Edinburgh Travel Guide

Edinburgh Travel Guide

Curation by Yasmina Rodríguez, words by Laura Tucker

Scotland’s cultural capital comes carved through with cobbled streets overlooked by hilltop medieval castles all within a rugged yet pristine woodland landscape. Edinburgh is her name, nicknamed Athens of the North thanks to her beautifully preserved medieval old town sat beside the elegant, neoclassical builds of the Georgian New Town. Clamber up Calton Hill to Arthur’s seat for sweeping views of the city and a playful, down-to-earth vibe that carries down to street level. The city’s strong creative community is felt full force in August during the esteemed Edinburgh Fringe Festival when cutting-edge theatre, comedy and performance take over, transforming the city into a den of endless possibility and playful wonder. All year round, however, visitors have no end of opportunities to enjoy the city’s amazing pub scene, bustling bistros and specialist delis, as well as a vibrant gay scene centred on a place known as ‘the Pink Triangle’ at the top of Leith Street. Confused about where to go and what to see in Edinburgh? Let Mr Hudson’s Edinburgh gay travel guide lead the way.

The best hotels in Edinburgh

Live the life of a laird at one of Edinburgh’s many luxury accommodation offerings, often housed within centuries-old homes with quaint, old-world interiors. The Dunstane Houses is one such beauty to offer all this, based out of a pair of stately Scottish villas in the well-heeled area of West Coates, just 10 minutes from the city centre. Allowing for much-needed tranquillity amidst grand Victorian sandstone architecture, The Dunstane Houses offer spacious yet cosy rooms that are decked out with soft wool throws, Afghan rugs and deep-soaking tubs alongside more quirkier accents such as orange velvet chaise longue and peacock-feathered wallpaper. The Orkney-inspired restaurant presents a novel tapas-style menu made using quality, local ingredients and when noon hits, guests can choose from over 100 single malt whiskies from the custom-made cabinet at the bar. Next up in our Edinburgh gay city guide is Hotel The Witchery by the Castle, equally as opulent, with its outsized four-poster beds, velvet-lined walls and gothic touches. All the rooms at the Witchery offer something special, including love seats, walk-in dressing rooms and tapestries all within view of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Have an indulgent breakfast hamper served in the room or settle in the restaurant among celebrity guests.

The Witchery by the Castle

Hotel The Witchery by the Castle

Mr. Hudson highlight image

Have an indulgent breakfast hamper served in the room or settle in the restaurant among celebrity guests at the The Witchery by the Castle

Shrug off the old in favour of the new at Tigerlily, Edinburgh’s hottest boutique hotel, kitted out with seductive, pink-hued interiors, tasteful chandeliers and contemporary design throughout its Georgian base. Home to a buzzing and gay-popular restaurant and bar, Tigerlily sets a perfect score with its luxury amenities (including complimentary breakfast in your king-size Egyptian cotton bed) and LGBT-friendly hosts who always have dazzling entertainment lined up to keep you on your toes. Of Edinburgh’s artsy offerings, 24 Royal Terrace in the leafy area of the same name, excites us with its chessboard tile floors and boldly painted walls covered in contemporary and classic art. In addition to stylish rooms with traditional tweed furnishings, 24 Royal Terrace boasts a small bar and garden area for summer tapas to be washed down with local craft beers. Last up is the authentically Scottish guesthouse at 23 Mayfield, a gay-friendly B&B presenting sophisticated rooms and comfy Chesterfield furniture amid original Victorian features and an impressive Club Room which is home to a library of rare books and a Georgian chess board, perfect for a cerebral evening in.

The Witchery by the Castle

Hotel The Witchery by the Castle

i

Recommended hotels in Edinburgh
Powered by Booking.com

Things to do in Edinburgh

What with all the labyrinthine streets and centuries-spanning heritage to get lost in, you are sure to be impressed by the possibilities of what to do in Edinburgh. Perhaps the most important natural landmark in the city will be visible the moment you arrive. This hilly green vision on the skyline is known as Arthur’s Seat and deserves to be ascended pronto. One of two extinct volcanos within a two-mile stretch, Arthur’s seat is a treasured vocal point at the peak of Calton Hill as the highest point in Edinburgh, rising 250 meters out of the grassy haven of Holyrood Park and rewarding visitors with a chill atmosphere and matchless views.

Edinburgh is famed for its theatrics and during your visit you’re almost sure to witness some kind of eccentric performance. The city’s historic Festival Theatre has been selling tickets to big-hitting shows since 1892 back when it was known as the old Empire Palace Theatre and hosted the likes of Laurel & Hardy, Judy Garland and David Bowie. Renovated in 1994, the Festival Theatre now hosts various entertainment covering comedy, ballet, opera and live music. For the theatrical event of the year, however, you’ll want to visit Edinburgh in August during The Edinburgh Festival. Comprised of a series of international festivals, including the renowned comedy Fringe Festival as well as jazz, film and book events, this event is the world’s largest arts festival presenting both established and up-and-coming performers in a creative, playful atmosphere. Book your accommodation well in advance if visiting at this time!

Calton Hill | Photo: Daniil Vnoutchkov

Calton Hill | Photo: Daniil Vnoutchkov

Mr. Hudson highlight image

Edinburgh is famed for its theatrics and during your visit you’re almost sure to witness some kind of eccentric performance

Summerhall is proof that Edinburgh’s artistic world goes beyond its main festival. A multi-arts complex and events venue just moments from the Meadows, Summerhall holds art exhibitions, theatre performances, concerts, film screenings and workshops throughout the year, even managing its own microbrewery and bar out back for all the thirsty creatives.

To better appreciate the history of this medieval city, a visit to the National Museum of Scotland is one of the top things to do in Edinburgh. The museum spans two buildings on Chambers Street, with its older half boasting a soaring Victorian atrium under which you’ll find crowd-pleasing galleries on the development of Scotland through the ages covering the natural world, science and technology, art and design and more. After all that, a whisky tasting may be in order. Scottish whisky is both a pastime and famed national product, so it is no surprise that Edinburgh offers a number of ways to partake in a dram or two. As well as taking a guided walk through the streets to visit the city’s best whisky bars, an alternative option is to immerse yourself in the manufacturing process at one of Edinburgh’s top distilleries around the Southern Highlands. Just make sure to eat lunch beforehand!

National Museum of Scotland | Photo:  Filip Pizl

National Museum of Scotland | Photo: Filip Pizl

i

Recommended experiences in Edinburgh
Powered by GetYourGuide

What to see in Edinburgh

The top Edinburgh sightseeing spots are easy to find with several wanders through the old city centre but off the beaten track you’re also bound to find some more to marvel at. The district of Leith in particular, a buzzing port area known as the Shore, is one of those places, brimming with hip creatives and long-time locals thanks to its great seafood, riverside walkways and traditional pub scene. The busy, ever-evolving streets also hold a number of thrift stores as well as music and theatre venues, enlivening the neighbourhood with young, cosmopolitan energy, especially during the Fringe. Try the Lioness of Leith for burgers and cocktails, while Fishers is the place to go for fresh off the line seafood.

Of the most iconic Edinburgh points of interest, Edinburgh Castle has got to be number one. Despite the hype, a visit to the castle and the surrounding Royal Mile is certainly worth it. Sat atop an extinct volcano in a very visible and grandiose manner, Edinburgh Castle serves as a reminder of the city’s history, even more so when performers come here to enact famous characters from history, such as Mary, Queen of Scots. Besides some fun theatre, on the castle grounds, you’ll find a traditional tea room selling homemade scones with jam and clotted cream. From here, stroll down the Royal Mile, the main highway of medieval Edinburgh, and experience the still bustling atmosphere all the way to Holyrood Palace, across five different streets packed with museums, cafés, shops and restaurants.

Edinburgh Castle | Photo: Jorg Angeli

Edinburgh Castle | Photo: Jorg Angeli

Those serious about their history should make sure to visit the 13th century Holyrood Abbey Ruins, home of some major events in Scottish and English history. Explore the remains of the church and learn more about Scotland’s tumultuous relationship with its southern neighbour, markedly, how English colonisation of the British Isles resulted in destruction. A grand structure, formerly the residence and place of worship to a number of kings, with its huge towers and nave, by the mid 16th century its glory days were over, no more so than when the abbey was mobbed and looted by English forces in 1688. To study Edinburgh’s religious architecture, get over to the southeast of the city to find St Giles’ Cathedral Thistle Chapel. Although small, this chapel is a prime example of distinct Scottish architecture, comprised of ornate woodwork and neo-gothic attributes from the early 1900s. As well as its beauty, it is also the home of the Order of the Thistle, a chivalry order of knights appointed by the Queen, whose history you can see line the walls beside coats of arms and Roman detailing, as well as the quirky addition of three angels playing the bagpipes hidden on site.

The Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh is a place to go for respite in the city, as well as some cultural and historical education. Founded in 1670 with the purpose of growing medicinal plants, this is the second oldest botanic gardens in Britain, after Oxford’s. Here you’ll find a herbarium housing over three million specimens, a core collection charting perhaps two-thirds of the world’s flora, and as many as 72 acres of landscaped gardens featuring rock gardens, Victorian glasshouses and a Chinese hillside complete with a pond-side pagoda. For one more retreat, Dean Village is a hidden treasure just outside of the city besides the Water of Leith. Once a key player in the milling industry, Dean Village has since become a quaint and welcoming neighbourhood brimming with heritage and exceptional bakeries. While you’re here, make sure to cross the impressive Dean Bridge and visit the nearby St Bernard’s Well where the water is said to hold healing benefits blessed by a statue of the Greek goddess Hygeia.

Palace of Holyrood | Photo: Emran Yousof

Palace of Holyrood | Photo: Emran Yousof

Where to eat in Edinburgh

Scotland certainly knows that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and Edinburgh employs this knowledge by lavishing its lodgers with endless foodie splendour. Starting with the best of fine Scottish cuisine, the Edinburgh Food Studio has us captivated. Based a short cab ride from the city centre on a nondescript street, when you enter Edinburgh Food Studio you’ll be transported to a creative world of gastronomic excitement where the young founders and guest international chefs serve up experimental yet hearty dishes amid poetry recitals and other various events. The Kitchin is another top location for comforting Scottish cooking, based along the Leith waterfront and run by a Michelin-awardee couple. As well as dishes using Highland game and locally-sourced meat, The Kitchin delivers divine seafood concepts such as the famous ‘Rockpool’ dish. One more for the Scottish favourites is Cafe St. Honoré, a sleek but low-key bistro abound with Parisian flair and Scottish comforts. Centrally located and good value, St. Honoré presents organic locally-sourced dishes such as the Scrabster cod with Isle of Mull cheese.

If home cooking in cosy environs has you hooked, The Gardener’s Cottage is a great spot, located in a 19th-century cottage at the base of Calton Hill. Enjoy host-picked dishes such as the smoked pigeon breast and Old Winchester cheese truffle tagliatelle, served with local preserves in winter and seasonal produce in summer, at the long communal dining table alongside friendly fellow foodies. Going more modern is European neo-bistro Aizle, where local seasonal produce is used to create a swanky ever-changing, five-course tasting menu in a fresh contemporary space with an impressive wine list. Over in Edinburgh’s new town is one more modern European restaurant named The Table. Exclusive and interactive, ten lucky diners each night can sit chatting to the chefs in the open kitchen as they prepare their choice menu of European dishes with a Scottish twist.

Cafe St Honore, Chef Neil Forbes

Cafe St Honore, Chef Neil Forbes

Mr. Hudson highlight image

For the Scottish favourites is Cafe St. Honoré, a sleek but low-key bistro abound with Parisian flair and Scottish comforts

Cafe St Honore | Photo: Paul Johnston

Cafe St Honore | Photo: Paul Johnston

Vegetarians and lovers of Indian food can take a happy jaunt over to Kalpna, based halfway between The Meadows and Arthur’s Seat. Warm-hearted and twinkling, with mosaic mirrors covering the walls, this affordable eatery serves up signature dishes like thali with dhal and a multitude of veggie curries on antique silver. For meatless meals in elegant, minimalist surroundings, head to the Royal Mile where David Bann does a chic take on vegetarian cuisine, fusing Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Asian influences on a menu of fine Scottish ingredients. If in doubt, opt for the goat’s cheese strudel served with Ayrshire heather ale. On the subject of cheese, Smith & Gertrude may entice you with its wine and cheese bar concept and a heady selection of quality appetizers served alongside fancy Pinot Noir and lesser-known bottles from across Europe. The knowledgeable staff and modern interiors at Smith & Gertrude keep us coming back for more.

For daytime bites, the Archipelago Bakery may be able to fix you up something. Located off of the tourist trail, smell this cosy neighbourhood bakery before you see it, with aromas of fresh brownies, bread, strudels, cakes and tarts filling the nearby streets. Run by Caroline using local ingredients, the Archipelago Bakery also offers a range of salads and vegan options for breakfast, brunch or lunch.

Cafe St Honore | Photo: Paul Johnston

Cafe St Honore | Photo: Paul Johnston

Mr. Hudson highlight image

Born and raised in Scotland, Kestin Hare designs an acclaimed label of cool and contemporary streetwear with an emphasis on local production

Shopping in Edinburgh

While Edinburgh has its fair share of malls and shopping centres, the best shopping experiences can be found on the old winding streets of the city’s historic centre. Victoria Street, spanning from George IV Bridge all the way to Grassmarket, is where travellers can find Edinburgh’s finest selection of independent boutiques, including contemporary fashion at Swish, tweed-based couture at Walker Slater and designer homeware at The Red Door Gallery. Fans of Harry Potter will enjoy Museum Context while the perpetually hungry among you will be pleased to find a range of foodie delights on offer; from cheesemonger IJ Mellia to street side hog-roasters Oink, with the chance of washing it all down with a flask from The Whiskey Shop.

Bringing high-end men’s fashion to the vintage world of St Stephen Street is Kestin Hare. Born and raised in Scotland, Kestin Hare designs an acclaimed label of cool and contemporary streetwear with an emphasis on local production. Then there’s Frontiers Man, another intriguing menswear boutique, newly founded by Nigel Pashley with a fabulous collection of independent brands. For the best vintage fashion, Armstrongs is your guy, with his overflowing empire of hipster gems, from flannel shirts and Levis jackets to chukka boots and stripy crews.

If you’re looking to procure some memories from your trip to take back home, Cranachan and Crowdie is a one-stop-shop for gifts, goodies and fine Scottish food and drink. Choose from shortbread to black pudding or choose it all and get the staff to create a personalised hamper. There’s one Scottish treat however that you won’t want to give away. Find it at 21st Century Kilts, where the likes of Vin Diesel and Alan Cumming have reportedly been found getting kitted out in bespoke designs by designer Howie Nicholsby. Opt for camouflage, leather or pinstripe detailing on kilts, waistcoats, sporrans and more, for casual and occasion wear.

Photo: Nadin Lisa

Photo: Nadin Lisa

Mr. Hudson highlight image

Edinburgh’s nightlife writhes with activity all year round, with live music and club events available every night of the week

Photo: Paul Byrne

Photo: Paul Byrne

Edinburgh nightlife

Edinburgh has the perfect set up for an interesting and inclusive night out, both inside and outside the central Gay Village, known as ‘the Pink Triangle’, located at the north end of Leith Street and Broughton Street. In addition to June’s Pride celebrations, the International Film Festival and August’s Fringe, Edinburgh’s nightlife writhes with activity all year round, with live music and club events available every night of the week. First up, our Edinburgh gay scene guide takes a short walk outside of the Pink Triangle to a delightful gay pub named The Regent Bar. Here you’ll find a relaxed setting to enjoy pub food and a variety of ales surrounded by quirky décor. Also on the edge of the triangle is Victoria Bar, a fashionable gay bar and meeting place serving sublime G&Ts on the patio during rare sunny days.

Get your magnifying glasses and trench coats out for this next one and not just because the location is a little tricky to find. This cocktail bar named Bryant and Mack Private Detectives is in fact a private-eye themed speakeasy where, under the chill classic jazz soundtrack and low-lit mysterious atmosphere, incredible ‘confidential’ cocktails are served up with more twists than an Agatha Christie novel. While it doesn’t get more different than that, Paradise Palms is another quirky alternative, presenting drag cabaret, top-notch vegetarian cuisine and unique teapot cocktails, in a welcoming, palm-studded environment that is a favourite among locals.

If a definitive world-class cocktail is the only thing that’ll quench your thirst, Bramble bar, with its quality creative cocktail concoctions served up in fine china cups, is the place for you. Ranked as one of the top bars in Scotland and even the world, Bramble is hidden away on Queen Street under a shop and completely worthy of the hunt that will no doubt ensue. Slightly more visible is Skybar @ Doubletree by Hilton and, while there’s not a skyscraper in sight, Doubletree can provide a top floor bar with stunning night views of Edinburgh Castle. Sadly, the Sky Bar is only open of the first Thursday of every month for only 90 people at a time. Don’t worry if your dates don’t align, however, because Tigerlily, a gay-popular cocktail bar inside the aforementioned Tigerlily Hotel, is a very worthy substitute.

SKYbar | Photo: Maximeragni

SKYbar | Photo: Maximeragni

Special Selection

Exclusive Mr Hudson offers

Subscribe to our newsletter

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.