Go Gourmet in Edinburgh

1. Where to Stay

Enjoy a bedside photographic view of Edinburgh at Twelve Picardy Place.Photo: courtesy of Twelve Picardy Place

Stay up late at Twelve Picardy Place, (from $215 per night), located in a Georgian townhouse that used to be an after-hours watering hole. The hotel’s stately exterior belies its ten guest rooms’ clean, modern look: oversize, black-and-white photography of Edinburgh screened onto walls, striped linens, and flooring in understated shades of gray. For an extra Jetsons-ian touch, go for one of the two Grand Master Suites, which have massage chairs, LCD flat-screens equipped with 3-D glasses, and enormous freestanding bathtubs. Head down to the clubby Steak restaurant for dinner, where exposed beams, gleaming hardwood floors, and industrial-chic overhead lighting set the stage; indulge in a shared Chateaubriand ($100), served from a classic steakhouse trolley, or try the slightly more affordable local Aberdeen Angus fillet ($48).

Go mod at The Glasshouse (from $280), a newly renovated boutique hotel within the 150-year old façade of the Lady Glenorchy church. The 65 striking guestrooms are filled with brightly colored Pop Art, chrome fixtures, and floor-to-ceiling windows. If you pony up for a suite, you’ll be able to take in views of the Scottish Parliament and Gothic governmental buildings that line nearby Calton Hill while sipping a complimentary carafe of Talisker single-malt Scotch whisky. Stay in for dinner and order the duo of Gressingham duck ($29) from the Glenorchy à la carte room service menu to enjoy on your private terrace.

Dive into la dolce vita at Hotel Missoni Edinburgh (from $207 per night), a stylish spot that the famed Italian fashion house opened on the Royal Mile in 2009. Rooms boast plush Missoni bed linens in signature zigzag stripes, chic, black-and-white Missoni robes, and colorful throw rugs, plus Missoni soaps in the silver-tiled bathrooms, each with an individual scent specifically designed for the hotel. Ride the wildly patterned elevators to the second floor to sample Missoni family favorites like tagliatelle all’emiliana at Cucina restaurant ($20), or sip a Bellini beneath Tom Dixon’s mirror-ball lights in the lobby-facing Bar Missoni ($13).

2. Where to Eat

There's craft beer in the garden and seasonal Scottish cooking on the menu at the new Blackfriars.Photo: courtesy of Blackfriars

Taste the Scottish culinary revolution at The Scran & Scallie, a casual, convivial gastropub that Michelin-starred chef de haute cuisine Tom Kitchin opened in the bohemian Stockbridge neighborhood last year. Grab a sheepskin-covered chair from the assortment of mismatched wood and wrought-iron furniture casually strewn about in a room filled with exposed-brick columns, cozy banquettes, and walls lined with vintage photographs. Dig into elevated pub fare like pumpkin soup with cinnamon cream ($9), Newhaven-crab-and-coriander ravioli ($12), and Kitchin’s killer fish and chips made with north Atlantic plaice ($24).

Go local at Blackfriars, a new Old Town eatery encompassing a bar and outdoor beer garden (with a rotating selection of 16 British craft beers and ciders) plus a white-walled restaurant overseen by chef Andrew Macdonald, who cut his teeth at local heavy-hitters like Martin Wishart and First Coast. The restaurant’s pendant lamps and casually distressed wood detailing may scream Cobble Hill, but Macdonald’s menu is seasonal Scottish country cooking at its finest: Try the hake with purple broccoli and potatoes ($27), followed by the apple-and-pear tart with spiced-pear sorbet ($11).

Stop in for a pint at The Hanging Bat, a rollicking new pub with 20 British beers on tap and 150 craft brews by the bottle (from $5), plus a 35-strong craft-gin list (from $4). Cozy up to the creative types and smoked meat enthusiasts who hang in the homey space, which has cocktail tables made from repurposed beer barrels, some tongue-in-cheek taxidermy, and imposing stone pillars that would do King Arthur proud. Go straight for one of the playfully prepared, signature hot dogs made from local Jonathan Crombie sausages (from $10), like the American Pit Bull, topped with chili con carne and shredded cheddar. Try yours with a pour of Scotland’s own Fyne Ales’s Hurricane Jack, or sober up with a cup of Edinburgh’s own BrewLab coffee or Roots Soda ($5).

3. What to Do

Stroll amongst the nearly 60 vendors at the Saturday Edinburgh Farmers' Market.Photo: courtesy of Edinburgh Farmers' Market

Spend an afternoon at the Scotch Whisky Experience, an Old Town emporium offering an amber-hued window into Scotland’s liquid history. Skip the hour-long tour at the accompanying museum; instead, chat with the shop’s amiable, knowledgeable staffers while perusing the 300-bottle collection, including rare and limited-edition distillations, like a 40-year-old, Oloroso-aged Dalmore, which retails for roughly $2,360. Don’t have a small mint to spend? Pick up a 12-year-old Aberfeldy, a dry single malt from the Highlands ($51). True Scotch hounds should sign up for one of the shop’s small-scale tasting events, like this spring’s Evening With the Blenders, hosted by local distillers (tickets $42).

Pregame for a night on the town with a locally brewed Barney’s Pale Ale ($5) and hearty bowl of lamb stew ($10) at The Royal Dick, the café and craft brewery at Summerhall, Edinburgh’s hottest new venue and Europe’s largest private arts center. Afterward, kick up your heels at Grown Ups, a raucous, retro dance party that spans funk, soul, and disco hits on vintage vinyl in Summerhall’s industrial-chic Dissection Room (admission $16.50). Get your after party on at Bramble, a hip subterranean cocktail bar in New Town, where a well-coiffed crowd sips creative tipples like the Campbeltown, a mix of Springbank single malt, Cherry Heering, and green chartreuse (drinks from $10).

Shop like an Edinburgh gourmand, starting with local delicacies like Cumberland pork sausages ($8 per half kilogram) and Stornoway black pudding by the tube ($20) at Crombies of Edinburgh, a craft butcher in New Town. Get hip to local cultures quite literally at I.J. Mellis Cheesemonger, which stocks British curds and whey like Shropshire Blue, Cairnsmore Goat Cheese, and Barwheys Cheddar (cheese from $33 per kilogram). Afterward, head over to “liquid deli” Demijohn, and stock up on elderflower vinegar bottled in Dalmeny and chutney made with Perthshire peaches and gooseberry gin liqueur ($8). On Saturdays, hit the farmers’ market near Castle Terrace, where 55-some vendors hawk duck eggs and homemade chocolates in the shadow of the Edinburgh Castle.

4. Insider’s Tip

You'll have to hunt for Secret-Arcade, a Polish vodka bar offering a welcome respite from the local whiskys.Photo: courtesy of Secret-Arcade

They’d never admit it, but even Scots sometimes want a break from their world-renowned local whiskys. In Edinburgh, the (discreet) answer to that call is Secret-Arcade, a Polish vodka bar only accessible via unmarked staircase down the Jackson’s Close alley off Cockburn Street (and above the much better-marked, very touristy Arcade Bar & Haggis House). The bar does not advertise or publicly list its address, relying wholly on word of mouth to keep its cowhide-covered seats filled. The friendly staff pours some 100 Polish vodkas, plus beer and a few mixers for the uninitiated (drinks from $18).

5. Oddball Day

Hike with locals around the dormant volcano of Arthur's Seat.Photo: Howard Liu, via Flickr

Grab a sturdy pair of wellies and get physical in Edinburgh’s mighty outdoors. Pick up a hearty breakfast at Edinburgh Larder, a West End bistro specializing in farm-fresh fare, like a local duck egg fried in rib-sticking black pudding ($10), then stock up on lunch provisions at Picnic Parlour, a new offshoot of the perennially popular Mimi’s Bakehouse (honeyed-ham-and-Kintyre-cheddar panini, $12). Next, head over to Holyrood Park, a 650-acre swath of lochs, glens, and fields surrounding Edinburgh’s iconic Arthur’s Seat, the 820-foot dormant volcano that you’re about to climb. Start near the medieval St. Margaret’s Well, by the Scottish Parliament building on the northwestern side of the park, and follow the well-marked trail signs for Volunteer’s Walk. As you traverse the rolling terrain, passing marshy Hunter’s Bog and the Instagram-worthy crest of Salisbury Crags, wave to the tweed-wearing neighborhood regulars taking their remarkably well-behaved Border collies for afternoon constitutionals. After just over an hour of scenic trekking, you’ll reach Arthur’s Seat. Enjoy your picnic panini at the peak while contemplating the city skyline and the glinting, cantilevered bridge over the straits of the River Forth in the distance. Descend the hill, exit the park, and get some context on your surroundings at Our Dynamic Earth, an oddly engaging science center with an exhibition hall devoted to the plate tectonics that created Arthur’s Seat (admission $19). Reconnect with nature over dinner at Field, a newly opened restaurant dedicated to seasonal produce and Scottish ingredients. Start with the local smoked duck served with house-made potato chips ($10.50), then try the panfried hake, which arrives at the table with crispy ham croquettes and celeriac purée ($23). Finish the day with the I.J. Mellis–sourced cheese plate with pickled grapes ($11), or go for broke with the dark-chocolate ice cream served over tart cherry mousse ($9.80) — hey, you’ve earned it.

6. Links

The List is an independent guide to all things food, drink, and entertainment in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and the U.K. at large.

Edinburgh-focused food and restaurant blog My Monkfish has justly won local and international publishing awards.

Scottish Food Guide is a comprehensive (if uncreatively named) guide to Scottish culinary producers, tours, cooking classes, recipes, restaurants, and beyond.

Go Gourmet in Edinburgh