Driving into Edinburgh's city center feels a bit like traveling back to the Middle Ages. Ominous castle-like structures dot the skyline, narrow+vertical cobblestone pathways lure you in around each bend, and you might catch a glimpse of the occasional sword fight. Okay, so I might be fibbing about that last part, but you get the idea!
Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and has been since the late 15th century. Needless to say, the city is dripping with history... and provides the perfect setting for sampling Scotch whisky.
We stayed in an AirBnB near University of Edinburgh, so the immediate neighborhood had a fun college vibe.
Our first night was unforgettable. We made reservations at The Kitchin, a Michelin star restaurant in the Leith neighborhood, named after world renowned chef, Tom Kitchin. We decided on the surprise tasting menu (£85/pp). The server asked us several questions about our food preferences, and then proceed to plan our meal. When the amuse-bouche was served we thought it was the first course due to it's generous size. It was soup served out of an onion. I wished I could've ordered a whole bowl! Next came another favorite dish of the trip: a beautiful shell wrapped in puff pastry with scallops+broth inside. To say it tasted incredible is an understatement. These were the best scallops I had ever tasted. Next we had some meat themed dishes paired with wines recommended by the sommelier, and we finished with a decadent chocolate soufflé. After the conclusion of the meal, we were escorted to a lounge area where we enjoyed a night-cap. Before reluctantly leaving, our server gave us a takeaway bag containing millionaire shortbreads.
We took an Uber back into town and stopped at a speakeasy called, Panda & Sons. Its front exterior is a barbershop, and you enter downstairs through a bookcase which leads you to a lively basement bar. I ordered the "Tiki Takeaway"which was served on top of crushed ice within a Chinese take-out box. The two straws looked like chopsticks (see pic below). Not only was it Instagram worthy, but it was refreshing.
The next day we ventured into the tourist areas around Edinburgh Castle. Tip: don't pay the expensive admission to go inside the castle. Instead, walk up to the castle gate, and enjoy the beautiful views. There are other surrounding castles to visit that charge less admission and aren't swarming with people. After admiring the city views from the castle, we headed to the Oxford Bar. If you've ever read an Ian Rankin novel, you'll be happy you went (the protagonist in his books regularly visits a pub named "The Ox", which is based on the Oxford Bar). This is not a trendy, hipster, man bun type of establishment. It's a locals bar, so you won't see any flatscreen TVs or hear any obnoxious music. There's a fireplace in the side room, where we happily drank our beer and cider while eavesdropping on a humorous conversation had by locals.
The following day we explored the Craigmillar Castle, located a few miles outside of the city. The admission was very affordable ($6/pp) and the experience exceeded expectations. There was only one other couple roaming the grounds of the castle while we were there which made for a peaceful setting. A little background: the castle was built in the late 15th century and was used by Mary, Queen of Scots.
Lunch was at Scran & Scallie, another Tom Kitchin restaurant. How could we resist?!? We ordered the monkfish tail and steak pie. The monkfish tail was wrapped in pancetta, and surrounded by delicious mussels. The steak pie was covered by a beautifully puff pastry. The dessert was an orange baba soaked in a sauce made with scotch.
On our departure day, we made reservations at 21212, a restaurant by Paul Kitching. It was awarded a Michelin Star in 2010. The hostess led us to an elegant lounge where we waited while our table was being set. We had the restaurant to ourselves, which led me to believe this was more of a dinner spot. While the three course lunch menu was good, it was a bit inaccessible. We enjoyed a great red wine and rosé while watching the snowfall.
Our time in Scotland had come to an end, so we made our way to Waverly Station to catch our train. Darlington was our next stop and we were looking forward to some quality R&R.