My Top 5 Edinburgh Experiences

Edinburgh is an amazing city, a compact mash-up of London and York with cobbled streets, beautiful old buildings, and a giant hill right in the city centre. Even though I made the crazy decision to go in winter, I had an amazing time and fell completely in love with the city. Here are my top 5 things I’m glad I didn’t miss…

Arthur’s Seat

Obviously this is on everybody’s must-do list for Edinburgh, but it’s for good reason. Visiting in November, I was worried that it would be too wet and muddy to make the climb, but it turned out to be so cold the ground was just frozen solid (oh hurray). I’m so glad we were able to do it though, even if there was ice on top of the hill; it’s such a lovely break from the city and the views from the top are incredible. There’s a lot of contradictory information online about how difficult the climb is but I’m not particularly fit and I didn’t struggle – you do not need special shoes and if you take the direct route you can easily get to the top and back in 2 hours.

Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh

National Museum of Scotland

The National Museum was one of those ‘if-we-have-time/if-it-rains’ back-up plans, and we ended up having a spare hour to kill before we went to catch our train home. We managed to cover the natural history and space floors (fun fact – if a museum has dinosaurs there’s a 95% chance that’s where I’ll be), and I aced all the little interactive games that are supposed to keep kids entertained. Except one where I was supposed to steer a bat and catch moths, that one stumped me. The building itself is as amazing as the things inside it – the central hall is a beautiful vaulted gallery flooded with light.

National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

Calton Hill

Calton Hill is like the historical centre of Edinburgh; the huge complex includes the Nelson Monument, the Dugald Stewart Monument, and the Acropolis-style National Monument.Even with all the tourists around it feels calm compared to the city, and it’s nice to go for a wander along the path circling the hill. There’s also an art gallery and observatory at the top, where I think you can book to go stargazing!

National Monument on Calton Hill, Edinburgh

Camera Obscura

Is this attraction primarily for children? Maybe. But it’s so much fun! I don’t have a science or logic-orientated brain, so optical illusions are basically like magic to me. The highlights have to be the mirror maze and the vortex tunnel – the maze may have been a little easy but the vortex tunnel is seriously trippy. Also, did you know that you’re always being watched in Edinburgh? We had a demonstration of the camera obscura on the roof, and it turns out the guys on the museum are spying on us all…

Mirror Maze at Camera Obscura, Edinburgh

Edinburgh Gin Distillery

This was a fairly last minute find – I heard about the gin distillery and booked it as a surprise for the boyfriend. I can definitely recommend splashing out for the £25 Connoisseur package that gets you a tour, a small bottle of gin liqueur, and a generous tasting session featuring shots of the standard Edinburgh Gin, an extra strength version called Cannonball and three of their gin liqueurs, as well as a bottle of fever tree tonic for mixer. Our guide was really informative and entertaining, and our group had a great time testing out all the gins. The groups are small, so book in advance or risk disappointment!

Edinburgh Gin Distillery tasting, Edinburgh

What are your favourite touristy things to do in Edinburgh? Let me know!

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A Foodie’s Guide to Edinburgh

I recently made my first journey up to Edinburgh, and had a huge revelation. Scotland’s capital is a foodie paradise! I love food, and good tea and coffee, and amazing cocktails, and one of my top priorities when visiting a new city is hunting out all the best places to eat and drink. I scribbled down countless places when I was gathering ideas, barely got to half of them, and found some other gems while I was there that I hadn’t even heard about. Here’s my foodie guide to Edinburgh…

Spoon

If I’d been a student in Edinburgh, this is the kind of place where I would have spent all my spare time (and money). Hidden a floor above street level up a nondescript flight of stairs, Spoon is a haven of peace and quiet serving up delicious breakfasts, cakes and coffees in the kind of retro 70s kitchenware your Grandma used to own. It feels spacious yet cosy, with mismatched tables, chairs and sofas scattered around and thin curtains acting as partitions.

We went for breakfast, and chose a cooked breakfast and porridge with a generous splodge of strawberry jam. Both were lovely and filling, but my highlight was my hot chocolate, made dark and creamy with a deliciously smooth consistency. It was all I could do not to grab a book, order another and spend the whole day on one of their sofas…

Breakfast at Spoon, Edinburgh

Oink

Oink has a basic premise – just really simple, really tasty hog roast sandwiches. There are two shops in Edinburgh centre – we went to the Grassmarket branch for a quick warming lunch on our last day. Choose from three sizes, pick white or brown bread, add a topping of sage & onion stuffing or haggis, and a dressing of apple, bbq or chilli sauce, and you’re good to go! The shop is tiny so avoid the middle of lunchtime if you want a hope of getting a seat, and stop by an ATM on the way; it’s cash only.

Frederick’s Coffee House

Fredericks’s is what I want my living room to look like; the walls are a beautiful shade of blue-green that is perfectly matched to the quirky furniture, and the huge windows looking out onto the street let in tons of light. Framed artwork and chalkboard menus hang on the walls, and by the entrance is a white bar stacked with cakes.

I had porridge with fruit compote and a Japanese Cherry tea (their list of teas is amazing!), and it was one of the most perfectly cooked bowls of porridge I’ve ever had. Creamy and not too thick, the berries mingled in perfectly and was much sweeter than berry compote often is. The cherry on top was the bowl – glass with a bright blue paisley print. So pretty!

Frederick's Coffee House, Edinburgh

The Holyrood 9A

Love beer and burgers? Then you’ll love The Holyrood 9A. Even if you don’t love beer and burgers, you’ll still love the Holyrood 9A.  This bar is the perfect ‘pub with a modern twist’, combining dark wood and leather seating to create a relaxed and homey atmosphere. They specialise in craft beer and have a huge range to choose from, but also have some decent wines; my two glasses of Malbec went down way too easily! We didn’t stay for a meal but many around us were, and the burgers looked incredible. We did nibble on some onion rings and sweet potato fries, and if they’re any indication of the quality of the burgers, we really missed out.

The Hanging Bat

The Hanging Bat is another beer place – any beer fan is going to feel totally frustrated with the lack of insight in this post as I barely drink beer and know next to nothing about it. However the Hanging Bat is worth a stop whether you’re a beer nut or not; they of course stock a wide range of drinks and have a good bbq-themed menu featuring chicken wings, beer mac & cheese and a large list of hotdogs. It’s  a great place for an informal meal; the food came on a tray with everything packaged in cardboard boxes, and you don’t feel guilty eating with your hands and smearing sauce all over your face. They also serve their beer in very cute schooners, wisely engraved with a plea of ‘Please don’t take me, I’m spoken for’.

Food at The Hanging Bat, Edinburgh

Bramble

We only stopped by Bramble briefly for a cocktail, but I left with the feeling that if I was a local it would be one of my regular haunts. It’s hard to spot as it’s underground with no sign; turn right just past Urban Angel and just keep your eyes peeled for a bouncer standing on some stairs by a tailor’s shop.

The cocktail menu is pretty extensive and there are a range of options no mater what your drink of choice is. I chose a Mint 500 – gin, elderflower, apple and lemon juice, mint and basil – and it wouldn’t be exaggerating to say it’s one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had. There’s not a lot of room inside so we ended up standing, otherwise we would probably have stayed longer!

Edinburgh Gin Distillery/Heads & Tales

As a massive gin fan, I couldn’t possibly go to Edinburgh without dropping by their gin distillery. I booked tickets for their Connoisseur tour online a few days before; this package costs £25/person and includes a tour and talk on the history of gin, plus a 5-shot tasting and a small bottle of gin to take hoe. A bargain in my opinion! Our guide was really informative and entertaining, and made the session really fun. The building is hard to find (ignore your smartphone map and just go to the Huxley), but really cool; it’s underground and the tastings are held in cosy brick-lined alcoves. According to our guide, it originally served as the coal store for the house above it.

Gin tasting at Edinburgh Gin Distillery

In the evenings the tour rooms are transformed into a bar called Heads & Tales, where the defining factor is their ‘GIY’ menu where you choose your preferred gin, flavour and glass and allow the bartender to mix you a cocktail based on your selections. I chose Edinburgh gin and rose in a champagne flute and got a prosecco and gin cocktail with a lovely fragrant taste. I also enjoyed a ‘Tea With the Queen’ from their set cocktail menu, with was Earl Grey mixed with Tanqueray and came in a teacup!

Cocktail at Heads and Tales, Edinburgh

Have you been to Edinburgh? Did you love it as much as I did? Share your favourite places in the comments!