The nice thing about living on the East Coast is that many European locations are easily accessible without having to take a significant amount of time off from work or break the bank.
With a JFK –> EDI flight just 10,000 points more and an hour longer than a flight to LAX. Edinburgh, Scotland was the perfect place to explore for a long weekend. Below is my action packed, perfect long weekend itinerary in Scotland.
Day 1: Edinburgh
The redeye flight to Scotland on Thursdays from JFK is the perfect length. American flies a 7:20pm flight that gets in to EDI at around 7am, giving you almost a full night’s rest (if you can sleep on planes), so you can hit the ground running when you arrive.
On arrival, we rented a car from Hertz (ridiculously cheaply), which quickly set the stage for the adventure that would be left-handed-stick-driving-on-the-opposite-side-of-the-road. Luckily, I had driven in Ireland and London and in places as crazy as Uzbekistan, so the narrow streets and confusing direction of traffic was more fun than intimidating. (Helpful hint: US or UK, the driver is always on the centerline. Keep that in mind before you go the wrong way around one of the 1,000 roundabouts in the country).
What to do:
Grab a Coffee: Harry Potter fan? Hate Harry Potter but want to make your nerdy friends jealous? Start your day by grabbing a coffee at Elephant House, the apparent inspirational cafe where J.K. Rowling sat to write her books. If you’re a super nerd, a two minute walk away is Greyfriar’s Kirkyard where you will find Lord Voldemort’s grave.
Start Active: The easiest way to kill any thought of jetlag is to be active and get out in the sun to reset your clock. Luckily Edinburgh has Arthur’s Seat, a fun and moderate hike just outside Old Town that provides amazing views of the city. Once we dropped our bags at my hotel, it was a quick walk to the end of the Royal Mile where the trailhead was clearly visible.
Approximately 30 minutes gets you to the summit and beautiful panoramic views of the entire city.
Eat: Did that airline food not quite do it for you? After the fun hike treat yo’self with a one-of-a-kind lunch and view at The Castle Terrace restaurant, a proud holder of a Michelin Star.
Sightsee Until You Drop: By now you’ll have noticed the famous Edinburgh Castle and you’ll be ready to burn off a few of those calories from lunch. Buying a ticket online allows you to skip the line and pick up your tickets from an automated kiosk, so you can explore the castle quickly.
Whiskey & Eat: After showering and changing from an exhausting day, it is time to test the Edinburgh nightlife and the real reason we came to Scotland…the scotch. With only a long weekend in Scotland, we didn’t have the time to drive around the whole country and experience the differences between the whiskey’s of the various regions, so the Taste of Scotland tour at the Scotch Whiskey Experience came with a (sometimes cheesy) educational immersion into the various regions of whiskey and the traditional dishes of Scotland. The highlight is definitely the tasting amidst the world’s largest whiskey collection.
Drink: The rest depends on your mood. Finish the night with a cocktail at Bramble Bar if you want to explore the more hip part of Edinburgh…or get lost in one of the many Scottish style pubs in Old Town.
Day 2: Speyside
Drive: Having a knack for the less peaty scotches of Speyside, we set our sights on visiting a few of the more famous distilleries on our way to an overnight in the countryside. I’m usually used to beating Google Maps’ driving times, however with speed cameras and one or two lane “highways” through the beautiful countryside, our 3.25 hour estimated drive from Edinburgh to The Glenlivet was right on the money. Glenlivet is one of Scotland’s most exported scotches and the free tour of the distillery with your choice of tasting was a great reminder to what we had learned the previous night at the Scotch Whiskey Experience.
Castles & Whiskey: Winding through the countryside another 15-20 minutes brings you to Dufftown, the famous small town that hosts distilleries like Belvanie and Glenfiddich. After a quick bite and a coffee, we set off for a whiskey afternoon. We were unable to get a reservation in advance for Belvanie (call ahead as there is no service when you get into the countryside), so we opted for a tasting at Glenfiddich and a quick walk to the Belvanie Castle.
Stay: Most of the famous places in Dufftown had 2-night minimums, so we elected to stay at a cozy castle in Aberlour called The Dowans Hotel. It is an amazingly relaxing place with a great restaurant and bar (make sure to get the cheesecake!).
Drink: If you haven’t had enough whiskey at this point or are itching to test out the sleepy town of Aberlour, grab a drink and an appetizer The Mash Tun.
Day 3: Castles & Cairngorms National Park & St. Andrews & Edinburgh
Castles & Whiskey: Take a new and scenic route drive back to Edinburgh with a few castle stops along the way to break up the drive. After rolling through the ski mountains of Scotland, Corgarff Castle is the first stop about an hour outside Dufftown, followed by the Balmoral Castle, where we saw Queen Elizabeth (she stays there when visiting the area). Your final castle is just 15 minutes past Balmoral, the Braemar Castle.
St. Andrews: About two hours out of the way (one hour each direction) is St. Andrews, the birthplace of golf. If you are a golf lover, it is a very cool town to see and stop for a meal or a drink. The Castle Clubhouse offers great dining and a view of St. Andrews and the bay.
Crash in Edinburgh: With an action packed two days and an early flight, we chose so just walk around Edinburgh’s shopping district and grab a bite before relaxing for the evening. All in all, Edinburgh was a spot to be highly recommended and this short trip was enough to get me hooked and want to come back for an extended stay.
Also published on Rhone's Collective Blog