood at almost every meal. I had an especially delicious monkfish the Saturday night of my trip at Cannonball Restaurant and Bar and an amazing combo of cod and cauliflower on Sunday night at Kora by Tom Kitchin

My advice if you’re not an adventurous eater (and I’ve learned over the years that I’m not terribly adventurous) is to seek out at least one local traditional dish, and be willing to try at least a bite.

If you’re looking for a deeper dive into Scottish food, I recommend following Rosalind Erskine. She is an editor at The Scotsman (and a fellow podcast host). She spoke on the first day of our conference about the evolution of Scottish cuisine and can give much better insights than I ever could from my brief visit. 

Would I go back to Scotland?

Yes! I’d love to visit again when the weather is a bit warmer during the summer months, and when I have more time to venture out of the city. This was my first time there. And while my time in Edinburgh was wonderful and afforded me the chance to do some fun things (like kilts, bagpipes, and whisky), I didn’t get to see the Scottish Highlands OR any of the historic golf courses, like St. Andrews. I’m personally not a golfer, but my husband is. I would love to visit Scotland again to take that side of the country in!

Do they drive on the left side of the road in Scotland?

Yep. They do. And I’m thankful I never had to drive on the left-hand side!

How is Harry Potter tied to Scotland?

According to the driver who took me and my colleagues to our hotel from the airport, Edinburgh is where J. K. Rowling wrote all of the books. I gather this is a well-known fact. I just didn’t personally know it, even though I loved all of those books. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, be sure to visit Victoria Street while in Edinburgh. It’s said to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley.  

Is Edinburgh Airport easy to navigate?

Yes, tremendously. It’s not very large. (See my note above about the lack of direct flights from the United States.) So getting checked in and through security was quite easy. The only hiccup I had (minus the delay in leaving) was getting a jar of jam confiscated out of my suitcase. I don’t consider jam a liquid, but I also don’t argue with security agents who think it is. Live and learn.

Where is the best place to get a view of Edinburgh Castle?

Room 302 at the Waldorf Astoria! No, seriously. This was my view out of my hotel room:

view of Edinburgh castle from Waldorf Astoria

It doesn’t get any better in Edinburgh, I’m guessing. In general, the Waldorf is an excellent place to get some beautiful views of the city.

What are the first things you recommend doing when you get to Edinburgh?

If you go in January as I did, I recommend you head straight to your hotel, and check in, if you can. Grab a bite to eat. Bundle up, slip on a waterproof jacket, put on some comfortable walking shoes, and get outside for some sun and fresh air. It helps with the jet lag. That’s what many of my colleagues did, opting to walk the Royal Mile. (This “getting outside” strategy is fairly standard advice any time you travel “across the pond.”)

I’ll confess that on this particular trip, I feared I had under-packed cold weather gear (a risk for us Southerners who can never wrap our brains around how terribly cold it gets in other places). And I didn’t venture out that first day. I opted to go to my room, unpack, shower (overnight plane rides leave me feeling yucky), and order a bunch of sparkling water to stock in my room from Uber Eats. (I love that delivery services like that are now so easy to access anywhere you go!) 

First-time visitors to Europe take note — it’s a good idea, whatever you choose to do, to stay awake during the day if at all possible. At the most, make your nap a quick one. Otherwise, it’s much harder to get your body clock adjusted to the local time.

Did you try Scotch Whisky?

Yes! And to my amazement, there were two I enjoyed: Craigellachie (which seemed to be a fave among many of my fellow conference attendees) and Bowmore from the west coast of Scotland (which had a strong, peaty and smoky flavor.)

I learned that small sips are the way to go for me in drinking Scotch and that the most flavor comes when you DON’T serve Scotch on the rocks, but DO add a couple of drops of water. This ice thing makes sense. I’ve known since my food science college days that the colder a food is, the less flavor it naturally has. Your taste buds work better at room temperature!   

Is Scotland a part of the United Kingdom?

Yes. Scotland is. Ireland isn’t. Big distinction. 

Frankly, I’m not sure if I fell asleep in my European history class or what, but I’m often embarrassed at how bad some of my European knowledge is. The only thing I can say for myself is that I humbly enjoy as an adult learning about places around the world now in a way that I didn’t when I was young.  

Did you have bad weather while you were there?

Not really. It was just very cold. If you consider that bad weather, I recommend visiting this beautiful country later in the year when the Scottish weather isn’t so cold. Prices are higher then, though, so keep that in mind.

That said, it’s worth noting that the day I left Edinburgh, there was snow in Amsterdam that made a mess of flights there. It was a very long travel day, filled with delays, etc. If you’re traveling to Scotland during the winter, have a plan in mind if your flights get impacted by winter weather.

Can you use Google Maps to navigate Scottish cities?

I can’t speak for every city, but at least for Edinburgh, I easily used Google Maps to navigate the city on foot. That is, of course (common sense here), given that you have cell phone coverage.

Cell phone coverage in Europe is much simpler now than it was just a few years ago. I have Verizon, and when I landed, I received a text letting me know that I was on a “travel pass” for cell phone coverage. I think they charged me $10/day. Well worth it to be able to seamlessly use your phone. 

What is one of the best things you experienced in Edinburgh?

How to choose? 

I had the chance to learn a wee bit about the history of the kilt with some Scottish clansmen (actors, of course, but oh so real!), practice playing the bagpipes (which is insanely difficult) and of course, do the Scotch tasting mentioned above.

I even had the chance to learn a little Scottish dancing to live music and have a lovely dinner aboard the Royal Yacht Brittania.

So I can’t pick a favorite! They were all wonderful. (See below for a few of my photos from Edinburgh. I will be posting more photos and videos to Instagram.)

I found Edinburgh to be one of the best places I’ve visited in Europe, even if the weather was exceptionally cold. The food was surprisingly good, and I encountered nothing but the friendliest people, which I will say isn’t always the case across Europe.

The only downside was that there’s way more to learn about their unique Scottish culture, other Scottish cities, and overall history than this trip would accommodate. If you have more time to visit this great country, do it. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. 

Photos from Edinburgh, Scotland

Waldorf Astoria – The Caledonian
The Balmoral Hotel (where J.K. Rowling finished writing the Harry Potter series)
St. John’s Scottish Episcopal Church
Bowmore Scotch Whisky
Living Room aboard the Royal Yacht Brittania (decorated and loved by Queen Elizabeth, but decommissioned in the 90’s)
Bagpipes on the Royal Yacht Brittania

Before you go… here’s another travel recap you may enjoy:

Visiting Alaska With Kids — A One-Week Itinerary

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