I was born in late November which means that my birthday celebrations have always been sprinkled with early Christmas festivities, a noticeable drop in the temperature and sky that is coloured by a watery pastel haze.
This chilly time of year is not for everyone, however, I personally love the Autumn/Winter period between late September and December. So, whenever possible, I like to head off somewhere cold for my birthday…and that is exactly what I did this year.
I spent my 26th birthday in beautiful Edinburgh which was, this year, the epitome of a Winter Wonderland. The weather was cold and crisp with a layer of glittery frost covering the ground and the sun was low, bright and piercing.
The atmosphere in the Scottish capital was bustling with Christmas market revellers and those celebrating St Andrew’s day. Thanks to the perfect mix of the city buzz, seasonal festivities and exceptionally good (albeit cold) weather – Edinburgh, I have now come to decide, is my new favourite city. It really is a magical place!
How To Spend A Long Weekend In Edinburgh
Seeing as though I had such a warm and welcoming experience in Edinburgh, I thought that a mini city guide talking about the things I did, where I ate and what I learned would be a helpful blog post. I wasn’t planning on writing this at the time, so the pictures are just candidly snapped from my iPhone 10S.
I have actually visited Edinburgh before when I was about 12 or 13, however, I scarcely remember the details of that day trip and it is always lovely to revisit places and experience them properly as an adult. Adam and I stayed in Edinburgh for a long weekend (2 nights and 3 days Fri-Sun) and managed to pack in loads of good stuff which I will share with you below.
|Winter around Edinburgh Castle|
Where to stay in Edinburgh
I booked our trip around 3 months in advance and found our hotel via a good Booking.com deal. We stayed in the centre of the Old Town just off the Edinburgh Castle end of the Royal Mile. Location wise, this was for us absolutely perfect as all of the attractions that we wanted to see centred around this area. It was also a 15-minute walk to and from Edinburgh Waverley station and the new town making it a great spot for getting around.
I would 100% recommend staying in Edinburgh Old Town because you are awoken to the sound of Bagpipes, the architecture is breathtaking and it has a very distinctive, historic vibe that feels very Scottish.
Adam and I stayed in the Fraser Suites which were clean and inviting, however, I most likely wouldn’t stay there again as the mattress and pillows were ROCK SOLID, (Honestly, it was like sleeping on the floor). And the windows, due to the hotel being located within an old, period building were single glazed.
It was therefore pretty darn chilly in the room at night and I was glad to have a pair of thick tartan p-jays with me. Luckily there are loads of B+B’s, hotels and hostels to suit all budgets around the old town and so you’ll be sure to find one that works for you.
Things to do in Edinburgh
Thanks to my type-A personality and my natural inclination to project manage everything lol. I like to research and plan my trips in advance so that we have plenty to do and don’t miss out on the good stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely think that there is room in life for going with the flow and I honestly wish I was more laid back like that but sadly, I am just not.
And so I gathered some excellent recommendations from my Mum (A fellow Edinburgh lover) devoured plenty of Edinburgh city guide blogs and watched a ton of Edinburgh related vlogs. I then created an itinerary which suited the kinds of things we wanted to do.
|Bailey’s Hot Chocolate at Edinburgh Christmas markets|
Take a journey back in time and visit a 17th-century street buried UNDERNEATH a street. Sounds kind of crazy right? The Real Mary Kings Close attraction is a 400-year old street hidden underneath The Royal Mile. The 1-hour underground experience takes you on a detailed trip back through history to the 1600s.
You learn about the grisly truths regarding hygiene in that time period, discover more about how The Plague affected Edinburgh and walk down a real historic street that is preserved and hidden underground. I won’t spoil it for you if you’re thinking of going to visit, but it’s really interesting how the 10 stories high, narrow houses of Mary Kings Close ended up deep underground.
This happened to be my favourite museum experience in Edinburgh. I don’t think I’ve ever been to such an immersive museum. At the Scotch Whisky Experience, you start off sitting in a barrel on an educational tour introducing you to the production of Scotch Whisky. This is followed by a cinematic tour of the 5 Whisky regions of Scotland and a brief lesson in the individual characteristics of each one.
I was personally a fan of the more floral Highlands blend, whilst Adam preferred the smokier, peatier Islay blend. After you get to grips with the different types of Scotch Whisky you head into a tasting room which is bloody brilliant.
|The Scotch Whisky Experience|
The digital effects during the narrative are fantastic with graphics and illustrations quite literally appearing on a whiskey bottle in front of you. It is here that you are also treated to a dram (which you get to keep!) filled with a tipple of a preferred whiskey of your choice. If you don’t drink alcohol, you are offered some Irn Bru instead.
Finally, you are led into a room to view the world’s largest collection of Scotch Whisky which is absolutely insane! I don’t even like whisky (Unlike Adam and my Dad!) but this museum was brilliant and worth visiting even if you don’t drink Scotch.
|The world’s largest whisky collection|
I don’t know whether it’s because of the rich history of Edinburgh, but walking around the city at night, Edinburgh just feels really haunted. Being the gore and gloom lover that I am, I was excited to book us onto the Mercat Tours, Doomed Dead + Buried ghost tour.
The tour starts at 7:30pm and tracks through the city, down into the Blair Street Underground Vaults and on to the Canongate graveyard. A tour guide dressed in a cloak shares ghost stories as you go along the tour, albeit a little animated for my liking, it kind of made it seem silly… but you have to throw yourself into these things, don’t you?
There is another tour from Mercat named Hidden and Haunted which I think would have been better for us as it’s apparently a smaller group size. We were in a large group of 30 and it sort of ruined the atmosphere a little.
The vaults were also really warm and toasty (Which is great on a cold November winter night) but also tempered the spooky atmosphere a little. I do recommend a ghost tour though as it’s something different to do and it was interesting learning about some of the foul deeds and paranormal activity in Edinburgh.
The Edinburgh Christmas Markets and more 🎄
Obviously, this is a more seasonal one, but I was really impressed by the Christmas markets in Edinburgh, they were huge with a great mix of food, gifts, bars, and rides. Way better (IMO) than the infamous Manchester Christmas markets.
There are also plenty of nice walks to do in and around Edinburgh and next time I visit, I want to make a point of walking up to Arthur’s Seat. This time around, I enjoyed walking up from Princes Street to Carlton Hill which features several iconic monuments and buildings including Nelson’s Monument, the city observatory and the national monument to name a few. The sunset here was amazing, you can get a sneaky glimpse of this in the first set of photos.
Where to eat in Edinburgh
Decent food and drink is easy to find in Edinburgh with loads of eateries and bars spread across both the new town and the old town. As the cold weather was biting, Adam and I often found ourselves dipping in and out of traditional pubs to stay warm. (Side note: Edinburgh has the best array of traditional boozers).
We were only in the city a few days, so I didn’t have the biggest opportunity to try out various different food establishments however, I did try a few places ranging in quality and price.
On my birthday itself, I booked us a table in The Secret Garden restaurant at The Witchery which is seriously posh and fancy. I wanted to go there as it was a special occasion and it’s entirely lit by candlelight and set within a seriously gothic-esc setting which you’ll see from the photos. It looks like something out of a medieval film.
There are two restaurants at The Witchery, but I opted for The Secret Garden as I believe it is a little intense and formal than the original Witchery dining room. Just look how stunning the outside is!
As is always the way with these kinds of restaurants, they are super pricey and the Ala Carte portions are small. Adam and I both figured that the portions would be small and that didn’t matter because they’d also be packed full of flavour. Sadly, this wasn’t the case though and I was really underwhelmed by the food at The Witchery. Boo.
The service and the restaurant setting were both good, but the food, for around £32 for a main, I was disappointed by how bland it was. I ordered French Onion soup to start, followed by Beef Wellington for my main, and a seasonal fruit jelly dessert. All of which were only around 3 mouthfuls each.
It was all edible of course, but just a bit meh in terms of taste. Adam said the same thing about his food, in which case it probably speaks for itself that I wouldn’t be in a hurry to return. Nevertheless, it was nice to get dressed up and go to dinner somewhere super fancy.
|The amazing decor inside The Secret Garden Restaurant|
|A warm birthday welcome at The Witchery|
Breakfast in Edinburgh
For breakfast, we headed to The Elephant House cafe which is said to be the birthplace of the Harry Potter novels. This highly prized accolade is all thanks to author JK Rowling writing much of the early Harry Potter work in the back room of The Elephant House cafe which overlooks Edinburgh Castle.
|The Elephant House Cafe|
The cafe was naturally very busy with tourists but once seated after a short wait, the food is good. Adam opted for the Scottish breakfast (a full English with Haggis balls) and I had the traditional Scottish porridge with honey. The coffee was also really good. It’s not fancy inside but it is a good place to soak up a bit of literary heritage and have a cuppa.
Lunch in Edinburgh
Another place I recommend is The Little Larder. The homemade soup coupled with a gooey cheese toastie was top tens. There is the original restaurant the ‘Edinburgh Larder’ next door, but if it’s full there, try the Little Larder where the vibe is rustic and the menu a good mix of healthy foods, traditional meals and naughty treats.
It was quite funny when we visited as the kitchen were cooking an onion and I couldn’t understand why my eyes were streaming and burning so badly, I couldn’t see a thing. It didn’t seem to smell of onion, but my word that is a silent assassin. Adam and I laughed that we’ve never been chased out of a restaurant before, because of an onion. 😂
We also ate at OXO184 where the cocktails are really good, there’s a really buzzy, young vibe and the rack of ribs and chips were some of the best I’ve had. If you like dirty food like this – this is the place to try.
Maybe I’m just not cut out for fine dining establishments, maybe I’m just a rack of ribs kinda gal! For food recommendations in new cities, Adam and I use the Foursquare app, it always comes up with great suggestions tried and tested by real people.
I hope you have found this Edinburgh city guide somewhat useful if you’re planning a trip to Edinburgh anytime soon. I am already planning my return trip to mop up the bits I missed out on!