Trip Report: Edinburgh and St. Andrews, Scotland

Who: Editorial Assistant Dara Continenza, 24, and partner, 23

Where I Went: Edinburgh and St. Andrews, Scotland. We started in Edinburgh, Scotland's capital city, before taking the train to the medieval town of St. Andrews in Fife.

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When: June 2012 

High Points: Edinburgh

Edinburgh is an ancient, moody little city, described by Robert Louis Stevenson as "above all, a curiosity." And it is a wonderful curiosity where modern city life fills in the cracks between centuries-old churches and high streets, all facing a skyline-dominating stone castle and the glacial Firth of Forth.

Our first stop? Catching panoramas of the city and the crashing North Sea while standing on top of Edinburgh Castle. The ticket price (about $25) was well worth it. We caught the One O'clock Gun (startling), the Crown Jewels (glittery), and a peek at the Stone of Destiny (not a Harry Potter novel but rather the 1,200-year-old Scottish coronation seat). The castle is generally fascinating, but balanced as it is on the sheer face of an extinct volcano, its city views are incomparable.

Also a highlight: Edinburgh's pubs. Our favorite was The Kenilworth on Rose Street's famed strip of watering holes (if you're feeling hearty, you can try to grab a pint at each). The Kenilworth is an Edwardian pub with its original oblong bar and crystal chandeliers. One of the best moments of our trip was picking up British tabloids, ordering a round of real ale, and relaxing, undisturbed, for a rainy post-castle afternoon.

High Points: St. Andrews

St. Andrews is widely considered the birthplace of golf and is a popular stop for professionals and pensioners alike. It's a one-hour train ride north across the Firth of Forth in Fife. (Now say that five times fast ...)

Many visitors to St. Andrews will get a kick out of peeking into the windows of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club. (And if you're a woman, you'll be limited to peeking; females are forbidden from membership). On Sundays, the famous medieval Old Course is open to the public, so we wandered about the links, posing for many staged hole-in-one photos. Separated from the course by a series of sand dunes, West Sands proved to be perfect golf-watching perches the rest of the week (and, we hear, bonfire spots at night).

The town is rife with ruins, but eponymous St. Andrews Cathedral shouldn't be missed. All that remains of this 12th-century church—once Scotland's largest—are the east gable, where the relics of St. Andrew were housed; the nave; and the elaborate town-facing front. We could see its still-standing spires from most points in town and from the sea.

We stopped in for my first full Scottish breakfast ("full" being a key point here) at Mitchell; afterwards, a three-mile walk around town felt sisyphean. 

Low Points

The weather wasn't wonderful. While the Western Highlands are among the rainiest regions in Europe, eastern Scotland (usually) gets less than 34 inches of precipitation per year. (By comparison, Boston gets about 80). However, Scotland decided to welcome us with a daily deluge of ice-cold rain. I ended up buying a pair of emergency boots ... and sacrificing two umbrellas to the wind. 

Savings Strategy

Two words: apartment rental! Because the U.S. dollar isn't so hot overseas right now, hotels in Scotland were even more cost-prohibitive than usual (and this city is never very cheap). But apartment rentals abound; check out Airbnb or our sister site, FlipKey, for some options.

Our flat owner provided breakfast ingredients, drinks, and snacks, so we barely needed to dine out at all. Having a full kitchen at your disposal is a great way to save. (Plus, shopping in international grocery stores can be an adventure all by itself.)

In addition to offering better rates, a residential-area stay allows you to find local eats that are cheaper—and tastier—than the usual overpriced tourist grub. 

If You Go

In Edinburgh, stay off the Royal Mile unless you're going to or from the castle; crowded and insanely expensive, it would be better called MacTimes Square. Visit once and don't bother buying a thing at the souvenir shops.

Another important note: In June, the Scottish sun doesn't set until well after 10 p.m. and rises at the absurd hour of 4 a.m. It may sound silly, but if you're a light sleeper, don't count on catching too many winks unaided. Pack an eye mask or prepare to hide beneath your pillow.

Oh, and that rain I mentioned? You will want to invest in a good golf umbrella and some seriously waterproof Wellies.

A Few Photos

Have a question for Dara about her trip to Edinburgh and St. Andrews? Planning a trip yourself and need advice? Want to share your own Scotland experiences? Leave a comment below!

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