With the little sister up in Edinburgh for her first year at university, last month was the perfect time to visit the Scottish capital. Auld Reekie – as it is affectionately known – can be a bit bleak and gloomy at this time of year but the longer you spend there, the more the darkness and shadows become part of its charm. The austere buildings are beautiful and grand, winding streets hold secrets from many moons ago.
So where to start in this town packed with history? A more cultured blogger would start with the top sites and museums but you know me far too well to think that I’d begin with anything other than where to eat. So here goes….
- The Dogs – the place I made a beeline for on arrival in this fabulous city. It’s cosy, it’s canine-themed (!) and it serves up wonderful British food at very reasonable prices. Wooden floorboards, high ceilings in a townhouse on a beautiful New Town street. The food was scoffed before I could point my camera at it, so excuse the photos of us instead. Menu here.
- El Cartel – you may not come to Edinburgh for Mexican food but I promise you this: if you don’t go to El Cartel for dinner, you will be missing out. Recently renovated, this trendy restaurant boasts gourmet tacos galore. Think pork belly, flat iron steak and battered fish drizzled in chipotle sauce and guacamole. The frozen margaritas are a must too. The only minus is the no-reservations policy but leave your number and pop across the road to The Bon Vivant – the perfect place to wait. The El Carter waiter even came to get us when we weren’t answering our phones; now that’s what I call good service!
- Urban Angel – this is where to head for brunch in the Scottish capital. Again, no reservations but the wait is not long, even at peak times. Delicious smoothies, wonderful cooked breakfasts with an imaginative twist and plenty of healthy options such as avocado & ricotta and homemade granola. They produce a damn good flat white too.
- Mary’s Milk Bar – for ice cream and hot chocolate look no further than this wonderful parlour. Simultaneously old-school and on trend, this cute place is a real winner to cool you down on a sunny day or warm you up, a haven away from the Edinburgh drizzle (definitely the case when we visited).
- La Barantine Victoria – a little bit of Paris right in the heart of Edinburgh. When Anna and I walked in for an afternoon snack, the waitresses were all speaking French and it was a very cosy feeling. We picked up a tarte aux framboises to go but could have easily stayed an hour or three.
- Devil’s Advocate – quite possibly the coolest bar in Edinburgh, this hideaway is a little tricky to find but worth it once you get there! Exposed brick, bottles in caged boxes behind the bar and an upper level for eating, it has everything you could want for your favourite watering hole. It does get a little packed though, so arrive early if possible.
- The Bon Vivant – just across the road from El Cartel, this formerly dingy Old World pub has been polished up to the highest of standards. Dark blue and wooden interiors lend a very warm, French feel. If you like to sip barrel-aged whisky by candlelight this is the place for you, but they do a very delicious range of cocktails, including a Bramble which was a real winner with us.
- George Street – all the main upmarket culprits are here: Sandro, The Kooples, Maje etc with the ‘high street’ options on Princes Street which runs parallel.
- Armstrong & Son – if you like vintage clothing, this is one for you. Racks and racks of fur coats, dungarees, wooly jumpers and even wedding dresses are stacked as far as you can see.
- Stay Central – this hostel is fantastic in many ways. It definitely has an eye for décor, suits larger parties and is in a great location for getting around. We had a lovely time there; the rooms are basic but stylish and practical, and would certainly go again. However, on a Saturday night (and throughout the week I imagine, what with Edinburgh being a university city) the music emanating from the pub below is loud enough to hear every lyric until about 2am. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good rendition of Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now as much as the next person, but when it is thumping into your pillow during the early hours, you might rethink your love for Freddie. Having said all that, look how groovy it is:
And finally, to do:
- Arthur’s Seat – we spent Sunday afternoon, working of brunch at Urban Angel by climbing to the top of a hill that gives fantastic views over the city. It is, in fact, a dormant volcano and its peak lies 250m above sea level. Holyrood Park expands beneath it and you can glimpse Scottish Parliament on your way up. Beware, taking a nice photo is trickier than it seems… Exhibit A (!):
- Edinburgh Castle – OK, sooo we may not have actually made it into the castle but I hear it’s pretty special. You can get a guided tour by the castle stewards and visit St Mary’s Chapel which dates back to the 12th century.
- Scottish National Galleries – this building houses Scotland’s national art collection, spanning international work from the Renaissance period to the start of the 20th century. Cézanne, Degas, Constable, Boticelli; you name it, they got it.
- Just walk! Discovering the cobbled streets is best done without a plan or agenda. There are beautiful little corners you might otherwise miss…
So there you have it! A concise city guide which should help you plan a trip to Edinburgh. Which you should do. What are you waiting for?