Nick celebrated a rather large birthday a few weeks ago (clue: it ended in a zero) and, as he never wants 'things' for presents, we decided that instead we'd go out for a super-fancy dinner. Both of us wanted to go to The Kitchin in Edinburgh and so we decided to make a weekend of it, as the city was somewhere we'd always wanted to visit. We had a really lovely few days up there and are already planning a trip back for the festival. So without further ado, here's what we got up to...

View from Caxton Hill looking out over the city with the castle in the distance
Top of the list is Edinburgh Castle, especially if you're a fellow history nerd. The free guided tours are great to give you a quick overview but then I'd highly encourage you to go for a wander; you'll need at least half a day to see it all. Top sights for me are the Honours of Scotland (Scotland's Crown Jewels, in a room also housing the Stone of Destiny that Scottish kings put their feet on during their coronation ceremonies), the Great Hall with its stunning ceiling and the Prisons of War exhibition, where the haunting stories of former dungeon residents echo around you. Then I'd head down the Royal Mile to Greyfriars Kirk and grab a photo with the statue of Greyfriars Bobby, the Skye terrier who sat by his master's grave for years.

Edinburgh Castle Portcullis Gate (with added Nick waiting for me to take the picture!)
The view over the city from the castle ramparts
We also really liked the National Museum of Scotland - it's like a mash-up of all the best bits of the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the British Museum, which are three of my favourite places to visit. Start from the new wing basement in the Early People gallery and head up through the first two levels of Kingdom of the Scots, then cross over to the Grand Gallery and keep going until you reach the top. I'd definitely recommend checking out Dolly the sheep in the science section, the enormous hall of animals (go on the weight machine!), the Lewis Chessmen and the view from the roof terrace - not for those who like heights but utterly breathtaking.

Hall of animals at the National Museum of Scotland.
Dolly the sheep.
Edinburgh also has some great galleries if you're into art - my favourites were the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (which had a really good self-portrait exhibition on when we were there) and the Scottish National Gallery on Princes Street. I particularly loved the Great Hall at the entrance to the Portrait Gallery and the section on Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite rebellion, which gave me a great insight into a part of Scottish history I didn't know much about. The National Gallery also backs onto Princes Street Gardens which are a lovely place to sit out in and enjoy your lunch if the weather's good (which thankfully it was!)

Sir Chris Hoy's gold postbox from the 2012 Olympics on the Royal Mile
Finally, if you want something more outdoorsy then I'd recommend an early morning walk up Caxton Hill for some great views over the city. You can climb Arthur's Seat in Holyrood Park as well but it's much higher than Caxton Hill and I felt that the view from Caxton Hill was good enough without needing to schlep up to the top of Arthur's Seat! And of course don't forget to take advantage of your chance to see the pandas at Edinburgh Zoo; they weren't particularly active when we were there but still worth a visit. The daily penguin parade is also a lot of fun to watch.

Edinburgh Zoo penguin parade
My tips for all the attractions: get there early, book in advance (particularly for the castle and the pandas) where possible, and pick three main things you want to see in each place. That way you'll get a pretty good overview of everything but also have a bit more time to explore.


Sunshine on Leith on our way to The Kitchin for dinner
There are a ton of nice places to eat in Edinburgh and wherever you go you won't be disappointed, so it really depends on your budget and what you want. We had Nick's super-mega birthday blowout at The Kitchin in Leith; it is not cheap by any means (for equally good food at a far less bank-breaking price, go their pub The Scran & Scallie in Stockbridge) but the food is amazing and there are lots of great little touches. Get the seasonal tasting menu with the matched wines and settle in for a meal you won't forget in a hurry. My favourites were the gooseberry soufflé and the shrimps nestled in a ring of ice and seaweed.

For something a bit more budget-friendly, I'd recommend The Dogs on Hanover Street for a relaxed lunch or dinner of posh comfort food (the pork belly is excellent and comes in possibly the best gravy I've had in my life), and nearby Urban Angel for a relaxed weekend brunch. Café Marlayne on Thistle Street is great for a date night - really affordable and delicious French bistro food with décor straight out of your eccentric nanna's front room (think jungle-print wallpaper). Finally, try Valvona & Crolla for a hot chocolate after a morning's shopping at nearby Harvey Nichols, and for the best ice cream in the city, head to the Grassmarket and pay a visit to Mary's Milk Bar.

Amazing pre-dinner cocktails at The Kitchin,
By far and away my favourite bar was the quirky Roseleaf in Leith, which is all cocktails in teapots (get the Breakfast Club) and cosy dark woods. If cocktails aren't your thing, try Teuchters Landing pub round the corner. For a posh drink, Juniper on Princes Street is lovely and has some wonderful views over the city - it also confirmed that gin and rose lemonade is a thing of deliciousness and wonder - and hole-in-the-wall cocktail bar Bramble made for an excellent nightcap after our visit to Café Marlayne.

If you want a 'proper' pub, the Oxford Bar in the New Town is excellent; apparently this is where Ian Rankin drinks! I also couldn't resist popping into the Cumberland Bar which features in the 44 Scotland Street series. For those who like whisky, try the Old Town - Nick liked both the Bow Bar and Whiski Rooms.

Misty atmospheric view over the hills from the zoo
Well it wouldn't be me if I didn't recommend an Edinburgh reading list now would it?

44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith: Series of books told in serial format and set in Edinburgh's New Town, following a varied cast of characters. I particularly love Bertie, the six-year-old who's rebelling against his unconventional mum Irene.
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott: Scott is everywhere in Edinburgh - there's even a whopping great monument to him in the middle of Princes Street - so it only seems right to throw in his medieval romantic epic.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by JK Rowling: OK, it's not set in Edinburgh, but given that most of the first Harry Potter book was written in various Edinburgh cafés then I had to include it in an Edinburgh reading list.
The Falls by Ian Rankin: Rankin's Rebus is the definitive Edinburgh detective. The Falls, the twelfth novel he appears in, revolves in part around the Arthur's Seat coffins (which you can see for yourself in the National Museum of Scotland)

The view up the Royal Mile to the castle.
Have you been to Edinburgh? Where were your favourite places?

1 comment:

  1. I love Edinburgh but shockingly since moving up north I've only been the once, little daft when it's only an hour up the train track!