How To Spend A Weekend In Edinburgh
Check into The Witchery
The Witchery is a wonderful gothic-style hotel on Castlehill. Right at the gates of Edinburgh Castle, just up the Royal Mile from Waverley station, the pretty property occupies a collection of 16th-century buildings. Interiors are dark and opulent – picture antique furniture and rich fabrics. Nine suites range from spacious boudoirs with rooftop views to rooms tucked away in a turret with their own private stone staircase. Check in, drop your bags, explore your room, and have a coffee and slice of shortbread before heading back out.
Soak up the atmosphere of the Royal Mile
Turn left out of The Witchery and you’ll be right at the entrance to one of the most storied landmarks in Scotland. You can spot the castle from most neighbourhoods in the city, but the best way to learn about its history is to climb the hill and explore the buildings on site, including St Margaret's Chapel which dates to the 12th century. Tickets sell out weeks in advance so be sure to buy yours online ahead of time.
Beneath the castle, Princes Street Gardens lie at the centre of Edinburgh's World Heritage Site, stretching across both New and Old Town. A must for horticultural lovers, they were awarded a Green Flag ten years ago thanks to a colourful display of over 30,000 flowers and plants, and the many memorial sites that acknowledge some of the city’s most famous alumni.
Leave time for The Real Mary King’s Close, the city’s only preserved 17th-century street and a must-see. Imagine a subterranean warren of streets frozen in time, where centuries of stories are waiting to be told. Along the tour, you’ll discover Edinburgh's dark past and find out what it was really like for the people who lived, worked and died on the close.
Have dinner at The Witchery
As well as being a top hotel, The Witchery is one of the most atmospheric settings for dinner in the city. Guests can relax with a bottle of champagne in their room before enjoying a meal in either the oak-panelled 16th-century dining room – which is always bathed in candlelight – or the elegant Secret Garden room with a hand-painted ceiling, plenty of antiques and secluded terrace. Both menus celebrate the best of Scottish produce: expect dishes like steak tartare with burnt onion mayo; a seafood platter of lobster, langoustine, oysters, clams, mussels and crab; and bitter chocolate tart with blood orange sorbet.
Order a drink at The White Horse Oyster & Seafood Bar
Just down the Royal Mile, The White Horse is a great place for a nightcap. One of the older inns in Edinburgh, it serves seasonal small plates and – as its full name suggests – a great selection of locally caught seafood. It’s also one of our picks for a cocktail – we love the Rockpool Martini, made with Haku vodka, fennel-infused sauvignon and oyster leaf.
Have breakfast by candle light
Once you’ve woken up and perhaps had a bath in your room’s ornate bathtub, breakfast offers another opportunity to eat by candlelight. In a Baroque dining space, croissants and giant pain au chocolat are served alongside juices and cooked breakfasts – if you haven’t had your haggis fix yet, there’s a chance to try it here.
Explore Old Town & New Town
Once you’ve checked out, head to the historic Grassmarket, down the other side of the castle to Princes Street Gardens, where you’ll find lots of independent shops and galleries (make sure to stop in at Armstrongs, a huge second-hand clothes store). Over on the other side of the Royal Mile, there are plenty of excellent places to stop off for coffee – we really like The Milkman in Old Town and Fortitude Coffee or Lowdown in New Town. Head up to the monuments clustered around Calton Hill for some of the best views of the city, then make a beeline for Leith Walk, stopping in at Topping & Company bookshop for a browse on the way.
Have lunch at Eleanore
On Leith Walk, Eleanore is a freshly opened restaurant and wine bar from Roberta Hall McCarron and Shaun McCarron, on the site of their acclaimed Little Chartroom. The new spot offers a relaxed dining experience, with high-top tables and a constantly changing menu. Small plates come out of the open kitchen, highlighting the best of Scottish produce. Dishes could include cured halibut with orange kosho, followed by cod with haricot beans, cockles, samphire and sea persillade. Interiors are inspired by the Scottish coastline, incorporating soft whites and hints of dark blues, with earthy tones reflected in the ceramics. It’s a lovely space for a relaxed yet experimental meal.
Continue down to the end of Leith Walk (feel free to take a tram), where the newly revitalised port is one of the city’s most exciting areas to explore. Home to the Royal Yacht Britannia, the late Queen’s former vessel, the area is full of interesting shops, galleries and bars – some of our favourites include Fishers on the Shore and Heron – alongside Michelin-starred spots The Kitchen and Martin Wishart.
Walk the Water of Leith
One of the nicest ways to explore Edinburgh is to stroll along part of the Water of Leith Walkway, a 24-mile stretch from the Pentland Hills to Leith’s shoreline. Beginning in Leith, the walk follows the river, where – if you look carefully – you’ll spy Antony Gormley statues in the water. Leafy and atmospheric, the walk takes you up to Stockbridge in around an hour and a half. Venture a little further up and you’ll encounter Dean Village, which is full of colourful former mills and is just a five-minute walk from the top of Princes Street.
Stop off at Stockbridge
While the route above drops you off at the West End – which is full of great places to eat and drink – we suggest detouring to pretty Stockbridge, which is filled with rows of striking Victorian and Georgian houses and lots of incredible independent shops, delis, restaurants, bars and cafes. On the shop front, we love Golden Hare Books, The Method (which sells gender-neutral, well-designed skincare and scents), Kestin and Dick’s for excellent menswear, Jeffreys Interiors and Edinburgh Mercantile, which sells amazing curios and homewares, and Jorum Studio, an indie fragrance shop that’s beautifully designed and sells unique modern scents, with bottles that are as striking as the store. On the food front, look out for Bagel Bros, Kilted Doughnut and Joelato gelato. Nearby, Stockbridge Farmers Market is the perfect place for a leisurely stroll on a laid-back Sunday. Food vendors range from curries to as-Scottish-as-it-gets wild venison and black pudding pie.
Have dinner at Noto
Noto is just one of the attractive restaurants and bars that line Thistle Street, a picturesque lane that runs parallel to Princes Street. With striking black gloss paint on the exterior, inside you’ll find a stripped-back space that lets the food do the talking: picture sleek walnut furniture, pale pink Bauwerk-style walls, simple ceramic vases filled with dried flowers and statement bare branches, which snake around the room in place of artwork, and even curve around the arches that connect the bar and the main restaurant. Each small plate comes with an Asian flourish: think potato dauphine with miso mustard; aubergine tonkatsu with kimchi and pickled ginger; and lobster noodles with kimchi and spring onion. Make sure to order the kitchen’s (rightful) signature dish: North Sea crab and warm cultured butter, which is truly memorable. Noto holds a Bib Gourmand, Michelin’s award for ‘good quality, good value cooking’. We can’t argue with that.
Stay overnight at Prestonfield House
The sister hotel to The Witchery, five-star Prestonfield House is a 10-minute taxi ride from central Edinburgh, but feels like it’s in the countryside. At the bottom of Arthur’s Seat and within 20 acres of grounds, it’s another gorgeously plush property from James Thomson, one of Scotland’s most esteemed restaurateurs. Its 23 bedrooms are individually designed and each is richly furnished – think linens, velvets and silks – with beds stacked with plump cushions to guarantee a good night’s sleep. We recommend a nightcap in one of the atmospheric Regency drawing rooms before turning in.
Order an epic breakfast
One of the highlights of staying at Prestonfield House is breakfast in the room with the weekend papers. We suggest the omelette arnold bennett or – for something super Scottish – the morning rolls with lorne sausage and brown sauce. Before checking out, take the time to walk around the impressive house and gardens, which look lovely year round. Don’t leave without saying hello to Toffee and Treacle, the resident highland cows.
Walk up Salisbury Craggs and Arthur’s Seat
If you’re up to the challenge, climb Arthur’s Seat. This peak on the edge of the city was carved out by ice sheets forming on top of the eroded stump of an extinct volcano thousands of years ago. Today, it takes around 45 minutes to reach the top of the hill from Holyrood Park, where you’ll enjoy stunning panoramic city views. If you’re coming at it from Prestonfield, you’ll encounter Salisbury Craggs first, another rock formation that offers great views, including up towards Arthur’s Seat. Once you’ve reached the peak of the latter, head east to the pretty village-like area of Duddingston. Here, you’ll find one of the capital’s oldest pubs, The Sheep Heid, which is just the place for a restorative drink – or an old-school game of skittles.
Walk to Portobello Beach
A few miles outside of Edinburgh’s city centre lies Portobello Beach, a seaside suburb with two miles of sand. It’s about a 35-minute walk from Duddingston. Known as Porty to locals, it’s a great spot to visit year round – you can brave the waters or simply take a walk along the beach, followed by a pitstop at one of the bars or cafés along the promenade. Our favourite is Prom Slice, an offshoot of Civerinos near the Royal Mile. Available by the (gigantic) slice or as New York-style 20” pizza pies for sharing, options include ‘You’ve Pulled’ (bianca base, mozzarella, cheddar, gorgonzola, scamorza, shredded buffalo, crispy onion and chives) and ‘The Civerenos’ (double sugo, Italian style sausage, pepperoni, rosemary, black pepper, parsley, burrata and garlic oil). The area is also home to some great delis and shops, most notably The Portobello Bookshop, an excellently designed emporium with an inspiring selection, from the latest cookbooks to fiction you might not that heard of. We challenge you to leave emptyhanded.
Afternoon tea at Rhubarb
After exploring Portobello, jump in a cab back to Prestonfield House, which is renowned for its afternoon teas. Guests can dine in the garden or by one of the log fires depending on the weather. Right now, the tea is themed to celebrate the coronation of King Charles III. We suggest finishing off mid-afternoon, grabbing your bags and heading back to Waverley for the journey home.
BEST OF THE REST
WHERE TO STAY
On St Andrew’s Square, Gleneagles Townhouse is a sister property to the famous Gleneagles Hotel. With 33 stylish bedrooms, each nodding to the heritage of the building, the townhouse is a great option for a long weekend in Edinburgh. There’s a glamorous all-day restaurant and two bars, one of which has a rooftop terrace with panoramic views of the city. The hotel is also home to a members club, offering access to exclusive spaces and an on-site gym.
If you’d rather have self-catering facilities, this cool studio apartment is on the famous Grassmarket in Edinburgh’s Old Town. The property has simple yet modern interiors throughout, with an open kitchen and living area, a bedroom with double bed and a separate shower room with luxury toiletries. Guests will be treated to a welcome hamper.
Apartment On Cheyne Street
This small but cosy apartment has some of the most stylish interiors on this list. Head to the cobbled streets of Cheyne Street in Stockbridge to stay in this lovely, characterful one-bedroom property. There’s an open-plan kitchen-diner with several cookbooks if you want to whip up a traditional Scottish meal, as well as a spacious double bedroom, a bathroom with a free-standing tub and a study with a further single bed. Ideal for a long weekend, New Town is a short walk away, as are the Botanic Gardens and several local artisan shops.
The Balmoral, with its majestic clock tower, has been a fixture on the city’s skyline since 1902. Adjoining the train station, it plays to its rich history as an Edinburgh landmark with porters poised to whisk guests from the station hall to the reception desk, and doormen in traditional kilts. Inside you’ll find a spa, pool and Michelin-starred restaurant (see below) which, whether you’re staying here or not, is a must-visit for the Scottish tasting menu alone.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
The Gardener’s Cottage
This well-loved restaurant is inside a charming historic building on the edge of the World Heritage Site that is Calton Hill. The Gardener’s Cottage (a nod to its past as the residence of a former royal gardener) focuses on seasonal Scottish cooking and social dining, offering à la carte lunches and a six-course set dinner menu served on two long communal dining tables. A quick note: the kitchen is only open Thursday-Sunday.
The Table was the first interactive, fine-dining experience in central Edinburgh. The centrepiece of the restaurant is a stone counter that comfortably sits ten people in front of an open-plan kitchen. Here, guests join the chefs for a fun evening built around a tasting menu that showcases the very best of Scottish produce.
Baba is a warm, rustic-chic stop offering Mediterranean plates alongside charcoal grill dishes and cocktails. Of all the dishes, we like the look of the feasting plates, which are designed to be shared between two to four people and come with house harissa, zhug, grilled veg and herbs. Either opt for one of the cosy booths or take a seat at the long bar to sample a glass of Lebanese wine.
The Lookout by Gardener's Cottage is an exciting partnership between Edinburgh restaurant The Gardener’s Cottage and Collective, the organisation that transformed the City Observatory site on Calton Hill into a new home for contemporary art. Work up an appetite with a bracing walk to the top of Calton Hill and then head to The Lookout. Built on a cantilever, the restaurant is partially suspended over the mount’s northwest slope, meaning its floor-to-ceiling windows offer views across Edinburgh, the Firth of Forth and beyond.
Ondine is a seafood lover’s paradise. Fresh oysters are served up daily – and generously – at the Oyster Bar, together with a whole host of impressive seafood dishes: imagine Shetland mussels cooked in an Asian broth of ginger and coriander, crab risotto, and classic fish soup enhanced with North African saffron and orange.
The Devil’s Advocate
Inside a Victorian pump house (expect plenty of bare brick, beams and wood), The Devil’s Advocate serves up hearty, Scottish-inspired dishes alongside an impressive cocktail and 300-strong whisky menu. Whatever you do, be sure to try the Lady Mac, which is guaranteed to convert any non-whisky drinker.
This fine-dining restaurant at The Balmoral is proper ‘special occasion’ territory. The glamorous dining room is resplendent with dove-grey wool banquettes, contemporary art, lacquered red walls and Adam Ellis’s stunning Scottish oak triptych. A seven-course tasting menu is fashioned using seasonal ingredients to create dishes inspired by Scotland – we like the sound of Shetland squid with coriander, lime and sea herbs; followed by hand-dived scallop with leek and smoked roe.
Café St Honoré
Don’t be deceived by the typically Parisian exterior. Café St Honoré serves up modern Scottish food using fresh, local ingredients. The concise (and award-winning) menu changes daily. You might start with a warm salad of scallops, monkfish and pine nuts, followed by Scotch shepherd’s pie and rounded off with an organic chocolate brownie.
OTHER THINGS TO SEE & DO
Palace Of Holyroodhouse
Holyroodhouse is the royal family’s official home in Scotland, and is best known as Mary Queen of Scot’s palace during the 16th century. Visitors can take a tour around the estate, including Mary’s bedchamber and the Great Gallery, with its 89 portraits of Scottish kings.
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Edinburgh is home to the second oldest Botanic Garden in the UK. It was founded in Holyrood in the 17th century, before moving to its current location in 1823. Today, visitors can walk through 70 acres of landscapes gardens, full of beautiful plants and rare flowers. Make a beeline for the famous rock garden, then visit the John Hope Gateway visitor centre to learn about its history.
The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
Home to a fantastic sculpture park and Pig Rock Bothy – a rustic-looking structure which plays host to a changing programme of performances, discussions, residencies and events – The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is an impressive go-to for art enthusiasts and dabblers alike. A 15-minute walk from Princes Street, it spans two buildings, Modern One and Modern Two. In the latter, step inside the studio of Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, a prominent sculptor who grew up in Leith. The studio is zoned for different activities: desks for reading and working with paper, shelves of reference books, a large central table for modelling and working with plaster casts, and a bunk for resting. A rare glimpse at the working processes and space of a celebrated creative mind.
HOW TO GET THERE
The train journey from Edinburgh to London is a beautiful one, passing along the east coast via Northumberland. If you want to make the trip even more exciting, book a Caledonian sleeper train. All rooms come with a washbasin, complimentary toiletries and free wi-fi; some have en-suites with showers.
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