Things to Do in EdinburghEdinburgh – Beyond the Kilts
Chances are, when we say Edinburgh, you think castles, kilts, and pubs. That’s fair, but it’s only half the story. Add a culinary scene worth traveling for, festivals galore, and an unexpectedly chic vibe – thanks in part to the arrival of the luxe Hotel Missoni – and you have a more complete picture of this cultural hub.
Good For: Couples, friends, and families (bring on the family reunion) looking to experience the welcoming, sharp-witted Scots. And looking to get their serious whisky on. Besides being pretty and friendly, the city is compact, easy to navigate, and, even if done on the high-end, won’t break the bank. For more on exploring Edinburgh with the family, check out our Family Trip to Edingurgh feature.
- Arranging a private whisky tasting at the Hotel du Vin. Experts will take you through Scottish varieties and give you a nip of a rare Japanese whisky for good measure. If you’re not a whisky drinker, there’s a reason they call it Hotel du Vin. They’ll tailor their extensive, accessible wine list for your own personal sampling.
- Spending a night at the pubs (see a theme here?) for down-home Scottish hospitality in the Grassmarket. The White Hart is said to be the oldest pub in Edinburgh – dating to 1516. The Last Drop is exactly that – where they once took poor souls for their last drink before public execution. Expect no pretense or velvet ropes; just friendly Scots eager to engage in conversation. And, of course, there’s always the Belhaven, home of your new favorite Scottish beer.
- Experiencing Scottish storytelling through the tale of Greyfriars Bobby at the churchyard, stopping at the eponymous pub, and then peeking into the Elephant House, where J.K. Rowling (then on food stamps) first had this really good idea about a book on magic.
- Taking in the culinary scene. From the langoustine with truffle sauce at Martin Wishart to the ravioli with wild salmon at Kitchin, Scotland is one of the largest sources of fish in the industry. The seafood here will change your world.
Suggested Stay: 2–3 days
What to Know: Edinburgh is a year-round destination, and if you time it right, you’ll experience one of their legendary festivals (though you may not be able to pronounce it). From the Orkney Storytelling to the theatrical Fringe to Hogmanay – the famed New Year’s celebration – there's always a party going on. Culturally, the National Museum of Scotland and the National Gallery will satisfy history and art buffs, as will the very touristy Royal Britannica (though we’ll admit, we lined up to see the Royal Family Yacht). But even if you skipped all that and just walked the Royal Botanic Garden and stopped in for a pint and fish and chips and caught the Scottish wit through friendly conversation, you’d get your dose of culture.
Wine and Design
Edinburgh’s hotels reflect its welcoming, laid-back culture. Expect low-key luxury, and remember, you don’t go to Edinburgh to hang in your hotel room. The Hotel du Vin is a classically elegant boutique hotel with a prime location just a short walk from the Royal Mile and right by the University of Edinburgh and the Quarter Mile neighborhood. Rooms are done up in dark wood, with modern baths and crisp linens, but the hotel’s major selling point is its common spaces, with a solid French restaurant, library bar, and private scotch and wine tasting rooms. Book a session with your own whisky expert and sommelier – it will be a highlight of your trip.
The Quarter Mile is given very little love by travel resources, but it’s where the upwardly mobile locals live. To get away from the touristy attractions, spend a morning at Peter’s Yard in the heart of the complex. Once the grounds of a hospital, it’s now where traditional and modern apartment buildings are fused into one of the cooler neighborhoods in Edinburgh.
In the heart of it all (and the most talked-about opening in recent years) is the Hotel Missoni, of the famed fashion house. The company’s first foray into hotels, this is where the most attractive European visitors get away for the weekend. Décor is bold, and the doormen have the coolest kilts, in the signature Missoni print. The spa offers Natura Bise treatments, and its bar, one of the city’s buzziest for chic locals after work, goes late into the night.
The city’s gourmet standouts, while often British-inspired, far surpass your typical bangers and mash. We’d hop a plane any day of the week for duck pastille and sautéed foie gras with poached peaches at Martin Wishart. The Kitchin, set in a converted waterfront warehouse, is where the cool kids hang (obviously). The intimate Divino Enoteca might as well be in Rome for the number of Italian wines it serves by the glass. And on the weekend, you’ll find the locals wolfing down waffles at Saint Giles Café. If you have one cheese plate – the Scottish can almost put the French to shame – do so at 21212. To recreate a Scottish feast at home, take a look at our Cooling Your Jets Scottish Recipes.
In the end, no matter when you go, you’ll probably stumble on one celebration or another. In our experience, the Scots pretty much pounce on any excuse to get the scotch flowing.