I’ve been up to Edinburgh for the Fringe festival every August since 2002, plus the occasional winter weekend jaunt, so a #MattTheTrips post is long overdue. It’s one of my favourite cities in the world, a home away from home, full of history, culture and cobbles. The old town is a maze of magical streets that confound tourists – one minute you are on Cowgate, the next you are somehow looking down at it from George IV Bridge. When you exit Waverley Station, you can turn 360 degrees and see Calton Hill, Edinburgh Castle, Arthur’s Seat (an extinct volcano), the Scott Monument, and, if you stand on your tiptoes, the sea. Beats London Victoria, doesn’t it?
Within walking distance, you’ve got outstanding galleries and museums, Holyrood Park, The Royal Botanical Garden, The Meadows, quaint Dean Village, the water of Leith, and more. I don’t have that many photos of most of these wonderful places – something I aim to put right later this year – but I do have my usual stash of food and booze pictures. So that’s something. Whilst bars and restaurants might not be your main reason for visiting this fine city, it’s worth knowing your neeps from your tatties so you don’t end up in a bunch of tourist traps. Read on for my top tips.
There are posh restaurants aplenty with decent lunch deals all over the city, but for something a bit different, head to Timberyard on Lady Lawson Street. It’s a beautiful space with Scandi-inspired small plates and serious booze which I try to visit every time I’m up. If it’s Michelin stars you are after, check out Martin Wishart’s eponymous restaurant which has retained one since 2001, or perhaps The Kitchin or Castle Terrace, owned by Tom Kitchin and his wife Michaela. They also have a more affordable gastropub in Stockbridge called Scran & Scallie that I can vouch for. Still at the higher end, Gardener’s Cottage serves up seasonal food in a charming space. I’m yet to check out Forage & Chatter, Field and Taisteal, but I’ve heard good reports.
For something more casual, check out The Outsider (absurdly cheap at lunch), Spoon (a friendly all day bistro), Edinburgh Larder (fresh deli food) and The Pantry (all day brunch). London mini-chain Dishoom recently arrived with their wonderful Bombay-inspired menu, but the interior design isn’t inspired as their other sites. Hanam’s Kurdish-style BBQ is a more interesting alternative. El Cartel, Ting Thai Caravan, and Saboteur are all good options if you are near Bristo Square. If you want something to eat on the go, grab a chilled cheese sandwich from Meltmongers, monster hog roast rolls at Oink, or street food with extra vibes at The Pitt / Food & Flea.
There are cafes galore of course, and a serious coffee scene. For the most up to date and thorough recommendations, head to Edinburgh Coffee Lovers blog as I regularly do. Brew Lab is a great spot that I’ve been to several times near the Pleasance Dome (handy for the festival), but you never have to travel far for a trustworthy caffeine fix. I’m also fond of Filmaent, Fortitude, Cairngorm and The Milkman. Check out my Map The List : Edinburgh to find one nearby, or download the Scotland Coffee Lovers app. What else? Get some ice cream at Mary’s Milk Bar, cakes at Lovecrumbs, and doughnuts from The Bearded Baker, Baba Budan, and Twelve Triangles. The latter have also just opened an all day brunch spot called Kitchen Table in a quiet part of town by Leith Links.
If you are in the market for cocktails, Edinburgh has some extremely fine bars, several of which are virtually neighbours in the backstreets of the New Town. Internationally renowned Bramble, an old Ryan Cheti haunt, is a good place to start, followed by basement booze at Nightcap. Round the corner on Thistle Street, grab some food and wine or something stronger at Bon Vivant, and margaritas and tacos at El Cartel over the road. N.B. They are both also connected to The Devil’s Advocate, a classy spot for cocktails and whisky just off the Royal Mile. Back on Queen Street, one of my favourite hangouts is Lucky Liquor Co., a creative cocktail den that rotates their core range of 13 spirits every quarter and bases their drinks around them. Further down the road, Panda & Sons is a serious bar hidden away behind the facade of a barber’s shop, whilst over on Hanover Street, their sister bar Hoot The Redeemer is slightly sillier, boasting an alcoholic “Senor Scoop” ice cream vendor, a boozy slushie machine and a liquor-filled arcade claw contraption in a 1950s New Orleans funfair-inspired space.
A short walk away in Stockbridge, there are candlelit cocktails, whisky blends and chartreuse on tap at The Last Word, another from the fine folk behind the aforementioned Bramble & Lucky Liquor Co. Whilst in the area, fill up on wine, cheese and small plates at Smith & Gertrude or Good Brothers. If you fancy being chauffeur driven to several of these bars (and a distillery), get yourself on the Gin Journey Edinburgh – guaranteed good times.
That brings us to beer, which the Scottish are no strangers to. For a proper pub experience, look no further than Bow Bar on Victoria Street where real ale and whisky fans cosy up in an atmospheric Edinburgh institution. A minute away on Cowgate, one of the older Brewdog sites is a reliable craft beer bolthole, but enthusiasts should walk a little further to Salt Horse on Blackfriars St for a carefully curated selection on draught and in bottle. 6 Degrees North also deserves a mention for its 40 taps in a modern setting. If you find yourself around Usher Hall or the Traverse, be sure to swing by The Hanging Bat, a forward thinking brewpub and bar that is dedicated to showcasing the best of UK beer. Brewdog Lothian Road, Innis & Gunn Beer Kitchen and Red Squirrel aren’t far away either. There are plenty more places worth checking out – St.Andrews Brewing Co., Holyrood 9A, and Bottle Baron (the best beer shop in town) to name a few – but work your way through the recommendations above first.
If you heading to Edinburgh for the festival, I have two main pieces of advice for you. Firstly, keep an eye on publications like ThreeWeeks, The Scotsman and Fest for reviews during the festival – there’s no need to see something rubbish. And secondly, if you are seeing multiple shows in a day, leave 30-45 minutes in between. Shows often run over, and you might have a 20-30 minute walk between venues on your hands – Ubers and taxis won’t speed you up I’m afraid. See you there!
Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you are planning a trip to Edinburgh and have any questions, or if you have some suggestions for places I should check out next time! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Plan your own adventure with Map The List : Edinburgh