Scotland’s capital city has long lived in the shadow of its English cousin four hours to the south. But while Edinburgh is admittedly just a fraction of London’s enormous size, it’s by no means a provincial backwater.
With a fascinating history and a burgeoning crop of world-class restaurants and bars, Edinburgh is well worth a visit. Here’s how to spend the perfect weekend taking it all in.
Friday in Edinburgh
The greenhouse cafe at the center of Kimpton Charlotte Square.
(Courtesy of @kimptoncharlottesquare)
4pm: Check in at Kimpton Charlotte Square
Kimpton Charlotte Square, located just a couple blocks from the posh Queen Street shopping district, makes an ideal home base for a short stay. In contrast to its classical Georgian exterior, the hotel’s interior is a delightful mashup of sophisticated Scottish style, bold art, and lush greenery. Downstairs, from the effervescent lobby to the sunny greenhouse cafe at its center, the Kimpton is wrought in painstakingly perfect details while in the upstairs guest rooms, cushy beds with leather headboards, and marble baths with rainfall showers provide a welcome urban retreat. Rates start around $215 a night. // 38 Charlotte Square, kimptoncharlottesquare.com
6pm: Drinks at Hey Palu
Get the weekend off on the right foot with pre-dinner drinks at Hey Palu, one of the entire UK’s, most prized cocktail joints. The modern Italian, blue-bedecked neighborhood bar specializes in amari served straight up or in cocktail form. If your tastes lean more sweet than bitter, Hey Palu also has a tempting menu of innovative drinks based around whiskey, gin, rum, and more. // 49 Bread St., heypalu.com
8pm: Dinner Noto
Noto is a minimalist restaurant with a maximalist appetite. The eclectic menu features a wide variety of small plates with Japanese, British, and Mediterranean influences like North Sea crab with warm butter and sourdough, sesame prawn toast with katsuobushi, and Iberico presa with apple and tamarind. With such an embarrassment of riches, it’s no surprise this intimate hideaway has been honored with Michelin’s Bib Gourmand award two years running. // 47a Thistle St., notoedinburgh.co.uk
Saturday in Edinburgh
Steak pie at The Scran & Scallie.
(Courtesy of @scranandscallie)
9am: Scones + Coffee
Edinburghers love their scones and there’s no shortage of excellent bakeries and coffee shops where jam- and clotted cream–slathering is an art form. Get your fill at Wellington Coffee (33A George St.), a subterranean shop with a pint-sized patio and excellent coffee a short walk from the Kimpton. If you’re up exploring the city in the wee hours, keep an eye out for Mimi’s Bakehouse, a local institution with three locations and a wide range of sweet and savory pastries (63 Shore, 250 Canongate & 277 St. John’s Rd).
10am: Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle, perched on a steep hill at the city’s center, has played an essential role in Scottish heritage for more than 900 years. Once a royal residence then a military garrison, the fortified behemoth today tells a story of the city’s—and country’s—complicated past. Once inside the walls, don’t miss the tiny St. Margaret’s Chapel, Edinburgh’s oldest surviving building. Buy tickets online in advance; they are no longer being sold at the entrance. // Castlehill, edinburghcastle.scot
1pm: Lunch at Edinburgh Larder
It may be just a stone's throw from the castle but Edinburgh Larder is no tourist trap. On the contrary, this bright and sunny cafe is a beloved breakfast and lunch spot that attracts as many locals as it does visitors. Fuel up with a simple soup and salad or dig into a Scotland plate, a smorgasbord of hot and cold smoked salmon, Scottish cheeses, mini oatcakes, granary bread, and more. // 15 Blackfriars St., edinburghlarder.co.uk
3pm: Art and Pints at Summerhall + The Royal Dick
Summerhall is one of Edinburgh’s best spots for live music and innovative performances. It’s also a center of creativity for arts of the visual persuasion. Both temporary and permanent exhibitions exploring everything from futurism to feminism are open to the public (Wednesdays through Saturdays). After perusing the gallery, head around back to The Royal Dick for a pint in the now defunct Small Animal Hospital of the Dick Vet School. The popular pub has a diverse selection of beer and spirits (the Barney’s Beer and Pickerings Gin are both made on site) and walls covered in veterinary ephemera. // 1 Summerhall, summerhall.co.uk
8pm: The Scran & Scallie
Modern Scottish cuisine takes center stage at The Scran & Scallie, a charming, tartan-and-sheepskin-adorned gastropub in the Stockbridge neighborhood. The Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant finds its inspiration in traditional dishes like cured and smoked fishes and sweetbreads, then exquisitely elevates them for modern tastes. Don’t miss the fish pie, a baked beauty filled with smoked and fresh fish, and creamy mashed potatoes. // 1 Comely Bank Rd., scranandscallie.com
10pm: Nightcaps at Bramble Bar and Lounge
Although it’s considered one of the best cocktail lounges in all the British Isles (it ranked sixth on the list of 2022’s 50 Best Cocktail Bars in the UK), the Bramble Bar is a far cry from the posh, upscale hotspot you might expect. The well-concealed basement speakeasy (look for a small brass plaque at the bottom the stairs beneath a dry cleaner) has plenty of nooks and crannies for snuggling up with a drink. On the menu you’ll find both tried and true classics and creative concoctions you won’t find anywhere else. // 16A Queen St., bramblebar.co.uk
Sunday in Edinburgh
Edinburgh's Royal Botanical Garden.
(Courtesy of @fzbassman)
10am: Brunch at Loudons
A local favorite among foodies, families, and the hangover-challenged alike, this laid-back brunch spot will brighten your Sunday morning. Yes, there’s likely to be a wait but hang in there: You’ll be richly rewarded with everything from a variety of benedicts to traditional full breakfasts (including a vegan option). If the crowds at the slightly-closer-to-the-Kimpton Fountainbridge location seem daunting, try its sister cafe in New Waverly. // 94 Fountainbridge or 2 Sibbald Walk, loudons.co.uk
Noon: Royal Botanic Garden
Ease into the afternoon with a stroll through Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden. Moved to this location in 1763, the tranquil landscape is flush with plants, flowers, and trees from around the UK and the world (keep an eye out for the California redwoods planted in honor of Scottish native John Muir). In the historic Inverleith House, a gallery dedicated to climate change brings together art and science in different installations and performances. // Arboretum Pl., rbge.org.uk