If you don’t want to share Scotland’s finest city, follow Debra Barnes’ lead…
The obvious time to go to Edinburgh is August. That’s when the city plays host to hundreds, no thousands of performers from across the globe who want to stage their stuff at the legendary festival. If you are lucky enough to secure a bed – or even a bench – during those heady weeks you are likely to be sharing it with a Perrier comedy hopeful or a mime artist. To avoid the risk and because weather doesn’t matter in Scotland, why not venture there as I did in the winter months as the colder months give you the perfect excuse to try out some of the famous malt whisky on offer… “just a wee dram to keep out the chill!”
Single malt whisky features heavily on any visit to Scotland with many restaurants and bars offering a ‘whisky flight’, a mini tasting of usually three or four different malts designed to give you the chance to compare, contrast and discover new flavours or enjoy old favourites. Everyone in Edinburgh is a whisky expert and can guide you through the ‘flight’ or alternatively try a visit to The Scotch Whisky Experience where you can learn all about the making process,see the world’s largest whisky collection, understand about the different malts and then get to taste a few. It all adds up to a giggly afternoon for someone like me who, as I explained to my guide at the end of the tour, is “not much of a diskey winker!”
Stumble out of The Whisky Experience and cross the street (don’t worry it is pedestrians only) to the Camera Obscura and World of Illusion. If you’re not feeling dizzy from the single malt then this wonderful place will soon get your head spinning. Edinburgh’s oldest purpose built attraction has been amazing and confusing visitors since 1892 with its moving pictures of the city projected onto a viewing table through a giant periscope. Forget digital imagery, this incredible panorama is created from only a mirror, lenses and daylight. We were lucky to visit on a day with blue skies which gave us some really clear images to play with – it feels strangely powerful to be able to pick people up in your hands and make traffic pass over paper bridges. Great fun!
Again just a stumble away from the Camera Obscura is Edinburgh Castle itself. I recommend going around on one of the regular guided tours particularly if the guide has the same dry sense of humour that ours had. I’m not sure if the foreign tourists would understand the jokes but his Monty Pythonesque style had me in stitches throughout the visit. Highlights include the Crown Jewels, Margaret’s Chapel which is the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh and the one o’clock gun salute, loud enough to make you jump even if you are waiting for it to fire!
For a few hours break from the touristy hustle and bustle of the city centre head to South Queensferry, a short train ride away. Stand along the shore of the Firth of Forth and on one side of you will be a line of quaint shops and cafes while to the other side the impressive Forth Bridge, recently awarded Unesco World Heritage Site status. We took a bracing sightseeing boat trip on the Maid of the Forth to sail under this icon of Scottish engineering and also got to spot some puffins and seals during our ride out to historic Inchcolm Island. It was also a bracing way to clear any lingering hangover from the previous days’ whisky.
All of this leaves one with quite an appetite and a lunch of traditional neeps and tatties would be most welcome while leaving plenty of room for some posh nosh dinner at Wedgwood The Restaurant, three times winner of Restaurant of the Year. I enjoyed my Isle of Mull cheddar and onion bread and butter pudding starter, roast cod main course and signature ‘very sticky toffee pudding’. The service was wonderful and there is only one sitting per evening so it is very relaxed with prices incredibly reasonable compared to the London norm.
If you are planning a visit to Edinburgh then don’t forget to pack comfortable shoes. If you are planning a visit to Edinburgh then don’t forget to pack comfortable shoes. According to my phone app we walked a good 10 miles in one day and most of that was up and down steep hills but it is difficult to resist the dozens of little alleyways which connect the streets around the Royal Mile. That’s where you will find delightful squares, shops and museums and are definitely worth exploring.
And so to bed to rest after a full day of sight-seeing. We stayed in the Indigo boutique hotel, built from a row of Georgian townhouses and well located near the city centre and with a tram stop directly outside which takes you straight to the airport. The rooms were very comfortable, nicely decorated and the only comedian I had to share with was my husband.
A winter view of the city that heaves in August
Camera Obscura is worth trying after a few drams
Debra and husband Adam at The Restaurant