My first trip to Edinburgh in 2008 was grim. The weather completely thwarted anything we could see of Edinburgh without the general commentary of “wow it’s cold”, “my, the wind is both brisk and freezing” and “raindrops on my eyelids, I can’t feel my ears, where’s the closest pub?” Sure we had fun – we gallivanted down the Royal Mile having whiskey style pub crawls racking up a right old tourist bill. Then we ventured to the tried and tested Edinburgh tourist feature – the Edinburgh Castle. Apparently it’s great when it’s not baltic and foggy, both of which slightly ruined the wonderful view you’re meant to get from the top of the castle.
Fast forward to 2012. Same cousin visits Edinburgh again, having (for some reason) fallen in love with the city those five years ago. I join her for a five day visit armed with some recommendations from a colleague who lived there for over ten years. He assures me that there are many places worth checking out – I’m dubious at first, but open minded and eager to discover what the city has to offer.
Much surprise. I love Edinburgh. A city of outstanding beauty, tiring staircases bound to keep you fit whilst you navigate the city and lots (and I mean lots and lots) of really amazing places to eat and drink. Here’s what we got up to:
Day 1: Arrive and gawp at Edinburgh in the sunshine. The castle is quite majestic in the sunlight, and we get the privilege of seeing this view in the early morning as the sun rises and as the light descends on those long Autumnal days…
Dinner on our first night was the Elephant Cafe – our original choice was stricken by a freak power cut and couldn’t cook anything. So, a tourist trap famed for coffee (but not for food) and the ‘birthplace of Harry Potter’ lived up to its reputation. Dinner was mediocre to bad (gristly bits in the burger) whilst the coffee was manageable. Highlight of the night was the amusing Harry Potter fan graffiti all over the ladies toilets. Couldn’t help sneaking back in to take some phone pics.
Day 2: Blazing sunshine over Edinburgh – another miracle. Walk around the city and visit Calton Hill. Walk around the half finished National Monument and wonder how we missed this area completely in the last trip – great views over the city.
We start our wander into New Town – grab some coffee at Artisan Roast that left us both buzzing and head towards Stockbridge – a place recommended as a generally nice place with a large number of charity shops. Excellent. I love charity shops for second hand books. TripAdvisor recommends and sends us to a restaurant that is only open in the evening in Stockbridge, but we find another around the corner that is open for lunch – Cafe Fish.
Sublime tapas style seafood tides us over for a walk around New Town, and finally without wanting to encroach upon Day 3′s itinerary but ending our tour of New Town rather early, we wind up at Under the Stairs for a couple of rounds of cocktails at 4pm. (hey, it’s a holiday!). Their pumpkin pie cocktail (courvoisier, pumpkin butter, maple syrup, gran marnier, lemon, vanilla sugar, nutmeg) was particularly delicious and the cocktail menu unusual but the whole place smelled rather foisty.
We also managed dinner at The Outsider (the place short of electricity the night before) where we caught the remnants of a sunset over Edinburgh castle and I enjoyed a drunken choice of Pork Belly with Scallops which was fatty, but tasty.
Day 3: More sunshine over Edinburgh. I think this is some sort of local record for October. We climb Arthur’s Seat the wrong way round (or at least it felt like it), and tackle some steep hills up before descending down the route where we passed groups of people casually walking up where we just came down.
Day 3 was also Edinburgh Food Tour day – we were the only bookings that day and had a tour 6 different venues in Edinburgh, eating and drinking from 1pm to 4pm. In hindsight, it would have been advisable not to have lunch, but having been ravenous after walking and climbing Arthur’s Seat, we did have lunch, and much regretted it afterwards.
The food tour started at Hotel Du Vin where we tasted some deep fried oat rolled herring with history of the hotel. From then on, we tasted various wines, nibbles, meats and even dessert. The highlight was definitely visiting the Scottish Malt Whiskey Society for some single cask whiskey and haggis in a teacup. I was too full to eat more than a few spoonfuls of the haggis, but they were both delicious. I would thoroughly recommend the food tour for anyone new to Edinburgh – it was a great tour of both Edinburgh history and food.
Day 4: Weather forecasted to be cloudy and rainy. It was a lot gloomier, but we weren’t planning to be in Edinburgh anyway. We took a 20 minute train journey out to North Berwick, a small coastal town. We walked on the beach then found The Grange for a lunch of rope grown mussels and sweet potato chips. Yum.
Day 5: Another day trip out of Edinburgh – this time towards the Scottish borders. Now – it’s a long journey each way, and perhaps not one anyone would enjoy in particular unless you had your own car and plenty of time, but yes – it was worth the 2.5 hour bus journey in the end. We visited Melrose, site of the ancient Melrose Abbey. One of the largest and undoubtedly prettiest ruined abbeys I’ve seen in this country, I think that by the time I climbed the steep narrow staircases up to the top of the abbey, I was pretty much convinced that the biting cold winds and long bus journey was worth the trouble.
Being Friday night, on our way back to Edinburgh, we debated more cocktails Under the Stairs but having consulted my notes at the last minute, we found the brilliant Divino Enoteca just next door instead. Feeling like we’d just stepped into a bit of Italy, the menu also boasted of an excellent wine tasting option. We opted for a “Combi Wine Flight” – 25 mils of 3 reds and 3 whites as well as a dish of Italian ham and breads. What can I say – both were ridiculously good value and there was at least 2 wines we both agreed would be worth seeking out after the tastings.
All in all – there wasn’t much not to like about Edinburgh. The food was good, the people friendly and the city – well it’s worth visiting the second time round, if only to see it in it’s full glory in the sunshine and explore its restaurants and bars. There may yet be a round three…