Edinburgh on Foot in 1.5 days: Edinburgh Castle, Grassmarket, Golden Mile, Chocolate Cafe

By Charleen - October 07, 2019

It's amazing how much you can see exploring the compact World Heritage area of Edinburgh! We were charmed by Dean Village, ventured up and down eerie closes, hunted for the best shortbread from Edinburgh Castle down the Golden Mile, shopped cashmere and wool, followed the footsteps (and hand prints) of JK Rowling, climbed to the highest point and swooned over the concept of a chocolate cafe. 
Inside the Edinburgh Castle Complex

Sculpture in the Princes Street Gardens



Day 2. Edinburgh Castle; Oink; Grassmarket; Golden Mile; Arthur's Seat; Coro the Chocolate Cafe



We were blessed with sunny weather for our main day on foot in Edinburgh. We walked 11.9 miles, up and down the equivalent of 68 flights of stairs visiting Edinburgh Castle and many sights in Old Town. We finished the afternoon with a hike to Arthur's Seat for a grand overview of the city we had just explored while the surrounding green countryside beyond the Firth of Forth beckoned.
Street performer on High Street

In Search of Breakfast.  

We wandered the pedestrian paths of Rose Street and Rose Street Lanes, part of the original phase of New Town designed in 1766, seeking an early morning shop where we could buy sandwiches. We had an ambitious driving itinerary planned for the next day and needed a quick lunch plan. 

We stumbled upon a gem called Social Bite at 131 Rose Street, one block east of Castle St. Painted wall text proudly proclaims their mission to end homelessness, through a combination of job opportunities and donations, including 100% of their profits. The French-Scottish meals are designed by Martin Wishart, a Michelin-starred chef, who personally cooks in the restaurant once a quarter. I had a breakfast potato roll enveloping two divine Scottish sausages (which kept trying to escape), a fried egg and some brown sauce. They also had baked goods, but scones were not their strongest suit. Most importantly for us, they had a fabulous selection of pre-made sandwiches and boxed salads available early in the morning.


Edinburgh Castle - the Crown Jewels

Like many other people, we resolved to arrive at Edinburgh Castle before the doors opened. Once inside the Edinburgh Castle complex, we decided to head straight to the Crown Jewels. We actually saw them twice. The first time, we asked where they were and went in a door that led directly to the Crown Jewels, missing the longer exhibit leading up to that room. Known formally as the Honours of Scotland, the crown jewels had been stuffed forgotten in a chest after the Scottish and English parliaments merged in 1707. There they languished for 111 years before being rediscovered and placed on exhibit. 
Entrance to Edinburgh Castle
Amazingly the crown jewels of Scotland were discovered in a plain chest after disappearing for 111 years. 
Small room where King James VI, who became King James I of England, was born to Mary Queen of Scots
At the Whisky shop near St. Margaret's Chapel, we tried an amazing whisky with fermented comb honey, and purchased a bottle of the Stag's Breath Liqueur to take home. We also picked up a box of Deans all-butter shortbread for £3. This had the most amazing crisp tender texture that crumbled delectably in the mouth. 
St. Margaret's Chapel
Margaret of Wessex was married to King Malcolm III and established a Benedictine abbey at Dunfermline. When she was later canonized, her remains were reinterred in a shrine at Dunfermline. The Chapel built by her son at Edinburgh Castle in her honor was the only building spared from destruction by Robert the Bruce when he seized the castle back from the English in 1314. It is the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh Castle Dog Cemetery overlooking New Town and the Firth of Forth
A new exhibit in the Argyle Tower that just opened in 2019 called Fight for the Castle tracked its bloody history during the struggle for Scottish independence during the 13th and 14th centuries.
Four years after Robert the Bruce's son, seven year old David II, and his 10 year old wife Joan were crowned... You can tell from the movie reference who was on the "dark side" of this conflict.
One of the highlights of visiting a historic castle far from home was seeing the intersection with our own history. There was an exhibit on American Revolutionary war prisoners that were held in Edinburgh Castle. At least two members of John Paul Jones' crew were captured and imprisoned here. The wood doors of the prison were carved with original graffiti from these POWs, including a carving of a ship bearing an early rendition of the Stars and Stripes.
We spent 2.5 hrs exploring the castle before growing crowds and growling stomachs encouraged us to venture out into Old Town.


Oink! on the street that inspired Harry Potter's Diagon Alley

Upon leaving the castle, we walked down to the Grassmarket, but the restaurants did not appeal so we walked back most of the way up the hill to eat at Oink (34 Victoria St). Although the line seemed long, it moved pretty quickly, and we were fortunate to snag window seats right up front. This may be my favorite meal in Scotland. The menu is pretty simple, consisting of yummy pulled pork sandwiches with exactly one divine piece of crisp crackling skin, and your choice of haggis vs. sage onion stuffing and a choice of sauce.
Victoria turns into West Bow St on the way down to the Grassmarket. The colorful shops, pointed roofs and cobbled streets bear a resemblance to Diagon Alley, complete with its own joke shop. We sampled fresh ice cream from the Over Langshaw farmhouse stand in a blue police box.

We then strolled past the boarding school that allegedly inspired Hogwarts, followed by a self guided tour of Greyfriars Kirkyard.  Click here read about our quest to find Harry Potter-related sites while in Edinburgh.


The Royal Mile and Holyrood Park

Then back to the Royal Mile with its street performers and shops. Sadly the best shortbread bakery in Edinburgh, which my husband researched online, was closed for bereavement. 
Past the end of the Royal Mile, we took a beautiful and challenging hike to Arthur’s Seat at the top of Hollyrood Park, followed by dinner at the Red Box noodle bar near the University of Edinburgh, before returning to the apartment to rest before dessert...
View including Arthur's Seat from a canon embrasure in Edinburgh Castle
Click here to see why Hiking to Arthur's Seat in Holyrood (Queen's) Park is a must-do!


Coro the Chocolate Cafe

On our way back from the Orange Ghost Tour the night before, we noted an intriguing chocolate bar that stays open until 10 pm and resolved to return. What a delight!  The walls are covered with fun quotes and sayings about chocolate. 

I started with a shot of hot dark chocolate with chili flakes. While the drink was sumptious and tasty,  I was expecting the topping to be powdered chilis rather than flakes. Anything other than a powder detracts from the smooth richness of the hot chocolate. I suggest verifying whether the other toppings (paprika, cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg or ginger) are powdered before ordering. 
The millionaire shortbread crepes and chocolate fondue were excellent, but the star of the show was the Chocolate & Orange waffle. The waffles come in either a half circle (2 quarters) or a full circle served with ice cream, drizzled in both dark and milk chocolate and topped with Jaffa cakes. Needless to say, Jaffa cakes were on our list to bring home!  

Click to read about Day 1. Dean Village, Sausage and Mash, Spooky Edinburgh
Read about our two days driving to castles, palaces, abbeys and a neolithic henge.
Day 3. Dunfermline, Castle Campbell, Stirling Castle, Antonine Wall, Cairnpapple Hill
Day 4. Linlithgow, Rosslyn Chapel, St. Martin's Kirk, Angels with Bagpipes

Tips: 
๐ŸพThe Historic Scotland Explorer Pass is highly recommended if you will have a rental car and plan to visit both Edinburgh and Stirling Castles. Download the Explorer pass leaflet  or download the free app to plan out your itinerary.

๐Ÿพ Purchase and print the Explorer Pass before arriving at Edinburgh castle so you can skip the ticket line and proceed straight to the ticket checkpoint on the day of your visit. Order directly from the Historic Environment Scotland website to avoid mark ups by tour companies selling you the same pass. For student discount (concession price), they accept a current student ID or admission letter to college.

๐Ÿƒ We should have bought more boxes of shortbread inside the castle, because the shops outside only carried the inferior Deans shortbread made with margarine, which is terrible for your health, and palm oil, which should also be avoided due to exploitation of workers and its impact on biodiversity and the environment. 

๐Ÿพ The Central Library on George IV Bridge is a great spot for a restroom break on your way back from Greyfriar's or the Grassmarket area.


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