This week I’m featuring our very first guest post! Bringing you the lowdown on 48 hours in the lovely and lively Scottish capital of Edinburgh is Kate Hopper.
Ahh Edinburgh, land of tablet, haggis, bagpipes, castles and kilts, marauding stags and hens, drunken comedians and student thespians. Right? Well, yes, but there is more to Scotland’s capital city than Greyfriar’s Bobby and tartan tat, explore a little deeper and you’ll find a city of secret gardens, magnificent views and underground drinking dens which serve much more than 200 varieties of single malt.
Just an hour away by plane from London, Edinburgh is compact enough to easily explore in 48 hours, but make sure you have a good pair of walking shoes for the day (beware the cobbles) and a pair of spiky heels or dandy brogues for night, Edinburgh keeps going 24 hours in the summer, so make sure you can too.
Things to See and Do
Most visitors to Edinburgh don’t wander further afield than the famous Old and New Towns which make up its World Heritage Site (which are a must do for any visitor) but if you are willing to explore a little deeper, then there is a lot more to the city than just the Castle. Here are your must not miss attractions and ssshh! – a few Edinburgh secrets you should know about.
The Royal Mile
The first stop on any trip to Edinburgh has to be the High Street, or as it is more glamorously known – the Royal Mile – with the Scottish Parliament and Holyrood Palace at one end and the Castle at the other. Start at the bottom and wind your way up, but don’t just stick to photographing the main street though, the best parts of the Old Town are actually found down the closes leading off ‘the spine’.
Just pick your close at random and prepared to be surprised; If you are lucky and choose the right one you might find the smallest pub in Edinburgh (The Halfway House) or the beautiful art work of the marble Scotsman Steps.
After hopefully not getting lost on the Royal Mile, head up the hill to the Castle; if Castle’s are your thing, then Edinburgh’s must be top of your list, it is arguably the most famous in the world.
You could spend a whole day here, it’s a little town all of its own with winding streets, the Great Hall, a barracks and the Honours of Scotland (the Scottish crown jewels) all to be explored but if you haven’t the time to spare (or the budget for the £15 entrance fee) then just walk up to the Esplanade and enjoy the views of the city across to the Firth of Forth.
The Museum of Scotland
After leaving the Castle, head south out of the Old Town to Chambers Street to the newly refurbished Museum of Scotland. The Museum is well worth a visit for the spectacular Victorian Grand Gallery alone, but the serious amount of stuff housed within the building (from dinosaurs to hippos, to Scottish art and a whole steam train) will keep you amused for hours and all for free too.
The refurbishment has taken 3 years and cost £47 million and has been receiving rave reviews since the doors reopened, it’s worth all the fuss believe me. Insider tip – if you can find your way to the roof you will be rewarded with an usual view of the Castle and the old town that very people see without living in a top floor tenement flat.
The New Town
After you have had your fill of culture and castles, it’s time to head across the Waverley Valley to the New Town, stopping for a sit down in the pretty Princes Street Gardens if required. Designed in 1767, the New Town is the antidote to the crowded Old Town closes, with wide streets, grand views and grander shops.
You can find everything a fashionista might require in the New Town – from high street shopping on the famous Princes Street, to designer fashion at Cruise on George Street, to Louboutins on Thistle Street and of course Harvey Nichols in St Andrew Square. Make sure you have room in your luggage home; Edinburgh shopping is more than just shortbread!
Dean Village and the Water of Leith
If you are hankering after some peace and quiet after bleeding your credit card dry then head away from the festival crowds (or the crowds at any time of the year) to the Dean Village, only 5 minutes walk from the west end of Princes Street. Take an hour to explore this beautiful conservation village and walk along the Water of Leith to the equally charming Stockbridge Village with its cute cafes and quirky shops. Both villages feel a 100 years away from the bustling city just up the hill.
Finally, how many people reading this know that Edinburgh has its own volcano? No? Well you can’t really miss it, as it towers over the city. Have no fear; it’s not going to start spewing lava at you as you hike up as it’s been extinct for a very long time, which is a good thing really as the last proper explosion created the rock the castle now sits on. From Holyrood Palace give yourself an hour to get to the top, it is a bit of a hike and it’s not best to try it in flip flops, but you will be rewarded the best view of the city you can get.
Food and Drink
Think of Edinburgh and you think malt whisky and haggis, but the city has 5 Michelin starred restaurants and some of the best cocktail bars in the world. But it’s not all bank busting cuisine, there are plenty of restaurants and bars for any budget, taste and menu.
The Apartment / The Outsider
The Apartment and its even cooler baby brother The Outsider are Edinburgh stalwarts that never get old and conservative. You won’t find doilies and cream teas here. Instead the Apartment does hearty, imaginative bistro food in a warm and quirky space, hidden away on the edge of Bruntsfield Links. In the Old Town, the Outsider (look out for the vintage bike outside) does one of the best lunches in the city, ask for the table by the window and you can admire the Castle (again!) as you munch your garlicky fries.
All that hiking… er walking, requires a lot of energy and there is nothing better to fill you up than good old tex mex, so head over to the independently run Illegal Jacks, who specialise in monster burritos, spicy chicken wings and rather tasty chilli. Jack’s has a loyal following, who know to ask for his secret sauces hidden in the kitchen.
Jacks also serves a range of both Brewdog beers and Thistly Cross ciders for the thirsty, plus a mean margarita pitcher, watch you don’t wobble on the way home. If you are technically minded, you can reserve a booth by tweeting your reservation and Jack will make you a personal reservation sign, a nice touch!
The mosque kitchen used to be one of Edinburgh’s best kept secrets, hidden behind the central mosque under a canvas was a tiny kitchen serving yummy curry on paper plates to all comers. The Mosque Kitchen may have recently packed up its tarpaulin and moved to a more salubrious home in Nicolson Square but the curry is just as good and as good value as ever.
Edinburgh has a thriving café culture which beats the regulation Starbucks hand’s down, whilst I have a soft spot for Tea Tree Tree, Loudons and Peter’s Yard, as they say themselves, the tea is served best at Loopy Lorna’s in Morningside.
The New Town is filled to the brim with boutique hotel bars, stag and hen heaven and real ale establishments, but where do you go for a cocktail? Bramble on Queen Street that’s where. Voted the first Scottish Bar in the Bartender’s top 20 bars in the world, Bramble makes seriously good drinks, served in a variety of ways, even in teacups. My favourite is their namesake – the Bramble, crushed ice, gin, lemon syrup and blackcurrant served in a tall glass, alcoholic heaven.
The Bon Vivant
The French population of Edinburgh is evident in the number of French restaurants found across the city, but who knew they did bars just as well as food? Bon Vivant, hidden away on Thistle Street amongst the designer clothes shops is an Edinburgh secret I am willing to share. Dark and romantic, The Bon Vivant is Paris instils a sense of naughty Paris in conservative Edinburgh, with live DJs, candles overflowing wine bottles and finger food to share.
The Voodoo Rooms
Edinburgh has many listed buildings, but none of them are quite as funky as The Voodoo Rooms. With two bars, a dance hall and a restaurant, The Voodoo Rooms hosts live music, cabaret and clubs, including the legendary Vegas.
Black and gold cornicing, glitter balls, booths and gorgeous people make for a good night, but it is hard to find hidden away behind a snack bar, look out for McDonalds at the east end and head into the back streets.
Under the Stairs
Edinburgh has many underground bars, but Under the Stairs does basement chic the best. Again hard to find, but that is a good thing as this is a busy little space.
They make the best use of it by jamming the mismatched tables and chairs together and serving food to share. Friendly bar staff, a fish tank and local DJs help make this a great local’s bar worth searching out.
How to get there
Edinburgh is an hour by plane to London and served by a variety of airlines as there are a lot of businessmen using the route. Try British Airways, easyJet and bmi for flights to Edinburgh. There is a fast bus to the city centre from outside the airport.
A bit of orientation
Here’s a handy map laying out all the sights I mentioned above to give you an idea of where things are in Edinburgh.
Click on the markers to see the sight listed and zoom and pan around to see more of the map.
View 48 hours in Edinburgh in a larger map
Get around in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is easily walkable, but bring a good pair of walking shoes as it is very hilly and the cobbles can be a killer. Buses are excellent (voted the best in the UK) and will take you any distance for £1.30. If you are a smart phone user, try the Bustracker app, its rather handy for getting around.
Where to stay
Edinburgh has accommodation for every budget, but for location you can’t beat the Art Roch Hostel in the Grassmarket, Edinburgh Backpackers on Cockburn Street and the Budget Backpackers at the bottom of Candlemaker Row.
Unfortunately as a capital city, Edinburgh is not always the cheapest place to visit, but you can eat well for £5 a lunch, £10 a dinner, £3 a drink or £6 a cocktail, buses are good value, use taxi’s only if you have too and most of the museums are free. It is also free to sit on a bench in the Meadows, Princes Street Gardens or Holyrood Park and just soak up the atmosphere.
Edinburgh is near the top of most people’s must visit lists and there is a good reason why, it has everything you need for a 48 hour city break. Whilst the weather is never brilliant, you need a lot of stamina and its full of tourists during the summer months, get off the beaten track and you will be rewarded by the city as the locals see it, charming, friendly and full of character.
There may be more to the city that whisky and shortbread, bagpipes and boys in kilts, but make sure as you are searching for the underground bars mentioned that you don’t miss out. Whisky doesn’t mean the water of life for nothing – it’s very restorative!
Have you been to Edinburgh before? What did you like about it most? Did we miss something you think is worth a visit? Let us know in the comments!
Disclosure: This post contains a sponsored link provided by bmi.