Edinburgh is a living history book. It’s a place of fairytales! Where ancient volcanoes tower above astounding architecture, where roads become bridges as the underground becomes above ground, where the mountains meet the sea. Edinburgh is just insane if you think about it, I mean whoever thought it was a good idea to build a castle on top of a volcano!? Yet Edinburgh still manages to astound me with its winding streets and stunning coastline and it’s not hard to see why this beautiful city was once named the ‘Athens of the North’.
I love the people and the buzz, I love that it’s small and you can walk almost anywhere (if you don’t mind walking hills, think about all the cakes you can eat after a day out walking here!) and I love that its a place where gruesome history meets dynamic innovation every day. It’s a city that is steeped in history and you can see that everywhere you go, it’s bloody stunning here! Yet it’s not scared of moving and changing and there are a lot of creative minds here, opening new and massively exciting things, so don’t just come here for the history, come here for the present.
Each part of Edinburgh has a different character and make the city so unique. The old town is a jumble of houses and shops and old creaky lanes, some that you can just about still hear and feel the ghosts of time gone by, whereas the new town is a symbol is progression and success as the long imposing streets lie in unison, in order, each highlighting and framing and architectural beauty. These are the two areas I tend to tell people to explore when they’re only here for a flying visit, but if you fancy going further, Edinburgh is also home to the cool and trendy, post industrial Leith and a bountiful coast line that stretches all the way up to North Berwick (which I highly recommend as a day trip!) but stay with me as I take you on my absolute dream 48 hours in my favourite city!
Day 1: 09:00 – 14:00
Scotland is home to the slightly different (much better) version of a British fry up, aptly named the Scottish Breakfast, and its wonderful! Its big and greasy, but when you find the right place, it can also be a culinary delight, sampling some of Scotland’s best produce, plus it will fill you up for at least a few hours of sightseeing so forget the calorie counting! One of my favourite breakfast spots is Mimi’s Bakehouse in Leith, it has a stunning gourmet breakfast featuring Stornaway black pudding (the best black pudding) and Ayrshire bacon, so for those of us conscious about sourcing locally, this is a winner! It has a fantastic vegetarian alternative and the cakes…oh the cakes, they are in my opinion, one of the best in Scotland, so it is absolutely worth the trip, plus you get a wonderful view of the Shore of Leith.
Once you can pull yourself off your chair after all that food, check the weather and I’ll give you some options of how to use up all that energy you should have now! We all know that no one comes to Scotland for a tan, so I always prepare myself with a few options depending on the rain. If you’re one of the lucky ones and you managed to come to Edinburgh on our one day of summer, then get yourself outside! We have such lush and diverse landscapes in Scotland and Edinburgh even has more trees per head of population than any other city in the UK, so get outside!
If it’s sunny, get your walking shoes on and head down to Arthur’s Seat. This extinct volcano is one of Edinburgh’s best walking and running spots, and when you start to reach the top, you understand why. 360 degree views of Edinburgh and the sea meet you as you venture further and further up and you can begin to imagine how Edinburgh must have looked before all the buildings and people were there, you’re part of living history up here. The old Celtic legend tells that there once was a fearsome dragon that flew around, terrorising people and eating all the cows and one day it ate so much, it lay down and went to sleep, never to wake up. That dragon is Arthurs Seat, so who knows, you might want to have that cake from earlier to sacrifice in case it wakes up. If walking isn’t your thing, sit back with a coffee from Black Medicine and take in the view of Arthur’s Seat from the landscaped garden around the parliament.
However if you’ve come on one of the 364 days of rain then get your discovery hat on and venture up to the National Museum of Scotland. This place is still one of my absolute favourite places to go in Edinburgh, it’s like being a child again. I can play with racing cars, find out what my future baby would look like, build robots and learn about the stars, it’s a place of wonder. It’s a really fantastic museum, and has a good mix of ancient history and modern, cutting edge science, with a great selection of games and experiments to involve people of all ages in learning. The building is also a stunning addition to the architecture of Edinburgh and combines what was already a marvellous building, built in the age of enlightenment, with gigantic ceilings and tall windows, with a gorgeous sandstone of architectural design. Best of all it’s free, it’s huge and you can easily spend the whole day here so there is no need to worry about the weather; you can have a million different adventures in here.
Day 1: 14:00 – 19:00
So you might be hungry by this point, and might even want to take a break from the museum to catch something for lunch. This part of the city is home to the University of Edinburgh and has a great selection of inventive yet cheap places to eat. One of my regular haunts is Ting Thai Caravan on Teviot place. It gets busy so try and avoid the most common lunch hours if you don’t want to wait a little for a place. Trust me though, the wait is worth it. It serves a wide and authentic variety of Thai food, and a combination of small and large plates allows you to try almost all of them if you are as indecisive and as hungry as I usually am. I particularly love the Thai juices they have, try the coconut juice with real fresh coconut pieces, it’s perfect for cooling your mouth after something extra spicy.
If you’re in the mood for something Indian, Edinburgh will not disappoint, with a dedicated square close to the University offering several fantastic, authentic curry places. Get yourself a table at the intimate and colourful 10 to 10 deli and sample some of Edinburgh’s best indian food. I love the cosy interior, and the staff are lovely and know their stuff! It’s also super cheap, and you can fill yourself up for much less than £10.
If you’re in the mood to shop, no trip to Edinburgh should be complete without a trip to Armstrongs. If you ever wondered what it would be like to walk back in time and enter a world where the egyptians, world war 2 fighter pilots and 70s hippies all lived together, this is the place for you. It’s a vintage shop that’s not only a shop, it’s an adventure and the interior of the shop is reason enough to go! Pick yourself up some unique items or even a vintage wedding dress or just have some fun trying on some weird and wonderful items.
From here, I think after all that walking you deserve an ice cream, and there’s no better place than Mary’s Milk Bar. The owner trained at an real life gelato university in Italy, so you know she knows her stuff. The ice cream is as smooth as you’d like and the flavours combinations are creative and daring. I’ve tried goats cheese or chilli ice cream and I’ve only ever been astounded by the amazing flavour, so don’t be too afraid to try something new!
Day 1: 19:00 – ???
To wind off your first day, I recommend, if you’re made of harder things, going on a ghost tour. These may sound like tourist traps, and some of them most likely are, but the most prominent companies such as Mercat Tours and Auld Reekie Tours offer fascinating and frightening tours of Edinburgh’s oldest streets and our underground city of caves and vaults. I have been on at least four of these tours and each time I get to the vaults I wonder why I keep going down, because I am honestly terrified! The tours always fill me with genuinely interesting facts about our city so if you don’t fancy the ghost bit, then you can opt for a history tour alone.
A trip down to the vaults is not only a chance to scream and hear horror stories, its a chance to see a side of Edinburgh’s past that is not so bright. These vaults were once the home to the poorest and most vulnerable people but also to the worst as it was illegal to be homeless, so they quickly became filled with people of all sorts, and for not very savoury reasons. They were dark and damp, as they are now, and they hold a lot of secrets and although I almost run out every single time I’m there, I also appreciate knowing and paying respect to the people that once lived there. The tour guides are fantastic, they really bring each story to light and you will see them on the Royal Mile with their long capes and booming voices, so if you feel you can handle it, check them out, the sign up points are just around St Giles Cathedral.
If ghosts are not your thing, then why not pop down to City Cafe on Blair Street, an American diner themed restaurant,for your dinner and make it in time for a guaranteed laugh at the comedy club Monkey Barrel just next door. The club has a great selection of craft beers, so grab yourself a couple and sit down for a night of fantastic comedy from all over the world. The club is diverse and offers a different night each night of the week, ranging from experimental to improvised so there will be something for everyone here.
If you still feel up to a walk, how about ending the night with a walk up the beautiful Calton Hill, with a warm flask and a blanket and watch the city lit up at night from the top of the hill. It’s a wonderful place, full of stunning architecture and history but I love it best for the view, and if you happen to be around for fireworks night, this is one of the best spots in Edinburgh!
Day 2: 09:00 – 14:00
Edinburgh is blessed with some fantastic food markets, more and more are popping up all over the city and one of my favourites is the Sunday Stockbridge Market. Who says you can’t have noodles or paella for breakfast?! I love the variety of food here, and the quality is exceptional. My stand out favourites are the Japanese udon, Spanish paella and the Indian burger, but there are new stands opening every week and it offer you the world on a plate. The market is also home to a great number of craft stalls, and specialist jam stalls, and cheese stalls and cake stalls, it’s just a fantastic way to spend a morning. The market can also be found on a Saturday in Grassmarket and more are opening every day, so no matter what part of Edinburgh you’re in, there will be one close by!
It’s in a wonderful location that allows you to peruse the small boutiques and fantastic array of charity shops that Stockbridge has to offer. I love St Stephens Street for it’s unique vintage shops and designer home brands, but if money is an issue, (i’m a student so i’m often in this bracket) then you must have a rummage through our ever growing number of charity shops. I promise you that there will be something fantastic just lying under and old board game or a fantastic pair of designer shoes that somebody threw out after wearing once, it’s a gold mine and it all goes to a good cause, what more could you ask for! For book and music lovers, my tip would be to check out the Oxfam book and record stores for some amazing deals.
For lunch check into the stylish Hamiltons, just around the corner from the market. This is a lovely place for some beautiful designed food and fun, creative cocktails. It has comfy couches for lounging after all that shopping and it’s menu is adventurous and homely at the same time and is prime position for people watching. Or if you do happen to be around on a Sunday afternoon, you have to check out Hectors Bar for a traditional Sunday roast. It’s a lovely place to come and spend a few hours on a Sunday afternoon.
Day 2: 14:00 – 19:00
After lunch I love to take a walk through the Water of Leith. It’s a really stunning walk through the banks of the river, as it passes under the streets of Stockbridge, and takes you through pieces of architecture such as St Bernard’s Well and some of Edinburgh’s unique colony houses, (houses that were built in the early 1900’s for artisans and skilled workers).
It is a walk that takes you through time, under the dean bridge, past waterfalls and down to the absolutely remarkably well preserved Dean Village. The ‘village’ is now part of the city of Edinburgh but you would be forgiven for thinking you were suddenly transported back in time. The place is gorgeous, not only is it on the banks of the river, but the buildings are some of the most beautiful in Edinburgh. Take a wonder, and take a million and one pictures, and you will see why Edinburgh is one of the most picturesque cities in the world.
From here you can travel further on the river down to the National Gallery of Modern Art. One of the best thing about this gallery is that you get two galleries for the price of one and the price is free so even better! The two buildings sit on opposite sides of the road from each other and are part of a creatively landscaped garden that incorporates the art into the design. The buildings have a great combination of traditional and experimental exhibits, and even a room to do some artwork of your own. The galleries also have a really fantastic gift shop, showcasing some of the most unique Scottish and British designers and if you are an art lover, you really must visit.
Day 2: 19:00 – ???
After you’ve immersed yourself in modern art, wonder back to Stockbridge for an evening of cheese, wine and laughter and visit the ever stylish Smith and Gertrudes. I love to spend an evening here, winding away the hours eating fabulous charcuterie and cheeses from all over the world, and you don’t need to worry if you don’t know much about this type of food or wine (I certainly didn’t), the staff are on hand with great recommendations and the menu even offers a small selection of the best on show for you to try a bit of everything.
However, if wine and cheese isn’t your thing, head back into the old town, to my new favourite pizza place, Civerinos. It has a mouthwatering menu of traditional pizzas, pastas and sides, and my tip to all is try the courgette fries! They’re deep fried and make a lovely alternative to traditional chips, and you can pretend that you’re being healthy! The interior is colourful and inviting and if that isn’t enough to get you in, the smell of garlic and tomato from the door should do the trick!
If you want to end your night dancing, you must check out the uber cool Biscuit Factory. They host a number of events ranging from fashion shows, to art openings to club nights and the space is just amazing. You will definitely feel about 300% cooler just being here, and they host a great number of fantastic artists so check out their website for event listings.
Another amazing event you cannot miss is Rhythm Machine. It’s on sporadically so check the Facebook page for up to date information, but if you happen to be here on the lucky night, it should not be avoided. It’s a night run by art school students and is really one of the most fun and inviting events i’ve been to in my time living in Edinburgh. The music ranges from electronic to afrobeats and the people are dressed so creatively so it gives you a good excuse to get on your most sparkly outfit and dance the night away, surrounded by happy, friendly people.
This is what makes Edinburgh and Scotland so special; the people! We are a small but fiery bunch of people with huge hearts and we only want to welcome you to our city so get out and enjoy it and hopefully you will meet some of the locals and see the real Edinburgh.