With fewer than 500,000 residents, Edinburgh is not a huge city but between the architecture, history, gorgeous views and, of course, the whisky, there’s plenty on offer for visitors to enjoy. The obvious time to go to Edinburgh is summer, when temps max out at around 65°F (18°C), and hundreds of thousands of visitors descend on the town for the annual Fringe Festival, “the largest arts festival in the world,” which takes place over three weeks every August. Instead, my husband and I visited the city during Halloween and were rewarded with a laid-back, beautiful autumn weekend.
On our first morning in Scotland, we headed straight for Edinburgh Castle (Castlehill, EH1 2NG), the buildings of which date back to the 12th century. Strolling along the stone walls of the fort, we took in the beautiful views and looked on as the changing leaves painted the town below in warm golden colors.
The Ox (49-51 London St, Midlothian EH3 6LX), a gastropub with craft beers on draught and a focus on locally sourced ingredients, was laid-back and catering to locals when we stopped in for lunch. The menu combines standard pub fare like fish & chips and burgers, as well as local bites like scotch eggs and haggis balls, with offerings of oysters, lobster and venison. We ordered the lunch special, an Indian-inspired fish dish with curried vegetables, and the grilled hake with warm butter bean & chorizo salad, broad beans & baby gem, and tomato dressing. We switched plates halfway through the meal because neither of us could settle on a favorite. After strolling along the boutique shops of Broughton Street, this is your place to enjoy a hearty, delicious and locally sourced meal and then stick around for a beer and some people-watching.
Night one called for a little barhopping: Nearly 20 bars in just over two hours, to be exact. Cocktails in the City (various locations) is an annual cocktail festival taking place in four cities across the UK: Edinburgh, London, Leeds and Manchester. In Edinburgh, 16 of the city’s top bars came together under one roof to show off their signature artisan cocktails. This year’s venue, Mansfield Traquair, is a stunning former catholic apostolic church built in the late 1800s in a neo-Romanesque style. Admission (10 pounds; 15 USD) included one free cocktail. After that, drink tokens were 6 pounds each. My favorite drink of the night was 56 North’s Dunnet Fling, made up of Rock Rose gin, Grand Marnier, blood orange juice, fresh lemon juice, maraschino liqueur and an orange garnish hit with a blast from a kitchen torch.
Nutrition Tip: While Cocktails in the City was a great way to discover some of the most interesting drink innovations on offer in Edinburgh, I usually try to keep things simple. When I’m craving a cocktail, my go-to drink is a Classic Margarita: just tequila, triple sec and fresh lime juice. Limit calories by asking the bartender to skip the simple syrup (and any other added sugars).
Our stomachs began rumbling just in time for our reservation at The Dogs (110 Hanover St, EH2 1DR). Founder David Ramsden designed his restaurant to be “a place for everyone who wishes to partake of great value food and wine, in a chilled environment with no frills or fuss.” Sure enough, we found ourselves among couples on dates, friends, and groups enjoying both casual and celebratory evenings, in a candlelight room that managed to give off a hip-but-not-exclusive vibe. The menu focuses on Scottish and British ingredients and dishes. Highlights of our dinner were the macaroni with roast cauliflower cheese and the spiced beef brisket with runner beans, celeriac, toast, and blackberry chutney.
The next morning we attempted a hike up to Arthur’s Seat, a dormant volcano and the highest point in Holyrood Park (1 Queen's Drive, EH8 8HG), with great views of the city and different paths to climb to the top. Given the suspected tendonitis in my ankle and a spontaneous rain shower, we didn’t make it very far – my one regret from our trip to Edinburgh. The following morning, my husband would leave me to tend to my injury while he joined the many locals and visitors who start a new day with a jog up the hill. I remain jealous.
Whisky tasting is a must-do on a visit to Scotland. In Edinburgh, this can be done any number of ways from simply ordering off the menu at a local pub to participating in a tour or visiting an exhibition. We opted for somewhere in the middle. Whiski Rooms (4-7 North Bank Street, EH1 2LP) offers guided, themed whisky tastings (Introductory; History of; Premium; and Bespoke) on a daily basis. Reservations are recommended but if you wait too long to book, you can do what we did and choose from over a dozen flights (all of which come with tasting notes) available from the bar. While we were on discovery mode, we followed up our drinks with some haggis spring rolls. Haggis is made from sheep’s organs (heart, lungs & liver) minced with oats, onions and spices and stuffed into a casing. Not bad actually but some might find it an acquired taste.
I can’t think of a better way to start a crisp Autumn morning in Edinburgh than with a bowl of warm porridge made with Scottish oats and topped with sultanas (a type of dried grape, like a raisin) and a dash of cream. Kildonan Lodge (27 Craigmillar Park, EH16 5PE) is a boutique hotel with Victorian style and endlessly modern service. The complimentary breakfast includes a continental buffet and a choice of hot entrees, including a traditional Scottish breakfast and traditionally Scottish sides like haggis and black pudding. I, of course, started and ended my stay at the hotel with the creamy comforting porridge.
We discovered Artisan Roast (57 Broughton street, EH13RJ) on Day 1 and became so instantly hooked on the rich, caramelly espresso used in their lattes, we blew through a loyalty card by the end of the weekend. This cozy hipster espresso spot is part of a larger enterprise that includes a roastery, several cafés, wholesale services and barista training. The back room, furnished with wooden benches, cushions and low coffee tables, is a great spot to warm up and plan your next move in Edinburgh.
Foodie Dietitian from NYC living in London, eating her way around the world & writing about it. Come with me as I explore traditional & modern cuisines and global food cultures, search for the best latte, and all the while try to make sensible meal choices! Recommendations are all unsolicited and unpaid. 100% my favorites!
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NEXT: Barcelona,ES Nov '16
Istria, HR, SI, IT Oct '16
Dublin, IE Aug '16
Basque Country, ES Jul '16
Antibes, FR Jun '16
Tel Aviv, IL May '16
Parma, IT Apr '16
Geneva, CH Mar '16
Paris, FR Feb '16
Munich, DE Jan '16
Vienna, AT Dec '15
Marrakech, MA Nov '15
Edinburgh, SCT Oct '15
NYC + Nashville, US Sep '15
Copenhagen, DK Aug '15
Prague, CZ Jul '15
Budapest, HU Jun '15
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