Oli and I have just returned from an amazing 5 days in Edinburgh with friends. We had a brilliant time, so I thought I’d do a write up of our 5 days in Edinburgh, what we got up to and where we went, in the hope it’ll give you some ideas if you’re planning a trip to Edinburgh.
We had an early morning morning flight at Gatwick, flying with Easyjet. We got picked up at 5am and were taking off by 8:30am; great flight and a great start to the holiday!
Getting to the city centre
We arrived at Edinburgh Airport on time and only packed hand luggage, which meant we could head out and make our way into the city straight away! In terms of getting into Edinburgh city you have a few options: taxi (probably the most expensive option), Airlink Bus or hop on a tram. Airlink is pretty cheap (£7.50 open return), they pick you up directly outside the airport and drop you off at Waverley Train Station, right in the city centre, so nice and direct. Catching a tram is also a good option; good prices (£8.50 open return), the platform is also directly outside the airport, they run pretty much every 10 minutes, and you can hop off at any of the main stops in the city centre (Princes Street, St Andrew’s Square etc…). It also only takes about 35 minutes to get into the city centre. We hopped on the tram – ticket machines are right outside the platform and really simple to use.
We booked an apartment for our trip, which was the amazing Nicholson Apartments. The place was amazing value, we paid about £400 total (so £100 each), for 5 days, 4 nights. This gave us 2 double bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom and a lounge diner. They also gave us a welcome box of shortbread on arrival and more tea, coffee and sugar than we could use in a month! All the main amenities were also included (dishwasher and tablets, all cleaning products, ironing board), so we didn’t want for anything during our stay. The only things we bought were milk (they’d only included the little milk capsules things in the fridge), some breakfast items and alcohol. The whole place was super clean and tidy and all the staff were really helpful and friendly when we checked in and out. I’d definitely stay here again. I’ve included some photos below so you can have a nose at what the rooms were like – most of which Oli is demonstrating in for you:
Our first day
Check-in was at 3pm, so we left our bags at reception (which is in a different area of the city to the apartment – but they explain all this in your booking email should you book Nicholson Apartments) and went off exploring!
We enjoyed a good stroll around the city first, getting our barings and just taking it all in. I’d read online that you could climb up Scott Monument, for some views over Princes Street and over to the castle and Carlton Hill – so up we went! Tickets were about £5 each I think and you can spend as much time up the tower as you like. There are about 3 levels of viewing points also so you can go as high as you like – I will warn you, the higher you go the narrower and narrower the stairwell is and most of the stairwells don’t have handrails, so you have to be careful. I took a (pretty blurry) photo to try and show you:
Later on in the week we did actually hear that a Welsh rugby team went up the tower and one of them got stuck where it was so narrow! However the views from the top are great and definitely worth narrow climb.
After this we decided to carry on walking along Princes Street up towards Carlton Hill. By this point the sun was starting to come out, so it was nice to chill out in the sun and take in some of the views over the city and across to Arthur’s Seat.
On the way back to checking into the apartment, we stopped off at a pub called the Guildford Arms for a few drinks and a bowl of chips to take the edge off until dinner. This is a great place for a couple of drinks, with a very knowledgable barman for Andy and Oli who wanted to try out a few different beers.
Time for a quick nap at the apartment and then we were out for our evening activities. About 5pm, we booked a tour at The Real Mary King’s Close. This was one of our highlights of our trip – we had a fantastic tour guide called Katie, the guide’s are in character and period dress; I’m not normally very good with these kinds of tours and find them cringey but this was brilliant and we loved every second.
The tour takes you through life in the narrow closes (streets) in Edinburgh, when disease and the plague was rife. It was incredibly interesting and all underground, as a government building now sits on top of the close and old streets. I highly highly recommend this tour, great piece of Edinburgh history.
The tour lasted about an hour, so we decided to go for a drink and decide where to go for dinner.
Both Oli and Andy are huge fans of Brewdog, and coincidentally a Brewdog bar was just around the corner from us after the tour finished. So we had a drink in there and raided Tripadvisor for somewhere to eat. I personally don’t like beer, but they also had a good selection of vodka and gin. Oli ordered me a G&T and when we asked the barman what gin he used, he showed us a bottle of East London Liquor Company gin, which we actually bought a bottle of recently during our distillery tour there!
We finally decided on an Indian / Nepalese place called Gurka Cafe for dinner, in the city centre. The name isn’t particularly glamorous, but the food was amazing! We all had 2 courses and loved every mouthful. I ordered a Nepalese curry, and it was the best curry I have had in a very, very long time! Loved this place! The service was a little slow, but we were tired after a long, full day, so we quite enjoyed just chilling out. However after 2 courses and very full bellies, exhaustion from our long day kicked in and we headed back to the apartment about 10:30pm to catch up on some sleep.
We treated ourselves to a bit of a lie in and grabbed some breakfast in the apartment. We had a tour booked at 1pm, so we enjoyed a couple of hours just exploring the old town and some of Closes running off the Royal Mile.
At 1pm, we had a tour booked at the Scotch Whiskey Experience. Oli and I have done a few distillery / brewery tours before and learnt about how whiskey / vodka / gin / beer is made and have always loved them and found them to be interesting. After reading the great reviews on Tripadvisor, the 4 of us thought it would be good fun.
It starts with a ‘barrel ride’, which is a mechanical ride / tour, which takes you through the process of making whiskey. I personally thought this was a bit kiddy, but it was fun all the same. After the ‘ride’ our tour guide met us, and she told us about the different whiskey zones in Scotland. We then got to select what kind of whiskey we’d like we’d like to try and we got a free tasting. Our guide was really informative and told us about how to tell if you have a good whiskey, the ‘legs’ of a whiskey (like when you do wine tasting) and how to drink and smell your whiskey. She then took us into a room next door which showcased the world’s largest whiskey collection (3,500 bottles of whiskey). We also got to keep the glasses we tried our whiskey in, which I thought was a nice touch.
The tour and experience lasted about 1 hour, so when we came out we decided to go into Camera Obscura, which was directly opposite, and again, something we had heard very good things about – we weren’t disappointed!
There are about 6 floors in total, including a rooftop with some great views over Edinburgh. We had about 20 minutes up there before a ‘show’ was due to start your ticket automatically includes. I normally avoid things like this, assuming I won’t enjoy them, or that they’ll be quite child-orientated… this proved me wrong. It lasted about 20 minutes and definitely wasn’t really a ‘show’ like I thought it would be. We all sat in a dark room, with a telescopic mirror image of the city on a table in front of us. Our guide was able to control the mirror image and give us a birds-eye view and tour of Edinburgh. It was quite interactive and a lot of fun, so I’d definitely recommend this. From here we explored the other 5 floors, which are packed with interactive activities and illusions which kept us entertained for over an hour!
We well and truly jam packed a lot into this day, as after Camera Obscura, we had a tour booked with Mercat Tours to explore the hidden underground vaults. Mercat are the only company who offer tours in the vaults. They offer a history of the vaults tour and a ghost tour. We personally didn’t like our tour guide, which probably didn’t help – she was quite condescending at times and also pretty scatty with her story telling; she’d start to tell one story and then move on to another without wrapping up her previous one.
We booked the history of the vaults tour, as none of knew why they existed and thought it would be interesting…which it was… and once we got into the vaults, it was great to learn about their purpose and uses, but prior to that, a lot of the information and history of Edinburgh had already been covered in the Real Mary King’s Close tour, so if you’re going to book both these tours keep that in mind. We all said we’d liked to have booked the ghost tour… but then we wouldn’t know about the history of the vaults (unless maybe some of that is covered in the ghost stories perhaps?). It’s tricky because the tours are all so different, but obviously do have elements of overlap, so just something to keep in mind.
After this, we grabbed some dinner at a great little place called Foundry. Andy had a chicken burger, which looked amazing (and was devoured in minutes) while the rest of us had pizza, which was also super yummy! I think we all had garlic dough balls to start and also managed to find room for dessert! We stayed here for a couple of drinks, before deciding to head back for some sleep.
We woke up to a pretty grey, cold and drizzly Edinburgh. The plan had been to visit the castle in the morning, but it was so busy when we got there we couldn’t be bothered with the huge queue outside. We booked our tickets online in the end for the following day.
Whilst deciding what to do with our day, we popped into a little cafe down a close called Deacon’s House Cafe. We were just passing by and thought it looked cute, with canopy coverings and festoon lights in the archway; we weren’t disappointed.
We ordered hot chocolates and coffees and also a few homemade cakes to tie us over. As the weather was so poor, we decided we’d try and spend most of our time undercover and opted for a bit of a shopping day.
All week I had been researching online somewhere to get a good quality lambswool or cashmere scarf. I was getting mixed results online and didn’t know how to define between the tourist hotspot shops and what was a genuine good quality scarf. So we decided we’d do some scarf hunting on our rainy day. We popped into a couple of different shops but couldn’t see anything that really hit the mark. After reading a few different reviews and websites, we decided to pop into Edinburgh Woolen Mill on Princes Street and in there I bought 2 beautiful lambswool scarves, which I have been inseparable from since. Oli also bought a jumper in there and they had a tonne of other items such as blankets and throws which I also loved.
We also had a great view of the 1pm gunfire at the castle from Princes Street. We spent the rest of our day nosing around Princes Street and popping into shops and coffee spots before feeling burnt out mid-afternoon and crashed back at the apartment for some sleep.
We’d planned in the evening to go ‘out out’, so it was good to recoup some energy. We all got ready and grabbed a taxi back up towards Princes Street where we ate at La Piazza and had easily the best meal of the week here! The staff were all wonderful and super attentive and the food was so delicious. I definitely can’t recommend this place enough, if you eat here you won’t regret it! For starter I ordered a slightly baked mozzarella, wrapped in parma ham. My main was a ricotta, spinach and chicken dish and then for dessert I had an uber creamy, vanilla panna cotta. Amazing!
Feeling comfortably full, we hit a couple of bars nearby. The first was a whiskey bar called Usquabae, again lovely staff, great atmosphere. The bar is underground and they have a very extensive whiskey menu (as well as gin, vodka, rum and wine). We stayed here for a couple of rounds, and then walked up the street towards Panda & Sons, which was one of my favourite bars during our trip.
The outside of the bar is disguised as a barbers, you head down the stairs and behind a bookcase is a dark and intimate cocktail bar. Great vibe, great staff and great cocktails!
The thing I loved most about this place is that they’d tried to bring in some interactive elements to the drinks – so it’s not just the normal order, drink, repeat situation. Oli ordered a whiskey cocktail – his whiskey came in one glass and then the cocktail mixer in a little jar alongside so it, so he could mix and add as much or as little as he liked, to his taste. I thought that was simple but cute. Bexx and I ordered a sharing cocktail which was titled ‘paint your own’ cocktail. It came with 2 glasses and mini bottle of prosecco, plus some tubes which had the cocktail flavourings and syrups inside. We could mix and match and add as much or as little flavour as we liked according to taste. This may have been a bit of a novelty, but being that we were there one time only, it was an element of fun I really enjoyed.
After this was headed to a bar round the corner which had caught Bexx’s eye – ‘Rat Pack Piano Bar’. Outside it said it was a 50’s piano bar – we were expecting some Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra kind of music. But no. Instead it was like walking into a cabaret bar; it was cheesy, loud and the guy on piano was playing ‘all about that bass’, with a soundtrack behind it also. Definitely not 50’s – I definitely don’t recommend.
So next door was a bar called Heads & Tales – we were going to be back there the next day for a gin tour, so we thought we’d pop in for a drink or two, 40 minutes before closing. The place was dead, there must have only been about another 1 or 2 tables inside and the service was awful! We got forgotten about the first time and ahad to ask for menu’s again, after a while someone finally appeared to take our order and then were gone easily 15 minutes making our drinks. Pretty naff experience there, but we had a fun night out all the same.
About 1am we stumbled back to our apartment and fell asleep before our heads hit our pillows.
Our last full day in Edinburgh. Boo!
It was a foggy start to the day, so we headed up to the castle nice and early to beat the majority of the crowds.
We spent somewhere between 1 -2 hours at the castle, which was great. The place is huge! And there’s quite a lot to see and read about. My favourite part was visiting the old prisons which was pretty cool.
After the castle, it was still pretty miserable out, so we thought we’d grab a cuppa in the cafe that’s said JK Rowling first started writing Harry Potter. Big mistake – it was heaving with people both inside and outside, with people taking photos. We turned around and headed back to Deacon’s as we knew that was a quiet cafe who served good tea / hot chocolate / coffee.
It started to slowly brighten up and we had our gin tour booked at 2pm at Edinburgh Gin Distillery up near Princes Street. So we took a slow walk up there, grabbed some lunch at a Greggs so we could walk and eat and came across a really cute little side street, just behind the row of shops along Princes Street. It was about midday by this point, so we sat outside a great little pub called Dirty Dicks and ordered a couple of rounds there.
The pub is actually a lot more intimate feeling and darker than my phone shows, lit mainly only by fairy lights, candles and soft lighting. We sat outside in the sun, chatting and people watching until it was time for our gin tour – which was fantastic!
We knew of the brand before our trip, as there’s a great gin bar local to us called Gin & Olive, who serve the Edinburgh Gin brand. We had an amazing guide; I unfortunately can’t remember her name, but she was very cheery, funny and had really short dark brown hair – so if you book keep an eye out for her, she’s great! She told us about the history of gin up to modern day, and a bit of history about the brand, including their different types of gin and what botanicals they use.
After this, she showed us about their distillery, which was actually in use and working when we went around, so that was very cool to see, followed by a free gin and tonic at the end. The whole thing lasted about an hour, but was entertaining, engaging, funny and interesting – and also only £10! Great value. I highly recommend this tour!
We had a full evening planned for our last evening, so you guessed it! We headed back to the apartment for a kip, freshen up and to get ready.
After our snooze we had a few pre-drinks at our place, before walking round the corner to a Turkish place called Verdo. We wanted something that was close by and read some great reviews. We had a lovely waiter, who was a little bit scatty but funny and very lovely and we all had some seriously amazing meals!
Feeling very full and happy, we walked up the road and arrived at The Jazz Bar about 10:30pm to catch some late night jazz, which was brilliant! It was about £5 on the door each, and the jazz bar was downstairs and had a great intimate feeling.
We arrived half way through a jazz quartet’s set when they were taking a break, which was great timing. We ordered our drinks and managed to nab a table and some seats and caught the second half of their set. They finished about 11:30pm and the final act was an amazing funk group who came on and ended the night on a real high! Such a fun evening – I personally am not a massive jazz lover. I don’t listen to it at home, but I enjoy watching it and hearing it live, so if you’re after something a little bit different, this is a fantastic venue!
Our last day
It was a lovely sunny morning – Oli and I had (poorly) planned to walk up Arthur’s Seat on this day… but then realised with an 11am check-in time, and a round trip time of about 4 – 5 hours, we wouldn’t arrive back in time to shower and pack. So unfortunately our hike was substituted for packing and checking out.
In saying that though, we went to a place just off the Royal Mile called Edinburgh Larder for breakfast (which was lovely!) and explored the bottom half of the Royal Mile, which we hadn’t done yet and headed towards Holyrood Abbey.
En-route to the abbey we had some great views up to Carlton Hill, and also behind Holyrood Abbey, we found a big open field with lovely views up to Arthur’s Seat. So whilst me and Oli were upset we weren’t able to climb it, at least we could look up at it and take in the views that way. It was sunny and hot by this point, so we laid in the sun for a bit and chilled out.
After this, we had a couple of end-of-holiday-drinks at a nearby pub, before grabbing our bags and heading back to La Piazza for our very last meal in Edinburgh. Again we were not disappointed! We had the same waiter again who was very pleased to see us again, and remembered everything from our previous visit – what dishes we ordered, what drinks we ordered before – amazing attention to detail and he was really attentive during our visit. Absolutely love this place!
We then caught a tram back to the airport and waved Edinburgh goodbye.
We had a fantastic trip and loved every minute during our 5 days in Edinburgh. There is so much to see and do, I think this will be a trip I’ll remember for a long time! I hope you enjoyed my trip report of our 5 days in Edinburgh; if you’re planning a trip I hope this gave you some inspiration and ideas, and if you’ve been to Edinburgh before, then I hope this helped you reminisce a little bit. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to drop them in the comments section below 🙂 Thank you!