A Must-See Guide to Edinburgh (First-Time Traveller)

Monday, 28 August 2017 Edinburgh, UK

 View from Candlemaker Row, looking onto the Grassmarket and Edinburgh Castle

One of the most common messages I get is along the lines of "It's my first time visiting Edinburgh, what places and restaurants should I visit?". In the past, I have composed an Edinburgh weekend itinerary but I thought it would be a good idea to list my top 9 favourite places to visit if you are visiting Edinburgh for your first time, along with cafe recommendations and tips. Also, the restaurants/cafes I have recommended below are all places I myself have eaten or have heard glowing recommendations from friends, and as I visit more places I will add them to the list.

So in no particular order, let's get started!

1. Edinburgh Castle

Price: £17.00
Well, my Edinburgh must-see list would not be complete without one of the most iconic landmarks - Edinburgh Castle! But the great thing about the castle is even if you're travelling on a budget and you don't want to pay to go in, you can still enjoy great views of it from around the city, as well as visiting the Castle esplanade for free. I thought if this was the case, I would list a few of my favourite places to get the best views of it. My all time favourite view is from the Vennel (which is just next to the Grassmarket), the Grassmarket also has a brilliant view of the Castle, and lastly, I really like the view from Princes Street Gardens too. There are tons of different views of the Castle, those are just a few of my favourites.
If you're keen and have the budget to go into Edinburgh Castle, I would also highly recommend it! Once you're in, I would recommend going on the free walking tour around the Castle, as it gives you a chance to get your bearings and learn some of the Castle's fascinating history.

Places to Eat Nearby:
  • The Witchery: It's right next to the Castle and therefore slightly pricey, but the one time I went I had the risotto and really enjoyed it. Plus, the old architecture and decadent atmosphere creates an unforgettable dining experience! Tip: The Witchery is divided into two restaurants: The Witchery & The Secret Garden.
  • Edinburgh Castle is also fairly close to the Grassmarket and the Royal Mile so check below for more cafe recommendations.

2. Royal Mile & the Closes

Price: Free!
The Royal Mile separates the Castle and Holyrood Palace. It’s just over a mile as previously Scotland had it’s own measuring system. Despite having walked through the Royal Mile probably hundreds of times, I never tire of it (well, perhaps when the Festival is on I do get a little irritated with it), I think it's because it's the place in Edinburgh which captures my imagination and makes me wonder who walked or lived here 300 years ago. I highly recommend popping down the Closes (small alleys) on your way to Holyrood Palace as you never know what your going to find. Click Here to see a list of all the closes, their history and where they are located. I've listed a couple of my favourite below, in case you're interested.

Favourite Closes:
  • Boswell’s Court, is the entrance to The Witchery Restaurant and depending on the season is often decorated!
  • Brodie’s Close will forever be associated with one of Edinburgh’s most infamous residents, Deacon William Brodie. Click Here to read more about him.
  • Advocate’s Close, is the subject of many photographs and paintings and when you see the view from it you’ll understand why!
  • Dunbar’s Close is a hidden gem which most people walk right by. It’s a secret garden in the heart of the city that once you step into you soon have to convince yourself that you’re still in a city. A perfect place for a picnic - if you're blessed with nice weather!
  • White Horse Close is one of the most picturesque closes, well worth a visit!
Places to Eat Nearby: 
  • La Locanda: So, it's not strictly on the Royal Mile, rather a side street off it called Cockburn Street. But, it's my favourite place to eat Italian food in Edinburgh and I just had to mention it. When I visit I always have their vegetarian lasagna made with fresh pasta! 
  • Viva Mexico: Another Cockburn Street gem is Viva Mexico and if you're in the mood for some authentic (confirmed by my Mexican friend) Mexican food then be sure to visit.
  • Angel with Bagpipes: Admittedly, I have never had the pleasure of dining here but I hear great things about it, although it is slightly pricey. Also, I just recently found out that the restaurant takes it's name from carved wooden angels playing bagpipes in St Giles just opposite. It also serves Scottish cuisine unlike the above two I mentioned. 

3. Holyrood Palace and Parliament 

Price for Holyrood Palace: £12.50
Price for Parliament: Free
A photo from Calton Hill looking down onto Holyrood Palace
Right at the bottom of the Royal Mile lies Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament Building. Again, like the Castle, depending on your budget you can either opt to go in or enjoy it from it's exterior. I've only been on it's open day when it was extremely busy and I didn't get a chance to look around properly but I did thoroughly enjoy the Abbey ruins.

Places to Eat Nearby: 
  • Clarinda's Tea Room: Firstly, I just love the story behind the shop's name. Clarinda was a pseudonym used by Agnes Craig MacLehose (or Nancy to her friends) to communicate with Robert Burns who used the name "Sylvander" to sign his messages. If you wish to read the full story click here. I've visited here several times and enjoyed a soup or a homemade sweet treat, perfect place for lunch or a tea break!

4. National Museum of Scotland 

Price: Free!
Grand Gallery
One of my most favourite places to visit is the Museum of Scotland and what's better is it's completely free! You could easily spend a day wandering around all the rooms and looking at the exhibitions. My favourite places within, is the Grand Gallery (pictured above) and the rooftop terrace with fantastic views of the city.

Places to Eat Nearby: 
  • Black Medicine Coffee: A personal favourite of mine. I enjoy the food and drink, and combined with a quirky interior, there is just something about Black Medicine that keeps me returning. I often have their hot chocolate (with cream and marshmallows, of course), and a tomato and cheese croissant.
  • Union of Genius: If you like soup, you will love this cute little cafe! It's one of my favourite places to go for lunch, and I particularly like ordering the bread bowl with soup - which is basically a bowl made of bread with soup in it. 

5. Calton Hill or Arthur's Seat

Price: Free
View of the Castle from the Crags
If you feel like a little light exercise and fantastic views of the city, there are two great locations in the city centre. First, Calton Hill, which is definitely the more accessible of the two but still boasts brilliant views of the city. Second, if you fancy a bit of a workout, Arthur's Seat or the Crags is the hill for you.

Places to Eat Nearby: 
  • Milk At Collective: If you visit Calton Hill, there's a small kiosk called Milk selling refreshments.

6. Dean Village

Price: Free
Dean Village
Dean Village, is a tranquil green oasis on the Water of Leith, and only takes ten minutes to walk from West Princes Street. I have a vlog on YouTube about Dean Village and how to reach it, Click Here to watch it. Whenever I want to get out of the city centre and have some peace and quiet, I head down to Dean Village! It also has some amazing photo opportunities.

Places to Eat Nearby: 
  • Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art: The Gallery itself is worth a visit, but if you're near Dean Village and fancy a bite to eat then I recommend popping into either Café Modern One or Café Modern Two (my personal favourite).
  • Patisserie Maxime: Despite being slightly further away, located on Queensferry Street, it's one of my go-to places for lucnh if I'm in the area. I mostly order their croque-monsieur and one of their many sweet treats. 

7. The Shore & Newhaven

Price: Free
The Shore
The Shore is somewhere most tourists don't get to see, as it is slightly further out of the city, but there are plenty buses. As you can see from the above photo, it definitely isn't what comes to mind when you think of Edinburgh but it's such a lovely place to walk and eat. Newhaven is also extremely sweet and picturesque, they even have their own little lighthouse!

Places to Eat Nearby: 
  • There are plenty of lovely cafes/bar along the water.
  • Roseleaf Bar Cafe: So, this is one I haven't been to personally but have heard glowing recommendations about and I'm keen to visit soon! 
  • Mimi's Bakehouse: If you have a sweet tooth than Mimi's Bakehouse is definitely worth a visit! Personally, in the past I have found some of their sweet treats to be a tad too sweet, but they do have an extensive menu (Breakfast, Lunch and Dessert) and I'm sure you'll find something to suit!

8. Stockbridge and Circus Lane

Price: Free
Circus Lane
Circus Lane is my favourite little lane in Edinburgh! It's definitely a dream of many Instagrammers to live in one of these picturesque mews houses. If you enter Circus Lane from St Vincent Street, you will end up joining onto Stockbridge - a lovely village with plenty of charity shops, independent cafes and shops!

Places to Eat Nearby: 
  • There are so many great restaurants/cafes in Stockbridge it's hard to go wrong!
  • Patisserie Madeleine: The shop may appear rather small but what it lacks in space it makes up for in wonderful French pastries. In my humble opinion, I think they have the best macaroons and eclairs in Edinburgh! 
  • The Scran and Scallie: So, this is another I haven't been to personally but two of Scotland's top chefs, Michelin star chef Tom Kitchin and Dominic Jack have come together to create menus of fresh, home-cooked dishes using quality, seasonal, local produce and I haven't heard a bad word about it. 
  • Cowan and Sons: Previously Maxi's, Cowan and Sons recently went through a refurbishment. Admittedly, I haven't been since the refurbish but I used to love visiting for lunch. 

9. Grassmarket & Victoria Street

Price: Free
The Grassmarket has an interesting history, originally (as the name suggests) it was a marketplace for horse and cattle from the 14th century, and till this day there is still a weekly market on Saturdays. But, it was also know for its public executions. Nowadays it's a lively area, which often hosts events and is surrounded by bars and restaurants. The beautiful and colourful Victoria Street links the Grassmarket to George the IV bridge and the Royal Mile, and is well worth a visit.

Places to Eat Nearby: 
  • I know I keep repeating myself but there is no shortage of great eateries in the Grassmarket or Victoria Street!
  • Hula Juice Bar: If you're looking for somewhere healthy with plenty of Gluten Free and Vegan options, Hula Juice Bar is the cafe for you. You just need to take a look at their Instagram to see how delicious and photogenic their meals are! 
  • Lovecrumbs: So not strictly in the Grassmarket, but, only a five minute walk from it in West Port. Lovecrumbs is one of the loveliest places for cake and a cuppa.

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