This week I headed up to one of my favourite cities for a whistle stop tour. I was working in collaboration with Hotels.com to show you what to see/eat/drink around the fabulous city of Edinburgh. There is so much to see and do in the Burgh it can seem overwhelming, especially when you’ve got limited time but want to do EVERYTHING! As well as staying in one of the most fabulous Hotels in Edinburgh my itinerary included eating at some of the hottest additions to the local foodie scene, drinking plenty of whisky (maybe a bit too much, ha!) all while seeing the best bits of this ancient city. So, if you’re visiting soon and looking for an Edinburgh itinerary that maximises your time there, look no further!
Disclaimer: The spending money was gifted by Hotels.com, but all views are my own.
“Free” walking tour
Straight off the train at Waverley station I headed up to the Royal Mile via Advocates Close, one of the narrow little alley ways in the Old Town. Closes are always worth exploring, as you never know what you might stumble across. This one has a bar/restaurant called Devil’s Advocate, a hotel, hostel and flats, but you’d never know just looking at it from the main street! Once onto the Royal Mile (also known as High Street) I found my meeting point for the walking tour, outside the Royal McGregor pub. You can’t really miss the tour guides as they are holding huge bright yellow umbrellas!
We were split in to English and Spanish speakers and taken on a 2-hour tour of all the Old Town Highlights. Our tour guide was brilliant and so entertaining, even as someone who’s been to Edinburgh loads of times I found it fascinating. There are so many weird and gruesome tales (some real/some folk lore) that centre around the old town that it was more like a story telling tour. We ended the tour at Grey Friars kirkyard and then tipped the tour guide. The tour is free to book, but it’s really a pay what you feel tour. Average tips seemed to be £5-£10 per person. This is the perfect way to kick off any Edinburgh itinerary to get a feel for the city, plus your guide can offer loads of helpful advice for the rest of your trip. City Explorers do 3 tours a day: 10am, 11am and 1pm.
2 Hours of walking (but mainly standing) around the Old Town I was frozen! It may well be spring, but it may as well have been the middle of winter, this is Scotland after all! Needing something to warm me up I headed to Zebra Café for a pot of tea and a sweet treat. It’s a tiny little cosy place, just off the Mile and heading towards the mound. The window is full of incredible looking brownies, but I opted for the pancakes with lashings of maple syrup. Yum!
Caffeinated and full of pancakes it was time to head over to my hotel, The Kimpton on George Street. This is by far my favourite hotel in Edinburgh, hipster cool mixed with traditional Scottish designs. They just do everything right, all the small details like having a complimentary tuck box in your room full of local snacks, proper filter coffee and milk, powerful shower with luxurious toiletries and fluffy robes and an amazing room service menu.
Another fabulous feature of the Kimpton is the spa and gym which is free to guests, but is also open to the public for a fee. You can book treatments etc, however I was just looking to get warmed through after being outside for a few hours and relax a little in the pool and sauna before heading out for the night. Again, they have fluffy robes, towels and gorgeous toiletries available in the spa for you to use.
Brucie bonus of being a guest at The Kimpton is the complimentary wine and snacks in their Moroccan themed bar between 5-6pm every night. They do this at every Kimpton hotel with the idea that you get chatting to fellow guests, however the staff are also lovely and I sat chatting away to one of the managers for an hour while glugging on some very nice FREE wine. Which, let’s face it, is the best kind of wine. Right?!
What do you mean you don’t think of tequila and tacos when you think of Scotland?? Edinburgh has some incredible places to eat of all varieties, it’s not all haggis and shortbread. Plus, I have it on good authority from friends who live in Edinburgh that this is the hottest place in town right now. El Cartel on Thistle Street is a tiny place that really packs a punch, it’s heaven for someone like me who has a worrying addiction to hot sauces, as they have a caddy full of spicy sauces on each table to add to your tacos/quesadillas/wings etc.
The waiter explained to us the menu is a like Mexican tapas, pick 2-3 dishes per person and they just come when they’re ready. Every mouthful we had was incredible and of course we had to try out their famous frozen margaritas. They do 4 different flavours, which change regularly. I opted for original and my BF had blood orange: they were tangy, sweet, salty with a good kick of booze a perfect accompaniment to the spicy food.
No Edinburgh itinerary would be complete without experiencing some traditional music in a proper pub. Swanky cocktails are all well and good, but you’ve gotta have a pint or a dram in an old school pub. The Thistle Street Bar opposite El Cartel fits the bill perfectly as they have traditional Scots/Irish music every night. It’s not really touristy like a lot of places can be in Edinburgh and it’s small enough that you’ll get chatting to people in no time.
This is the point where most people say “oooh I’ve had a long day, I’ll head back to my hotel for an early night”, well that’s not really my style. If you’ve only got 24hrs in Edinburgh you need to eek out as many experiences as possible and Tiger Lily on George Street is an amazing place to party and a perfect place to snap those instagrams. They’ve got the lot: flower walls, neon signs, marble tables and pretty cocktails.
Have you even been to Edinburgh if you haven’t belted out “Living on a prayer” at 1am with a hundred other people at one of the cities famous piano bars? The Rat Pack on Shandwick Place is just a stones throw from our hotel on Charlotte Square so we went for this one over the probably slightly better-known Fingers on Frederick Street. We actually didn’t stay crazy late this night, but during the fringe festival it’s open until 5am and is usually the sign of a very messy night!
By morning I was seriously in need of something to soak up the combo of Wine, margaritas and whisky before embarking on another day of sight-seeing so I headed to Papii a little café on Hanover street for some yummy Eggs Royale and a seriously good flat white. They do all sorts in there though, including lots of lunch options. Their waffles look seriously good though, massive with loads of Nutella and strawberries, if I wasn’t feeling so errr..”tired” I probably would have gone for them, but eggs were definitely a better option on this particular morning!
Fed and watered I was now ready to tackle the rest of my Edinburgh itinerary. I walked up Hanover Street on to Princes’ Street. From Here you could go to the Scottish National Gallery, climb the Scott Monument or wander through the gorgeous Princes’ Street gardens. There’s usually loads going on in this area especially during the Festivals and Christmas/Hogmanay, which I wrote a guide to here, but this day I opted to just head on up the mound. Top tip, you can get some great shots of The Scott Monument and Princes’ Street from the terrace outside of The Mound Museum.
From here I carried on to the Royal Mile, turning right and headed up to the castle. Surprisingly on our walking tour the day before we didn’t go up as far as the castle, but it’s definitely worth going all the way up even if you don’t want to go inside because the views are out of this world! You can see the entire city from up there, including Arthurs Seat, Calton Hill and over the Firth of Forth, stunning. If you are going to go inside the castle I recommend buying your tickets online in advance because the queues can be horrendous.
Just down from the castle is The Scotch Whisky Experience, a cross between a museum and theme park of Scottish whisky. But far from a dry experience of reading about how whisky is produced this is an interactive tour that takes you all over Scotland through sights, smells and tastes in just an hour.
Included in the basic tour (£16) you get a dram of your choice (or Irn Bru), which you drink in a room with the largest collection of unopened whiskies in the world, and you even get to keep your glass! I’ve been on a few distillery tours and this is by far the most interesting one I’ve been on. If you haven’t done it before this has to be included in your Edinburgh itinerary.
After all that walking and whisky it was time for some lunch. And seeing as my 24(ish) hours in Edinburgh was coming to an end I had to have some Haggis, it’s just got to be done. There are loads of eateries all along the mile: everything from fine dining at the Witchery to fish and chips at The Clam. However, I decided to head to the very bottom of the Royal Mile, away from the crowds, into No1 High Street, a pub serving traditional pub fare. I went for the Cullen Skink (haddock chowder) and a Highland burger, which is a beef burger with haggis.
I absolutely love haggis, but if you’ve never tried it before this is a good way of doing it, if it’s really not your thing you could always scrape it out. I loved both dishes though, good honest pub grub with no frills. And also, conveniently located for my final stop on my Edinburgh itinerary…
Last stop before home was John Knox’s house which is just a few doors up from where I had lunch. It’s one of the oldest houses in Edinburgh having been built in the 15thcentury and home to the leader of the Reformation in Scotland. If you loved the movie Mary Queen of Scots, with Margot Robbie and Saoirse Ronan as much as I did then you’ll find the history of this house fascinating.
At this point, if you keep up with my 24(ish) hour Edinburgh itinerary you’ll be well and truly knackered, I certainly was. I think it actually ended up being 27hrs from getting off the train to getting back on a train to head home. You could easily cut a couple of things from my Edinburgh itinerary if you only have 24hrs or slow it down and it will easily fill a weekend break. Although I arrived by train, if you’re flying in/out the Airport bus and the tram both pick up from Waverley, so if you have a little time to kill I can recommend a cuppa at Mimi’s Bake House on Market Street.
They also have an alcohol license if you can hack more booze, plus they do loads of yummy cakes.