A Travel Lover's Stylish Guide to Edinburgh
The travel bug first took hold of me at a young age. When I was just 12 years old, I had the opportunity to go on a three week long cultural exchange trip to the British Isles, and my parents shockingly agreed to let me go. On that first night in London, I called my parents from one of those quintessential British red phone booths and happily informed my mom that I’d fallen in love with London and hoped to never go home. From this moment on, I really never looked back.
Thanks to this early experience, international travel is something that I’ve never felt intimidated by. These days, you’ll still regularly find me dreaming of my next destination, and thankfully my husband has agreed to make travel a priority in our life together. Travel is something that I am so passionate about because I believe it has the power to enrich our lives in countless ways. Experiencing new places leads to meeting new people, trying new foods, and educating our minds about topics we would be unlikely to encounter within the context of everyday life. It’s truly a transformative experience and one that when shared with your partner bonds you together in a way that long outlasts the journey itself.
Although we share a love of travel, I definitely have a more adventurous spirit than my husband, so it usually takes us some time to compromise on a destination that we both feel excited about. Scotland has been near the top of our list for a while now; it’s been a dream of mine to revisit Edinburgh ever since spending a day there on that long-ago childhood trip. Like the rest of the UK, Scotland is a very approachable country to visit, with warm and friendly people.
In addition to Edinburgh, I wanted to visit the Highlands and the Isle of Skye, both areas I’d seen photos of and imagined as otherworldly, with mist-covered mountains, rolling green hills, and expansive lochs. So I organized our itinerary to include a tour of these areas, bookended with time in the city. A deeply obsessive researcher, I typically devour all of the information I can find about a destination when planning a trip, my favorite resources being Pinterest, TripAdvisor, and travel blogs.
Scotland proved to be every bit as majestic as I had envisioned. It’s a country steeped in history, with ancient ruins and grand estates juxtaposed against rugged scenery. There’s such a sense of magic in the air that when people tell you thickly-accented tales of giants and fairies, you find yourself believing them. For a moment, sitting down to an impressive breakfast in the sumptuous Rhubarb Restaurant at Prestonfield House, I felt as though I were a guest at a fabulous estate in a period film set 200 years ago. The occasional squawk from one of the hotel’s resident peacocks startled me back to reality. Wandering down the narrow closes along Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and watching the stunning scenery of the Highlands fly by as we rode the Jacobite steam train are other memories that stand out in my mind now that we’ve returned home. These little magical moments in time keep the wanderlust alive.
Where to Stay
The Balmoral Hotel
Located in the heart of the city at “Edinburgh’s most prestigious address,” this landmark 5-star hotel has been a symbol of timeless elegance for over a century. At The Balmoral, warm hospitality makes the world-class facilities feel totally unpretentious. Enjoy dinner at the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Number One, or afternoon tea at the stylish Palm Court. The Balmoral even has its own signature whisky bar, Scotch, where a Whisky Ambassador will help you select from over 500 varieties of Scotland’s national drink. And all of this is within walking distance of Edinburgh’s most popular attractions!
If you prefer an equally luxurious experience away from the hustle and bustle of the city, this hotel truly offers the best of both worlds. Prestonfield House was built in 1687 as the grand Baroque home of Edinburgh’s Lord Provost, but has since become a boutique hotel boasting truly individual style. Situated next to a golf course, with spectacular views of Arthur’s Seat the extinct volcano that overlooks Edinburgh, you’ll find it hard to believe you’re only 10 minutes from the city center. Whether you prefer relaxing in your opulently-decorated suite, sipping a cocktail in your choice of the hotel’s historic public rooms, or strolling through the 20 acres of beautiful gardens located on the grounds, you’ll hardly want to leave the hotel!
Where to Eat and Drink
The Witchery by the Castle
An exceptional fine dining experience in a magical setting—choose between the main restaurant with its red leather seating and oak paneling, or the lovely Secret Garden Room. The menu showcases local seafood, beef, lamb, and game accompanied by Scotland’s finest produce.
Another Edinburgh institution—you can’t miss the grand Greco-Roman facade at its prominent George Street location in the heart of New Town. Choose from three restaurants serving different menus, or just stop in for an expertly-crafted cocktail at the gorgeous bar!
The Scran & Scallie
An award-winning gastro pub from a pair of popular Michelin star chefs—a great place to try pub fare like Fish & Chips or Steak Pie in a cozy setting. The menu is inspired by traditional 18th century Scottish menus, but prepared with a fresh, seasonal twist.
What to Do
Explore Old Town
Edinburgh is an easy city to explore on foot, and Old Town is where you should begin. The city’s oldest neighborhood dates back to medieval times, and the streets are lined with historic buildings and monuments, along with pubs and souvenir shops. Your checklist here should include Edinburgh Castle, The Royal Mile, and Grassmarket.
For designer fashions and luxury accessories, make sure to visit Harvey Nichols, Edinburgh’s renowned, upscale department store. Find unique souvenir shops on Victoria Street, featuring Scottish cashmere and tweeds. Cranachan & Crowdie is a great spot to stock up on gourmet gifts and Cadenhead’s Whisky Shop is the place to take the whisky drinker in your life.
If you’re hooked on Netflix’s The Crown or are still dreaming of this spring’s royal wedding, Edinburgh will surely feed your royal obsession. A tour of Holyroodhouse offers a glimpse into one of the Royal family’s three working palaces. You can also tour the Royal Yacht Britannia, permanently docked in Edinburgh. Discover what life was like on Her Majesty’s floating royal residence and enjoy a pot of tea and a scone in the onboard café.
Escape to the Highlands
Edinburgh itself is worth a trip, but nothing compares to the wild scenery and romance of the Scottish countryside. If the Highlands are calling your name, you could rent a car and brave driving on the “other” side of the road, or book a tour like we did. We went with Edinburgh-based Highland Explorer Tours and had an unforgettable time on our 3-Day Isle of Skye & The Highlands Tour.