After revealing what we really do on family vacation, how do you even follow that up? I had planned to do so with some gorgeous aerial shots from atop Arthur’s Seat, but alas that (in)famous Edinburgh weather didn’t cooperate. We were lucky that our trip started off with two days of blissful, glorious blue skies, but those were quickly followed by torrential downpours. So after checking out of our hotel, we picked up our rental car and headed out to the Palace of Holyroodhouse instead of up Edinburgh’s iconic hill.
This was my first time at the queen’s residence. (Go figure, she’s still yet to invite me over for tea and crumpets.) Even though my flat was on the same street when I lived in the fair city, it was just one Edinburgh attraction that had never really interested me before. And yet it was the one thing that my mom—lover of all things Downton Abbey—wanted to do. So do we did.
The palace was actually very interesting. All admission comes with an audio tour that lasts an hour and takes you through hundreds of years of the history of Holyroodhouse—from the construction of the palace in the 16th century (the abbey was built long before that even) to present day, highlighting every royal who has claimed the chambers as home, from Mary, Queen of Scots, to Bonnie Prince Charlie to Queen Victoria.
You’re not allowed to take photos inside, so you’ll just have to visit on your own if you want to see where HRH lays her head when up in Scotland. Admission is £10.75, but if you’re over 60 or a student (be sure and bring your school ID), then you get a discount, as is the case most everywhere in Scotland.
After we finished our tour, we were at a loss at what to do next. We had the car, and there was no way I was about to brave the construction cluster that was downtown Edinburgh, navigating on the wrong side of the road at that. So on a whim, we drove eight miles south to the cute little town of Rosslyn, home to Rosslyn Chapel. Admission is £9 (kids and seniors are £7), and every half hour, a historian gives a talk inside of the narrow chapel about its history, the symbolism embedded in the stone walls and all the mystery surrounding the structure. The 15th-century Midlothian church no doubt owes its recent brush with fame to the The Da Vinci Code, as the number of visitors since the release of the movie more than doubled (a blessing for the chapel, as all funds in the Charitable Trust go toward conservation and repair).
You really only need a half an hour to explore the chapel, and it’s a nice afternoon trip from Edinburgh. Afterward, we tried to get food in Rosslyn, but failed miserably. Apparently, all the restaurants that have a sign boasting “food served all day” actually stop serving at 2:45pm. So, our stomachs rumbling, we drove the hour and a half back through Edinburgh, over the Forth Bridge and on into Fife, where we were staying at Craigsanquhar for the night and ordered sub-par toasties (a glorified ham-and-cheese sandwich). I originally booked us in the country estate just six miles outside of St. Andrews as opposed to a hotel in the city as I didn’t think we were going to be able to stay in a castle, and that was my mom’s dream. (We failed at finding any room availability at castles in Scotland, but succeeded on our next stop in Ireland.) If we couldn’t have an actual castle, this seemed pretty darn close. And no, I still have no clue how to pronounce the name of the hotel, so don’t bother asking.
Again, it was hard to find a room with availability for three people—what is up with that, Scotland? don’t families travel here, too?— but because it was shoulder season, for $240 (yes, still pricey, but the British pound is a bitch and the price did include a full-on breakfast for three), we landed a suite with a king-sized bed and a separate room with a pullout couch. When we arrived, it was still pouring out—obviously, the above photo was taken once the sun had made a cameo the following morning—which only added to the ambiance of the aging estate, built in 1385.
If I’m being honest, it was a bit creepy—and cold (no heat; we were freezing the whole time, our teeth chattering and feet turning to blocks of ice)—upstairs in that big old house all alone in the middle of the night. As far as I could tell, only one other couple from Denver occupied any other of the rooms in the mansion—though I’ve never been extremely sensitive to the supernatural. A haunted hotel? Maybe…guess it’s a good thing we were staying there a full month before Halloween!
The next morning, we were able to walk around the grounds just a bit—snapping a few photos, doing a little Gangnam Style—before heading into nearby St. Andrews. As a former bride, I couldn’t help but think the 36 acres on the estate grounds would be perfect for a wedding. Who wouldn’t want to get married here, right? As long as the spooks stay at bay, that is.