If you’ve read my most recent posts, you’ll know I was lucky enough to explore a small slice of Scotland in October with Ian Walker, owner of Borders Journeys. Many first time visitors, like me, will choose to spend their time in the capital city and understandably so. I know I throw this word around a lot but Edinburgh is incredibly magical! You’ll discover charming, cobbled streets, friendly locals, and a hilltop castle that towers over the city.
See? Magical. I promise that’s the last time I’ll use the word… in this post.
However magical (sorry, I failed) Edinburgh is, you’ll be doing a great disservice to yourself if you choose to spend your time only in the city center. Thankfully, I had Ian take me to a few of his favorite sights outside of the city which all make for great day trips, or even half-day trips if you can’t bare to leave Edinburgh for too long!
1. ROSSLYN CHAPEL
Drive just thirty minutes outside of Edinburgh and you’ll find the magnificent Rosslyn Chapel, built in 1446 by William St Clair. If you’re fans of the Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, then this chapel might sound familiar to you! In the novel and film, the main characters follow a set of clues to unravel a mystery which ends in them visiting Rosslyn Chapel. Actors Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou filmed most of the interior scenes in the actual chapel. Tom Hanks said “Few locations in film are so delightful and few destinations live up to their billing, but Rosslyn Chapel was all one could imagine or hope for.”
This had a huge impact on the amount of visitors which, thankfully, allowed Rosslyn Chapel to complete its major conservation project. While I’ve never read or seen The Da Vinci Code, I am very thankful more tourists know about this extraordinary place. William St Clair wanted Rosslyn Chapel to be a teaching church and since few people could read or write back in the 15th century, he carved bible stories in and around the building. The stone carvings in the interior, especially, are so incredibly detailed and fascinating.
Unfortunately, there’s no photography allowed as this would distract and inconvenience visitors exploring the chapel since it’s not very large. As much as I love taking photos, I was more than happy to put my camera down to admire the elaborate interior. There is just so much to look at! The impressive ceiling is made out of stone, with no wooden support, and this stone protected the chapel from years of neglect throughout the centuries.
Give yourself plenty of time to explore the outside as well. You’ll quickly notice that Rosslyn Chapel was meant to be much bigger than what we see today. Originally, William wanted a cathedral with an 80-foot tower so that people in Edinburgh could see his creation. Unfortunately, he died in 1484 and his son never managed to finish it. Even so, the chapel is a wonderful sight to explore for an afternoon.
There are lovely guides who give talks throughout the day and I would highly recommend listening to one. You’ll really enjoy hearing interesting facts about the chapel and its incredible survival throughout the centuries. Because there is so much to look at, it’s really helpful having someone point out certain details that I would never have noticed on my own. There are also quite a few mysteries behind some of the carvings which I loved hearing about. Don’t worry, no spoilers! I’ll let you discover those on your own.
I remember Ian telling me that each time he visits Rosslyn Chapel, he discovers something new. And I don’t think he meant discovering William the Cat’s newest napping location. I almost forgot to mention… Rosslyn Chapel has a church cat! That’s right, cat enthusiasts, book your tickets now!
-Open every day of the year except December 24-25th, 31st, and January 1st.
-£9 for adults, £7 concessions, and children are free.
-There is a gift shop and coffee shop located in the new visitor centre.
-Find more at http://www.rosslynchapel.com
2. ROYAL YACHT BRITANNIA
Before you tell me in the comments, I do realize that the Royal Yacht Britannia is in Edinburgh. However, it’s about a 30-minute bus ride from the city center, which is surprisingly (and sadly) farther than most tourists venture! I’ll even admit that I skipped out on visiting the first time I was in Edinburgh a few years ago. Thankfully, I had Ian as my guide this time who would not allow me to miss it, especially since he knows I’m fascinated/obsessed with the British Royals.
Britannia was launched on April 16, 1953, and served the Royal Family for over 44 years, sailing over one millions miles! This Royal residence hosted state visits and official receptions as well as honeymoons and family holidays. The Queen made sure that the yacht was styled as if it were a country home at sea, rather than an opulent ship.
Remember, this was before the days of crazy paparazzi and social media. The Queen described Britannia as “the one place she could truly relax.” This explains why in 1997, when the government decided to retire the ship, Her Majesty was seen crying in public for the first time during the decommissioning ceremony.
I have to admit, I’m usually not a fan of audio guides when I visit certain attractions or museums. Sometimes I even skip them all together. Don’t do this when visiting the Royal Yacht Britannia! I found their audio guide to be the most entertaining and interesting one I’ve listened to so far. It really gives you an insight into the Royals’ life on board, as well as the day-to-day life of the crew and their interactions with the family.
Another thing you must not skip out on is afternoon tea in the Royal Deck Tea Room! Any excuse to dine on board a royal yacht is fine by me. Luckily, the food lives up to the the beautiful surroundings. I would return again just to order the scones and clotted cream!
Give yourself at least a few hours to explore every nook and cranny of this historic ship. The experience is equally as enjoyable for kids, with their own version of the audio guide, and interactive activities throughout the ship.
-Open every day except for Christmas Day and New Year’s Day
-£14 for adults, £12.50 for senior citizens and students, with special prices for families, and HM Armed Forces
-Find more at http://www.royalyachtbritannia.co.uk
3. TRAQUAIR HOUSE
Dating back to 1107, Traquair House is the oldest continually inhabited house in Scotland. Read that sentence again carefully and let it sink in. There’s over 900 years of history in this incredible house, and even though the 21st Lady of Traquair and her family still live here, it’s open to the public to enjoy for seven months out of the year. Lucky for us!
I actually started my visit off with meeting the lovely Catherine Maxwell Stuart, the 21st Lady of Traquair. It is quite easy to see the passion and hard work that Catherine puts into making Traquair House what it is today. History comes to life at Traquair House. “An authentic piece of living history” is how Catherine describes her home, and I couldn’t agree more.
Originally built as a hunting lodge for the kings and queens of Scotland, and then gifted to James Stewart, the 1st Laird of Traquair in 1491, this has truly remained a family home throughout the centuries. The main building which you see today was built during the 16th and 17th century. It was during this time, in 1566, when Mary Queen of Scots visited Traquair House. You’ll find that the bedroom she stayed in is still intact, complete with her bed and hand-stitched silk quilt, as well as an incredibly detailed wooden cradle her son slept in. Several of her belongings and documents of her time spent here can be found throughout the house.
Exploring Traquair House is like going on a treasure hunt. That is the best way I can describe my experience! With over 900 years of history, you never really know what’s around every corner which is what makes Traquair so unique. Also, the fact that its remained almost unchanged since the mid 1600’s is rather impressive. However, this was due to money problems back in the day, rather than conservation efforts! Nevertheless, it’s so interesting to look at a painting of Traquair House from hundreds of years ago and then compare it to what you see today. It’s the same! Just think about how rare and special that is.
Can you tell how much I fell in love with this place? My heart almost burst when I learned that you can actually stay in Traquair House. They have three rooms to choose from that are available on a bed and breakfast basis. Guests can also use the Lower Drawing Room in the evening, which is usually roped off to visitors. I suppose my only regret was not turning my day trip into an overnight one! There’s always 2016.
Traquair House quickly stole my heart when I learned they had two libraries, appropriately named The First Library and The Second Library. I was excited to discover, these aren’t just rooms you can peak into as you stand behind rope. That’s another thing I love about Traquair, it is extremely accessible and interactive! Another example of this is a secret stairway concealed behind a bookshelf in the Priest’s Room. Discovering a secret passageway from the 1700’s is cool enough, but visitors can actually go through it and walk down the staircase. I had just as much fun doing this as the children who were visiting that day. Okay, Ian might’ve given me a bit of a push to go through it, since I’m a bit claustrophobic, but it was certainly worth it!
Your visit doesn’t have to end after touring the house. There’s also an 18th century brew house, Roman Catholic Chapel (yes, quite close to each other!), one of the largest hedged mazes in Scotland, and nearly 100 acres of grounds and woods to explore! If you get hungry, visit the 1745 Cottage Restaurant for some delicious comfort food, which is next to the Old Walled Garden and several craft workshop cottages. Traquair House is only an hour’s drive from Edinburgh, so be sure to give yourself a full day to see every inch of this magnificent estate.
-Open from March 25, 2016 – October 31, 2016
-£8.70 for adults, £7.70 for senior citizens, £4.40 for children, and £24.00 for families (2 adults, 3 children)
-The three B&B rooms are available throughout the year, with rates starting at £110.
-Find more at http://www.traquair.co.uk
A HUGE thanks to my wonderful friend, Ian Walker, for arranging such a memorable trip for me. I hope you realize what you started, I won’t be able to stay away from Scotland for very long. See you in 2016! If anyone is interested in visiting Scotland, I’d highly recommend planning a trip with Borders Journeys. You can read more about my experience here!
Do you enjoy taking day trips while visiting big cities? Which ones would you be most interested in? I’d love to know in the comments below!