Last weekend I visited Edinburgh with my brother, for a fleeting one night stay that almost certainly could have been longer. I rather fell in love with its winding cobbled streets, charming pubs and the Castle that towers atop the city (on an extinct volcano no less) at the end of the Royal Mile.
We stayed in this Air BnB apartment in Leith, which is an area to the north of Edinburgh with its own selection of great restaurants, pubs and things to see. In fact, Leith has some of the best food in Edinburgh, from Michelin starred restaurants to artisan bakeries. Our Air BnB was lovely – it had two bedrooms and a comfy lounge, as well as lots of retro styling. I did consider staying in the centre of Edinburgh but it was a little bit expensive so this was a great alternative option, especially with lots of eateries within walking distance. I’ve bookmarked Chophouse, Origano and Ostara to come back to next time I’m in Leith – Newhaven Harbour is also really pretty.
We only stopped to drop our bags at the Air BnB before getting an Uber into the centre of Edinburgh (it cost about £6). The first thing we did was to walk along the Royal Mile up to the Castle. The Royal Mile is the stretch of road the connects the castle to the Queen’s Scottish residence, Holyrood Palace. It’s full of hidden gems, from secret alleyways, to street vendors, to stunning architecture. Of course, Edinburgh Castle is a must visit – there’s a daily firing of the cannons at 1pm, multiple exhibitions, and the Scottish Crown Jewels. There were quite long queues for admission so they do recommend buying tickets in advance – we didn’t do this, and it was such a windy day that we nearly got blown off the top of ‘Castle Rock’. I didn’t get any amazing photos of the castle due to the weather – another reason to come back another day!
We also spent some time wandering around the ‘old town’ – through Victoria Street and the Grassmarket. Victoria Street has the iconic coloured shops and restaurants you might have seen on any self-respecting Edinburgh visitor’s instagram feed! Its curving cobbled streets are home to myriad shops and restaurants, including Diagon House – a Harry Potter shop situated here as Victoria Street is said to be the inspiration for the famous Diagon Alley. There’s also a bookshop, cheesemongers, and the Aha Ha Ha joke shop, another Edinburgh institution.
Grassmarket is another area in the city centre that’s bustling with independent shops and restaurants – there is also a Farmer’s Market on a Saturday. We stopped in several pubs along the Grassmarket, including the White Hart Inn, which is said to be Edinburgh’s most haunted pub! It has quite the rich history and has hosted some historical figures, such as Robert Burns, and the infamous murderers, Burke and Hare.
We also took a long walk along Princes Street – Edinburgh’s main shopping area, with shops such as Anthropologie, Zara and an Apple Store. Princes Street runs parallel to the pretty Gardens, which has multiple statues and monuments, as well as the market at Christmas. Behind Princes Street is Rose Street, which we ambled down in search of some lunch! In the end we settled on the Usquabae Whisky Bar and Larder and had some rather yummy brisket rolls.
After lunch we went for a drink at The Printing Press on George Street, which is definitely a must visit for seasonal food or cocktails. In the 1780s, the Printing Press was home to the author Susan Ferrier, and in the 1840s it was transformed into a renowned publishing house. The restaurant has retained the ‘publishing’ theme – with bookish wallpaper and literary ornaments dotted around (it is also incredibly stylish yet very well-priced).
Probably the best thing that we did as part of our flying visit to Edinburgh was the City of the Dead Underground City Tour, and it was AWESOME. Edinburgh has a series of chambers or vaults that lie underneath the city, through the nineteen arches of the South Bridge. The vaults were constructed in 1788, and although originally the chambers were used by tradesmen, eventually the damp moved them out, and the ‘underground city’ became a hotspot for criminal activity and ‘undesirables’. Of course, an area which was said to be a hotspot for criminals and prisoners, as well as some of the city’s poorest families, means that there are some dark, and sad tales of goings-on within those walls. (As well as the rumours that the ‘body-snatchers’ Burke and Hare used these alleyways to transport corpses). The so called ‘Damnation Alley’ is the main focus of the Underground City Tour, which took us through the most haunted section of the South Bridge Vaults. Our tour guide was amazing, generating just the right amount of spooky intrigue, and finishing with a spine-tingling ghost story told in the darkest chamber (after everyone was made to turn out their torches, and the candle was blown out!).
We finished with dinner at cocktails at Dishoom – whilst Dishoom is obviously a chain with restaurants in London and Manchester, I’d never visited one before and I’d massively recommend it if you are near one (wherever you might be!) We had cocktails in the basement bar whilst we waited for the table, and then we both ordered the Chef’s Special, the Salli Boti. We also both had to order raiti because we are massive spice wusses! It was delicious, I’m desperate to go again (I also hear that their bacon naan rolls at breakfast are to die for).
Have you visited Edinburgh? Where must I go when I go back? (I’m desperate to come back for the Fringe Festival in August!)