Edinburgh native Susie Henderson explains why there’s so much more to the city than tartan and a certain castle.
0700-0900. Line your belly with cooked-to-order porridge topped with homemade marmalade from The Edinburgh Larder (15 Blackfriars Street, 0131 556 6922), then jolt yourself into action with a fast walk through Holyrood Park, an extraordinary piece of wilderness in the heart of the city. For spectacular views, follow the trail along the rugged Salisbury crags and up Arthur’s Seat.
0900-1100. If your appetite needs a further boost, mingle with Edinburgh Southsiders in nearby Hellers Kitchen (15 Salisbury Place, 0131 667 4654), filling up on American-style pancakes with smoked bacon. Stride across The Meadows to the city’s modern Quartermile district and pop into indie bookshop Looking Glass Books (36 Simpson Loan, 0131 229 2902) for a browse and a brew. Then continue towards the Old Town along Forrest Road, turning right onto Chambers Street for the National Museum of Scotland (0300 123 6789), which reopened in summer 2011 after a major makeover. Look out for the Cramond lioness (a 1,800-year-old Roman sculpture discovered locally), Bonnie Prince Charlie’s silver travelling canteen, and international treasures ranging from samurai armour to Iranian earthenware poppies.
1100-1300. Five minutes’ walk from the museum you’ll find the Dovecot Studios (10 Infirmary Street, 0131 550 3660). These century-old tapestry studios are housed in a striking 21st-century revamp of Edinburgh’s oldest public baths and employ five full-time weavers. As well as regular exhibitions, there’s a shop plus the Stag café, which dishes up soups, sandwiches (think pastrami and Highland brie), freshly baked pastries and a good cup of coffee. Next, head to the High Street (or Royal Mile), bypassing the tartan tat shops and stopping just before the castle at Gladstone’s Land (477B Lawnmarket, 0844 493 2120). The immaculately restored tenement showcases life in Edinburgh’s overcrowded 17th-century Old Town. From here, loop round Ramsay Lane and Mound Place, crossing The Mound, which winds down the hill towards Princes Street Gardens. Take the Playfair Steps past the National Gallery of Scotland and Royal Scottish Academy. Continue into the Georgian New Town along Hanover Street. When you reach Queen Street, you’ll come across the glorious neo-Gothic architecture of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (1 Queen Street, 0131 624 6200), whose three-year refurbishment was completed in December 2011. Among its collection of over 30,000 images, keep your eyes peeled for famous faces from Robert Burns to Queen Victoria to Billy Connolly.
1300-1500. Grab a bite at the gallery’s excellent café. On the far side of Queen Street Gardens, stroll along Heriot Row, one of Edinburgh’s most desirable New Town addresses with fine examples of elegant Georgian townhouses. Robert Louis Stevenson’s childhood home is at number 17 (privately owned). Turn right on Howe Street and left on NW Circus Place, dropping steeply towards the Water of Leith. You’re now in pretty Stockbridge, a village neighbourhood popular with professionals and young families and crammed with cosy pubs, independent shops and funky cafés. One of the newest additions is bakery and coffee shop Peter’s Yard (3 Deanhaugh Street, 0131 332 2901), which serves up a mean Swedish crispbread, sublime pizzas and lovingly crafted pastries. A short walk away in Inverleith is the fabulous Royal Botanic Garden (20A Inverleith Row, 0131 552 7171). Highlights include the Scottish Heath Garden, intricate Rock Garden and wonderful glasshouses covering 10 climatic zones.
1500-1700. Forget Princes Street. Edinburgh’s smart shopping district is George Street and, across St Andrew Square, in Multrees Walk. Towering above them all is Harvey Nichols (30-34 St Andrew Square, 0131 524 8388). The store’s ‘Forth Floor’ boasts a fancy restaurant and cocktail bar with stunning views. Running parallel to George Street, narrow Thistle Street is home to a clutch of independent stores stocking designer women’s wear, including Jane Davidson at number 52 (0131 225 3280), named one of the top 25 boutiques in the world by Harper’s Bazaar. Or potter along William Street and Stafford Street in the West End and rummage for goodies among the eclectic handful of fashion, homeware, jewellery, beauty and gift shops.
1700-1900. Shopped out? Revive with a quality cuppa at Eteaket (41 Frederick Street, 0131 226 2982), which won ‘Best Tea in the UK’ at the 2012 Beverage Standards Awards. Or for cocktails, try The Dirty Martini Bar at Le Monde Hotel (16 George Street, 0131 270 3900). If it’s still light, take a stroll up Calton Hill. Follow Princes Street to its eastern end and along Regent Road, then turn left up the steep path. At the top are more great views of the city and a cluster of monuments, including the Parthenon-style National Monument.
1900-2100. Edinburgh offers a huge range of dining options. Timberyard (10 Lady Lawson Street, 0131 221 1222) opened in a former timber store in 2012; nibble on ‘bites’ such as fennel toast with North Uist crab mayonnaise or tuck into hunks of venison haunch. Another quirky addition to Edinburgh’s culinary scene is The Gardener’s Cottage (1 Royal Terrace Gardens, 0131 558 1221), which offers good-value set menus in a converted 19th-century gardener’s cottage designed by William Playfair. Dinner might include roe deer with chanterelles and apple, or beetroot and chocolate cake. Some of Edinburgh’s best dining establishments are down in Leith, Edinburgh’s port. So be adventurous: take a bus (22 or 16) from Princes Street, or a taxi, down to The Shore, Leith’s atmospheric waterfront. Two restaurants here are Michelin-starred: Martin Wishart (54 The Shore, 0131 553 3557) and The Kitchin, run by chef Tom Kitchin (78 Commercial Street, 0131 555 1755).
After 2100. If you took the Leith option, check out Nobles (44A Constitution Street, 0131 629 7215), an attractive Victorian wood-panelled pub with live bands, DJs and a Monday quiz night. If you're in town, treat yourself to a few thimblefuls of rum from the extensive selection at The Kilderkin (67 Canongate, 0131 556 2101) or hear traditional folk music any night of the week at The Royal Oak (1 Infirmary Street, 0131 557 2976). If style’s your thing, sip on draught Prosecco (yes, on tap!) in see-and-be-seen Bar Missoni (1 George IV Bridge, 0131 220 6666).
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Written by World Travel Guide.