Updated: Jul 23, 2020
I can't believe I'm sitting in my living room, looking at the blue skies and sunshine outside and thinking about the fact that it's almost June!! Where has this year gone?! Not to mention the fact that it's now been almost 3 months since this year's European excursion. You read that correctly, 3 MONTHS. It makes sense why I'm already itching for the next one.
As you know, I spent St. Patrick's Day in Ireland before dashing off to Edinburgh, Scotland. I did just make it sound like we moved really quickly there when in reality it was a much longer journey. It was about a 2 hour drive to the ferry and then another 2 hours on the ferry before arriving in Scotland and driving 2 more hours to get to our AirBnB.
Our AirBnb was the perfect size for two people although I definitely wouldn't recommend more than that. It's funny when you travel you realize the things we so easily take for granted in the US, like space for example. Most Europeans have tiny living quarters with even smaller room for storage. I honestly don't know what I would do with all my clothes were I to live overseas.
Anyway, back to the good stuff. The first day was primarily a travel day so we arrived to our AirBnb and settled in before walking to the store to pick up some supplies for an early dinner. It was a long day so we were ready to hit the hay fairly early and get up the next morning to start our second portion of our European excursion.
Day 1 - March 19
Scotland has a pretty trendy coffee scene which my boyfriend and I were both excited about being the coffee lovers that we are. We started the day by walking to Artisan Roast Coffee which I would definitely recommend. It was a small coffee shop filled with that old coffee lounge kind of vibe which I loved. We enjoyed a cup of coffee while watching the locals come in and out and picking up their caffeine for the morning stroll to work.
From there we headed to St. Arthur's Seat which is a beautiful hike to the top of this extinct volcano with the most scenic overlook of the city. It's definitely a spot where photos simply don't do it justice.
I'm not going to lie, the hike up was a lot harder and more nerve-wracking than I thought it was going to be. I wasn't exactly dressed the part in jeans and Converse but nevertheless we made it to the top and managed to not get blown over by the intense gusts of winds. Seriously unlike anything I've ever experienced. It was up there with the gusts that almost blew us off the edge at the Cliffs of Moher.
Post hike we decided we deserved a nice lunch and made our way back into the city. This was by far my favorite lunch at the most beautiful destination too. I had this amazing salmon salad at The Grand Cafe at the Scotsman Hotel which was this opulent cafe at the front of an old, beautiful hotel. I found myself getting lost in the incredible and upscale design inside the cafe. There's definitely a reason it's called The Grand Cafe.
With our tummies full and happy we continued our walking for the day and went to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery which I would definitely recommend. It was so quiet and peaceful walking around the halls of that gallery filled with portraits of important people to Scottish history. We went right before closing time so we had to hurry a little bit but we definitely still got the full experience of the beautiful gallery.
After the Portrait Gallery we made our way back to The Royal Mile area which is filled with every tourist shop your heart could desire and ends with the Edinburgh Castle on the top of the hill at the end of this "mile."
We passed through Victoria Street which has it's own place amongst the pages of Scottish history not to mention the fact that it was J.K. Rowling's inspiration for Diagon Alley. And oh yeah, it's the most photographed destination in Edinburgh. It's not hard to see why.
We continued walking through Victoria Street to get to our final and perhaps most exciting destination of the day, Armchair Books. We were looking for a good bookstore to pop in to and this one sure did not disappoint. Filled with books dating as far back as the 17th Century and up to present day, this hole in the wall bookstore is nothing short of a book lover's paradise.
It's safe to say I could have spent hours in there lost amongst the pages of all those books but we managed to pick up a few as souvenirs for friends and family back home. For any of you looking to visit Edinburgh in the near future, Armchair Books is an absolute must.
Walking Distance: 11 Miles; Steps: 23,732; Flights: 95
Day 2 - March 20
Our walking tour of Edinburgh continued on day two as we strolled through St. Cuthbert's Burial Ground and Princes Street Gardens before grabbing our morning cup of coffee. The weather really couldn't have been better during our time in Edinburgh especially considering we battled the rain during most of our time in Ireland.
The sun was shining, the sky was blue and there was a doggy running around the park playing fetch. What more could you ask for.
On Day 2 we stopped into Brew Lab Coffee which was a much larger coffee shop than the one we went into on Day 1 although I much preferred the staff at Artisan Roast over Brew Lab. During our little coffee tour of Edinburgh it didn't take long to realize how important coffee is to the overall culture. Each spot we went into there were tons of people in there taking meetings, sitting at laptops working, or catching up with friends over coffee and pastries.
After being properly caffeinated, we walked back into the city for our tour at Edinburgh Castle. While it's no Arthur's Seat, the views from the top of the castle are still pretty spectacular.
The castle grounds itself are quite large and you could easily spend half a day there. We were moving through it fairly quickly and were still there for a couple hours. While I would recommend the visit, the artifacts and such do get repetitive after a while but still worth adding it to the itinerary.
From the castle we meandered back through some shops on The Royal Mile before walking to The Dome on St. George's Street for afternoon tea. During our European adventures we've come to realize that afternoon tea is most popular with the older crowd but still a favored tradition.
I will say I preferred the atmosphere at The Grand Cafe but it was still a picturesque place to enjoy afternoon tea and treats before calling it a day.
Walking Distance: 7.8 miles; Steps: 17,781; Flights: 47
Day 3 - March 21 (Our last day in Edinburgh)
Time always seems to fly by especially on the last leg of a trip which of course was my favorite. Why!!
We took our time waking up and getting ready this morning, we were on vacation after all. Once we were ready to start the day we walked into town and grabbed a cup of coffee at Caffe Nero which really isn't anything to write home about but is probably comparable to Starbucks for us in the States. They're definitely everywhere over in Europe.
After coffee we headed to our AirBnB experience, a walking Harry Potter tour of Edinburgh. I think we were both most excited to finally get the inside scoop of all the Harry Potter history featured throughout the city.
Over the course of 2.5 hours we saw so many destinations across Edinburgh that inspired J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series.
We saw where she finished writing Harry Potter, a suite at The Balmoral which now goes for over $2,000 a night, in addition to where she started writing the series, The Elephant House, a cafe that offered her free paper to write on. It seemed everywhere you looked there was some tie back to the series and to the Harry Potter phenomenon that was birthed in Edinburgh.
If you like Harry Potter, this walking tour is another must! Add it to your itinerary immediately.
Being our last day in the city, we decided to do some serious souvenir shopping since we hardly did any in Ireland or throughout the rest of our trip.
I found some amazing pieces at the most incredible vintage store I've ever experienced called W. Armstrong and Son. That was a big win in my book.
We also enjoyed Harvey Nichols which honestly puts all of our department stores to shame. It's massive and everywhere you turn there's beautiful displays, clothing, purses, shoes, you name it and it's featured in this luxury department store. And I mean l-u-x-u-r-y.
Victoria Street had some fun souvenir shops too including The Museum of Context and The Boy Wizard, both really fun Harry Potter souvenir shops in addition to The Red Door Gallery which is a teeny tiny art shop where I picked up a couple prints to bring home.
For lunch we stopped into the most modern and chicest family-owned Italian place called Vittoria. Honestly the food wasn't really anything to write home about but the atmosphere and the service made it worthwhile. They also have this amazing party room downstairs which I would rent out in a heartbeat. Did I mention how chic this place was?
With full tummies and lighter pocket books it was time to head back to the AirBnB and attempt to fit everything back into our luggage in preparation for our departure the next day.
Walking Distance: 7.1 miles; Steps: 15,831; Flights: 27
Day 4 - March 22
Another day of travel ahead of us. We woke up and drove the 2.5 hours back to the ferry to make our way back to Ireland. While the initial ride over was totally fine, this time the weather wasn't as good and as a result it was a rather choppy journey back. We couldn't have arrived on solid ground soon enough.
From there we drove another 2+ hours to get to our final destination, the bubble dome at Finn Lough in Northern Ireland.
Ever since I've returned from this European excursion, everyone has asked me about this particular spot. I honestly don't remember how I stumbled upon Finn Lough on Instagram but I know the moment I saw it I had to figure out a way to incorporate it into this trip. It's always been a dream of mine to stay in one of those magical bubble domes you see all over Instagram and what better time to do so than at the end of our trip gallivanting across Ireland and Scotland.
I didn't expect it to be such a cute little bed and breakfast but it honestly made the experience that much better. We settled into our bubble dome before heading back to the main house which was the only place that received Wifi on the property plus it had a fun little lounge area with board games.
We grabbed a couple drinks at the bar and settled into some big comfy chairs for the afternoon. While we had reservations at the restaurant on the property, the food wasn't really anything to write home about to be honest but at least it was convenient. After dinner we went to the movie theater in the main house and watched Suicide Squad before walking back in the dark to our bubble.
We were in the middle of a forrest remember. Flashlights were necessary on all walks around the property after sunset that's for sure. It was definitely one of the most magical and yet one of the strangest/most surreal experiences of my life. There's nothing separating you from the forrest around you other than a plastic bubble dome. Unfortunately it was a cloudy night so it wasn't quite the stargazing experience I was looking for but it did start raining in the middle of the night which was crazy.
Imagine holding a clear, plastic umbrella in a downpour. Now imagine lying in a bed under that umbrella. That's essentially what it was like without the risk of getting hit by any stray water drops of course. Truly magical and so relaxing. It was the perfect way to end an absolutely perfect trip.
This European adventure was different from last year's but just as enjoyable. Ireland and Scotland are absolutely incredible places and worth visiting in this lifetime. I wouldn't have changed anything to be honest unless maybe I could have had more time in Edinburgh which was our favorite destination between Ireland and Scotland.
I would recommend to anyone visiting these beautiful places to rent a car as half the magic is located outside of the city (especially in Ireland). Don't worry, driving on the other side of the road isn't as scary as you would think but it's worth every minute for the opportunity to explore the countryside in Ireland and Scotland.
(Originally Published May 28, 2019)