Edinburgh native Susie Henderson tracks down the finest bakeries, boutiques and brews in Scotland’s capital city, where heritage and contemporary cool collide gracefully.
Grab a bacon roll to go, or take a seat and indulge in thick slices of toasted banana bread slathered with blueberry butter at The Manna House Bakery & Patisserie (22-24 Easter Road, 0131 652 2349). You might be tempted to stock up on treats for later too; chorizo and red wine or walnut and stilton speciality breads turn a picnic into a gourmet feast, especially if you top them off with violet meringues and Earl Grey macarons. Now your tummy is full, 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.
All that exhilarating exercise means you can justify another café stop. If you’re enamoured of all things Scandi after watching Nordic TV dramas, Peter’s Yard (Quartermile, 27 Simpson Loan, 0131 228 5876) near the university serves deliciously crunchy Swedish crispbreads, fresh cardamom buns and a mean coffee. Just up the road is an Edinburgh must-do, the excellent National Museum of Scotland (Chambers Street, 0300 123 6789), revitalised after a makeover in 2011, and with 10 new galleries set to open in 2016. Its eclectic treasure trove of artefacts ranges from the Hilton of Cadboll stone (a Pictish carved slab of sandstone celebrating Christianity as Scotland’s new religion) to the Darien chest (symbolising Scotland’s failed attempt to establish a trading colony in 1698 in what is now Panama) to the Scottish-manufactured Hillman Imp car.
If you want to beat the crowds and snatch an early lunch, Union of Genius (8 Forrest Road, 0131 226 4436) is a short hop from the museum and soup-creator supreme. A daily changing menu tempts you with inventive flavours such as Lebanese lentil, lemon and spinach or beetroot, apple and pink pepper (tuck your napkin in for this one). Not hungry yet? Cross the Royal Mile and meander down winding Cockburn Street. At number 23 is Stills, Scotland’s Centre for Photography (0131 622 6200), a leading photographic production studio whose quarterly exhibitions are open to the public. The Frayed Hem at number 45 (0131 225 9831) sells high-quality vintage and upcycled clothes, while Old Town Context at numbers 42-44 (0131 629 0534) is too good to miss with its retro phones, heritage wall signs and old-fashioned toys. Round the corner is the City Art Centre (2 Market Street, 0131 529 3993), six floors of galleries housed in a grandiose former warehouse built between 1899 and 1902. The impressive collection of Scottish art includes works by the Glasgow Boys and the Scottish Colourists, and the newest addition is ArtSpace, where you can satisfy your inner artist by experimenting with different materials to create your own artworks.
Make your way along Jeffrey Street and back onto the lower half of the Royal Mile. For a quick bite, look no further than Oink Hog Roast (82 Canongate, 077 7196 8233). Edinburgh’s second Oink shop opened in 2013 and specialises in deliciously warming, freshly carved hog roast rolls, topped with a choice of sage and onion, apple sauce, chilli relish or haggis. Continue down to the Scottish Parliament (Holyrood, 0131 348 5000). Daily one-hour tours are free and give you an insight into the building’s architecture and parliamentary procedures. Check the website for dates of monthly themed art, literature and history tours too; book these before you go, as they fill up fast. From here, it’s less than a mile to Calton Hill. The path to the top is steep, but you’re rewarded with great views of the city and a cluster of monuments, including the Parthenon-style National Monument. Based inside the City Observatory here is Collective (38 Calton Hill, 0131 556 1264), a contemporary arts organisation showcasing emerging artists through a carefully curated programme of exhibitions. Local café Milk runs a covered open-air outlet outside serving tasty coffees, teas and sandwiches.
On the other side of Calton Hill, wander down Broughton Street for a flavour of Edinburgh’s trendy East End and a clutch of cool indie businesses. At the junction with London Street is concept store Life Story (53 London Street, 0131 629 9699), whose displays of design-led clothing, stationery and must-haves for the home may prove too hard to resist. Curiouser and Curiouser (93 Broughton Street, 0131 556 1866) is a great spot to pick up limited edition art prints, unusual birthday cards or Scandinavian kitchenware.
Shopped out? Hit Bramble Bar (16A Queen Street, 0131 226 6343) for meticulously crafted cocktails. Or drop into Heads & Tales (1A Rutland Place, 0131 656 2811) for potent gin concoctions. Run by the Edinburgh Gin Distillery, this place opened in 2014 and entices drinkers with ingeniously named cocktails such as the Sweetie Pie, Otto Titsling’s Muse and Thyme 4 A Bru (no points for guessing the mixer). The distillery on the same site runs tours and gin-making sessions should you feel like getting better acquainted with this tipple.
Time for dinner. At Timberyard (10 Lady Lawson Street, 0131 221 1222), nibble on ‘bites’ such as beetroot with horseradish and hazelnut, or tuck into hunks of red deer topped with elderberries. Bistro Moderne (15 North West Circus Place, 0131 225 4431) in Stockbridge is Mark Greenaway’s second restaurant in the city, and melds French cooking with Scottish produce. The Crafter’s Barn (9 North Bank Street, 0131 226 1178) is another 2014 addition – an ultra-hip Belgian-style brasserie serving over 50 Belgian bottled beers along with sharing plates of mussels, pizzas and steaks.
Real ale aficionados can sip from 10 pumps at the Guildford Arms (1 West Register Street, 0131 556 4312), an elaborately decorated late-Victorian pub. Jeremiah’s Taproom (7-8 Elm Row, 0131 556 8201) pours a cracking selection of local and international craft beers. Come back in the morning for a ‘kill or cure’ breakfast cocktail – the Jalapeño Margarita might just do the trick.
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Written by World Travel Guide.