As ever when I visit anywhere on my doorstep, I wonder why I don’t do it more. Seven years after my first visit to the Scottish capital, I headed back to Edinburgh for a long weekend and was instantly reminded just how fantastic this beautiful city is. Steeped in culture, history and a fantastic food scene to boot, a trip to Edinburgh is never short of things to do and places to eat.
14 George St, New Town, Edinburgh EH2 2PF
The Dome is one of the most beautiful restaurants to eat in, and at its most stunning at Christmas time. Once the site of the Commercial Bank of Scotland, The Dome is as grand as restaurants come, all pillars and huge chandeliers, and from the end of October until the New Year it is decked out in the most magnificent display of festive decorations you’re likely to see this side of the pond. It even smells like Christmas. The food is classic and well executed, the service is warm and friendly yet decidedly traditional. I’d go any time of year, but when the Christmas decorations are up it’s truly something special – reservations far in advance are a must, and if you can’t get one for dinner, at the very least go for a drink.
The Wee Restaurant
61 Frederick St, Edinburgh EH2 1LH
The original Wee Restaurant is twenty minutes away from Edinburgh in North Queensferry, Fife, but luckily for city dwellers there is now a second outpost in the New Town. Everything we ate at The Wee Restaurant was superb, even the bread with tapanade they served whilst we looked over the menu. Whilst there are meat options to choose from, we all opted for seafood and were left impressed with it all. Highlights included the calamari, breaded scallops and smoked haddock with leeks and poached egg in breadcrumbs. At lunchtime and weekday evenings (not including Fridays) they do a set menu which is an absolute bargain with 2 courses for £16 or 3 for £20, and a similarly priced menu du jour on Sundays. Highly recommend.
Mary’s Milk Bar
19 Grassmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2HS
Rain or shine, heatwave or snow, no trip to Edinburgh is complete without a visit to the place with the best ice cream in the city: Mary’s Milk Bar. Mary was trained in the gelato capital of the world – Bologna, so you know this stuff is good. Serving a variety of flavours that are freshly made each morning, expect to wait in line during the summer and even in the winter you may find they’ve run out of certain ice creams before long. Best to get there early to avoid disappointment – what better excuse to have ice cream for breakfast?
6-8 College Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9AA
Best coffee in Edinburgh. That’s all you need to know, really. Expertly made, the guys at Brew Lab really know what they’re doing when it comes to espresso. With free wifi and plenty of places to get set up with your laptop, this is a great spot to work from and there is an array of great looking food on offer to keep you fueled alongside the coffee. The challah bread with cream cheese, honey and cinnamon at breakfast is a winning combination and one I’ve never seen anywhere else, and the filled doughnuts are excellent.
13 Antigua St, Edinburgh EH1 3NH
76 Thistle St, Edinburgh EH2 1EN
Drawn to Cafe Marlayne by rumours of breakfast butties with sausage, bacon and black pudding, we sought out this spot on our way to climbing Calton Hill one morning. Massive flaky pastries and huge overflowing baps with black pudding crumbling out of them is just about the right way to set yourself up for the day and A Bit Of A Walk. Cafe Marlayne is very reasonable, too – and not just for breakfast – the lunch and dinner menus are incredibly well priced. The Thistle Street branch is more central so perhaps more convenient if you’re staying that way.
61 High St, Edinburgh EH1 1SR
On the walk from the top of the Royal Mile to our hotel we kept passing a little close covered with an arch made of fairy lights and branches, looking like the most inviting thing ever away from the bitter cold. One afternoon we lucked out on a table in the cosy bar for a glass of wine to warm up. Judging from the food we could just about glimpse in the restaurant and the bar snacks we sampled, we all said we would love to return for a full on meal on the next visit. A lovely warm atmosphere where they were turning people away even late afternoon – one to make a booking for.
155 West Port, Edinburgh EH3 9DP
For a well earned pit stop of artisan coffee and homemade cake after walking your way around the city, quirky Lovecrumbs is a good spot to take a break in West Port, on the other side of the Castle. The cafe is very relaxed with plenty of sharing tables, and partners with other local business such as Mary’s Milk Bar on some of their offering.
The Printing Press
21-25 George St, Edinburgh EH2 2PB
The Printing Press caught my eye after being voted one of the most beautiful restaurants in the world by the Restaurant & Bar Design Awards, and although we didn’t get a chance to check it out this time around it remains firmly on my list for the next trip. I’m keen to try the unlimited breakfast at £15.95 pp, which allows you to fill yourself up to your heart’s content on a full continental spread including pastries, fruit and granola, plus order a full cooked breakfast to round it all off.
121 Hanover St, Edinburgh EH2 1DJ
Another one I didn’t get time for on this trip but was keen to try as their brunches look absolutely banging. Independently owned, locally and sustainably sourced, Urban Angel also caters well to gluten free, vegetarians and vegans. They’ve got everything from your classic Eggs Benedict, a long list of smoothies, delicious salads from the deli, sandwiches, cakes and wine too. Urban Angel is firmly at the top of my list to visit next time I’m in Edinburgh.
The Kings Wark
36 Shore, Edinburgh EH6 6QU
A recommendation should you find yourself shore side in Leith and in want of some good food. The Kings Wark is a beautiful old restaurant, built back in the 1400s and is well revered as one of the best gastro pubs around. Serving up some fantastic food with a focus on fresh seafood and locally sourced produce, it’s also super cosy and has a long list of Scottish gins to see you through.
131 Rose St, Edinburgh EH2 3DT
I had to include Social Bite as I love the ethos behind this spot. All profit here goes towards solving social problems, with a particular focus on battling homelessness in Scotland. One in four of their staff have struggled with homelessness and my favourite bit is you can pay for an extra drink or sandwich in store for someone who really needs it in a Pay It Forward system. I wish everywhere had this system!
Fishers Leith, 1 The Shore, Edinburgh, EH6 6QW
Fishers in the City, 58 Thistle Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1EN
We went to Fishers on our first visit to Edinburgh many years ago and according to recommendations from a friend now local to Edinburgh, it’s still a total winner if you’re after some excellent seafood. Fishers is relaxed, friendly and serving beautiful fish in both Leith and the City but is sure to be busy, so ensure to book in advance.
56A Broughton St, Edinburgh EH1 3SA
Everyone’s favourite find on this trip was Pickles, a cosy basement wine bar serving cheese boards and chutneys amongst fairy lit surroundings. The staff were helpful and friendly, happily swapping out a blue cheese that wouldn’t have been eaten for a different Scottish cheese on our cheeseboard. There’s a charming little patio outside with a little nook set out with blankets and strewn with fairy lights, and everything is very reasonably priced. If I lived in Edinburgh, I’d be a regular without question.
9 Advocate’s Cl, Edinburgh EH1 1ND
Tucked away down one of the historical little closes that run off of the Royal Mile, the appropriately named Devil’s Advocate on Advocate’s Close is situated in a Victorian pump house. With big wooden doors that can be opened in the summer and a beautiful back lit bar full of bottles – including some 400 whiskies, or something equally ridiculous, this is a great spot for a pre or post dinner cocktail. Devil’s Advocate serve food too and although we didn’t eat there, would be keen to next time as the menu looks fantastic. The cocktails were excellent and the atmosphere just as good.
16A Queen St, Edinburgh EH2 1JE
Another great little cocktail bar tip and nearly impossible to find – one of those speakeasy type places with zero signage and a need for blind trust in Google Maps. Bramble is a tiny basement bar on Queen Street where I had one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had:
7 James Court, 493 Lawnmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2PB
Small little pub tucked off of the Royal Mile, this is a great place to stop near the castle for a glass of wine. Perfect in the winter due to the roaring open fire, the wine is good value and there’s a few cheap eats for lunch. There are plenty of beers on tap and a long list of whiskies to try, and you’re also welcome to use their wifi when you buy a drink. The perfect pit stop.
The Jazz Bar
1a Chambers St, Edinburgh EH1 1HR
This place is brilliant. Incredible live music, and don’t worry if jazz isn’t your bag as despite the name jazz isn’t the only genre of music you’ll find here; funk, soul, acoustic and blues all find their way onto the programme. There’s a entry charge of £4 or £5 for most gigs which must be in cash as it goes straight to the musicians playing rather than the bar itself. I wouldn’t return to Edinburgh without spending at least one night here, but it would be hard to resist ending every night at The Jazz Bar since it’s open until 3am and just so much damn fun.
We stayed in Aparthotel Adagio which was a deal at £120 per person for 2 nights, just south of The Royal Mile. A central location was key for our trip, though Edinburgh is so easy to navigate being a smaller city, it’s not the end of the world if you’re not staying super central. There are fantastic Air BnBs on offer in Edinburgh, especially if there are two of you – this one with the hidden bed is a favourite!
THINGS TO DO
Probably the most famous attraction in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh Castle sits on a hill at the top of the Royal Mile, overlooking the city and sea beyond. Dominating the skyline, it has sat on the aptly named Castle Rock (remind you of anywhere?) for hundreds of years and at times has had a pretty grim history. There’s plenty to learn about during the self guided audio tour, from exploring the Chambers where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to the future James I/VI of England and Scotland, viewing the most ridiculously big fireplaces I’ve ever seen, down to the prisons of wars that depict how prisoners were kept at the castle dating all the way back to the 1700s.
A striking gothic structure dedicated to novelist Sir Walter Scott, the Scott Monument in the Princes Street Gardens is a tribute to Scottish history and one of the best known landmarks of the the city. For a mere £5 you can climb to the top for stunning views of Edinburgh below.
The Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh is smaller than you’d expect, but well worth a visit. A tour will take you through how the Palace is used today as well as its history, including taking you through the Chambers of Mary Queen of Scots and the location of her secretary David Rizzio’s brutal murder by the hand of her husband and his men. The ruined Abbey and gardens are also worth a look around if it’s not too freezing outside.
Edinburgh Gin Distillery
Now, I generally don’t drink gin (I know, what kind of Millennial am I?), but I love Edinburgh Gin’s Elderflower liquor stuff. It’s particularly good added to prosecco. They have tours and tastings at their distillery in Edinburgh – be sure to book in advance particularly for a weekend as they get booked up pretty quick.
Real Mary King’s Close
Real Mary King’s Close is probably my favourite thing to do in Edinburgh. An hour’s tour will teach you all you didn’t know you wanted to learn about the many closes that run off of the Royal Mile. These narrow laneways have a fascinating history and once had buildings either side rising up 15 or so stories, which is nigh on impossible to fathom in this day and age. Real Mary King’s Close takes you through the history of the closes, the Royal Mile and the people who used to live there – most in unimaginable conditions. Well worth a visit.
I’ll be honest, I’ve always wanted to climb up here due to One Day by David Nicholls, but we were deterred by the cold weather and high winds on this trip, and have thus proclaimed it a summer Edinburgh activity. That was mostly just to make us feel better though as a few friends of mine managed to do the climb up to Arthur’s Seat – overlooking the whole of Edinburgh and the North Sea beyond – on New Year’s Day no less. They are better people than I. It’s pretty big but supposed to be fantastic – allow plenty of time, bring water and wear proper shoes to walk in.
For those who don’t have the time or inclination to tackle Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill is far more manageable and still offers cracking views of the city. Calton Hill is home to a number of monuments including the famous Dugald Stewert Monument and the National Monument of Scotland, which remains unfinished due to lack of funds in the 1800s.