Edinburgh, with its dark alleyways and Gothic architecture, somehow felt spooky and inviting all in one.
We arrived in the city much later than I'd originally planned after getting on the late afternoon ferry instead of the early morning one out of Islay. The two-hour ferry ride followed by a three-hour drive across the country landed us in Edinburgh around 10PM, too late for our dinner reservation at The Scran & Scallie. We checked into our Airbnb on Cockburn Street and decided to go for a walk.
Our walk landed us in the Waverly Bar, which, just far enough off of the Royal Mile, was sleepy and peppered with locals. We grabbed a drink and chatted with the barman before heading out to explore the city a bit more. That exploration brought us to Whiski Bar, a dark and high-ceilinged pub with—you guessed it—lots of whisky.
Hungry, we left our drinks in pursuit of food, and ended up sharing a frozen pizza at our Airbnb before calling it a night.
Our Airbnb location was perfectly situated on a picturesque (albeit loud) street just off of the Royal Mile. We had easy walking access to one of the oldest and busiest parts of town, though it was a little too busy for our liking. For breakfast, we headed down to Leith, the shore district of Edinburgh. We had a beautiful meal at Roseleaf (100% recommend for its cute interior, cocktails served in teapots, and the best full English breakfast we had on our entire trip), explored Leith a bit, and then headed back into Old Town.
When we were in Islay, Garrett and I struck up conversation with an elderly man from Glasgow that had spent the better part of his life in Australia. He was visiting Scotland one last time with his wife, daughter, and granddaughter, and they had just come from Edinburgh. He spent time at and enjoyed the Halfway House, which is supposedly Edinburgh's smallest pub. So, to the Halfway House we went.
Edinburgh is full of closes, small alleyways that were built in medieval times to connect private homes and courtyards to the center of town. The Halfway House can be found on Fleshmarket Close right off of Cockburn Street.
By the time I got to Edinburgh, I was tired of drinking beer and whisky. Because of that, I made poor Garrett try and order me first a Moscow Mule (to which the barmaid furrowed her brow in confusion at and a fellow patron said "no"), and then a vodka soda (they didn't have vodka). Embarrassed, he brought back a Guinness to the table, where we were joined by the patron that scoffed at my Moscow Mule request. We had very little clue as to what the man was saying, but he laughed a lot, kissed Garrett's forehead, and told us to come back tomorrow—he'd be there in the morning.
After downing our pints of Guinness, I brought Garrett toward the colorful and curving Victoria Street, which is said to have inspired Harry Potter's Diagon Alley. At the end of Victoria Street, we found, of course, another pub to pop into. I tried again—unsuccessfully—for liquor, and ended up—again—with Guinness.
From the pub we walked up to Edinburgh Castle, got overwhelmed by the crowd, and headed back into Old Town.
Where we stopped for another drink at the Waverly. If you're sensing a trend here, the answer is yes—we did drink our way through Edinburgh. To us, Edinburgh felt like a city that was built around people spending time indoors, out of the cold, sitting by a warm fire and drinking a tall pint. And because we like to go by feel, we ended up exploring the city by its pubs. We may or may not have been to nine in one day.
After spending the better part of the morning and afternoon in Old Town, Garrett and I decided to go check out New Town which, despite its name, is not very new at all. Built between 1767 and 1850, its streets were lined with neo-classical architecture and Georgian homes. The buildings were beautiful, but our favorite part? The lack of people. And my second favorite part? There were cocktail bars!
We walked down into The Last Word Saloon, a beautiful bar with a creative cocktail menu, and cozied up by the fire to enjoy a few drinks. From there we went on to Bramble, its sister bar, which was downstairs, hipster, and a little too crowded for our liking.
And after Bramble, we stopped into Kay's Bar, which was full of old locals gossiping over pints. And after that, somehow still standing, we made our way to my favorite spot in Edinburgh: Panda & Sons.
Panda & Sons is a speakeasy that fronts itself as a barber shop. You walk through the entrance under a portrait of a panda bear, down a hallway and set of stairs, and through a bookcase to get to the bar. The cocktail menu centers around the story of a panda and his two sons opening a barber shop, which, of course, makes no sense at all, but just added to this place's charm. Garrett and I sat at the bar and enjoyed talking to the bartenders, one of whom had just come back from Islay.
By the end of our nth cocktail at Panda & Sons (the bartenders were just so nice, we ended up staying longer than planned), we emerged onto the rainy streets of Edinburgh, laughed as we took photos with a phone booth, and headed back to Old Town.
The next morning was a bit rough (after Panda & Sons we went onto the Devil's Advocate and back to Whiski Bar for live music), so our start to the day was slow. For a dose of fresh air, we walked up to Calton Hill to get a good view of the city. It was gorgeous! Had we had more time, I would have liked to hike Arthur's Seat, but Calton Hill was a perfect way to stretch our legs and see Edinburgh from above. It was also a nice way to say goodbye to Edinburgh and Scotland overall before heading to the next destination on our list: Nice!
Edinburgh was beautiful, medieval, full of hidden gems and history to boot. I'd love to see it in the winter and take advantage of the walking tours and museums—which means one thing: we'll be back!