Where to Eat, Sleep, and Play in Edinburgh, Scotland
Scotland's compact, hilly capital is a treat for all types of travelers. From medieval Old Town and neoclassical New Town to the landmarks of the Royal Mile and boutiques along Princes Street, the city is begging to be explored. JS contributor Chelsea Stuart delves into the iconic pubs, decadent tea rooms, majestic castles, and intimate hotels you don't want to miss.
A Brooklyn-based writer and editor, Chelsea's work has appeared in Matador Network, The Huffington Post, the TripAdvisor blog, and more. When not planning her next trip, you'll usually find her drinking way too much iced coffee (always iced—she’s from New England) or bingeing a Netflix original series.
Cannonball Restaurant & Bar
Cannonball may be managed by an Italian restaurant group, but the spot’s origin story is as Scottish as the Loch Ness Monster. At the very top of the Royal Mile (one of the city’s main thoroughfares)—just before you hit Edinburgh Castle—the three-story restaurant and whisky bar is named for a gunshot lodged in its wall—one that was rumored to have been shot during the Jacobite Rebellion in 1745. But since its early 17th-century construction, the building has served as the home of Edinburgh Castle’s keeper, a tenement house, primary school, Scottish parliament office, and practice space for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Now, the modernized eatery (think tasteful tartan and globe pendant lighting) serves up traditional Scottish dishes and spirits like dry aged Scottish Highland beef, haggis with pickled turnip, and more than 120 malt whiskies.
The Palm Court at The Balmoral Hotel
Look for the sky-high clock tower looming over Princes Street and you’ll know you’ve found The Balmoral. A beloved stalwart on Edinburgh’s hilly landscape, the hotel offers Michelin-starred dining at Number One and the city’s best (read: award-winning) afternoon tea at the Palm Court. Give yourself a couple hours to indulge; after taking in the court’s soaring glass dome ceiling, Venetian chandelier, exotic palms, Calton Hill-themed wallpaper, and balcony-perched harpist, you’ll need time to sip vintage champagne, nibble on delicate finger sandwiches, ornate petit fours, and fresh-baked scones with clotted cream and jam, and, of course, sip on your choice of loose leaf tea.
In the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, this upscale seafood joint honors the city’s rich fishing heritage by serving up shellfish straight from Scotland’s eastern coast. Just don’t come expecting an entirely native menu, as you’ll find fusion dishes like Shetland mussels cooked in an Asian broth of fermented ginger, black bean, and coriander, and razor clams with Iberico chorizo and Sicilian lemons. Don’t fret the wait after you order, either. Before your dish even arrives, the dining room serves up a feast for the eyes with panoramic views of the neighborhood.
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The Glasshouse, Autograph Collection
Gothic architecture and modern design collide at The Glasshouse—a 160-year-old converted-church-cum-boutique-hotel just off the Royal Mile and Princes Street. The property’s central location means attractions like St. Giles’ Cathedral and Palace of Holyroodhouse are within walking distance, but don’t forget to spend a little time onsite—be it at the two-acre rooftop garden which overlooks Calton Hill, or grabbing a nightcap at the Snug, a bar and lounge situated around an open fire.
If you’re interested in a luxe, intimate experience, look to Nira Caledonia, a Georgian townhouse situated in the center of Edinburgh’s New Town. The boutique’s uniquely designed rooms and suites combine classic and cosmopolitan features with high ceilings, soaring twin windows, ornate cornices, flower-boxed windows, goose down pillows, and more. When you’re ready to get out an explore, you’re just a 10-minute walk—downhill—from the shops, gardens, and pedestrian walkways of Princes Street.
Radisson Collection Hotel, The Royal Mile
Situated between George IV Bridge and Victoria Street—and Old and New Towns—this recently refurbished boutique is the only five-star hotel on the Royal Mile. Sophisticated yet trendy rooms (think: bespoke fabrics, smart walk-in rain showers, and skyline views) come in ‘Petite,’ ‘Signature,’ and ‘Deluxe,’ while eclectic suites were specially designed by Scottish artists and fashion and textile designers. Though you’ll find lots of bold colors and avant garde artwork, the hotel does nod to its Scottish locale—just take a look at the tweed-kilted doormen.
The Devil’s Advocate
Tucked away in a Victorian pump house along Old Town’s narrow Advocates Close (one of many Royal Mile alleyways), this bar and kitchen serves up more than 400 types of whisky—both Scottish and international—and elevated dishes. The atmospheric Bon Vivant Group bar is all brick walls, wooden beans, and soft lighting, and though it may be lauded for its whisky, award-winning bartenders are also able to whip up mean cocktails like High Tea in Hong Kong (green tea gin, sustainable lemon oleo, and hopped grapefruit bitters).
Scotland may be famous for its whisky, but over the last couple of years, gin has gone through something of a renaissance with producers popping up all over the country. Since 2010, Edinburgh Gin, a progressive small-batch distiller, has been operating out of central Edinburgh and nearby Leith. Drop by their atmospheric West End locale to go on a gin making tour where you’ll learn all about the distilling process and—with the aid of an Edinburgh Gin distiller—use a miniature copper still and an array of aromatics and botanicals to concoct your own bespoke spirit.
The Sheep Heid Inn
In the heart of the city, this charming watering hole is one of Edinburgh’s oldest. A favorite among past monarchs and poets, the historic spot peddles classic cocktails, craft beers and ciders, soda-based ‘softails,’ and elevated dishes well beyond your typical pub grub (see: salt and szechuan pepper squid and caramelized fig and whipped goat’s curd pizza). Drop by during the warmer months and you’ll find the bar’s outdoor area transforms into a lively beer garden.
Palace of Holyroodhouse
Located at the end of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, this Baroque palace has been the official residence of the Kings and Queens of Scots and the British monarchy (when visiting Scotland) since the 16th century. Today, visitors can tour the state apartments, gardens, galleries, and throne rooms which once served Mary, Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie, and continues to welcome Queen Elizabeth II for all of her royal visits to Edinburgh.
No trip to Edinburgh is complete without a visit to the city’s eponymous castle. The historic fortress looks out over all of Edinburgh from its perch atop Castle Rock—at the very top of the Royal Mile. Since its construction in the 12th century, the medieval stronghold has been one of the most important buildings in Scotland, serving as a royal residence, military barracks, and garrison. While you should take time to tour St. Margaret’s Chapel, David’s Tower, James VI’s birth chamber, and the royal apartments, don’t miss out on the (tear-jerking) dog cemetery which honors the British Army’s regimental mascots.
Royal Yacht Britannia
For more than 40 years, the Royal Yacht Britannia served as the Queen’s royal floating residence, chauffeuring her and her family all around the world, traveling more than one million nautical miles before being decommissioned in 1997. Now berthed in Edinburgh, visitors are welcome to explore the yacht’s state apartments and royal bedrooms, crew’s quarters, engine rooms, and more.
It’s not often you find hiking trails in the middle of a city, and atop an extinct volcano, no less—but Edinburgh isn’t your average city. The grassy slopes and walking trails of Arthur’s Seat—the main peak in 640-acre Holyrood Park—can be accessed from nearly any direction. Climb to the top for panoramic views of Edinburgh’s skyline and nearby Duddingston Loch.
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