Reykjavik Walking Tour with CityWalk

After an early check in at our hotel – Icelandair Reykjavik Natura at around 9am, we were just too exhausted from our day of travel that we needed a wee nap. Especially since we had a walking tour of Reykjavik coming up later on at 2:30pm.

After a bit of rest, we were ready to get to know Reykjavik! We always like doing a walking tour when we get into a new city. It helps us get our bearings, find out what we want to see and also to get to know the city from a local guide.

Since our hotel was about a 30 minute walk from the city centre and since we were still a bit weary, we took the city bus in. Once we arrived at Hlemmur Square, we saw that we were still a bit early, so we wandered down by the waterfront before making our way to the walking tour meeting spot.

Reykjavik showed off for us this afternoon, in glorious but cold sunshine!

On our ramble, we spotted a well-known piece of artwork. This is the Sun Voyager, or Sólfar. It is reported to be “a dreamboat, an ode to the Sun and dream of hope, progress and freedom.” It is a very striking sculpture. I found it very stirring – one because we are travelling right now and two because of all the changes that are happening in the world.

Continuing on along Sæbraut, we came upon another Reykjavik landmark – Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre.

What a building!

We loved this building, with the many glass panels of its facade. On this particular day, the glass panels reflected the beautiful sun and clouds in the sky. One of our guides later told us that sometimes they turn the glass panels into a display of the Northern Lights!

It was also a chilly day, so we sought shelter inside to warm up before continuing on and heading to the tour’s meeting spot.

We signed up for the ‘free’ classic walking tour with CityWalk. This is a similar concept to the SANDEMANs New Europe Tours that we have done previously in Dublin and Edinburgh. The tour through CityWalk is free and at the end of the tour, you pay what you feel is fitting for the tour. Reservations are required and all of the information can be found on their website, along with the other tours that they operate.

We arrived at the House of Parliament and met up with our guide for the afternoon – Marteinn. The group had about 20 people or so and once we were all accounted for, we started learning about Iceland and Reykjavik. We got the “winter” version of the tour because of the cold weather, skipping a couple of stops and having a few stops indoors to warm up!

We won’t say too much about each location or the history because it really is much better to experience it yourself than getting it from us! 😋

But we will share some photographs and our thoughts on the tour!

I really enjoyed learning about the history and culture of Iceland and its capital Reykjavik. CityWalk states that their walks are led by a local and history graduate. And that was evident in the information and interest shown by Marteinn. We touched on the history of Iceland, the Vikings, Iceland’s independence, the varied landscapes of this country and… the fact that Iceland is the most peaceful country in the world – having no army, navy or air force. You can walk right up to the Parliament house – there are no armed soldiers guarding it. And in this day and age, that really is something to be proud of! Besides just a history lesson, Marteinn also touched on some more current and possibly controversial topics – Iceland’s stance on women’s rights and gender equality, the homogenous nature of the Icelandic population (even now in 2017) and… the most common website viewed on Sunday mornings to make sure the object of affection you met that Saturday night isn’t related to you! And since we were tourists in Iceland, we also discussed the newly booming tourism industry and how tourism is changing the face and feel of the city and country.

Overall, it was a good introduction to both Reykjavik and Iceland. We got to ses and know some city landmarks and that would later help us to navigate around this city! We would definitely recommend this tour for any first time visitors to Reykjavik ☺️.

After the walking tour, we headed back to our hotel for an early night.

Stay tuned for our next post – our first adventure outside of Reykjavik!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

2016 Best’s! 

2016 seems to have been a tough year for the both of us, a lot of people we know and the world in general 😓 But regardless, we ARE grateful for the experience, all the learnings it brought… and we did have some pretty amazing moments!

So as 2016 comes to an end, here’s a look back at our favourite moments this year!

Over this past year, we’ve gotten a bit addicted to Instagram… ok, maybe a lot! It’s a great place for travel inspirations, photography inspirations, uncanny quotes, silly sayings and memes… 😅

Having said that, here’s our “2016 Best Nine” on Instagram! (Although there are some photographs from 2015!)

The biggest highlight of this year had to be our amazing trip to Italy! We had both been to Italy before but this time, we got the chance to really explore and see it in a different light.

Quite literally!

This photograph was taken the evening we arrived into Pisa from Dublin. It was already past 10pm when we arrived, but we decided to check out the Leaning Tower anyways. And wow! Were we glad we went for this walk!

The illuminated Torre di Pisa teetering against a backdrop of pitch black sky and a glowing moon gave us goosebumps. The plus of visiting Piazza dei Miracoli at night? It was much quieter and less crowded, which made for a better experience.

In the daylight, there was a different atmosphere in the Piazza – visitors as far as we could see. But we did manage to get some fun shots – like this one! We like how we also captured a group of visitors in our photograph with just one gazing photograph!

Our signature gazing photograph 😉

Although Pisa, Florence and Rome were beautiful, our favourite had to be the blissful few days we spent exploring the Cinque Terre National Park.

We loved the apartment we got in Vernazza and that was a great home base as we explored the “Five Lands.” We had an amazing time hiking, wandering the narrow lanes, admiring the views and looking for the most special photographs.

We loved relaxing by the harbour with a bottle of wine. We also loved chasing the sunset from Riomaggiore to Manarola! We just had to catch that iconic shot of Manarola – the one that’s in all the guidebooks!

After an amazing few days, it was time to say goodbye to Vernazza – but we’ll be back there for sure!

Next, we were off to Venice. I hadn’t been to Venice before and I was afraid that it wouldn’t live up to the hype. But it was just as beautiful in person as it was in all those travel brochures, the tourism websites and all the pictures on Instagram!

Although it was scorching hot and packed with visitors, there was just a charm to Venice that I couldn’t deny.

And a trip to Italy isn’t complete without talking about Rome! One of the highlights was actually the apartment that we stayed in.

It was right by the Colosseum and made for an amazing view right outside our window, both in the daylight and at night.

It was hard adjusting back to ‘normal life’ after exploring Italy. But good thing we had a beautiful Vancouver summer to enjoy!

After chasing yet another sunset, we settled in (on a crowded beach) for a night of fireworks that lit up the skies around English Bay in Vancouver. The Celebration of Light is always a Vancouver summer highlight!

Then in August, we had a lovely visit in Seattle with our good friend – M. We spent the weekend reminiscing about our Ireland trip and exploring Seattle.

And more recently, a rare-for-Vancouver winter wonderland had us dreaming of snowflakes and snowdays!

We are excited for what 2017 has in store for us! We can’t wait for our trip to Iceland – the countdown begins! 11 days to go! And it seems like every week we are contemplating a trip somewhere… Romania, Greece, Italy, London, Portugal, Spain, Disney World, Harry Potter World… We could go on and on!

So here’s to another year of adventures!

Happy New Year everyone! Wishing you all a very healthy and happy 2017. Go explore (new places or your own hometown), dare to dream (and dream big!), do something different (step out of your comfort zone) or try a new hobby (ours is calligraphy!) I hope 2017 is everything you imagine it to be and more 😊

Ioana will be taking us back to our Scotland adventures in the new year, but for now – we hope you have a safe and fun New Year’s Eve!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

Exploring Dalhousie Castle

After a wonderful dinner at the Dungeon Restaurant, Ioana and I couldn’t resist taking some fun pictures before calling it a night.

How many Ioana’s can fit on the bed?!

This was the view from our window the next morning 😍

Waking up in a castle does have its perks 😉

Eventually we managed to pull ourselves out of bed and headed down for breakfast.

Breakfast is served in the Orangery. For breakfast, I had the scrambled eggs with Scottish smoked salmon. Delicious way to wake up! In addition to a cooked breakfast selection, there was also a selection of tasty pastries, muffins, juices, fruits and yogurts to help you start your day off right!

After breakfast, we packed up and left our bags with reception so we could explore Dalhousie Castle and its grounds a little bit more before heading back to Edinburgh.

It was another gorgeous day – perfect for exploring the castle grounds! (and having some fun…)


There were some trails around the castle grounds and we went for a wee ramble – walking past the neighbouring fields, ducking under tree branches, stepping over roots… It’s always nice to be outside, enjoying nature and the scenery.


There is a falconry on site at the castle. And you can book one of several experiences to learn more about these birds of prey and to hold and fly one! If you’re getting married at Dalhousie Castle, you can even get an owl to fly in during your ceremony and deliver your rings!

We didn’t sign up for a falconry experience. We just happened to be out on the grounds when this bird had a practice session with its trainer. (We won’t go into the ethics, animal rights or morals of this here. We are just stating what we saw.)

Back inside, there was more to admire…

Eventually, it was inevitable – we had to say goodbye to Dalhousie Castle. (We contemplated hiding in the room, or even in the woods behind the castle… But figured we would be found and booted out pretty quickly!)

We had such a lovely stay here – from the wonderful welcome we received, our conversation with the Castle Steward, our Afternoon Tea, our relaxing and rejuvenating spa treatments, our three course dinner at the Dungeon Restaurant to the friendly and hospitable staff! We can’t wait to come back for another visit!

But for now, it was back to Edinburgh for us, where another adventure awaited us. This adventure would involve our noses, our palates and… perhaps a wee dram!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

A Photowalk Through Calton Hill and New Town

After exploring Holyrood Park (and attempting to hike up Arthur’s Seat), we headed off to our next destination – Calton Hill. A lot of “classic Edinburgh” photographs are either taken from here or are photographs of Calton Hill.

It was a beautiful afternoon as we meandered our way slowly from Holyrood Park up to Calton Hill. I wonder how many steps we took on this day – with exploring Holyrood Palace and Abbey in the morning, Holyrood Park and Salisbury Crags in the afternoon, and now this! We should have definitely worn a pedometer to check!

Calton Hill was worth the trek though! We’ll let our photographs convince you 😆

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The Nelson Monument, with the slightly obscured time ball – which drops at 1 o’clock

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The National Monument of Scotland, which was left unfinished unfortunately due to the lack of funds. But it still has a nice facade!

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An arabesque in Edinburgh 🙂

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Love the shadows and the city skyline

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Once we had had our fill of the scenery from the top of Calton Hill, we headed back down towards the New Town (Yup, more walking!)

Any guesses as to this iconic building?

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This is the iconic Balmoral Hotel. What a grand looking building, with a gorgeous clock tower. Maybe one day we can save up enough to stay here… but for now, we just admired it from the outside.

There is apparently a suite here at the Balmoral Hotel that has J.K. Rowling’s mark on it. She reportedly wrote a message on a bust of Hermes in her room, marking it as the room where she finished writing the seventh and final book of her world famous Harry Potter series. So cool! (It reportedly costs a very COOL £1,000 per night to stay in this suite…)

As we continued on Princes Street, we came upon the famous Scott Monument.

Walking further, we came upon a familiar sight – Edinburgh Castle. This time, we were seeing it from yet another angle! It’s really cool that you could see the Castle from a different perspective, depending on where you are in the city.

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The Royal Scots Greys Monument

As we were strolling down Princes Street, we noticed some of the shops were still open! So we wandered into some of them – from souvenir shops, clothing shops to drugstores. It’s always interesting to see what shops around the world carry! Like this…

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We found Teddy! Anyone who has watched Mr. Bean will instantly recognize Teddy. LOVE Mr. Bean and Teddy! We should have bought Teddy and taken him through Scotland with us! I think he would’ve enjoyed it!

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Our favourite purchase that day? An amazing dry shampoo that smells heavenly! And wouldn’t you know it – that particular scent is a limited edition. We have searched high and low for it at home (and even in Seattle!) but it seems like this scent is not sold anywhere near us.😞

As the sun began to set, we noticed our tummies grumbling. It was time to go in search of dinner! We decided to head back up to the Royal Mile and caught these stunning views of the city on our way back…

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Looking out over East Princes Street Gardens on our way back to the Royal Mile! Gorgeous!

We took another couple flights of stairs to get back up to the Royal Mile. It was definitely a LEGS Day!

In the end, we ended up heading to Deacon Brodies Tavern for our dinner. Being in Edinburgh, we decided to pair our dinner with Crabbie’s Ginger Beer.

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After a filling dinner, we walked it off by browsing around some of the shops on the Royal Mile before heading back to Castle Rock Hostel.

We had an exciting day ahead and it was also someone’s birthday – which called for a splurge and a celebration! 🎂🎉

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

Exploring Holyrood Park

After exploring Seattle, let’s get back to Edinburgh!

In our last Edinburgh post, we had just spent the morning at Holyrood Palace. After a lovely and most Royal visit, we set off to explore Holyrood Park, right across the way from the Palace.

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The view of Holyrood Park from the Palace

Holyrood Park is right at the end of the Royal Mile. (On the opposite end of the Royal Mile is Edinburgh Castle.) Within the park, you’ll find lots to explore – St Margaret’s Loch, Duddingston Loch and Salisbury Crags to name a few. One of the most famous spots of Holyrood Park is Arthur’s Seat.

Arthur’s Seat is the highest point in Holyrood Park, at a height of 251m. It is the remains of an extinct volcano, right in Edinburgh! We had heard that the views of Edinburgh are amazing from here, so we decided to pay a visit!


We didn’t consult a map beforehand and just decided to explore the park freely. Now in hindsight, that probably was not the best idea. At the base, we were faced with deciding which path to take. With no prior research on which was the most scenic, the fastest, the easiest or the steepest path up, we took the one that didn’t look as steep from the bottom 😆… Now that I’m reading more into this after our visit, I think we actually may have taken the steeper and harder route up?!

It wasn’t an overly difficult or strenuous walk but it certainly wasn’t… a walk in the park (even though it technically was a walk in the park! Couldn’t resist 😆) There were some steep areas and it was definitely a good workout – hello Legs Day!

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Besides not looking at the map of the area beforehand, we also incorrectly assumed all paths led directly to the same point – Arthur’s Seat. We didn’t know it at that time, but we ended up atop the Salisbury Crags instead. It was only when we turned around and saw people on another peak that we realized we hadn’t actually reached Arthur’s Seat. Oops! 😆

But some “oops” are good “oops”! The views from the path that we took, near the edge of the Crags, were breathtaking! The photo stops also made our walk much longer than necessary. 😉

Here’s one such photo stop:

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Just taking a break and taking a selfie in our matching shirts and team Canada sunglasses!

And no adventure is complete without a gazing photo/selfie!

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The Signature Gazing Selfie!

These photo stops became more and more frequent as we neared the top. (And as I was pretending to be a photographer and playing around with the different shots…)

Here are some of our favourites!

Holyrood Palace:

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Looking over to Calton Hill – our next destination on this busy afternoon!

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Just trying to be artsy with the grass…

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We climbed up a bit further to a bit of a flat area, where many others were lounging and enjoying the afternoon sun. We decided to stop here for our picnic lunch, while admiring the view!

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Boy, it is a long way down from here! It sounds like rock climbing is permitted in parts of the Salisbury Crags. I think that would be super cool, although I’m not sure I would do it. I’ve done a bit of outdoor climbing but definitely nothing like this rock face!

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The views from here were stunning. You can see straight across the city*, all the way to Edinburgh Castle – almost 2 km away!

*in good weather… No guarantees in inclement weather!

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It was such a lovely viewpoint and such a beautiful day with the autumn sun and a light breeze, that we stayed here longer than we planned to. (We may have also napped and reflected on life 😉)

We contemplated continuing onto Arthur’s Seat but since we also wanted to check out Calton Hill and the New Town that afternoon, we decided against it. This means we’ll have to add it to the list of things to do when we’re back in Edinburgh. And… We’ll be sure to consult a map beforehand to make sure we really make it up to Arthur’s Seat this next time!

Eventually we dragged ourselves up from our perch and headed back down – excited to explore our next stop – Calton Hill!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

A Royal Day Out at Holyrood Palace

After a great first day in Edinburgh and a nice restful sleep that night, we woke up refreshed and ready for another day of exploring Edinburgh!

What was on the menu for today? Our plan was to visit Holyrood Palace in the morning and then explore Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill and the New Town in the afternoon.

But first, there was something important to deal with – breakfast! So we wandered from our hostel down to Sainsbury’s for a grab-and-go breakfast! We loved how just walking from our hostel to the supermarket, we got to take in some iconic sights, like these telephone boxes/booths and even a castle!

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The iconic, world famous red telephone boxes/booths!

It was a gorgeous day in Edinburgh. So we got to see Edinburgh Castle with a backdrop of blue sky and sunshine. It certainly looks different in the sunshine!

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Check out the “Rock” that the Castle is built upon!

After getting our breakfast and a little picnic for lunch, we slowly wandered down the Royal Mile towards the Palace of Holyroodhouse, enjoying the late September sunshine and admiring all the historic and character buildings along the way.

Walking down the Royal Mile

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The Heart of Midlothian on the Royal Mile

The Mercat Cross on the Royal Mile

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Looking across at Calton Hill – our destination for this afternoon!

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White Horse Close

As we neared the bottom of the Royal Mile, we walked by the Scottish Parliament building, which looks very contemporary and different from the other buildings along the Royal Mile.

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Finally, we arrived at our destination for this morning – the Palace of Holyroodhouse or Holyrood Palace.

This palace has been a royal residence for over 500 years. Over the years, there have been additions, destructions and changes to the palace and its grounds – making it the way it is now! Today, Holyrood Palace is the official residence in Scotland for the British monarchy. The Queen usually spends 1 week at Holyrood Palace every summer.

As with our visit to Edinburgh Castle, we got our tickets ahead of time online. Tickets cost £12.00 currently and also includes an audio guide to tell you more about this impressive palace as you walk through it.

The Guardhouse

After getting our tickets checked, we strolled through the Guardhouse and entered the Forecourt. How impressive is this!

The Forecourt

The Forecourt Fountain

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The amazingly intricate details of the fountain

To pass through into the Palace, we walked through another set of doors, this one with the Royal Arms of Scotland majestically above it.

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No photographs are allowed inside the palace, so you’ll have to visit and experience this grand palace for yourself! We got to explore the palace with the included audio guide, which provided a lot of great information on the history and architecture of the palace, the people who designed the palace and the various additions, as well as the stories of the kings and queens who resided here.

We got to see the State Apartments, which includes the Royal Dining Room, the Throne Room and various drawing rooms. All of these are still used by members of the Royal Family for dinners, receptions and other state events when they are in Edinburgh. All of these rooms are richly decorated, with velvet, ornate furnishings, paintings, intricate plasterwork and incredibly detailed tapestries. Several tapestries were brought up from Buckingham Palace by order of Queen Victoria during her reign and these tapestries still hang on the walls of Holyrood Palace today! We also had the chance to see the Great Gallery, the King’s Apartments, the Queen’s Apartments. 

What we found particularly interesting was the chambers of Mary, Queen of Scots. Her chambers were on the second floor of James V’s Tower. It was intriguing to hear about her life, what happened in her chambers – particularly the Outer Chamber where David Rizzio was murdered and where there is allegedly a bloodstain that could not be washed out. The Outer Chamber currently has on display a large collection of relics and treasures that are associated with Mary, Queen of Scots, the Darnley family, the Stuart family. 

After exploring the inside of the palace, we headed outside to explore the Holyrood Abbey. There are guided tours available during the summer months but we just spent our own time wandering through the beautiful ruins.

Holyrood Abbey was founded by David I in 1128, after which additional buildings were added to serve the growing community in this area. By the 15th century, there may have been guesthouses, and later royal apartments, built to accommodate royalty here at Holyrood. Many significant events such as births, coronations and marriages occurred here, as royalty preferred Holyrood instead of Edinburgh Castle. However, throughout the centuries, much damage had been done to the Abbey – from wars, raids, mobs to the collapse of the abbey roof during a storm. Today, the nave is the only part of the original Abbey that remains standing.

Entering the Abbey ruins

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We really enjoyed our time in the Abbey – admiring the beautiful architecture of the ruins.

After visiting the Abbey, we explored the palace gardens. The Gardens of Holyroodhouse are very expansive and include amazing views of Arthur’s Seat. The Queen hosts an annual Garden Party here in July! (That would definitely be THE party of the year, if we were ever invited!)

The Fiddler

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Look at Arthur’s Seat peeking out in the background – what an amazing backdrop for a garden!

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Outlines of where some of the Palace outbuildings might have been…

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In a video we watched at the Palace, we saw the Queen exit the Palace and walk into the Gardens via these stairs. So naturally we had to find it and take a photograph!

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There is a café – aptly named Café at the Palace, should you need some refreshments after your visit to the Palace and Gardens. They even serve Afternoon Tea here or for a special occasion – they serve a Champagne Afternoon Tea at the café!

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Café at the Palace – set in the Mews Courtyard!

As our final stop, we walked through the gift shop, which was full of corgis, plaid-wearing teddy bears, gorgeous tea sets and some Christmas ornaments! We both got this Piper Teddy Ornament to remember our trip to Holyrood Palace!

Our biggest regret? That we didn’t buy all the Corgi-themed souvenirs – from the stuffed animals to the cozy Corgi slippers and Corgi-topped pencils! Looks like a trip back to Holyrood is in order to stock up on these! 😉

After waking out of the palace grounds, we crossed the street and looked up at… Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags.

For more on our adventures in Edinburgh, stay tuned for our next post!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

A Walk Through Edinburgh

After our visit to Edinburgh Castle, we wandered down the Royal Mile for our next adventure – a walking tour of Edinburgh.

We always like doing a walking tour when we are in a new city. We feel it gives us a good chance to get our bearings and get familiar with the city. We also get an idea of what attractions or locations we want to explore more of and visit on our own. And which ones we are ok with just seeing on the outside and taking a photograph. Doing a walking tour also allows us to chat with the guide and maybe get some tips on sightseeing, restaurants, pubs and the local area.

We went with SANDEMANs New Europe tours and took their “Free Tour of Edinburgh.” This company operates tours in many European cities – we did a tour with them in Dublin and I’ve also done their tours in London and Paris. Their tours are “free” in the sense that you don’t pay upfront. Instead, at the end, you pay what you think the tour was worth. SANDEMANs also runs several other tours in Edinburgh, like their Edinburgh Castle Tours and Pub Crawls. Check out their website for more details and the meeting times of the various tours.

The Free Tour of Edinburgh meets right on the Royal Mile/High Street – at the Starbucks by the Tron Kirk. You’ll know you’ve come to the right place when you see the red umbrella and the crowd gathering around.

Walking Tour Tip: Make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes – it’s not a strenuous walk by any means, but you are walking for around 2.5 hours! Since we explored Edinburgh Castle earlier this morning, we already had our walking shoes on. So we wandered down to the Starbucks and the red umbrella for the 2pm walking tour!

Once the groups and languages (there were also tours in Spanish) were sorted out, we headed out with our group and our guide – Greg. He was, as he described himself, “the quintessential Scottish stereotype – a big, bearded, bellowing flame-haired highlander with a love of tales and a flare for the dramatic.” He definitely had a flare for the dramatic and told us many tales of Edinburgh and Scotland in an animated and engaging manner, which kept us interested, amused and entertained for the entire 2.5 hr walking tour.

We won’t say too much because you really should visit Edinburgh for yourself! 😏 But we will share some of our favourite photographs and let them tell the story – like an Edinburgh Photo Walk. We will also say that we particularly loved the architecture of Edinburgh – so full of character and history!

Here is St. Giles’ Cathedral. We didn’t have the chance to go inside on this trip, but we enjoyed admiring the outside of the beautiful cathedral – especially the intricate details on the windows and the archways.

Reminded me of the phrase – “Playing Devil’s Advocate”

Lady Stair’s Close and The Scottish Writers’ Museum – another attraction that we only saw from the outside this time around. We might have to add it to the list for our next visit to Edinburgh!

The Hub, in the background, on the Royal Mile.

We took a lane that branched off the Royal Mile and ended up here – overlooking Victoria Street.

I love this view of Victoria street and of the city from way up here! All these tall and narrow buildings have so much character… Imagine everything that these bricks have seen!

After the little detour to see Victoria Street, we ended up walking past our hostel and gazing up at Edinburgh Castle again. Earlier today, we looked down from the castle. Now, we were looking up at the Castle, which sits on top of a GREAT rock, which you can absolutely see in this photograph here!

George Heriot’s School – a private (independent) school which is said to be the inspiration behind Hogwarts! (More on Edinburgh and the Harry Potter connection later!)

After walking through Grassmarket and hearing some stories about public executions and hangings (google the story of Maggie Dickson), we headed to the Grassmarket Café (part of the Grassmarket Community Project) for a break and some treats!

After the much needed break, we headed towards our last destination – the area around Greyfriars Kirkyard.

One of the most famous residents of Greyfriars Kirkyard is Greyfriars Bobby. Bobby was a Skye Terrier, who was so loyal to his master John Gray – that after Gray’s death, Bobby spent the rest of his life (14 years!) standing guard at his former master’s grave. Not even the wind, rain or multiple evictions from the cemetery could keep Bobby away from his master.  His story of loyalty and devotion is one that inspired a lot of people, leading to the creation of a statue, monument, books, movies and even a pub.

The monument and statue of Bobby on the corner of Candlemaker Row and George IV Bridge.

There’s even a pub named after Greyfriars Bobby.

Entering Greyfriars cemetery and kirk (church)…

Although Bobby couldn’t not be buried inside the cemetery with his master John Gray, he is buried just inside the gates of Greyfriars Kirk. A very inspirational inscription – “Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all” is engraved onto the gravestone in memory of Greyfriars Bobby.

We were told that people sometimes leave sticks and toys for Greyfriars Bobby to play with!

Greg gave us a brief tour of the cemetery and we heard some stories about the individuals who rest here.

After walking through Greyfriars Kirk, we headed towards the National Museum of Scotland, where our tour ended and we unfortunately had to say goodbye to Greg. We really enjoyed getting to know Edinburgh with Greg. He was very animated, entertaining, knowledgeable and definitely passionate about Scotland! And it just got us more excited about exploring Edinburgh and Scotland in the upcoming days!

After the walking tour, we actually backtracked to Greyfriars… Because there was one thing that we didn’t see up close when we were at the cemetery earlier.

We are Harry Potter fans and we know that J.K. Rowling was inspired by Edinburgh while writing some of the books there – the George Heriot’s school being the inspiration for Hogwarts, for example. It seems that some of the characters’ names also have an Edinburgh connection – Tom Riddell and Professor McGonagall in particular. Here is the grave of a Thomas Riddell, who is said to have inspired the name for Tom Riddell. And nearby is the grave of a William McGonagall, whose name is said to be the inspiration for Professor Minerva McGonagall.

After that Harry Potter connection, came another! We came upon the Elephant House. This is the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote the early books in the series. Flocks of Potterheads flood this cafe daily to say that they’ve been to the coffee shop where J.K. Rowling created the magical world of Harry Potter. (Potterheads have apparently been writing so many messages in the loo that toilet seats have been broken from people standing on them to write on the walls/windows and the staff have given up trying to paint over the graffiti!) We didn’t go in – it was super packed and busy inside, we just didn’t feel like jostling with the crowd!

The Elephant House – where J.K. Rowling spent time writing her Harry Potter series!

The advertising outside the cafe…

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Our first day in Edinburgh wasn’t over just yet! Our next stop: The Real Mary King’s Close!

A “close” as we learned, is an alleyway that leads off the Royal Mile. Mary King’s Close, situated underground beneath the Royal Exchange/City Chambers, is particularly shrouded in myths and legends – stories of ghosts, spirits, murderers and plague victims who were locked away to die. Ioana wanted to check this out. I was a little hesitant and wary – being a HUGE scaredy cat with a wild imagination and definitely NOT a fan of horror films! But I figured if this tour is suitable for children as young as 5 years old, I could handle this!

We bought our tickets online and arrived at the Real Mary King’s Close at our scheduled time. We were taken on a tour of Mary King’s Close by a costumed character guide. Our guide was Mary King’s daughter – Jonet Nimmo, who led us around the area that she grew up in. We won’t spoil the tour for you but we enjoyed learning about the history of this close and a bit of Edinburgh history. We also got the chance to see how people lived back in the days – complete with laundry hanging out the windows of tall, “underground” buildings. There were a couple of scary stories, but it was bearable and I didn’t have any nightmares afterwards!

After the tour, we walked through the on-site restaurant – The Royal Exchange Coffee House. Unfortunately they were closed by that time but the menu of local and fresh food was so tempting that we decided to come back another time to try it out!

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We packed a lot into one day of sightseeing – with Edinburgh Castle in the morning, a walking tour in the afternoon and the Real Mary King’s Close in the early evening. We were pretty exhausted after all of this – plus we had only gotten a couple hours of interrupted sleep at Dublin Airport the night before! So we grabbed a quick dinner at a pub and headed back to our hostel to catch up on sleep!

Day 2 is up next with more adventures and exploring in Edinburgh – stay tuned!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

LettersofWanderlust3


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