So, you’ve decided to visit the capital city of Scotland? Congratulations, you’ve made a fantastic decision. There is more to see and do is this amazing historical city than any guidebook will tell you, and this guide will talk you through some of the interesting and quirky ways to pass the time during your visit.
Where to Eat
Edinburgh Castle looms large over the city, so it’s sure to be a must-see on any tourist’s itinerary. Once you’re there, you owe it yourself to eat in The Witchery, located in the shadow of the castle’s gates. The moniker of this eatery is a tribute the unfortunate women that were burned at the stake during the middle ages, and the restaurant itself is like stepping back in time to a bygone era – you’ll half expect to see Banquo’s ghost hovering over the shoulder of your dining companions.
If you’re looking for something a little more modern while relaxing in the grounds of the castle then check out the mouth-watering Thai food on offer in Chaophraya or the cakes and desserts provided by the Redcoat Café.
Further afield, stroll to the Signet Library to munch on a delicious meal at the Colonnades restaurant while surrounded by the world’s greatest literature, or if you’re feeling social, enjoy a communal lunch at The Gardener’s Cottage in the Royal Terrace Gardens.
Serious foodies will find their personal nirvana at The Table, a restaurant that seats just ten people – at one table, unsurprisingly – with a solitary chef that interacts with diners all the while.
Brunch lovers will find plenty to enjoy at Hanover Street’s Urban Angel, and Henderson’s – just a few doors along the same street – caters exclusively to vegetarian visitors. The Piemaker is another institution of the city, found in Royal Mile, while the Edinburgh Food Studio on Dalkeith Road is ideal for adventurous foodies – you’ll find no menu here, and will simply be served whatever the on-duty chef sees fit to rustle up for you on the day.
Where to Drink
The Sheed Heid Inn opened its doors in the 14th Century and remains operational to this day, making it the oldest surviving pub in Scotland. Located in The Causeway, this pub also boasts a skittle alley to keep younger guests and families amused. For another form of pub experience, try The Wee Pub in Grassmarket – a public house that’s roughly the size of the average living room, with a drink’s cabinet in lieu of a bar and a menu printed on a postcard that you’ll need a supplied magnifying glass to decipher. While you’re in this district, be sure to check out the Literary Pub Tour if you’re a reader – you can take in some Scottish cultural history while sipping on a variety of drinks.
Found in North Lane, Bryant & Mack is a unique themed cocktail bar, with decor akin to the kind of 1920s speakeasy populated by the detectives found in a Raymond Chandler novel, or you could check out Panda and Son, a Prohibition-themed bar on Queen Street. This bar has been described as ‘Edinburgh’s worst-kept secret’ however, so try Bramble on the same road for unique cocktails if you’re looking to escape the madding crowds. Hanover Street’s Hoot the Redeemer brings a little 1950s Americana to Edinburgh, or you could escape from the Scottish climate by enjoying a little Caribbean swing in the Auld Reekie Tiki Bar.
Anybody looking for something off the beaten track should seek out upscale cocktail bar The Outhouse, which is found on Broughton Street and is typically only found by those who have been introduced, or The Brass Monkey on Drummond Street – a haven for hipsters.
What to See and Do
Eating and drinking may be a major part of the Edinburgh experience, but there’s still plenty of other ways to amuse yourself while you’re in the Scottish capital. While the more conventional tourist attractions are well-known, check out some of these quirkier destinations.
Royal Mile is packed with museums that can make for a full day’s browsing that cater to every possible interest, and feline enthusiasts will have a whale of a time relaxing at Maison de Moggy afterwards. The only cat café in Edinburgh, this serene spot allows visitors to sip on a latte and cuddle a selection of kitty’s to centre their zen.
Alternatively, make the trip Prestonfield House for scenic surrounding for afternoon tea, where free-roaming peacocks will surround you.
If you’re not claustrophobic, get yourself to Drum Street and investigate the underground tunnels of Gilmerton Cove, a series of caves of mysterious origin – see if you can solve the mystery of who built these caverns, and why.
If this gives you a taste for the spooky, head up to Greyfriar’s Kirkyard and locate the grave of Bluidy MacKenzie – allegedly the site of The Edinburgh Poltergeist, an infamous paranormal legend that has chilled spines of locals and visitors for decades. The Old Calton Cemetery on Waterloo Place is another vintage graveyard that dates back to the 18th Century, boasting grandiose gothic architecture.
Aim for Morningside Library and head behind into Springvalley Gardens for an entirely unexpected – and thoroughly un-Scottish – sight in the form of a replica street of America’s Old West.
There are also an abundance of street markets throughout the city that peddle homemade wares that make for a great souvenir, or wander around Old Town and discover any number of secret gardens.
The zoo is a popular tourist resort but is worth visiting at 2.15, when the penguin enclosure is opened and everybody’s favourite flightless birds take a waddle around the grounds. Finally, take a trip to Castlehill and marvel at the optical illusions of Camera Obscura, a labyrinth of colour and sensation that will leave you reeling but astonished.
As you’ll see, it’s impossible to find yourself short of something interesting to do in Edinburgh, one of the world’s great cities that offers a fine blend of the ancient and modern. Plan your visit around these attractions, or play it by ear and discover all-new experiences that will create memories that last a lifetime.
Have you got any suggestions for places off the beaten track in Edinburgh? Please share in the comments below.