Scotland’s capital city is a special thing to behold. While you can find inspiration in lots of contemporary buzzing metropolises around the world, there’s just something magical about a city with a castle looming over it; it makes you feel like you’re involved in something important. And it wears its history well: while the medieval and Reformation-era Old Town and the Georgia New Town are both UNESCO World Heritage sites, Edinburgh is very much alive, with a vibrant student culture, arts and theater scene, and lots of fantastic bars and restaurants.
|Where to Stay
We’ve always found that some of best places to stay in European cities are in rented apartments, and that certainly holds true in Edinburgh, where you can nab beautiful apartments for less than the cost of a hotel room. That said, if you want to have your bed made in Edinburgh there are some excellent hotels. For Old World luxury right on North Bridge, The Scotsman is an excellent choice. It’s housed in former offices of the eponymous newspaper and has one of the sexiest indoor pools we’ve seen. The Balmoral is roughly in the same league. If you’re looking for lateral shift toward something more trendy, both The Bonham (sister hotel to Blythswood Square in Glasgow) and The Rutland are good options. The Sheraton is also centrally located and has spacious rooms in addition to an extensive gin selection at the bar and great views of the castle from the rooms — a very good option for business travel.
|Where to Eat
Eating in Edinburgh is like eating in most cities you might describe as cosmopolitan, which is to stay you can find a lot of food that’s pretty similar to what you’d get in New York or London — though our take is that it’s more of a gamble here, so it’s a good idea to choose wisely. Two places we can get behind are Timberyard and Field; both are focused on local and seasonal ingredients. At Timberyard you’ll dine in a warehouse dating back to the 19th century; at Field, it’s a tiny little romantic spot by the University of Edinburgh. Edinburgh has a lot of great nooks and neighborhoods with more traditional (and very good) restaurants, like Hamilton’s and Scran and Scallie, both in Stockbridge. Leith, which is the the port of Edinburgh and is connected to the city by Leith Walk, is considered a sort of up-and-coming neighborhood; we found evidence at The Flying Dog, where you can get massive, delicious hot dogs on locally baked buns covered in chili and cheese, plus a good beer list (though it’s nothing you can’t drink locally in California or New York — the best beer in the city is found at The Hanging Bat just south of the castle). There’s something for every drinker in EDI. If you want to join university kids drinking beer from glass boots or tall beakers, head to Cowgate/Grassmarket and go in any door. Our suggestion pub-wise is to head toward Leith and stop in at The King’s Wark or Noble’s, or, in the city center, Bow Bar. If you plan to drop roots and stay a while you can join the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, which does its own bottlings for members (and also has a restaurant for non-members). Right nearby, the best cocktail bar in the city is Bramble, hidden beneath Queen Street, which gets a great crowd and serves superb cocktails without the sticker shock you’d expect — one of our favorite cocktail bars in any city.
|What to Do
Edinburgh is a perfectly sized city for exploring on foot or bike because almost everything is within 20 or 30 minutes. If you’re inclined toward a morning run, follow the Water of Leith north to the Royal Botanic Garden and Inverleith Park. It’s a good idea to take some time walking in the Old Town and the New Town. The Old Town is the medieval part of the city anchored by the touristy but visit-worthy Royal Mile, which if you follow it will take you to the Scottish Parliament building and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Right next door is a superb morning hike in Holyrood Park and up to Arthur’s Seat, where you can dangle your feet over a cliff and see the entire city and out over the port of Leith. The New Town is more commercial, but the Georgian architecture is quite beautiful, and you’ll find some good shopping as well as important cultural centers like the Scottish National Gallery and the Royal Scottish Academy. Finally, get out and see some rugby at Murrayfield in the city’s west end.
Given the time, explore beyond the typical tourist destinations in central Edinburgh, including the port of Leith and, if you have a car, the Kingdom of Fife (located between the Firth of Tay and the Firth of Forth), a peninsula that’s home to many historic buildings and villages, including castles, palaces and the singular Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. Bring your sticks.