Discover the UK: Edinburgh, Scotland

It is one of the most hauntingly beautiful places in the world, the history is fascinating, the men are handsome and the whisky is delicious. But don’t eat the macaroni pies.” JK Rowling

Our first visit to Edinburgh was way back in early 2000 for Christmas with three young children in tow and although we explored the city (as much as you can with children) it was freezing, even snowing on Christmas day. On that visit we ended up staying an extra night after the airport was closed due to excessive snowfall so I was really looking forward to exploring the city in the summer (well warmer than winter at least) and sans any offspring.

If you have seen my previous post In Pictures – A Postcard from Edinburgh or follow me on social media, you will know that our visit focused quite heavily around the local hostelries punctuated with some sightseeing. What can I say drinking is fun, there were pubs everywhere and our friends are partial to a tipple or two! As well as enjoying the local hospitality we actually get to see some of the beautiful history associated with the capital of Scotland.

What we did…..

Our first sightseeing outing involved making our way on foot from Haymarket to the Royal Botanic Gardens via the scenic Dean Village along the Water of Leigh. I have to admit that we do sound super old (make that ancient) by visiting the Royal Botanic Gardens as the teenager vocalised (as predicted) saying that we had turned into her grandparents by visiting gardens and taking photos of flowers/plants, rude! In our defence we live in the desert and it was great to see so much greenery.

edinburgh 1The gardens were most impressive and the highlight was definitely the ten stunning pre-Victorian and modern Glasshouses. The glasshouses showcase exotic flowers and vegetation from different countries and climates, from arid desert to humid tropics. Lots to see and photograph, especially the giant lily pads which were stunning. As we left we heard the strains of bagpipes and on further investigation the red-tartan clad piper was seen welcoming guests to a wedding taking place in the picturesque gardens.

edinburgh 2Edinburgh has great transport links including a good rail network so we jumped on the train to Delmany to visit the Firth of Forth and its two famous bridges, one road and the other rail. Hoping to embark on a Forth Bridge boat trip to see seals and puffins, we were unlucky as a cruise ship had reserved all the boats to ferry their passengers back and forth (annoying much ?!?). After a pub lunch we explored the local vicinity before taking a taxi to North Queensferry and found ourselves in the wrong place due to the humour of a local taxi driver!! Quick train ride and we were in the right place walking to the water’s edge to see the red rail bridge in all its glory.

IMG_4777

Princes Street Gardens, a public park in the centre of the city is situated between the old and new towns under the shadow of Edinburgh Castle and lined on one side by Princes Street, the city’s most famous shopping street and home to the legendary Balmoral Hotel. The renowned floral clock was first planted in 1903 and every year the planting scheme, that incorporates 40,000 plants in an elaborate design, reflects a different theme each summer. This year the clock strokes ten o’clock in tribute to the capital’s 10th anniversary as the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature.

IMG_4741

We hopped on a vintage open top bus ‘Mac Tours’ on the last day to take in all the sites in one go. Edinburgh is a history lovers dream and there were lots of tales of ghosts, ghoulies and murder on the tour. First stop was at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s Scottish residence which we viewed through its majestic gates as the entry fees were ridiculous! Back on bus we passed the City Observatory, Arthur’s Seat, Scottish Parliament, Cowgate, Grassmarket (site of public executions), various sites of Edinburgh university, National Museum of Scotland, Greyfriars Bobby and the cafe where JK Rowling (allegedly, the other half was sceptical) wrote the Harry Potter books, before we hopped off in the Grassmarket. Great way to see the sights in a whistle-stop tour if that’s your bag and the hop-on, hop-off option is useful.

IMG_4828Final stop was Edinburgh Castle which is better to visit in July albeit the rain, than last time I went in the bitter cold of winter. Its elevated position above the city affords fabulous panoramic views of the city and beyond. The famous one o’clock gun is fired daily and legend has it that it’s fired at 1pm instead of 12 noon to save ammunition, a nod to the legendary Scottish frugal ways, a wee tale or the truth I’m not sure! A well-preserved site, the much visited castle gives a good insight into Scottish history and was teaming with tourists of all nationalities.

IMG_4831Where we ate and drunk…….

The list is long and yes we were only there three nights!

Before I even got to Edinburgh the other three lushes were on their second venue of the day prior to midday! They had devoured a full Scottish breakfast at The Roxburghe Hotel and were a few drinks down at the Au Bar by the time I rendezvoused with them. We returned to the Au Bar on the last morning for a full Scottish breakfast that included haggis and tatty scones.

The Roxburghe Hotel, 38 Charlotte Square. Edinburgh

Au Bar, 101 Shandwick Place, Edinburgh

After dropping off our luggage the first stop was The Last Drop tavern in the Greater Grassmarket, its name and noose logo synonymous with its proximity to one of the city’s main gallows, the scene of public hangings in the 18th century. Legend has it crowds would flock in huge numbers to see the public executions and ghosts still haunt the pub’s cellar by all accounts who have been heard to call out the names of staff in the bar when they are working alone, all very sinister!  Low ceilings and dim lighting add to the spooky atmosphere and it’s a popular tourist spot with loads of character.

The Last Drop Tavern, 74-78 Grassmarket, Edinburgh.

IMG_4524Top of my ‘must-do’ list was the The Witchery which is probably as famous as an Edinburgh landmark as the castle itself, I was thrilled that we managed to get a table on the first night. Located in Edinburgh’s Old Town at the top of the Royal Mile next to the castle, this fine dining restaurant is steeped in history and atmosphere. A heraldic sign marks the spot and its thick stone walls, dramatic heavy candlesticks, dark wood panelling, deep plush textiles and crisp white tablecloths help set the gothic scene. Cutlery is silver and heavy, the menu is full of fresh Scottish produce and the service professional and unobtrusive. Fantastic food, glorious wine and an overall great experience but as with all such splendid things it comes with a price tag to match. If you are visiting Edinburgh and planning one big splurge meal, this is your place especially if it’s for a romantic occasion. You can also stay at The Witchery in one of their nine suites.

The Witchery by the Castle, The Royal Mile. Edinburgh 

edinburgh 4Talk about one extreme to another after The Witchery we dropped down into the street below to Irish Pub, Finnegan’s Wake for a nightcap/s and live music (the other half loves an Irish pub and live music, more of that later). Up on the stage keeping the boozy crowd entertained was male three-piece group Franco. Playing a mix of hits from the 60’s to the present day it was an energetic and entertaining performance by the threesome on bass, drums and guitar with harmonious vocals that kept us amused until we ventured out into the rain.

Finnegan’s Wake, 9B Victoria Street, Edinburgh.

Just outside the Royal Botanic Gardens (literally minutes) we stumbled upon The Orchard Bar, what luck! Good food and local beers served to the table while we relaxed watching Wimbledon. Great welcome from the warm and friendly staff in this bar in Cannonmills, the perfect spot to while away a couple of hours. Good varied menu and delicious food, this upmarket establishment has obviously benefitted from a refurb as the interior is charming, I partially like the colourful glass light fixtures. While empty at first (it was a Friday afternoon) it was certainly busy by the time we left early evening.

The Orchard Bar, 1-2 Howard Place, Edinburgh

DSC00158

Slighhouse Cocktail Bar and Restaurant was an excellent find as we tripped around following the other half who was in charge of directions (Why? Why was he in charge?). This trendy bar and restaurant is divided into two areas to drink or dine and serves an eclectic mix of cocktails. Slighhouse is a nod to Scottish Geologist James Hutton (Slighhouse being the name of his family home) and geology references are dotted around the bar from the woodwork, art and seasonal menus. The cocktail menu was both humorous and definitely different offering such an extensive list that we took ages deliberating what to order with such quirky numbers as Hendrick Lamar (gin based), Rum Forest Rum (reserva rum based) and Tincture, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (more gin) to name a few, check it out for yourself here. Definitely worth a visit if you like hip places that serve great drinks, beware the Midnight Marauder a tequila and chilli combination that nearly blew my friends mind!

Slighhouse Cocktail Bar & Restaurant, 54 George IV Bridge, Old Town, Edinburgh.

edinburgh 4Second son recently visited Edinburgh with a group of friends and recommended we try Under the Stairs restaurant which was I’m not going to lie was tricky to find notwithstanding the other half leading us, but praise when praise is due he did get us there and we did get cocktails on the way, happy days! Located in the basement quite literally under the stairs, this very popular restaurant and bar is a shabby chic enclave offering a menu packed with fresh Scottish produce and walls adorned with quirky art from local gallery Little Ox on Candlemaker Row. The bartender was rustling up lots of cocktails and it was the thumbs up from the men in our group on their Scottish beef burger served with sweet potato fries.

Under The Stairs, 3a Merchant St. Edinburgh. 

Under the Stairs exterior 2Friday night in Edinburgh brings out the characters and quite a few of them were gathered in Whistlebinkies live music bar. This was the other half’s find and he was in his element! Centrally located this popular cellar bar attracts all sorts, it was absolutely jammed PACKED with folks young and old bopping away to the enthusiastic live band. An Edinburgh nightlife institution, it has a steamy atmosphere with dark alcoves and the obligatory sticky floors, a must do for those who love live music. The menfolk disappeared into the crowded dance floor to bust out their best dad dance moves and were spotted jumping about like their younger selves ;-). The venue offers all genres from local bands from acoustic sets, to rock and punk and tribute bands and everything in-between. We saw the extremely popular Sea Bass Kid, a reggae, indie and rock outfit who had the bar rocking its roof off but after waiting forever we gave up on celtic folk two piece band Mad Ferret before the end of their first number as they took far too long to set up!! Whistlebinkies was such a hit that we returned the following night for a quick visit.

Whistlebinkies, 4-6 South Bridge, Edinburgh (junction of The Royal Mile and The Bridges)

The brightly blue painted Hawes Inn in South Queensferry had so much potential with its rustic country pub charm and views across the Firth of Forth, but unfortunately it didn’t quite live up to our expectations. The large cruise ship moored in the Firth brought many guests into the pub so the wait was long and although the menu was large offering typical pub classics, the food was decidedly average (maybe we had just been spoilt elsewhere). On a positive note there was beer, wine and cider and the men had been fed which is always good!

The Hawes Inn, 7 Newhalls Road, South Queensferry, Edinburgh

We popped into the North Bridge Brassiere in the very posh Scotsman Hotel for a quick wee dram on our way up to the Royal Mile. Perfect place if you like fancy bars with fancy prices and great people watching for us as a Scottish wedding, kilts and all was in full flow.

North Bridge Brassiere, The Scotsman Hotel, 20 North Bridge, Edinburgh.

The Mitre Bar in the Royal Mile had been recommended to me and it was certainly a favourite with locals and tourists alike on a busy Saturday afternoon. Perfect spot to grab a pint or two (serves real ales) and eat some (more) hearty pub grub, all I can say is it’s a good job we did so much walking because we certainly did a lot of eating and drinking! Steeped in history, The Mitre was originally the site of a fine tenement that was owned by the Bishop of St Andrews, John Spottiswood. The tenement burned down in 1814 and was replaced by The Mitre Bar, named in tribute to the bishop’s headgear. Legend has it that the bishop’s throne is buried under the bar area and some say his spirit still walks the pub, spooky! We didn’t see any ghosts but did have a good dinner and drinkies. Like most pubs in the area it offers live music later in the evening, click on the link for more info.

The Mitre Bar, 131-133 High Street, Edinburgh.

IMG_4770We popped into The Inn on the Mile just a bit late after Whistlebinkies on Saturday night as we only caught the last song of the live duo, but it was The Beatles ‘Hey Jude’ one of my faves! The bar is located inside the luxury boutique hotel of the same name located in a prominent position on the Royal Mile. Small but perfectly formed it’s a great bar that we revisited on Sunday afternoon for pre-dinner drinks (like you do). Paying homage to its banking history, the bathrooms are in the old vaults and period features such as high ceilings, period cornice, tiled floor and gothic candlesticks are offset by contemporary large black boards and a feature wall of exposed white brick with symmetrical lines of greenery in silver tankards. Definitely worth a visit even if it’s just for a drink.

The Inn on the Mile, 82 High Street, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh. 

edinburgh 6Googling ‘Best Sunday Roast in Edinburgh’ we followed the advice given and booked the pub in the top spot for our final dinner in Edinburgh. The Cumberland Bar promised honest pub grub with organic pork, lamb, mutton and veal traditional roasts sourced from Peelham Farm, Berwick. Located in the lovely residential area of Edinburgh’s Georgian New Town, The Cumberland Bar staff were very welcoming and the wood panelled dining room had great potential but honestly I was a little disappointed with the so-called ‘gourmet’ roast (judging it on the roast potatoes mainly). Having said that we ate everything is site and had dessert so it wasn’t all bad.

The Cumberland Bar, 1-3 Cumberland Street, Edinburgh.

We gathered our belongings from the apartment and set off for our respective stations but not before one last drink in The Mad Hatter, a fab tiny bar in Haymarket that opened earlier this year. As the name suggests its theme is Alice in Wonderland and has lots of cosy corners filled with mismatched comfy chairs and Alice themed artwork and ornaments. Great cocktails (recommend the Cosmo), an array of bottled craft beers and a chilled out atmosphere it’s a great spot and I wish we stumbled on it earlier. If you are in Haymarket area, you must pop in.

The Mad Hatter, 8 Torphichen Place, Edinburgh.

Where we stayed…..

We stayed in a beautiful two-bedroom basement apartment booked via Airbnb. Read the full review here Edinburgh Apartment: An Airbnb Review.

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 21.05.19

This concludes my three-post series from Edinburgh, congrats if you got to the end of this post as it was long!! Who knew a such a short trip could result in the longest post ever but I hope it’s useful if you are planning to drink yourself around Edinburgh anytime soon.

Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this page © Jo Brett 2015. All rights reserved. Under the Stairs photo used courtesy of www.coolplaces.co.uk and final image of Airbnb apartment used courtesy of www.airbnb.co.uk