Summer in the City: Planning an Edinburgh Staycation

Blair Cowan

Early summer in Edinburgh is the greatest: the days are long and (if you’re lucky) warm, the festival is on its way but the city isn’t heaving with tourists just yet, restaurants have opened their terraces and the sky is at its bluest. Feeling like you’ve already visited everything Edinburgh has to offer? Try a weekend stay-cation as a tourist in your own backyard! Check out these top tips for planning a four-star weekend right here in Edinburgh:

How do we start our weekend as tourists? With a proper breakfast, of course! Grab yourself a cappuccino and the best cheese scone in town from Wellington Coffee if you’re in New Town, or if you find yourself over Old Town way, snag a bagel and a cuppa from Elephant & Bagels- sister to the shop where JK Rowling wrote the beginning of Harry Potter (but way less crowded). Make sure you ask for takeaway, of course- we’ve got sightseeing to do!

Breakfast in tow, head over to Holyrood Park. If you’re feeling adventurous, start your climb up Arthur’s Seat, making sure to stop along the way to catch your breath and admire the view of the city skyline. Not keen to climb? No problem! Wander the base of the Seat, check out the swans in St. Margaret’s Loch and make sure you don’t miss St. Anthony’s Chapel Ruins- the most Instagrammable spot in the park!

Make your way down from the heights of Arthur’s Seat to the bottom of Canongate. Take a look over your shoulder at the hill you just climbed, you athletic wunderkind! Now head toward the Castle and keep an eye out on your left for Oink (you’ll smell the barbecue before you get close… and if you don’t, you’ll probably notice the pig in the window). Pop into Oink to rest your feet and enjoy a pork sandwich (topping recommendation: stuffing, BBQ sauce, and an extra piece of crackling). Don’t forget to hydrate- you’ve got some cheeky whisky in your future!

After you’ve enjoyed Edinburgh’s best barbecue, keep on up the Royal Mile until you reach the Scotch Whisky Experience. You’ll want to go for the Gold Tour- you’re there to sample what’s on offer, after all! First, you’ll take a theme park-style ride explaining how whisky is made, then you’ll see the world’s largest whisky collection- worth the price of admission alone- and then, at last, it’s time for a tasting. Linger over your whisky in the tasting room now that you’re an expert!

Feeling relaxed and ready for a night on the town? Great! Now go home and get dressed up, it’s almost time for dinner! Once you’re looking snazzy, go back to the Royal Mile and wander down the street (it’s great for people-watching, after all) until you spot Advocate’s Close. Be careful not to miss it- it’s an easy one to overlook. Make your way down all the stairs, stopping along the way to take a closer peek at one of Edinburgh’s oldest doorways, on your right. Now go into The Devil’s Advocate and choose a craft cocktail while you await your table. Sip your drink and enjoy a look around while you wait- watching the bartenders make their complicated orders is half the fun. When it’s time for food, you can’t go wrong with the menu, which changes with the season and focusses on high-quality Scottish dishes. After dinner, if you can handle a nightcap, walk down George IV Bridge then make a turn to get to Paradise Palms.

Rumoured to be furnished with leftover set pieces from the 2013 film version of The Great Gatsby, Paradise Palms is nothing if not eclectic. This time of night, there will probably be a DJ spinning some great tunes to enjoy while you’re imbibing. Pick yourself out a cocktail- the specials written on the mirror behind the bar change frequently and are a great, affordable choice- then take your drink to the tables to the left of the tiny stage. Look around at all the caricatures plastering the walls while you rule over the rest of the bar like a king. Hang around as late as you can handle, but be careful! The drinks at this bar go down surprisingly easily and you’ve got another big day of hols tomorrow.

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Good morning! Still feeling the effects of last night? No problem- let’s start the day slowly, with a tasty brunch and some strong coffee. Get over to The Huxley for an elegant, delicious brekkie with style. Their full Scottish will sort out any hungover feelings you’re still harbouring, and by the time you’re done, you’ll be right as rain. From there, take a stroll into Stockbridge to visit the Sunday market. Filled with local produce, meats, baked goods and more, the market packs a punch and you’ll wish you had more arms to carry home all the goods you’ll want to buy.

Finish your browse around the market and head into the Water of Leith, just at the edge of the market. Enjoy a slow walk through the greenest space in Edinburgh, always a welcome relief after the hustle of the city. As you come out of Water of Leith, make a turn onto Belford Road and head to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. If the weather is nice, have a poke around the grounds of the two gallery buildings- one on each side of Belford Road- at the outdoor sculptures and artworks. Make your way into the galleries and take a look at their exhibitions- from the permanent installation of Francis Bacon’s studio to the temporary show on Scottish Modern Art from the first half of the 20th century, you’re sure to find something of interest- and as a bonus, it’s nearly always the least crowded of the Edinburgh museums on the weekend.

Ready for a break? Head to Princes Street and stroll through Princes Street gardens. Make sure you don’t miss the floral clock or the still new-ish statue of Wojtek the Bear. Find yourself a shady tree and have a sit in the gardens with a view up at the castle.

Starting to feel peckish? Once you’re recharged after all the walking you’ve done, make your way to St. Andrew’s Square. If you’re lucky, maybe one of the periodic art installations that go into the square are in place. If not, head straight to Dishoom, on the south side of the square, for a Sunday evening curry feast. There will probably be a queue for a table, but it’s worth the wait. Have a glass of salted lemonade while you wait outside, then head into the bar for one of the signature mocktails on the menu (unless you’re feeling brave enough to take another walk on the wild side). When your table is ready, don’t even bother trying to take it easy- you might as well go all out with a few dishes per person. They’re small, and you deserve it after all the walking you’ve done today!

If you’ve finished dinner in time, head to Grassmarket and grab an affogato from Mary’s Milk Bar. A scoop of your choice of artisan-made gelato melting into a fresh espresso is the perfect after-dinner treat, perfect for sipping in the Grassmarket while you watch the sunset.

And there you have it! You’ve finished your Edinburgh mini-break with a combination of tourist mainstays and locals-only haunts, and you won’t even have a hangover to cope with when Monday morning rolls around. Now get out there and enjoy our city!

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