Edinburgh* is a city that you just want to get to know. It welcomes you with open arms and invites you to explore each nook and cranny in your own time. Around every corner is another pub to warm up in by a fire or another cafe to read the afternoon away. Read on below for details about our romantic, adventurous, historical, exciting, and charming getaway to this timeless city.
*It’s pronounced “Edinbur-uh” – emphasis on the first syllable, with the last syllable just meant to sort of fall out of your mouth.
There are a handful of relatively easy ways to get to Edinburgh from the Eastern US – this time we took Aer Lingus to Edinburgh Airport via Dublin. We do a lot of traveling throughout Europe with Aer Lingus – Dublin is a great stepping stone to most of the continent, prices are very reasonable, and the service is far above their low cost competitors. We’ve taken the new A330 business class before (which is an awesome value), but as this trip was sort of last minute, we opted to go economy and get a 2 seat row closer to the front on the BOS->DUB leg. On the final leg into Scotland, we took a ATR-72. This was our first time on a turboprop plane… It felt a little bit like being on a school bus, that goes 400+ mph 20,000ft above the ground. Very interesting experience! If you like flying, and trying new experiences – we certainly recommend it.
Mike’s personal favorite way to get to Edinburgh is via the East Coast Train. Unfortunately this requires a bit more work: flying into London (usually Heathrow), then getting into Central London (via Heathrow Express), then either walking or taking the tube to Kings Cross/St. Pancras to catch the East Coast to Edinburgh Waverly Station. We know what you’re thinking, “that sounds fucking terrible” and honestly, it kind of is. But! The views of the English & Scottish countryside through the Midlands and coastline are nothing short of spectacular. So if you’ve got some extra time, or are feeling a bit adventurous – give it a go!
You can also fly directly to Edinburgh from dozens of European cities, as well as JFK (NYC) with American & Delta, O’Hare (Chicago) & Newark with United, not to mention Doha and Abu Dhabi on the Arabian Peninsula with Qatar Airways and Etihad. Seems like more and more routes get added every year. Fingers crossed for a direct to Boston soon!
Staying Here (Economy)
18-21 Market Street, Edinburgh
In the states, any place named “Motel (Number)” is likely somewhere you’d want to bring your own sheets and try your best not to touch any surfaces. Motel One in Edinburgh does not fit that mold. Clean, modern decor, plenty of pillows (very important to the date flights team), and less than a 3 minute walk to The Royal Mile made Motel One the perfect economy stay for our first few nights in Edinburgh. And since the hotel is literally across the street from the city’s main train station, getting to and from the hotel with your luggage is no issue.
We arrived in Edinburgh early in the morning after a sleepless red eye, so we headed to Motel One hoping against hope that we’d be able to check in early. Thankfully our room was already available for us, so we gratefully dropped our bags off and quickly showered before heading out to explore the city (read on below!). Pro tip – when traveling to a materially different time zone, try your absolute best to stay awake your first day until a reasonable sleeping hour (hey, 7:30PM is totally reasonable…) Even though Edinburgh is 5 hours ahead of Boston, we were able to fully adjust within one day by not taking an oh-so-tempting nap on our first day. And while Edinburgh’s northern location makes late night dinners and walks through the city absolutely magical (sunsets at 9PM or later!), we were certainly happy to close Motel One’s blackout shades well before sunset on that first night…
Staying Here (First Class)
Castlehill, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh
Like many couples, the date flights team embodies the idea that “opposites attract.” He – loves spontaneity, shoots first asks questions later, is competitive to a T, dreams big and goes after what he wants. She – loves order and routine, makes lists (and the bed. everyday.), thinks change is hard, and analyzes each potential outcome before making a decision.
So when Mike requested we make the impromptu decision to delay our flights and stay one more night at the Witchery, no one was more surprised than me when I said, “Yes.” In all honesty, though, the decision was less driven by my increasing spontaneity (still working on that) than it was by how utterly magical the Library Suite at the Witchery is. As the concierge was giving us the grand tour of the apartment-style rooms, we couldn’t help exclaiming, “Are you KIDDING me?!” at every turn. Doors hidden behind panels of books, a full-sized dining area, red velvet everywhere, and well-worn books throughout the space proved that no detail had been overlooked in creating this romantic escape. Not to mention we were greeted by freshly baked cookies to be washed down by a bottle of chilled champagne just dying to be popped. Plus, two of the DVDs available to watch were from the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings series [seriously, did the concierge do some internet creeping to know exactly what we would want in a hotel room?!].
Now, on to the details: The Witchery’s restaurant and rooms are located right on The Royal Mile in the heart of Old Town, mere steps away from Edinburgh Castle. Each room available for booking at the Witchery is actually an apartment style suite. The Witchery opportunistically buys up available apartments in the area and converts each into its own themed getaway, complete with kitchens, sitting area(s), and stunning bathrooms. Breakfast is included in the price of the room and will be delivered to your suite each morning, so there’s really no good reason to get out of your plush bathrobe before noon. The service was impeccable, and the night clerk even delivered a very early breakfast to us when we had to leave for the airport at the crack of dawn. The only way to appropriately describe our time here was decadent. We opted to order take away both nights of our stay since we didn’t want to spend any more time away from the rooms than absolutely necessary.
We couldn’t imagine a more enchanting end to our time in the birthplace of Harry Potter than to spend our final nights in Gryffindor Tower. I guess this almost makes up for the fact that I still haven’t received my Hogwarts letter…
Spending the Day
We did a PRETTY good job making the most of our time in Edinburgh, if we do say so ourselves. Whether you want to be active (#fitness), soak up the historical and/or literary significance of the city, or just spend 12 hours day drinking (no judgment!), Edinburgh will provide. Our first morning in the city we fueled up with a light full-Scottish breakfast then headed straight to Holyrood Park to hike up to the highest point in the city. Holyrood Park is an easy 15-20 minute walk from the city center, followed by a not so easy hour long hike up to King Arthur’s Seat. But trust us, the views are worth the effort! Plus, the pints you have after your hike will taste like victory and burned calories.
Edinburgh Castle is certainly worth a visit, and its convenient location at the top of The Royal Mile made it an easy walk from our hotel. The castle and surrounding grounds are beautiful, especially at sunset (which lasted for almost an hour during our time in Scotland!). We even took a walk well below the castle wall to the spooky cemetery which lays at its feet. The view from the cemetery gave us a truly awe-inspiring appreciation for this impenetrable structure that has endured the test of time. And after all that learning you do, make a stop in the gift shop where you can taste and buy Edinburgh Castle’s own malt whisky.
And last but certainly not least, you know we couldn’t take a trip to Edinburgh without paying homage to the true queen of the UK, JK Rowling. We spent a full morning hitting up all of the relevant Harry Potter sites throughout the city – below are some of our favorites:
- The Elephant House (21 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh) – We got Irish coffees here (or would they be Scottish? either way they had whiskey in them) and enjoyed the view of Edinburgh Castle and Greyfriars Kirkyard (inspiration for Tom Riddle Sr.’s cemetary!)
- Spoon (6A Nicolson St, Edinburgh) – I think this was actually a Chinese restaurant back when JK Rowling was a regular, but now it’s a completely charming cafe that we could have easily spent endless hours reading, sipping iced coffees (Yes! They had delicious iced coffee here! A true rarity in the UK…), and soaking up the HP magic that’s left its imprint in each floorboard and colorful table.
- Greyfriars Kirkyard (Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh) – See above. Super spooky.
- George Heriot’s School (Lauriston Pl, Edinburgh) – Allegedly the inspiration for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Heriot’s almost looks like it was placed into a green screen of the Edinburgh skyline. With its stunning architecture and system of dividing students into four “houses,” it’s easy to imagine Hogwarts existing in a parallel universe to Heriot’s.
- Victoria Street / The Royal Mile / Every close – We spent almost every minute wandering around Edinburgh imagining we were actually moseying through Diagon Alley. Actually, now that I think of it, we really should have started tapping on brick walls above every trash can in the city…
Spoon, now one of our favorite cafes in the world. You can see why!
Pre-Dinner Drinks (Economy)
5-7 Old Fishmarket Close, Edinburgh
What’s that old saying? “You can tell everything you need to know about someone by which character they use in Mario Kart.”? Something like that. The fact that this bar has Mario Kart (on N64 no less) automatically makes it one of our favorites, but Wings Edinburgh offers so much more than that (like Goldeneye!). Everywhere you look, there is something sweet to geek out about, including a T-Rex head mounted to the wall above the Jurassic Park themed table (we sat at the also-awesomely decorated Star Wars table, but definitely felt a pang of seat-envy when we saw a dinosaur staring down at us from the opposite wall).
Apparently the bar’s owner decided to open Wings after visiting the US and Canada, where he realized what a tragic mistake Scotland was making by not offering fried, saucy chicken for late night drunchies. Whether you choose to come here before dinner (more drinks, less wings) or for late night shenanigans, it’s impossible to not have fun on a date at Wings Edinburgh.
Pre-Dinner Drinks (First Class)
521-523 Lawnmarket, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh
For one reason or another, we’ve always idealized the culture and countryside of the UK. Likely born from lifelong obsessions with the likes of Tolkien, Lewis, and Rowling, we find ourselves drawn to images of thatched roof cottages, rolling green hills divided by perfectly imperfect stone borders, and – of course – every village and city’s quintessential pub. We’ve been lucky enough to visit a number of cozy, low-ceilinged pubs that serve up no-nonsense drinks and simple, soul-satisfying food. And of all the pubs in all villages and cities we’ve been to, Ensign Ewart is without question our favorite. During the four days we spent in Edinburgh, we went to this pub no less than five* times. Whether it was for a quick pre-dinner drink, a victory lunch after a climb to King Arthur’s seat, or a leisurely afternoon tasting Scotch flights, Ensign Ewart hit the spot. Every inch of this pub is charming and welcoming, but we were especially partial to the nook in the very back corner of the pub.Two small tables and benches face off beside a fire, providing the perfect spot for conversation. The set-up made us feel like we were in a private room, while also having a great view of the single-man kitchen and a chalkboard with helpful tasting notes for all of the Scotches we’d be tasting, organized by region.
*When it became obvious (upon our fourth visit) how much time we were spending in Ensign Ewart, we thought it would only be fair to give some love to Edinburgh’s many other pubs. Our final day in Edinburgh was spent grabbing one drink each in more than ten pubs throughout Old Town (Thistly Cross ciders for her, golden ales for him, and some Scotch thrown in for good measure). And while they were all charming and cozy and perfectly good pubs in their own rights, Ensign Ewart is simply the best.
Dinner Date (Economy)
The Devil’s Advocate
9 Advocate’s Close, Edinburgh
Edinburgh’s Old Town is basically comprised of the high street (equivalent to main street, a.k.a. The Royal Mile), and small alleyways leading off high street to the north and south. The Scots call these alleyways “closes,” and after about 5 minutes spent walking around the city it quickly became a life goal for us to live in an apartment on a close in Edinburgh. The relatively high elevation of The Royal Mile means that many of these closes have pretty steep inclines and plenty of stairs, and Advocate’s Close is no exception. Advocate’s Close also conveniently led directly from Motel One to The Royal Mile, so when we were climbing up the close’s (many) steps and saw the restaurant’s cool exterior and amazing location we made a mental note to check it out (maybe when we weren’t so sweaty and out of breath).
Later that night when we entered the loft-style restaurant through the stonewalled bar on the first level, we knew we had made the right choice for our first dinner in Scotland. This is exactly the type of place we’d want to come for after work drinks when we inevitably move to Edinburgh 😉 In warmer months the restaurant offers outdoor seating and opens up its huge wooden doors to look out over the close and city below, but this time we ate up in the loft overlooking the bar area below. The menu was the perfect entry to Scottish fare, offering classics (like fish and chips) and some hip modern dishes (like pork belly with Asian slaw). The Devil’s Advocate also has a great whisky selection, but we opted for a few casual pints since we had, at this point, been awake for almost 30 hours.
The Devil’s Advocate set the perfect tone for our first date in this incredible city.. and was worth every stair it took to get there.
Dinner Date (First Class)
Castlehill, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh
At this point, you’ve already read all about our unforgettable stay in the rooms at The Witchery. So it should come as no surprise that the establishment’s restaurant is one of the most romantic places we’ve ever eaten. The Witchery has a very tempting a la carte menu, but of course we opted for the (reasonably priced!) 3 course tasting menu for £35. Everything we tasted was delicious – especially the short ribs – but the restaurant’s atmosphere is what truly stands out.
We dined in the Secret Garden room, so the name alone should give you a good idea of what to expect. And even though we arrived at the restaurant ready for an amazing experience based on everything we had read and heard, each of our expectations was blown away. The restaurant is tucked away down a stone alleyway, which suddenly opens onto a lush garden and iron-gated stone house. We truly felt as though we were walking into a fairy tale as we descended the staircase to the Secret Garden. Eating delicious food, sipping a fruity Brunello, and gazing out into the wildly beautiful garden covered in hours of twilight glow… The Witchery takes romance to the Nth degree, and does so with sophistication (and just a touch of magic).
Have you been to Edinburgh? Did you love it as much as we did? Comment below!