When it comes to capital cities for a weekend break, we often overlook Edinburgh in favour of London, Paris or Rome. In truth, there’s much more to Edinburgh than a castle and entire streets of shops selling dodgy tartan souvenirs….
If the weather’s fine, you could start your day and work up an appetite for breakfast by climbing Arthur’s Seat, the dormant volcano outcrop in Holyrood Park. It’s one of four hill forts dating from around 2000 years ago and offers some great views over the city. The park abounds with wildlife and also provides an oasis of solitude away from the bustle of the capital. If you’d prefer to do your climbing indoors, try the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena at Ratho. EICA is Europe’s largest indoor climbing centre and alongside world-class climbing walls, features a bouldering room and a gym overlooking the main arena.
If a stroll by the waterside appeals more, head down to the dockside at Leith’s Ocean Terminal where you can find the Royal Yacht Britannia. The Queen’s former floating palace has been consistently rated as the country’s top attraction for over a decade. It’s fascinating to see round the vessel which made over a thousand official trips over 40 years of use. All five decks are surprising accessible to those in wheelchairs or with buggies.
Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden has been an oasis of calm in the city centre since 1670. AT the moment, the glass houses are closed for restoration, but with 72 acres of ground to explore, there’s always something worth seeing.
Edinburgh has always had a peculiarly macabre side and some of the city’s most fascinating attractions reflect this. The award-winning Surgeons’ Hall Museums is home to probably the largest and most historic pathology collections in the United Kingdom. The collection represents the changing
nature of medical and scientific teaching and research since the late 18th century and it is worth noting that the specimens were collected at times that held different ethical and moral values from our own today. Continuing the macabre theme, The Real Mary King’s Close lies hidden under the Royal Mile. It’s a warren of hidden ‘closes’ where real people lived, worked and died. For centuries they have lain forgotten and abandoned. You can also visit a section of Edinburgh’s legendary Underground City, where a population once lived in utter misery as part of a storytelling tour that combines history and spookiness.
If that’s all a bit too scary, then try a visit to Edinburgh Zoo and see if the giant pandas are up to anything interesting.
WHERE TO STAY
As you might expect from the country’s main tourist city, Edinburgh has a huge variety of places to stay, from the basic to the opulent. The impact of the pandemic means fewer foreign guests, so shopping around for your accommodation can turn up some bargains.
Tigerlily has long been one of Trend’s favourite places to stay in the capital. It manages to combine great service and style without being fussy or overpriced. There’s a great cocktail bar and a lively restaurant, so it’s a good choice for an action packed weekend break or a trip with friends. The rooms are beautifully designed, yet practical, and it’s well located for the picturesque Dean Village, the Botanic Gardens and the New Johnnie Walker Experience in the old Jenner’s building.
If your tastes run to the gothic, then The Witchery by The Castle should be your pick for a romantic weekend. It’s not a place for minimalists, since each of the nine suites is theatrically decorated. It’s rather like finding yourself in a fairy tale. It’s tucked away in a collection of historic buildings on Castlehill. The Witchery restaurant is all mellow oak-panelling and or there’s the candlelit Secret Garden if the weather is fine.
The Market Street Hotel is one of Edinburgh’s newest urban escapes, positioned right next to the City Art Centre and just opposite Waverley Station. It feels more like a creative and exciting members’ club rather than a hotel, with friendly staff and beds so comfortable you may be tempted
to try and sneak the mattress home with you. Nor’Loft, the roof-top champagne bar has a wide-ranging selection of fizz from big names and independent growers. Many are available by the glass, so you can spend the evening finding a new favourite. They also have a tempting array of small plates and sharing platters as well as views out over the city.
If you prefer the less formal option of an apartment, then the Linton Collection has some of the best serviced flats and studios in the city. Their North Bridge apartments, Lord Lyon’s Chambers and The West Wing all feature a range of one and two bedroom properties with contemporary interiors all housed in the iconic Scotsman building, or you could go for one of their Blackfriars Lofts in a Victorian church just off the Royal Mile. If you’re feeling peckish book an amazing grazing platter or box from Crunch Platters via the Linton collection website or book direct with crunchplatters.co.uk.
Fingal is the TripAdvisor’s top choice for places to stay in Edinburgh. It certainly ticks all the boxes if you’re looking for somewhere truly special. The former Northern Lighthouse Board ship has undergone a huge £5 million refurbishment and has emerged as a stunningly luxurious floating hotel. There are 23 cabins including the Skerryvore Suite with extensive outdoor space to relax and entertain. Check out our competition to win a stay on Fingal in this issue.
Edinburgh is probably Scotland’s best city for foodies, with cuisines from every corner of the planet.
Quinn’s Café is known for their haggis and veggie haggis, while Salt Café is the perfect breakfast spot, with a great Eggs Benedict. GF Café specialise in gluten free dishes that don’t sacrifice anything in the way of taste or texture. You’ll find some great pizza and pasta here.
If you fancy something more substantial, try Makars on Bank Street near the Mound, which has made an art form of potato-based cuisine. They’re great for veggie and vegan options, but carnivores will be happy with options like their slow cooked shoulder of Aberdeen Angus with horseradish gravy. Spice it up at Prana Indian Grill with their multi-dish tasting menu, or try their take on a full cooked breakfast or afternoon tea with cocktails.
If you’re looking for something at the Michelin end of the market, you’ll find both Kitchin and Martin Wishart down in Leith, or you could try Condita on Salisbury place, for an intimate fine dining experience. It’s not one to choose if you’re vegetarian, vegan or have dietary restrictions as they offer a surprise tasting menu that doesn’t offer any choice. Reservations are essential and the restaurant is only open from Tuesday to Saturday in the evenings. The experience is £100 per person, with an extra £65 each for paired wines and takes around three hours.
For something less formal, try The Pitt, Leith’s street food market which is open during the evenings from Friday to Sunday. You’ll find unusual options like pheasant burgers or steaks with gremolata, as well as desserts from Spot.
Edinburgh offers plenty of shopping opportunities if you’re looking for something a bit more upscale or specialised than the typical shopping centres and a souvenir snow globe of the castle.
Head for Multrees Walk near St. Andrews Square where you’ll find an outstanding selection of designer stores including Boss, Burberry, Johnston’s of Elgin, Coach, Max Mara, Reiss and Swarovski. They also have Michael Kors, Canada Goose, Bravissimo and a Caffé Nero if you need a rest to recover from your spending splurge, before heading to Louis Vuitton. As well as designer megabrands, Multrees Walk is also home to Strathberry’s minimalist handcrafted leather goods, which are designed in Edinburgh and artisan crafted in Spain. At number 10, you’ll find Oliami, a treasure house of independent brands that bridge country and town living, including Holland Cooper, Fairfax and Favor, and Marco Moreo.
If you’re still looking for designer treats, then head to Harvey Nicks. You’ll find four floors of elegant international and contemporary designer clothing for men and women, shoes and accessories. The perfumery section, accessories, beauty hall and food hall are always worth a visit, though the shoe department is smaller than we’d like. If you’re doing some serious shopping, then consider pre-booking a session with a personal shopper. You’ll also find a TK Maxx just round the corner on South David Street if you like your designers with a discount!
Edinburgh is a great city if you’re shopping for art. In some areas like Stockbridge, it feels like every second shop is a gallery. Spending an afternoon browsing and popping in local cafes for a snack or two is always a pleasure. Try The Open Eye Gallery on Abercromby Place for a good selection of contemporary Scottish artists, or visit Dovecote Studios for demonstrations of tapestry weaving. Dovecot has been on the go for 110 years and is renowned for their collaborations with international artists. There’s a good gallery shop and even a café on site. You’ll find it at 10 Infirmary Street.
The capital is also home to a selection of wonderfully quirky speciality shops. Our favourites include Mackenzie Leather on St. Mary’s Street who create handmade luxury leather goods bags, briefcases and sporrans and Mr. Wood’s Fossils down in the Grassmarket. Where you can pick up anything from amethyst geodes to dinosaur bones and meteorites. Joseph Bonnar Antique and Period Jewellery on Thistle Street is a cornucopia of exquisite, expensive, shiny things with amazingly knowledgeable staff.
Bibliophiles will happily get lost in Armchair Books at 72-74 West Port, above the Grassmarket. It feels like the shelves go on for miles, which is strange because the shop itself isn’t that big. Robert Graham 1874 stocks a fantastic range of whisky, cigars, pipes, spirits and Scottish gifts on Rose Street, which was once known for the Rose Street 22 pub crawl. These days the pubs are fewer, but still a great option for a night of bar hopping.