A weekend in Britain always brims with local flavor, but it’s especially delicious when spent in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh. Amongst castles, cobbled streets, parks and museums, this historic region hosts more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city in Britain outside London. (YUM.)
Edinburgh local, Kate Bouchier-Hayes, has lived in the city for well over a decade. We polled the roller derby player and public relations professional on her favorite workouts, culture trips and, most importantly, FOOD for our Britain Insiders series. As it turns out, her responses make a picture-perfect weekender’s guide to the city.
Edinburgh is a big city! Tell us about your neighborhood, Leith.
I moved to Edinburgh about 15 years ago -- during that time, I've lived in quite a few different parts of the city, but Leith is my favourite. It has its own identity and character, and it’s a buzzing creative community in its own right. Leith is located just out of the city centre in Edinburgh's historic dock area, which gives it a strong sense of place. Leith provides the best of all worlds in that you have the stunning historic buildings and old maritime references that Edinburgh is famous for (which can be spotted throughout The Shore area), peace and tranquility (as offered by long walks along the Water of Leith), and a buzzing atmosphere created by fantastic bars and restaurants.
Describe your typical weekend.
9 a.m. -- Exercise
I try and strike a balance in my weekends, so I like to get out for a decent walk (possibly to blow the cobwebs away from the night before!) in the morning. In Edinburgh, we are lucky to have a cracking range of options on our doorstep, many of which won’t be traditionally associated with the city. There’s a bracing beach walk along the old promenade at Portobello, a peaceful dander up the Water of Leith, or if you're feeling a bit more energetic, a climb up Arthur’s Seat. It’s always a challenge, but the sweeping views at the top of the sleeping volcano are always worth it!
Aside from walks, jogging and outdoor bootcamps are big in Edinburgh, as the city's landscape is naturally so well-suited to challenging routes. I myself play roller derby with the Auld Reekie Roller Girls -- it’s not something Edinburgh is well-known for, but we actually have the biggest team in Scotland and one of the top-ranked in the UK!
12 p.m. -- Brunch
Exercise quota met, I usually catch up with pals for a bite to eat and a chat. Firm favorites for brunch and lunch right now are Urban Angel (always book ahead!), Roseleaf and Harmonium, a fab new vegan restaurant at The Shore.
3 p.m. -- A dose of culture
Edinburgh has a hugely rich cultural offering, so I try and get a bit into my weekends when I can. Sometimes it's an exhibition at The National Museum of Scotland, City Art Centre or National Portrait Gallery. Other times, it’s a new piece of theatre at The Lyceum or Traverse Theatre or a film at the iconic Edinburgh Filmhouse. The struggle usually comes in packing it all into one weekend. They're just never long enough!
In recent years, Leith's exciting creative community has really developed, which is also key to what makes the area so special. New galleries and artist spaces are popping up, including the recently reopened Leith Custom House. This year, numerous venues in Leith, like the historic Leith Theatre, will be used as performance spaces as part of Edinburgh's famous Festivals.
One of Edinburgh’s best qualities is how walkable it is. After living in the city for over 15 years, it amazes me that I still discover new parts of it. Exploring the Old Town on foot is certainly a must-do: the city is a warren of medieval cobbled streets and historical gems! I also love escaping to the rooftop terrace at The National Museum of Scotland, which has one of the most amazing 360-degree views of the city.
7 p.m. -- Dinner
I LOVE eating. Seriously. Edinburgh has more restaurants per capita than any British city outside of London, so there's always plenty to choose from! For me, Edinburgh’s dining scene stands out in terms of quality and diversity. No matter your budget -- from a Michelin-starred restaurant to the most exciting street food and fresh produce markets -- Edinburgh has something to fit the bill. We've seen a few trends really grab the culinary scene recently: First it was burgers (Bread Meats Bread, Holyrood 9A, Nobles), then authentic Mexican food (El Cartel, Bodega, Topolabamba), and now it seems to be wine bars (Pickles, Toast, The Fat Pony). I’m still trying to make my way around them all!
As much as I love to check out a new place, I do have my firm favorites, depending on what I'm in the mood for. For a treat or special occasion it has to be Aizle, the neo-bistro with a constantly-changing five-course menu -- including amazing cocktails -- without any pretense or awkward formality. For something more chilled, you can't go wrong with Ting Thai Caravan. It started as a pop-up at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and it's now a year-round fixture serving up brilliant, no-fuss Thai street food. Their bubble prawns and pad thai are my go-to dishes.
If it’s date night, I love Origano on Leith Walk. It’s got a lovely vibe and is a top contender for the best pizza in the city. The centerpiece of the restaurant is a massive purple pizza oven which provides warmth and a cracking pizza! For a special occasion, Rhubarb at Prestonfield House oozes a dramatic sense of magical, gothic romance with its deeply dark décor and the very best fine dining. Cosy favorites are Teuchters Landing, Nobles, and The Kings Wark, all showcasing the very best Scottish produce in very different settings.
9 p.m. -- Grab a drink
As you might expect, Edinburgh has plenty to choose from! If you fancy something a bit more traditional, I'd go for The Bow Bar, Teuchters Landing, or Scotch at The Balmoral. For a contemporary twist, go for a whisky cocktail in Edinburgh's top cocktail bars: Bramble, The Devil's Advocate, Under the Stairs, or Epicurean, the G&V Royal Mile Hotel bar.
11 p.m. -- Hit the town.
In my opinion, Leith’s bars are some of the best in the city. An old favorite is The Carriers Quarters (the oldest unaltered pub in Leith, dating back to 1785), which is always a cracking spot for a great pint and live music. Newcomers include Leith Depot, The Lioness of Leith, and the recently-revamped Port o’ Leith.
The Edinburgh live music scene is small but brilliant! Venues such as Sneaky Pete's, The Voodoo Rooms, The Liquid Room, and Leith Depot all host brilliant live music acts. Bigger venues such as The Queen’s Hall and Usher Hall host a range of acts from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra to Queens of the Stone Age.
For more Scottish travel inspiration, follow Kate on Instagram - @bouchierbants