Scotland is the home of sensational shortbread, breathtakingly beautiful scenery, Tunnocks Teacakes, myths of sea creatures, Irn Bru, kilts, haggis and last but not least, battered Mars Bars. As you may be able to guess from the title of this post, I’ve recently visited Edinburgh. In fact, I flew back just last weekend so my festive eating started a whole week early; what a shame! Now, I know it’s almost the end of 2016 so won’t bore you with the ins and outs of my trip but what I will do is let you know some of the things I now class as a must-do when in the city.
Where to stay
Well, I wouldn’t exactly recommend our hotel but the location was superb for the exploring that we wanted to do. The Old Town is a few minutes away from the castle, St Giles’ Cathedral, the National Museum, Surgeons’ Hall, the Royal Mile and the busy Princes Street. If you’re in the city for a shopping break then I’d definitely look for a boutique hotel near Princes Street, that way you can roll out of bed and head straight to the shops.
Edinburgh Old Town by day.
What to do
We managed to pack quite a bit into our weekend but again, it all depends where your interests lie as to what you’d class as fun. M and I are both a little nerdy so made sure we did some museums and haven’t stopped telling people about them since. We walked all the way up to the Castle from Princes Street so it sure was a steep walk but absolutely worth it. The castle isn’t very big but if you’re anything like me then you’ll love it. There’s something about castles that gives me that warm fuzzy feeling and it’s crazy thinking about what would’ve been happening inside many, many years ago. Don’t expect anything other than messy hair whilst you’re there though, it did get very windy but you can look out over the whole city.
The Royal Mile is the long cobbled street that runs all the way up to the castle. I would say be careful eating or drinking anywhere on the main stretch itself if you’re on a budget. Naturally, these places are calling out for all tourists to take a break and more often than not, charge a small fortune for it. We were lucky enough to hear many men playing the bagpipe though, so truly felt like we were in Scotland. This mile runs directly down to Holyrood Palace.
Just off the Royal Mile is St Giles’ Cathederal so you don’t have to go far to see that too. I love looking at cathederals and taking in their beauty and this one in particular has a somewhat gothic look to it with its dark grey exterior. It’s now the main place of worship for the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh and dedicated to St Giles, the patron saint of Edinburgh.
The next thing I’d urge you to visit is the National Museum of Scotland. It is an absolutely outstanding museum with everything there to keep both children and adults occupied. Not only is the inside absolutely beautiful but the combination of the progression of technology to the planet and world culture leaves little to the imagination. You can learn new things about animals, see the planets and stars, find out what different cultures around the world wear and why as well as touching the different fabrics to see why they are used. I was in awe of how colourful everything was and did leave there feeling like I’d learnt a lot.
Make sure you donate when picking up a map! A lot of museums are free to visitors so the only way they can continue being fantastic, to showcase such beautiful displays and impart so much knowledge to people like us is by saying thanks in the form of a few £’s.
The central part of the museum.
The animals looked so real Morgan had to have a closer inspection to check if they were stuffed – thankfully they were models. I’m sure you can see how much time and effort has gone into making this place a wonderful experience for all.
The world culture gallery is brilliant for finding out much more about culture around the world and the reasons behind the choice in clothing and how and why they celebrate.
The technology and industrial gallery showed communication through the ages, the modernisation of bikes and wheelchairs and planes. It was so interesting to see them all in one place showing what the advantages are to the things we currently use.
The Surgeons’ Hall museum is not everyone’s taste, I really do appreciate that. We both found it unbelievably fascinating yet chilling at the same time. My favourite part of this museum was the War section. I took my time wandering around and reading all the information and looking at the artefacts they’ve kept and things they’ve preserved. It may sound grim but the whole floor of body parts of people who’ve suffered things like Cancer I found incredibly interesting albeit slightly off-putting. I believe it’s definitely worth a visit if you don’t have a queasy stomach! You’re not allowed to take pictures there so you’ll have to take my word for it.
Where to eat and drink
Ok, you know me, I did more than enough research before landing on Scottish soil but we didn’t manage to tick off everything on the list. One place in particular sticks out for me though and we were recommended it by more than a few locals. El Cartel is a teeny, tiny Mexican restaurant with a no booking policy. It’s all about the food and frozen margaritas here and by jove do they do them both well. It’s not fancy, it’s not flashy, it’s get in if you can and have a really great time. The Saturday evening we tried to get in and were told there would be at least a two hour wait and I simply could not wait that long. So, on the Sunday evening we swung by about 5pm and managed to walk straight in with no trouble at all. The longer we sat at the table though, the longer the waiting list grew so we definitely arrived at the right time.
You might not think it looks much but trust me, it felt like we’d taken a flight straight to Mexico!
We ordered the ‘Bombers’ as a starter and they were little balls of delight. Jalapeños were encased with soft cheese and covered in breadcrumbs sat on a base of smoky mayonnaise and with a big wedge of lime on top. I’d like to say I apologise for the lack of picture-based evidence but I can’t. We ate them in one go like two animals at a zoo.
Guacamole with cheese, pomegranate and spring onion and freshly baked tortilla chips. This was the best guacamole I’ve ever eaten and in future I’ll always add pomegranate and cheese to it at home. It all worked SO well together.
Mushroom quesadilla with a side of crispy beef brisket, chorizo and salsa verde tacos.
All the Margaritas are served with a paprika salt rim.
We also ordered pork shoulder tacos with seared pineapple, white onion, coriander and white cabbage but those were eaten before we even had chance to photograph the evidence.
I would happily eat at El Cartel every evening of the week if I could but alas, there are a few hundred miles in between us.
Edinburgh is known for all it’s seafood and M and I love nothing more than a good scallop or three. We’d decided that we had to dine in at least one ‘nicer’ restaurant during our trip as the likelihood of burgers and other naughties was very high. I came across Ondine on Instagram and immediately added it to our (my) list. As their website says, they do ‘proper seafood’ and neither of us were disappointed. We ordered a platter to share as well as creamed spinach and fries and it was completely worth the money for the lobster and enormous scallops alone. All of the seafood was seasoned beautifully and we nailed the food in a fairly short space of time. The lovely thing about Ondine is that you feel like you’ve eaten somewhere a little more upmarket, a little more expensive and yet it’s not pretentious in the slightest.
Hoot the Redeemer is a really cool and really small cocktail bar with a retro funfair theme without being that little too ‘hipster’. What I often find when visiting little independent cocktail bars is that all the other people hanging out there all have a similar look but the great thing about this place was the variety of ages and groups also knocking back the alcoholic slushies. You’re never too old to eat/drink/slurp an alcoholic slush puppy. It’s a blink and you’ll miss kind of place so keep your eyes peeled and you’ll not miss it. When you’re on the way down the stairs you’ll see tarot card reader in the door; you’ll need to push her to find your way inside. If you’re feeling hungry make sure you have a boozy ice cream too… that’s a novelty that’ll never wear off.
We only managed to squeeze one breakfast in during our trip so I whittled it down to Urban Angel. I know, the name doesn’t have that great a ring to it but it was one of the friendliest and tastiest places I’ve been for breakfast in quite a while. I knew Edinburgh was known for it’s kind and friendly locals but Urban Angel have the best staff. Like, really. There wasn’t a job too big and we didn’t feel rushed or under pressure to scoff our eggs even though there was a queue forming. I don’t order eggs benedict that often but after seeing an Instagram post of Urban Angel’s offering with super crispy bacon I just knew what I had to order. It was bloody marvellous. The hollandaise sauce was thick, the bacon, as aforementioned, was unbelievably crispy and the eggs were perfectly poached. I also washed it down with a really warm and spicy chai latte, which is one of my favourite drinks on the planet.
Mary’s Milk Bar is a well known little gem for what they do and I couldn’t leave the city without trying them out. Luckily for us, Mary’s was just down the road from our hotel so it meant I managed to have a mid-morning floater and every second of calories passing my lips was more than worth it. I went for the hot chocolate floater with salted caramel ice cream and not only was the hot chocolate itself to die for but the ice cream was thick and creamy and the perfect combination of salt and caramel. If you’re not sure on the other places I’ve mentioned, then you must be crazy, but please make sure you swing by and order yourself a little something. You only live once and Mary wants to make it that little bit better for you.
The Boozy Cow came highly recommended by one of my nearest and dearest as she knows of our love for dirty food and good cocktails. Now, I will warn you that there won’t be much that I’ll be able to tell you about The BC as we ate here after a few beers, and maybe a rum or three ,and I’d just ricocheted off a lampost so I was seeing stars over my food by the time it arrived. From memory, the cocktails were awesome but not as awesome as the amazing battered pickles and onion rings though. I know I didn’t eat that many but what I did put away was worthy of the possible future heart attack. At this point all I can do is say, if you like burgers, dirty fries, lots of cocktails then this is your kind of place. If you’ve ever been, it really reminded me of Meat Liquor in London. Oh, and please order a Boozy Brew and thank me later.
Before I bore you all to tears I’ll just finish this post off with a few other restaurants and bars we didn’t get around to trying. If you’re visiting any time soon and manage to hit one up, let me know.
- Civerinos Pizza
- Bread Meats Bread
- The Devil’s Advocate
- The Lucky Liquor Co
- Panda and Sons
- The Pantry
- The Dogs
- Tuk Tuk