I absolutely adore Edinburgh, Scotland. My husband and I met in Edinburgh, I have amazing, close friends in Edinburgh, and I have never failed to have a lovely time in that atmospheric city. Just walking around is a treat – the vistas are stunning, the alleyways and stairways are mysterious, and the people are friendly. If I were going to live anywhere abroad (and my husband and I frequently have this conversation) Edinburgh tops the list. Seriously – I love it that much.
Just so you know, none of the places mentioned below have given me free ANYTHING. I am describing these because I genuinely love them, and think that if you are looking for something to do, eat, drink, gift, or buy in Edinburgh you might be interested.
Unlike this recent article, I think there is delightful food to be had in Edinburgh. Perhaps it’s right that they are lacking a bit in haute cuisine, but there are any number of farm to table restaurants serving good, quality, delicious food. I am going to write about a day I spent in Edinburgh, with a fabulous breakfast spot, a cozy, scrumptious lunch spot, and a place where you can go to bottle your own gin. That’s right, I SAID BOTTLE YOUR OWN GIN. And yes, there will be whisky!
To begin the day, my husband and I stopped very early at The Water of Leith Cafe, which was on our short walk into the heart of New Town. The cafe is nothing fancy, but it is cute and cozy and sits right next to the Water of Leith. From our table in the corner we could watch the water flowing by as we sipped our coffee and our tea. We had the full Scottish Breakfast for under ten pounds, which we shared, because it was enough for two. I ordered an extra side of toast, because when in the UK, jam is my jam. Seriously, berries in the UK are delicious, which leads to scrumptious jam. I was not about to share that with my husband. I dig him, you know, but not that much? 😉
After this we wandered around a bit, taking our time to work our way to the Royal Mile. These photos don’t even do the place justice, it is THAT gorgeous. We walked for several hours (one should do this as a rule after a full Scottish breakfast actually) and visited Dean Village, a fabulous little town on the Water of Leith that sued to be a milling center. Now it is just absolutely picturesque. While you can be on Princes Street in five minutes, its also possible to wander for hours along the water, exploring the village and its surrounds. We took our time, enjoying the quiet of the early morning, and wandering wherever we felt like. There’s always another gorgeous view around the next corner in Edinburgh. But finally we wound up in Old Town, and visited The National Museum of Scotland, which is a great place to wander around if you have spare time, or if you’re killing time. They also have a lovely gift shop. Have I mentioned how much I love museum gift shops?
After this my husband went off to do some research, and I met my friend for lunch at an Edinburgh favorite, Under the Stairs. It is literally under the stairs. A basement restaurant with all kinds of cozy oozing from the stone walls and candlelight reflecting shadows on those same stones. Its a great spot for romantic dinner, but we thoroughly enjoyed our lunch here. They have delicious food and affordable bottles of wine and bubbly. My friend and I indulged in the bubbly of course, because why not?
After lunch, we headed out to wander and shop, and also bottle our own gin at Demijohn’s. Yes friends, I BOTTLED MY OWN GIN. I know when people think of Scotland they think of whisky, and with good reason. But gin is also incredible there – its the home of Hendricks after all. So it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that just off the Royal Mile there is a distillery where you can sample (ahem, yes, sample as much as you like) and bottle your favorite. They also have a selection of olive oils. This makes for a fabulous gift for a wedding or any event really, as you can also etch or inscribe a message on the bottles. Friends, I sampled. And I purchased. I brought home a lovely gin with hints of orange and citrus in it, that I can actually drink by itself, though mixed with a rosemary simple syrup and a splash of tonic or club soda makes THE BEST COCKTAIL.
The fun isn’t over, though, because next door to Demijohn’s is Ian Mellis. What is Ian Mellis you ask? Why, cheese and wine. Yummy British cheese and wine! They have an amazing, well curated selection of British cheeses and fine wines. You can wander in this store and select a cheese or three that they’ll wrap for you, pick a bottle of wine, some oatcakes (which I’ve never seen outside of Scotland but are hearty little things between crackers and dry toast that are PERFECT for a wide variety of cheeses), tuck it all in your bag, and head up Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano that overlooks Edinburgh. Thats a different favorite Edinburgh activity though.
This day, I purchased some jam (I DID tell you I had a problem) and a bit of cheese to take home (yeah that bag smelled AWESOME by the end of the night), and mostly drooled over the selections. If you don’t know British cheeses well, you should, and this is a great place to get an introduction to the varieties, styles, and regions. The staff are friendly, and they are happy to help you make your selection.
After this, we stopped for a drink, where my husband joined back up with us. We wandered our way back down from the Mile to New Town, where we went to what I nearly consider my home away from home in Edinburgh, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Wait, whisky and gin in one day you’re thinking? YES. Whisky and gin IN ONE DAY. Because why ever not?
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is a members society that recently opened up their Edinburgh Queen’s Street location to the public, at least part of the time. I have big, deep love for this place, because its the first place I actually LIKED whisky. You’re talking to a girl, here, who was fed moonshine mixed with honey when she was sick as a kid (yeah, I’m from THAT kind of southern family), and also the girl who, in her 20s, drank a lot of Jameson because it was the done thing. I still remember some of those hangovers. Jameson hangovers aren’t pretty!
I thought all whisky was like this, rough and ready, and until I experienced the nuance – well, I didn’t understand that there was nuance. But a friendly bartender at TSMWS helped me learn how to drink it properly. I thought it was weak if you had it with ice. I thought it ruined it if you added water. I thought it all tasted like a peat bog. I thought many, many wrong things.
This bartender patiently helped me. He explained that some single malt whiskies are MEANT to have water added, as it helps release more of the aroma and flavor. Some are not, but no one bats an eye if you add a bit of distilled water to your whisky. In fact, most pubs have a spot on the bar with a distilled water spigot that patrons can help themselves to, and TSMWS itself places little pitchers of water on the table for their patrons. EYES. OPENED.
He also had me go through their menu – which is extensive, and select a few whiskies based on their tasting notes for me to sample. You can check out their flavor profiles online here. I sampled several, and started out in the light and delicate arena, but fell in love with a very honied light to medium bodied whisky called Jar Jar Binks in Trouble Again. No, seriously, the names for their whiskies ALONE make me love them. I ended up buying a bottle of this whisky. It ain’t cheap, but damn, it’s worth it.
I also love TSMWS for their food. Not only do they have great fish and chips, which is to be expected, they have great veggie haggis. You didn’t know there was such a thing as veggie haggis? Thats to be understood. Haggis, which is made of sheep’s lung and other offal, traditionally, has a reputation of being an “adventure food” and one Americans dare each other to try when they’re in Scotland. I’ve tried the real thing, before I became pescetarian at least, but I didn’t really like or understand it. Thankfully, my friends enlightened me that there is much more to haggis than one would expect.
Haggis is not JUST sheep’s lung. It’s also mixed with spices and oats, and there are many different kinds. By using a veggie protein, and the same mix of spice, oats, and sauce, one can make a delicious veggie version. And on a cold day in Edinburgh (which let’s face it, most of them are) a warm plate of haggis, neeps (mashed turnips), and tatties (mashed potatoes) is pretty near perfect. And the SMWS has my favorite version, probably because its topped with a WHISKY CREAM SUACE, though there are lots, and while this is a hearty dish by any definition or protein inclination, I can’t resist it on a menu most anywhere. If the real thing isn’t your thing, or even if it is, do give the veg version a try!
The SMWS has a restaurant area, but I prefer the coziness of the bar/lounge. You can order food there, and its such a great atmosphere. They also have a good selection of wines, and a full bar, if whisky just will never be your thing. Thus, it caters to every adult, and is just my favorite way to spend an evening in Edinburgh! I hope you check it out next time you’re there!