A historic city, built on seven hills. Rome? No – Edinburgh. Land of whisky, cosy bars, wintry hikes and the Queen’s favourite yacht.
After arriving and a good explore of the Old Town, we swiftly realised that there are some serious hills in Edinburgh. Being built on seven hills means there are at least fourteen ways do go uphill and downhill; a two-minute walk on Google Maps can quite easily end up as a long climb up picturesque stone stairs and along steep winding alleyways.
Nicola had booked us a cosy little apartment in Old Town Chambers, nestled away in a Close just off the Royal Mile. Our apartment had a fully-equipped kitchen and a luxurious lounge, as well as a bathroom with a splendid roll top bathtub. We both firmly agreed that when we own a flat, this is exactly how we will furnish it.
Overlooking the city is Arthur’s Seat, a reasonably high hill to the east of Edinburgh. Early one morning we donned our walking boots and climbed to the top. Our route to the top took us a couple of hours; it was 1°c and the wind was making it feel ten colder. Nicola seemed to think it was fresh and invigorating, but I’m fairly certain it was cold and windy.
One advantage of the Arctic temperatures was the panorama from the top of Arthur’s Seat, unobscured by heat haze or clouds. The view stretches from the hills in the south to the Firth of Forth in the north. There was still a thin layer of snow at the peak, in which we slipped and slid around, before heading back to the city along Queen’s Drive. This winding little road took us past frozen lochs and snow-white fields, before passing the Scottish branch of The Royal Family, Holyrood Palace. Rather than contributing to the local economy, we peered through the wrought iron gates and took clever photos that made it appear as if we were paying visitors.
Opposite the Palace is the Parliament building, which Nicola and I considered carefully from both the outside and inside, and decided that it had little architectural merit. The building didn’t seem to flow, and didn’t really fit in or complement the surrounding area. We put it firmly into the ‘blot on the landscape’ category, along with London’s 20 Fenchurch Street and the carbuncle that is the URS building at my former university.
A weekend in Edinburgh wouldn’t be complete without trying whisky, so we went to Whiski Bar, which offered intriguing ‘tasting flights’. To novices like Nicola and I, this sounded perfect. That was, until we had the first sip. No ‘oaky notes’, no ‘lingering sea air’ – it just tasted like alcohol and burned our throats. Faced with three more, we powered through and drank the next, then the next, then the next. By the last dram, we decided we quite liked whisky after all; we’re not completely convinced that was due to the quality.
Next stop in the Accidental Royal Tour of Edinburgh was the Royal Yacht Britannia, which is an odd setup. You access it through a Debenhams (I doubt the Queen ever did this), pay £16.50 to enter (same again), listen to an audio tour (ditto) and wonder why on earth she married Prince Phillip (she may well have done this bit).
The royal boat is decked out like an elderly person’s house, which is lovely and comforting, but not necessarily what you’d expect from someone who owns most of the swans in the UK. Nicola and I spent a decent chunk of our time aboard wondering why she hadn’t opted for a more oligarchical approach of helipads, swimming pools and a tank full of sharks. People often complain about the taxpayer propping up the Royal family; in the case of HMS Floating Care Home, I think we can agree that every expense was spared.
On our last morning in Edinburgh we chose to explore the castle. We knew that there would be a cannon going off at 1pm, so we hurried though the exhibits to make sure we were nearby. The highlight was a walk-through exhibition of the history of Scotland, an absolutely marvellous assortment of waxworks, illustrations and panels of text which seemed to have zero logic or chronology. With every corner a further array of wispy-haired Trumpalikes littered the room, their glassy eyeballs staring gormlessly at replica ceremonial swords. The crowning glory was the Honours of Scotland, which consisted of a crown, a sword and a big rock, all behind an inch of glass and watched by a real-life waxwork, still staring gormlessly at a sword.
We eventually escaped the trail of Scottish history, and stepped into the cold, sunny afternoon. When the 1 o’clock gun was eventually fired, you could feel it throughout your body, the echo reverberating across the stone walls of the city. Weirdly, it made Nicola feel quite sick, but I told her I wouldn’t write anything about that on here. Despite the exhibition, Edinburgh Castle was magnificent, and exactly how a castle should look – turrets, towers, machicolation and crenellation (I learned those words recently and haven’t had a chance to use them yet).
Where to eat and drink
One thing that I haven’t mentioned is the food and drink in Edinburgh. We went to a carefully-curated list of restaurants and bars, which I’ve listed below. All very much worth a visit:
The Dogs – this packed little restaurant specialised in good quality food at good quality prices. The menu is constantly changing, which means the food is seasonal, fresh and often unusual. You’ll need to book a table. thedogsonline.co.uk
Monteiths – we had the haggis from the lunch menu. It came complete with neeps and tatties and was a lovely cosy little place to while away an afternoon. monteithsrestaurant.co.uk
Lioness of Leith – the Sunday roast didn’t disappoint. The beef was rare, the potatoes crispy, and the gravy was so good we kept asking for more. thelionessofleith.co.uk
Petit Paris – a Parisian-style restaurant on Grassmarket. A very affordable and delicious lunch with good wine, crusty fresh bread and a strong espresso. petitparis-restaurant.co.uk
The Devil’s Advocate – this bar was a minute away from Old Town Chambers, and we sampled a couple of their creative cocktails. One included a flower on the top. devilsadvocateedinburgh.co.uk
The Bon Vivant – this cocktail bar in a side street was bustling but not too busy. The staff were welcoming, helpful and made a great cocktail. bonvivantedinburgh.co.uk
Whiski Bar – ideal for whisky tasting, as well as for pinching sachets of HP sauce to have with breakfast in your apartment. whiskibar.co.uk
We stayed in: Old Town Chambers (lateralcity.com/old-town-chambers)
We saw: Edinburgh Castle (edinburghcastle.gov.uk)
We nearly froze to death on: Arthur’s Seat (visitscotland.com)