Highlight: Alnwick Castle and Gardens
Alnwick Castle is in Northumberland in the north of England, and it currently serves as the seat of the 12th Duke of Northumberland. It was founded in the 11th century and has served as the seat of Northumberland nobility for hundreds of years. It’s actually still inhabited today. However, a main reason people visit is because it’s the location where the first two Harry Potter movies were filmed. That was the real draw for me and my family to take a trip from Edinburgh and see it.
You can buy a ticket to the castle, the gardens, or a combined ticket. Keep in mind that each deserves a good hour or two. At the castle, the main attraction is the State Rooms, which are very gorgeous. They remind me very much of the Newport Mansions in Rhode Island, very lavish in decorating. What stands out the most is that people still live there, so you’re not seeing State Rooms of the past, but State Rooms that are used in modern day. Also you can see some photographs of the current Duke’s family, a TV, some modern furniture, etc., which is quite a unique feature.
The exterior of the castle is incredibly gorgeous, and there’s some other things to do around the castle besides visit the inside. The castle has daily themed tours at different times of day, such as a movie tour. They also have an “Artisans Courtyard,” which is primarily designed for children. However they do have some crafts that are acceptable for adults. They also have a ride called the “Dragon Quest” (or something to that effect). In the courtyard alone, there’s a lot for younger guests to do, including the crafts and dress-up. It’s a nice idea.
The castle also has “broomstick lessons,” mimicking the broomstick lessons that were filmed there for the first Harry Potter movie. What I did, and thought was quite fun, was archery. You get about 5-8 shots (depending on which mentor you get) and the mentors teach you how to shoot a bow and arrow. Though the line takes a while to get through, it’s because each person is given adequate time to learn how to properly stand and shoot. I found that to be cool. (Also, I hit the bullseye!)
Next door is the garden, which is actually very large. It’s not a part of the original castle as it was first used as a garden in 1750. The garden you see today was sponsored by Jane Percy, Duchess of Northumberland in 1997, so it’s very new. They have a lot of different areas of plants to see, so it’s not your typical castle garden. The prominent feature of the garden is the cascading fountain. However, I found their rose garden to be absolutely stunning (I went in July and the roses were in bloom). It was so gorgeous. The gardens are also known for their Poison Garden, which I’ve seen coined as the “most dangerous garden in Britain.” You can only get in with a tour guide and everything there is poisonous to some degree; a lot of it is deadly. You can learn a lot about poisons and even see a real Mandrake root!
If you have the time, I definitely recommend adding the gardens onto your visit as well. It’s a bit pricey but if you think it’s worth it, then it definitely will be.
Alnwick is a town so there’s a bit to do there, like shop and eat. However it’s not huge. What I found most attractive about the area is the landscape. There’s lots of farmland and it’s absolutely gorgeous to drive through. I’ve loved driving through northern England every time I have.
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you should visit Alnwick Castle. It’s not only a great HP landmark but it’s a fun place to spend a few hours and it’s absolutely beautiful.
Have you ever been to Alnwick Castle? What did you think?Posted on Saturday, November 9, 2019 in Destinations
Tags: alnwick, england, europe
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35+ Things to Do in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is an absolutely beautiful city and one of my favourites. It’s steeped in history and has amazing architecture, history, and culture. There are lots of things to do in Scotland’s capital, and here is a list of 35+ of them.
Places to See
- Go up to Calton Hill. Calton Hill was established in the romantic era when faux ruins were in style. It has some interesting pieces but also boasts wonderful views of the city.
- Visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Holyrood Palace is the Queen’s home in Edinburgh, and it was also Mary Queen of Scot’s home. Her friend David Rizzio was murdered here. As the queen is not there most of the time, you’re welcome to have a tour inside.
- See St. Giles’ Cathedral. St. Giles’ Cathedral on the Royal Mile is a beautiful work of architecture and is also several hundred years old. It’s not super interesting on the inside though you can take rooftop tours on weekends.
- Stroll through Princes Street Gardens. These well-manicured gardens are located right down the hill from the castle. You can get fantastic views of the castle from here, and the flowers are quite pretty in warmer months.
- See the grotesque at Greyfriars Kirkyard. Greyfriars Kirkyard is arguably the most famous cemetery in Edinburgh. It is hear that you can find names like Tom Riddell, McGonagall, and Moody – all inspirations for Harry Potter characters. However it also has incredibly beautiful, grotesque, and intricate gravestones and mausoleums.
- Don’t touch Greyfriar’s Bobby’s nose. You’re supposed to have luck when you touch Bobby the Dog’s nose, but Edinburgh locals don’t like tourists doing this as it ends up causing a lot of damage. Just admire the statue of this wonderful animal. You can read his story here.
- Climb the Scott Monument. You may not want to since it’s several hundred steps up, but you should at least see one of Edinburgh’s most iconic monuments, dedicated to Sir Walter Scott.
- Stop by the Balmoral Hotel. If you’re not staying there, you may still want to stop by the Balmoral Hotel. It’s right central Edinburgh and is where J.K. Rowling wrote the last Harry Potter books.
- See Charlotte Square… at night. Charlotte Square is a super cute Georgian square. It gives you an idea of where the wealthy lived in Georgian Edinburgh, and it’s apparently quite haunted once the sun sets.
- Stroll through Dean’s Village. A bit out of the way, Dean’s Village is a picturesque part of Edinburgh. You can walk along the river and see all the cute medieval buildings.
- Stop by the John Knox House. Now a venue for small events, the John Knox House was only John Knox’s residence for a short period of time. However it’s still a monument from the most famous time in Scottish history.
- Visit the Royal Yacht Brittania. This Royal Yacht served as a meeting place for state visits for over 40 years. You can visit it now though the photos make it look visually unappealing.
- Visit Edinburgh Castle. It’s tough to see Edinburgh and not stop by Edinburgh Castle. The Castle has been the centre of Edinburgh for over a thousand years, and today it serves primarily as a warfare museum with other exhibitions such as Crown Jewels and St. Margaret’s Chapel.
- Head to the National Museum of Scotland. I thought Scotland’s national museum had a lot of interesting items on display, such as Greyfriar’s Bobby’s collar and Dolly the Sheep. It’s free so I’d definitely recommend checking it out.
- Have fun at Camera Obscura. Right off of the Castle, Camera Obscura is a fun museum that focuses on illusions and eye tricks. Most exhibits require 2 people so be sure to come with a friend.
- Venture underground at Real Mary King’s Close. Edinburgh was one of those cities that was covered up and rebuilt when it needed new life. You can view the parts that were covered up with a tour of Real Mary King’s Close. Be sure to get tickets in advance because they sell out.
- See the Scottish National Gallery. Of course Edinburgh houses Scotland’s national gallery. It’s quite small.
- Also see the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. See famous Scottish faces at the National Portrait Gallery. It is housed in a neo-gothic building that has a beautiful interior arcade.
- Stop by the Museum of Edinburgh. The Museum of Edinburgh is a small museum that tells the history of Edinburgh through artefacts.
- Go across the street to the People’s Story Museum. Across from the Museum of Edinburgh, and similar in nature, the People’s Story Museum focuses on the working class of industrial-age Edinburgh.
- See the Museum of Childhood. Not to be confused with the V&A, Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood is a museum dedicated to the toys people play with in their youth.
- See writers’ lives at the Writers’ Museum. If you like Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and/or Robert Louis Stevenson, head over to the Writers’ Museum. They have displays on objects pertaining to each writer’s life.
- Take a tour at the Scotch Whisky Experience. If you like Scotch, this Whisky Experience (complete with a barrel ride) may be worth a stop.
- See Georgian House. Off of Charlotte Square is Georgian House, which as you can guess is a preserved Georgian home.
- See the Surgeons’ Hall Museums. An important part of Edinburgh history is its medical/surgeon school. Several artefacts from that history are in a museum for the public to see.
- Explore the Royal Botanic Garden. Like many other large cities, Edinburgh has its own botanic garden.
- Visit Modern One. The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is a bit out of the way but may be worth a visit if you like modern art. There are two buildings – Modern One and Modern Two.
- Climb up to Arthur’s Seat. Legend has it that this used to be the site of Camelot. If you can brave the steel hill and mud, it’s a beautiful and fun trek up to the top of this hill. You can also get fantastic views of the city.
- Walk the Royal Mile. Actually 1.8 miles, the Royal Mile is the stretch from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace.
It’s very tourist-y but still beautiful. Be sure to go off the Mile to get cheaper prices.
- Visit Edinburgh Dungeon. As Edinburgh has quite a morbid history, Edinburgh Dungeon pays homage to that and walks people through some of Edinburgh’s scariest times.
- Try some haggis. A Scottish staple, vegetarian haggis also exists and is available at certain restaurants. I personally like that at the Baked Potato Shop.
- Try some actual butterbeer. The Dog House pub actually serves butterbeer! The bar is easily accessible and the beer is actually alcoholic, unlike a lot of other renditions.
- See some live music. A staple of Edinburgh culture is live music in pubs and restaurants. It’s easy to grab a guide and see what you can listen to for the evening.
- Go on a ghost tour. Another activity to celebrate Edinburgh’s morbid history, a ghost tour is an excellent way to see the city and learn about its past.
- Walk to Leith. Leith is a neighbouring suburb of Edinburgh. There’s a lot of restaurants there, particularly seafood, and you can get there by walking along Leith Walk.
Edinburgh is an absolutely fantastic city and there’s a lot to do there. Next time you go, be sure to do these 35+ things to make your trip complete.Posted on Thursday, October 3, 2019 in Destinations
Tags: edinburgh, europe, scotland
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Highlight: Stirling Castle
Stirling Castle is one of the most important places in Scotland. It’s an easy day trip from Edinburgh and is a must-see for anyone interested in Scottish history and castles, as it is a very complete castle with very recognisable residents.
A little history: Stirling Castle is known as the dividing point between the Scottish Highlands and the rest of Scotland, but it also has incredible historical significance. The castle dates back to the 1100s and flip-flopped in ownership between the Scots and English (as that area does often in history). However, the oldest remaining part of castle – the North Gate – was built in 1381. The castle was heavily reconstructed under James IV and parts of that design can still be seen today. The Great Hall was completed in 1503 and is that very light building you see in photos. It was designed like this to be seen as a “gold castle” from miles away, and I noticed driving past Stirling from a distance that it is quite true!
James V was coronated and lived at Stirling Castle, further cementing it in Scottish history. Mary Queen of Scotts was also coronated there, and her son James VI was raised there. After his time, the castle was used mainly for military purposes. Later construction was done during the Jacobite Rising and the castle served as a military depot until 1964. Today it’s a magnificent place to visit and take in the centre of modern Scottish history. Especially since I assume you’ve heard of at least one of those historic characters.
First of all, Stirling Castle is perched on top of a hill. You can access the castle via car (there is a small car park), a trolley on King Street, or a 10-minute strenuous walk. We went in June 2019 and they were supposed to open a train that goes from the station to the castle.
The castle is really incredible. It is very well preserved and it’s obviously not of a cohesive design, but you can see the layers of building, which is quite fascinating. It’s also partly furnished as it would have been when Mary Queen of Scots and the King James’ would have lived there, and there are also people in costume. In one of the chambers, you can also see a Unicorn Tapestry. If you like medieval art, you’d recognise these unicorn tapestries. Even though they’re mostly in Paris’s Cluny Museum, they originated at Stirling.
Make sure to look up because a large part of Stirling Castle’s design is actually on the ceiling.
You also want to be sure to check out the informative exhibitions they have. There’s actually some pretty cool forensic information and they have a tonne of artefacts that date back to the 14-16th centuries. There’s also a complete set of royal portraits carved in wood that you can see. The castle highlights a lot of cultural information that I and my family found very interesting.
As I said, we went in June 2019, so the gardens were absolutely beautiful! I love British gardens and Stirling had one of the prettiest when we went. Hopefully it’s similar for visitors in winter.
Stirling Castle is an easy stop from Edinburgh into the Highlands but the town of Stirling is also deserving of a look. There’s more to see around the town such as Holy Rude, which is where the King James Bible was written; Argyll’s Lodging, a Renaissance home that I haven’t been inside (but the outside is absolutely gorgeous); and quite a bit of food and restaurants. However, everything closes early, so be sure to get there at a reasonable time. The town itself is really charming.
You can also head across the river to another part of Stirling to see the National Wallace Monument. The monument was erected for William Wallace and has his two-handed sword inside. I bet the views from the top are magnificent as well, though we ran out of time to go.
If you’re in Scotland, I’d say Stirling Castle is someplace you have to see if you’re interested in any of the history. The castle is super informative and though I wouldn’t call it “beautiful,” it’s an incredible step into the past of some of Scotland’s most known leaders. My family and I had a great time and learned a lot, and it’s someplace I’m very happy to have visited.
Have you ever been to Stirling Castle? What did you think?Posted on Thursday, September 26, 2019 in Destinations
Tags: europe, scotland, stirling
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