Edinburgh stole my heart when we went this past October.
I have a thing for small, coastal cities with a medieval flare. Big cities overwhelm me, but I’ll take a small city with winding streets, obscure passageways, local coffee shops and views of the water all day long.
Edinburgh is only a four-hour train ride from London. You could fly there – it’s about an hour – but who doesn’t love a good train ride? I like to grab a snack and coffee in the cafe cart and post up with a good book. The scenery is kind of boring for the first part of the trip (so. many. sheep.), but as you get farther north you start to see beautiful, rugged beaches and towns that you know you’ll probably never make it to but kind of wish you could.
So, what do you do in Edinburgh? Even though it’s not as big of a city as London, there are still PLENTY of things to do. I wish we had more time to do it all, but here are the five things we loved and highly recommend next time you go to Edinburgh:
Yes, Scotch is a thing to do in Edinburgh – for us anyway! Scotch is simply a whiskey made in Scotland so of course, it’s everywhere. It’s plentiful at home, too, but in Scotland you can find really cool, hyper-local varieties. We popped into the Bow Bar just off Victoria Street (My FAVORITE street in Edinburgh) for a pre-dinner dram (or two…). It’s a cozy, one-room bar without much frill, but with lots of charm. The bartenders are super friendly and helpful. They have a great flavor map to help you identify which Scotch you should try and make great recommendations.
Besides Scotch, they have a great beer selection with tons of local brews. Bonus points for selling beer by the half pint and allowing well-mannered dogs inside.
Royal Botanic Gardens
Our second morning in Edinburgh we parted ways for a bit. I took myself for breakfast at Hula Juice Cafe and then Uber’ed across town to the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh (RBGE). In a word, my morning was magical. The gardens are expansive with paths leading you to different sections to explore and get lost in. My time was limited so I went straight to the glass houses.
The RBGE was founded in the 1600’s and covers 70 acres. There are 28 glasshouses, but only 10 that you can visit (the rest are for research). Each one has a different theme like “Ferns and Fossils” and “Arid Riches”. My absolute favorite was “Rainforest Riches” because there was a pond with giant lily pads. Since I was alone and no one else was in the glasshouse I took a moment to sit by the pond and reflect. I don’t do that very often, but I so enjoyed those few moments in the humid, peaceful glasshouse (until the students came in).
I could go on and on about the gardens, but I’ll just say: if you want to feel like Alice in Wonderland go by yourself first thing in the morning. You’re welcome.
So while I was daydreaming with the lily pads at the RBGE, Jon was hiking up Arthur’s Seat. Arthur’s Seat is the largest part of Arthur’s Seat Volcano (don’t worry, it’s extinct) at 823 feet. It’s conveniently situated just a mile from the downtown area of Edinburgh, so it’s not a huge pain to get there. The real pain is getting up the hill!
If you like amazing cityscapes, climbing like a goat, and extinct volcanoes this is for you. It took Jon about an hour to do the hike, including the steepest part of the trail.
Lunch at Restaurant Martin Wishart
Last year I had the fanciest meal of my life at Le Pre Catelan. And I thought, “Okay. I had a super fancy meal at a Michelin starred restaurant and can check that off my list and never do it again because it’s so expensive.” Right? Wrong. I like fine dining a lot, actually. So when we booked our London and Edinburgh trip I immediately began searching for the perfect spot. Then I realized a lot of places had super reasonably priced lunch menus so we went that route. In London, we had lunch at Pollen Street Social and Dinner by Heston and in Edinburgh, we went to Martin Wishart.
Restaurant Martin Wishart is named after its proprietor and has been in the Leith neighborhood of Edinburgh since 1999. A restaurant enduring that long is impressive enough, but that neighborhood hasn’t always been the trendy spot it is today. One of my regrets is that we didn’t get to explore this area as much as we would’ve liked (thanks, rain) but it was cool to see it from the Uber car.
The restaurant itself is beautiful. Neutral colors make it feel warm and inviting and the views of the water kind of make you feel like you’re on a boat. The service is spectacular, the manager even graciously took us to the kitchen after our meal so we could chat with the chef. Amazing! The food was probably the best of the whole trip. I can still taste the sous vide duck and mouclade (mussels in a cream sauce with curry) and just about lose it when I think back on the perfect petit fours that came with my coffee.
“Reasonably priced” doesn’t mean cheap, but it was a great value for the experience. I highly recommend this splurge if you can swing it.
The Edinburgh Castle
One of those touristy things you shouldn’t pass on. At the top of the Royal Mile sits this cool, really old castle. It isn’t free like the other sites in Edinburgh, but it isn’t terribly expensive either. You’ll get beautiful views of the city, Arthur’s Seat and the water. Supposedly, the castle has existed since the 1600’s but people have lived on Castle Rock since the second century. Sometimes I’m like, “All castles are the same, do I really need to see another one?” but don’t pass on this one. Do it for the views and jewels alone!
When you’re done, walk down the Royal Mile and enjoy the shops. Most are touristy, but I did find a great necklace and artwork at the Royal Market in Tron Kirk. Even that has some history behind it: Tron Kirk was a church completed in 1647. More history here.
Still hungry? Shuffle on over to the Kilted Lobster in Stockbridge, a suburb of Edinburgh (but like, just barely). It’s a cozy space with appropriately nautical decor and is just super charming. Not only is the seafood delicious (don’t pass on the namesake, but also try the pork belly) but the owners are really socially conscious. Proceeds from the restaurant go towards their ongoing projects including workplace training for people with “barriers to work”, dining experiences for families with hardships and cooking classes for single parent families. They epitomize Foodlanthropy.
Even though we were only there for two days, it’s really hard to not to go and on about how much I loved this city. I hope you go and drink all the scotch, take a ghost tour, explore the castle and eat everything. Not mentioned here, but coming soon in a different post, are all the wonderful coffee shops we visited.
I would love to know if you’ve ever been to Edinburgh and what you loved (or didn’t love) about it!