Before visiting Edinburgh for the first time, two years ago, I didn’t know what to expect from it. I certainly wasn’t expecting the beautiful architecture and extremely friendly locals who greeted me. On my first visit, I’d tagged along with Ben, who was working in the city. This meant I had a lot of time to walk around exploring at my own pace. This time around, my favourite travel companion was with me for the duration, and overall, I prefer exploring with him, rather than alone. Alone is fine, and I’d happily do it again, but it is nice to have someone to talk to.
There’s a lot to see in Edinburgh, and we’d been before, so this itinerary doesn’t cover all of the attractions. Even with two trips under our belts, there’s still a lot more I’d like to see and do, so I’m sure I’ll be back with another weekend itinerary one day!
Saturday Morning – Trams, Coffee, A Farmers’ Market, Edinburgh Castle
We took a tram straight from the airport to Haymarket, where our hotel, the Hilton Edinburgh Grosvenor, was located. I’d recommend the tram over other methods of transport – I think the airport bus is a bit cheaper, but the tram is new and takes a lovely route through the countryside. We had our first experience of Scottish hospitality when the ticket machine for the tram spat out a tiny version of one of our tickets, and the inspectors all gathered around to laugh at my micro-ticket, before waving us on to the tram.
After ditching our bags at the hotel, we decided to try the local coffee shop, Café Noir. With delicious drinks and stylish décor, this proved to be a good choice – further improved when a lady walked in with a cat!
Quite by chance, we stumbled across Edinburgh Farmers’ Market, taking place on Castle Terrace, with a wonderful view of the castle overhead. The market takes place every Saturday, and the varied produce on offer looked delicious.
After getting distracted by all the food, we strolled on up the hill to Edinburgh Castle. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, it was packed full of tourists, so it remains on my to do list. I love a castle, and this one looks like it’s not going to disappoint. I have now been in the toilets though, so we’re making progress. It was still fun to stand and watch the guards for a while.
Saturday Morning – Scottish National Gallery, Princes Street, Lebowskis
As the weather began to get progressively greyer, we took a brisk stroll down The Mound to the Scottish National Gallery. The gallery is home to pieces of Scottish and international fine art, dating from the Renaissance to the start of the 20th century, including a nice collection of devotional art. There’s a good variety of pieces, and admission is free, so even if you’re not particularly into art, you should manage to have a nice time.
There are two other National Galleries in Edinburgh, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Both of these are probably more my cup of tea, so they will be going on the list for the next trip. There’s also the Royal Scottish Academy, right next door to the Scottish National Gallery.
We dashed back out into the rain for a sprint along Princes Street, a la Mark Renton. Our destination was Lebowskis Bar on Morrison Street. I’d never seen The Big Lebowski before we went to Lebowskis. Thanks to this bar, I can now say I’ve watched it, but it was muted, so I found the experience pretty confusing. Still, the bar is nice, the food looks tasty, and they don’t just serve White Russians.
Saturday Night – Cocktails at Panda and Sons, Dinner at the Cambridge Bar
After a pit-stop at the hotel for a nap, we hopped in a cab to Panda and Sons. We’d done a bit of research online about this speakeasy, but the taxi driver happily gave us the lowdown on it, having been himself.
“It’s mad! You see that barber shop there, with the hookers standing outside? That’s it!”
I mean, they were Chinese tourists, staring through the window in confusion, but it all added to the atmosphere!
Through the door, down the stairs, and through the bookcase, we emerged into a large cellar decked out to feel like a 20s gin joint. It was already packed at about 6.30pm, but we managed to squeeze onto a small table in a corner. After finally choosing from the extensive menu and placing our order with a passing waiter, we settled in for a spot of people watching, while happily munching on the complimentary chilli popcorn.
The bar was opened back in 2013 by Panda and his family – Grandpa Walt, and his two sons, Rupert and cheeky wee Benson. They’ve somehow managed to take a fairly hipster concept and turn it into something friendly and welcoming for everyone. How they’ve managed to blend pandas into a 20s theme, I will never know, but they have, and it works.
The cocktails were delicious, and very original – both in taste and in appearance (one is served in a bell jar filled with smoke). In the end one drink wasn’t enough, and we had a second round. In fact, we only left then because our tummies were rumbling and dinner was calling.
When we travel, we usually try and sample a recommended local burger joint. Edinburgh was no exception, and after the success of Red Squirrel on our first trip, we decided to try The Cambridge Bar this time around. The burgers were good, the beer refreshing and the pub friendly. One thing I hadn’t realised when planning was that they showed a lot of sport, so we were a bit distracted by the two matches going on over our heads as we ate. It didn’t really bother us, and I’m not sure how I missed it – it’s clearly stated on their website!
Sunday Morning – The Caffeine Drip, National Museum of Scotland
We were staying in a Hilton, so the breakfast buffet was not a disappointment. After stuffing ourselves full of fried goods and haggis, we set off for The Caffeine Drip for a decent cup of coffee. This South African coffee shop would probably become one of my go-to brunch spots if I lived in the city. There’s a small area upstairs to order a coffee to go, and a larger basement downstairs with walls covered in coffee sacks, where you can sit and eat with friends.
After the success of the Scottish National Gallery the day before, we decided to have a quick look around the National Museum of Scotland. Turns out that it’s very hard to have a quick look, because it’s huge and there’s a lot of very interesting stuff in there.
We started the trip by heading up to the roof, because we’d heard good things about the view, and the weather was gorgeous. Sadly, between us getting into the museum and getting onto the roof, it had decided to piss it down, so we had to shelter in the small covered area up there until it passed. Once it cleared up, we were pleased to see that our journey up in multiple lifts had not been in vain – it was glorious!
If I had to call it, I’d say the National Museum of Scotland reminded me of a combination of the V&A and Natural History Museum in London. My favourite sections were the part about 20th Century Scotland and the Natural World galleries.
Sunday Afternoon – Greyfriars Kirkyard, Brewdog, Bodega
After leaving the museum, we took a walk to the Greyfriars Kirkyard, mostly to see Greyfriars Bobby, the statue of a dog who guarded his master’s grave for 14 years. Wannabe witches and wizards are in for a treat, as the Potter Trail departs from outside Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar at 3pm daily. Oh, and they might also spot a familiar name in the graveyard.
Around the corner from the church, on Cowgate, you can find a different kind of pup in Brewdog. Ben’s a big craft beer fan, and while I’m much fussier, I’m always happy to give a new one a try. The team there were friendly, and happy for us to linger over a couple of drinks.
We were planning to take a bus to Leith, where we were having dinner, but as we walked up onto South Bridge, we were engulfed in a horde of football fans. Hibs had won the Scottish Cup and 100,000 of their fans were in the streets celebrating. It turned out we were heading in the same direction, so we just joined the crowd.
We reached Leith more quickly than expected, so settled into a café for a couple of glasses of wine before heading to our destination for an early dinner – Bodega. With a menu of inventively filled tacos, it was difficult to choose. Our ceviche starter and all our tacos were excellent, and I couldn’t have been happier with this for our final meal in the city.
With that, there was nothing left but to hop on a tram back to the hotel, pick up our bags and boot it off to the airport!
Photo credits: Cocktails taken from Panda and Sons site