I’ve long been in love with the powerful and majestic beauty of Scotland. There is nothing that can compare with the sight of fog rolling down the rocky hillsides in the Highlands, or the sharp cut of the wind on the plains of Skye. But the wild country isn’t the only place worth exploring.
The ancient city of Edinburgh lies in the south of the country, alongside the Firth of Forth. Full of history and beauty, this charming city is worth a visit.
Where To Stay
Edinburgh is a great city for Airbnb and cozy bed & breakfasts, but if you’ve got a budget for a hotel, the absolute best place to stay is Old Town Chambers. Located on High Street in Old Town, these luxury apartments have full kitchens, washing machines, fast wifi, soaking tubs, Nespresso machines, comfortable living rooms, and balconies with peaceful views of the city. The old stone building has walls dating back to the 15th century, and the designers have chosen to highlight the beauty of the old architecture, while incorporating modern comforts and amenities. It’s the perfect place to rest before venturing out into the city.
After a good night’s sleep at Old Town Chambers, stretch your legs with a 10 minute walk down the street to the Brew Lab coffee shop. Crumbling stone walls and confetti paint splattered on wide plank floors are the setting for some of the best coffee in Old Town. Part Brooklyn-style coffee bar, part University student hangout, Brew Lab is the perfect place to sit and plan your first day in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh is a small city and so beautiful that walking is one of the best ways to see it. That being said, sometimes you need to get across town in a hurry. The bus system here is excellent, and at less than £5 for an all-day bus ticket, its also budget friendly.
What To See
The imposing walls of this 1,100-year-old castle loom over the city like a guardian. Sitting atop the volcanic stone of Castle Rock, the castle grounds contain several museums, a great hall, the coronation crown of Mary Queen of Scots, and commanding views of the old city below. Don’t miss St. Margaret’s Chapel.
The Royal Mile
The main roadway through the Old Town of Edinburgh, it runs from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace and is full of shops, bookstores, historical sites, cafes and pubs. Some of the best of these are:
Grey Friar’s Kirk
Home of the famous Greyfriar’s Bobby, this beautiful church and graveyard are a peaceful escape from the busy streets surrounding the Mile.
A cute bohemian café that serves coffee and homemade cakes displayed in a wooden dresser.
Overfilled bookshelves from floor to ceiling create the best kind of maze for a booklover. Keep an eye out for old illustrated copies of Alice in Wonderland or George Macdonald’s fairy tales.
Mary King’s Close
The Edinburgh of today was built atop the original city. Narrow streets became tunnels, small rooms became caves. There are a few places in the city that you can still tour the underground passages of the city, and the undisputed best of them is called The Real Mary King’s Close. Tours run almost every hour, and are guided by actors playing historical figures who lived or worked in the underground streets they’re touring you through.
An extinct volcano towering above Holyrood Park, the hike from the old town up to the top is invigorating, and the views of the countryside surrounding the city are breathtaking.
Where To Eat
With the whitewashed brick walls, ancient timber ceiling, lounge seating in front of the wood-burning stove, and candlelit rooms, Timberyard is a designers dream. And the food and drink more than live up to the expectations created by the beautiful interior. Simple and artisanal, the menu is seasonal, the cocktails are inventive, and the wine and whisky lists worth writing home about.
The Scran & Scallie Public House
Created by two Michelin-starred Scottish chefs who have fine dining restaurants in the city (Tom Kitchin and Dominic Jack) this casual eatery in Stockbridge is the perfect place to get an exceptional meal without breaking the bank.
The best fish & chips in the city.
What To Drink
The original malted barley dram, the water of life, in my opinion, is the best drink in the world. For whiskey lovers, Scotland is Mecca. The pilgrimage is a rite of passage for the single malt connoisseur, and a visit or two to a distillery is an absolute must.
Unfortunately, most of the distilleries in Scotland are on the islands surrounding the mainland, or in the mountains much further north. If your stay in Scotland allows for an extended trip outside of Edinburgh, there are a host of options, but if you want to stay in the city, the place to go and learn about the almighty malt is The Scotch Whisky Experience. Located in the heart of Old Town, they offer several different tour experiences, each offering history of distilling, blending, production, and include a tasting at the end. The café Amber downstairs serves food with whisky pairings. When that’s an option, who needs a wine list?
This Edwardian-era bar has stained glass windows, a warm atmosphere, and one of the better Scotch whisky offerings in the city.
A plant-filled dream of a speakeasy-style cocktail bar just off the Royal Mile. Try the Curiosity Killed The Cucumber.
Day Trip To Take: St Andrews
The international home of golf is in a lovely little town on the eastern coast, situated neatly inside the kingdom of Fife. It is one of the oldest settlements in Scotland, and has several historical sites worth visiting.
The quickest way to get there is by car, which can easily be rented at Waverly Station. An hour drive or 90 minutes by train and bus, it’s the perfect distance for an easy day trip from Edinburgh. Once there, buy yourself a ticket to see the ruins of St. Andrews Cathedral. Built in the 12th century, the ruined sandstone structure and grounds sit high above the town. If you have the energy, the hike up the 200 steps of St. Rule’s Tower is worth the spectacular view of the city and the beaches of the North Sea.
After your hike, take yourself to the center of town to Luvians Ice Cream Parlour for a refreshing ice cream cone. The shop serves coffee and homemade Italian-style ice cream. While you are enjoying your cone, stroll one block over to Luvians Bottle Shop. Owned by the same team as the ice cream parlour, this sister shop specializes in single malt whisky (they have over 800 bottles!), and they are ready and able to teach the willing public about the nuances of whisky from the birthplace of malt liquor. If you want to learn about Scotch whisky, do it from the masters at Luvians.
If the whisky shopping has given you an appetite, go a few blocks further down the road and grab some lunch at Forgan’s. It’s a casual café housed in an old golf club factory that serves traditional British food with a modern flair. Try the crispy haggis balls and the duck shepherd’s pie for a real taste of classic Scottish food.
On the way back to Edinburgh, stop in Kinross at The Grouse & Claret. Owned by veteran restaurateurs Vicky and David Fu Tong, this quaint restaurant is surrounded by lush meadows and several trout fishing ponds. In this country renowned for its hospitality, you won’t find a warmer welcome than here. Have a gin & tonic in the sitting room before a cozy dinner of Asian-Scottish fusion dishes. Have the fudge and coffee for dessert before the 40-minute drive back to Edinburgh.
Have you been to Edinburgh and/or Scotland? What did you love about it?
Image of Old Town Chambers provided c/o; Remainder of images via Beks Opperman