Words by Tanya Grimson
November 25th, 2016
According to historian Murdo Macdonald, “Edinburgh is a city that makes you think about what a city should be” and when I came across this quote as I was sadly departing Edinburgh, it summed up all the feelings I had about the city over my very short-lived 48 hours there. Having never visited the Scottish capital before and despite having seen the pictures and heard the stories, nothing really prepares you for what it is really like until you have felt its brisker air, gasped at its otherworldly beauty and seen first-hand how staggeringly beautiful it is.
Known as the ‘Athens of the North’, Edinburgh’s city centre and its surrounding landscape is bold and eerily Gothic; it is what dreams, nightmares and novels are made of. The city is divided in two, the new town lies north of Princes Street and features the high street stores you would expect to see in any city. The high street runs solely on one side of the street allowing you to also indulge in the small but beautiful Princes Street Gardens, with the magnificent backdrop of the castle in your eye line. Standing in the park and looking up at the cascading cliffs of the volcanic plug and surrounding green hills that line the walls up to the castle is breathtaking, further enhanced by the gradual incline of the Gothic buildings to the west of the castle, making you linger just that little but longer than I ever really expected.
But the real surprise for me was just how quirky and cool Edinburgh is, from its independent boutiques, bountiful and diverse range of serious cocktail bars, gastro bars and beautiful hotels. I fell in love with this city and although I regretted having taken so long to come here, however, there is solace in the fact that it is only a hour flight away, making it an ideal city getaway.
The first and obvious place to visit is Edinburgh Castle, sitting perched on top of the hill dominating the Edinburgh skyline. Start your day by taking a walk up to the castle before the crowds and queue times increase. From there continue into the old town and its neighbouring areas, all equally as beautiful as the other. The Royal Mile, named due to its length, is lined with stone tenement buildings and cobbled streets with Edinburgh Castle at its head and the Palace of Holyroodhouse at its foot.
From the Royal Mile make your way down to one of my favourite parts of the city, the epicentre of bars, cafés and quirky boutiques – Grassmarket. Before you hit Grassmarket take a stroll down the steep Victoria Street lined with individually coloured shops ranging from specialised whiskey shops and delis to independent art and design shops. Grassmarket plays host to a weekend market every Saturday where you can pick up anything from nick knacks, jewellery, candles and food. Take a pue (if the weather permits) in one of the centre’s cafés and simply watch the world go by and soak up the quintessentially cool but relaxed Scottish vibe.
Just over the bridge on the new side of the city lies the most stunning neoclassical building, home to the Scottish National Gallery, take the time to enjoy some of the world’s best art in such a beautiful building in the heart of the city. It is also impossible to ignore it as its presence alone simply draws you in. If you love art and want to see more, check out its sister, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, a little further south on Queen Street, housing portraits of the people that have shaped the nation’s identity from Mary Queen of Scots to contempories such as Tilda Swinton and Billy Connolly.
And, although I visited in October it would be wrong not to mention the forthcoming and one of Edinburgh’s most recognised traditions and proud-of events – the Edinburgh Christmas Market running from Late November until early January 2017. The city’s Christmas market is world famous due to its range of international market stalls, Spiegel tent shows, ice rinks and big wheels.
For more information on this year’s events see www.edinburghschristmas.com.
If you are looking for your high street favourites and in the mood for a spot of shopping without breaking the bank, then you will find all your recognisable retailers lined up side by side on Princes Street. If you are looking to splash the cash then head to Mulberry Walk where you will find Harvey Nichols, Mulberry, Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Tommy Hilfiger in one small but expensive street. Thistle Street and the west end of Scotland provide more stand-alone boutiques but be prepared to pay. On the beautiful George Street just behind Princes Street you will find a mix of upmarket high street retailers such as Whistles, Anthropology, French Connection, L.K. Bennett and beauty emporium Space.N.K.
However, I didn’t want to go to Scotland for the regular retailers, you can find them anywhere, I wanted to find and discover the independent boutiques that offered something unique, something I could come home with that no one else would have and remind me of the trip. I had the pleasure of finding that in the Red Door Gallery on Victoria Street. The Red Door Gallery sells pieces from British designers that are unique and quirky. They also sell art prints from over 100 illustrators (screen-prints and digital prints), fashion accessories, knitwear, unique homewares and jewellery. Another shop you simply have to check out is Lifestory on London Street if you are a fan of Scandinavian design. Lifestory stocks a beautifully curated selection of design pieces ranging from homeware, furniture, jewellery and accessories. But thankfully they are also available to buy online so post trip shopping can be continued.
If you are a foodie (which I have to admit I am, despite my dislike for the name) you are in for a treat. One of the things I enjoyed most about my trip to Edinburgh was the selection of truly unique culinary and drinking experiences. When it comes to food they know how to do it right, and the fact that Edinburgh has four Michelin star restaurants and is home to chefs like Tom Kitchen, Tony Singh and Martin Wishart might just be the proof in their pudding. When I was doing my pre-trip research on the best restaurants to go, (it was my birthday so I wanted to treat myself) one name repeatedly popped up despite its relatively new to the scene status, Timberyard.
Opened in late 2012 and set on the grounds of a former warehouse and timberyard on Lady Lawson Street in the old part of the city, this restaurant was truly unique in every sense. Not only because of its beautiful Scandinavian inspired surroundings that has a definite Hygge feel about it – from the sofas in front of woodburners with exposed walls and piping running through the warehouse all complemented by soft lighting and the smell of logs burning. I couldn’t have wished for a more inviting space on a cold October evening. The beauty doesn’t stop there, it continues in the fact that all produce is lovingly cultivated and crafted by the family (5 members of the family work there), using locally sourced and foraged ingredients served in true fine dining style.
They offer a choice of 4, 6 or 8 course tasting menus. We opted for the four course (we wanted to make sure we had some space for after dinner drinks, it was my birthday after all) and despite having had the privilege of sampling many types of interesting cuisines in restaurants far and wide, this was by far a stand out performance for me. Every single ingredient came alive on the plate and was so carefully matched, the meat and fish were cooked with such delicacy it was like tasting them for the first time. The dessert, although just described as “blueberry, strawberry, oatmeal, buttermilk, mint” (they tend to not give too much away with the menu) was far from just that. It was paradise on a plate, making me realise how four or five simple ingredients when in the hands of a great chef with a vision can create something truly memorable that stays with you long past the trip has ended.
If you are looking for more casual eateries, you are also spoiled for choice, Edinburgh does the Gastro pub the right way by mixing eating and drinking with the same care and attention. If you don’t fancy the fine dining experience of Tom Kitchen but would like to sample his fare, take a trip to the rustic and charming The Scran & Scallie in Stockbridge, expect classic hearty meals all served up with warm fires, cosy interiors and plenty of good ale. All Bar One is also a classic stomping ground, it is one of those franchises that for some reason whenever I am in the UK, I feel an obligatory pull towards, maybe it is for their spicy buffalo wings or their trendy buzzing interiors that make you feel like you are one of the crowd. All Bar One is on the corner of George Street running parallel to Princes Street, making it an ideal pitstop for shopping breaks.
What can I say, Edinburgh likes to entertain and it seems to like its cocktails and craft beer as much as its whiskey so prepare to have your pick of some of the nicest cocktail bars and craft beers I have had the joy of experiencing. And, although I don’t even drink beer (my husband does…) I was completely impressed by the standard of those establishments and how seriously they take their ‘craft’.
Starting with cocktails, you are spoiled for choice when it comes to having the best of the best. It seems Edinburgh bars are competing for the most unusual cocktail or method of serving it. ‘Duck, you sucker!’ which included sun dried tomato infused bulleit eye, fig port, lemon and celery bitters is just an example of the style of cocktails served in the very popular The Devils Advocate, which is housed in an old Victorian pump house hidden away in Advocates Close (get there early as seats are limited or book a table upstairs in their gastro section and have the best of both worlds). For a truly unique mixology experience, head to the speakeasy style barber shop bar Panda & Sons on Queen Street. Don’t be put off the exteriors, take a journey downstairs, open a bookcase and enter your cocktail Narnia. This insanely quirky bar features some seriously chilled vibes and definitely some of the best cocktails in town (don’t just take my word for it, take it from the locals and even mixologists in other establishment’s spoken in whispers).
If you are a lover of the craft beer revolution currently taking over the world prepare to meet your maker. Edinburgh is home to Brewdog (an actual bar from the hugely popular Brewdog range), located between the old town and Cowgate. The decor is urban with a nice little dash of hipster, they stock the full range of their beers plus some guest drafts with some pretty tasty little woodfired pizzas making it a nice pitstop on your way from the old town. Continue on your route to Cowgate for the holy grail of craft beer. Salt Horse is an unassuming little shop/bar on Blackfriar Street and upon entering this very minimal and again quite Scandinavian designed premises you are in for such a treat. How does 8 pages of craft beer to choose from suit? My husband, a craft beer ‘nut’ nearly wept, it was probably as close to the type of reaction I would give if someone gave me full access to Net-a-Porter with no spending limit. And if that doesn’t do it, then pop next door to its sister shop and spend another two hours perusing your take away selection.
If you fancy a slice of indulgence and serenity then make the recently converted Principle Edinburgh (formerly known as The George Hotel) on George Street your home away from home. Other than the tastefully but understated luxe styling of the interior, from the marble reception area and English heritage bedroom interiors, the main reason I loved the hotel so much was the fact that unlike other hotels where everything is treated as one under one roof, the Principle Edinburgh has three exterior façades and entrances, one for the entrance to the hotel itself, another for The Printing Press Bar and Kitchen and another for their very quirky French styled café, Burr & Co. This meant that although you were staying in one establishment it felt like you were exploring different areas that have their own personality.
We fell in love with The Printing Press bar, not only for their brilliantly inventive mixologist Chris (if you can, grab a pew at the bar and let him mix up wonderful inventions according to your tastes) but its general unassuming but luxe vibe. The proof that we were not the only ones enamoured was the crowd that it pulled in on the Saturday night. These were not hotel residents just opting to stay put, they were locals coming because they also like the vibe, the surroundings and the drinks. Dinner in The Printing Press Kitchen (naturally adjoined) was equally as impressive, the restaurant itself looks like it is straight from a 1920s movie with chequered black and white floors, low slung chandeliers and velvet seats. Another natural advantage and major brownie points too is the location of the hotel, set on the easily accessible George Street, you are a stone’s throw away from the new town, the old town and just about everything you would want to see in Edinburgh.
For more information or to book a room visit www.phcompany.com/principal/edinburgh.
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