Mark and I spent a long weekend in Scotland at the end of April. We made our base in Edinburgh and went sight-seeing around the city for two days. On our third day, we took an all-day tour up in the well-known Scottish Highlands.

We arrived in Edinburgh in the late afternoon and checked into our hotel, the Apex Waterloo Place. We had reservations for dinner so we walked over to The Tower Restaurant, located inside the National Museum of Scotland. We had an unbelievably good meal and enjoyed the fabulous views of Edinburgh Castle from the restaurant. Mark and I shared one of the restaurant's signature dishes, the Tower venison Wellington with roasted potatoes, beetroot and green beans. So delicious!!
On Friday morning, we started off our sight-seeing at the Edinburgh Castle. The castle is great because it sits on a hill at the top of the Royal Mile, Edinburgh's most well-known and central street for tourists. Free tours are offered at the entrance of the castle so we took the tour when we first arrived. Afterwards, we wandered around and learned more with our audio guide...well worth the cost if you decide to visit.  You can book your tickets online to save time waiting in line.  The castle origins date back to 1130, but has been rebuilt through the centuries as needed.   The castle grounds also offer beautiful views over the city.
After the castle, we headed down the Royal Mile to check out some more sights. St. Giles's Cathedral, the historic city church of Edinburgh, originating from the 12 century, is worth a visit for its beautiful stained glass windows. Continuing on our walk, we popped into Cadenhead's Whisky Shop. If you are in the market for whisky, this shop is well-known for their whisky knowledge and can help you find a bottle. You'll also see the shop's dog keeping an eye out in the window!
At the end of the Mile, you reach the Scottish Parliament Building and Holyrood Palace.  The original Scottish Parliament dates back to 1235, but adjourned in 1707 when Scotland and England united as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and the Parliament operated from Westminster, England. In 1997, the Scottish people voted to re-create a Scottish Parliament and elections were held in 1999.  The new Scottish Parliament building was officially opened in 2004. 
After checking out the Parliament Building, we crossed the street for a tour of Holyrood Palace.  The Palace is the Queen and Royal Family's official residence when they visit Edinburgh. The Palace is open to visit when the royal family is not there. The palace is famous for its past history as well, as this was the home of the ill-fated Mary, Queen of Scots, following her return from France in 1561. On the grounds outside you can also see the ruins of the Holyrood Abbey and the beautiful gardens.
After leaving the Holyrood Palace, we headed back up the Royal Mile and went to check out the Scotch Whisky Experience! This is a fun place to learn more about how Scotch Whisky is made. The first part of the tour is a short ride that takes you through the whisky-making process (the ride is like the one you go on in the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland!).  After the ride, our tour leader told us about the four geographic types of Scotch whisky and then we had a tasting. Mark wanted to try a few more so we enjoyed sitting at the whisky bar after the tour and chatting with one of the bartenders while Mark enjoyed a flight.
On Sunday morning,  I went on a one-hour tour of Mary King's Close, a fun, character-guided tour of one of the underground streets off the Royal Mile. I highly recommend this tour to learn more about the people who lived in Edinburgh in the 1600's. This particular close (an alley or lane) was named after Mary King, a successful businesswoman who was a widow and a mother of four.  At the time of her life, a woman with her influence was very rare and naming a close after a woman was very unusal. The tour gives you an entertaining history of her family and what life was like in one of Edinburgh's closes including during periods of the plague. (No pictures allowed, unfortunately!)

After the tour, we took the public bus out to Leith, Edinburgh's port to take a tour of The Royal Britannia. The Britannia was the Queen and Royal Family's yacht from 1952 until it was de-commissioned.  The Britannia has hosted many royal functions as well as being the official residence the Royal Family when traveling. The tour is very interesting as the rooms have been kept as they were used then the Royal Family was using the yacht. Visitors get to see all of the family's rooms, including the Queen and her husband's bedrooms, the formal dining room and the quarters of the "yotties," the men who worked on the ship. There are also a lot of photos of the Queen and the family over the years on the ship.
After our tour of the ship, we caught the bus back into the city and then hit up a couple of whisky shops so Mark could do some shopping! The second shop, The Whiski Room, had a bar attached to it so we enjoyed a whisky-tasting. Everyone where we went, the Scots were super friendly and the men at both whisky shops were no exception. The gentleman at the second shop recommended some good "beginner" whiskies to help me try and find one that I might like! To end the day, we ate another great meal at Oloroso, a restaurant with delicious food and more "Mary Poppins" views over the city rooftops.
We were up and at 'em early on Monday morning, our final day in Scotland to meet our day tour for a drive to the Scottish Highlands. Our tour company, Rabbie's, provides small tours in a a comfortable bus with a maximum of 16 people. We signed up for the "Loch Ness, Glencoe & the Higlands" 1 day tour, which was 12 hours, but worth it to see as much as we did! The beautiful, rugged and chilly landscape of the Scottish Highlands is rich in history and our tour guide provided us with a lot of information, stories and Scottish music along the way. A couple of our highlights along the way included Glencoe, one of Scotland's famous valleys where the famous Massacre of Glencoe occurred in the 1690s, and searching for Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster on Scotland's famous Ness Lake.

It was a wonderful trip and we can't wait to get back to the land of lochs, kilts and whisky to see more of this great country!

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