When thinking about short breaks in winter I would never normally think of Scotland. I have always found travel expensive to Scotland and, given the choice, I would rather travel to somewhere warmer. Luckily for me Accor Hotels invited me to Edinburgh as part of their blogger challenge so the destination was set and I was determined to see more of Edinburgh than I did on my last visit.
There are two Ibis hotels in Edinburgh and we stayed at the South Bridge hotel for two nights. It is perfectly located just off the Royal Mile which is bustling with history, culture, bars and restaurants. Our Premium Room was on the top floor affording beautiful views over to Arthur’s Seat and fully equipped with a seating area, comfortable double bed and bath robes to relax in after a long day of sightseeing.
Breakfast is an impressive spread of all the Full English staples as well as these healthier alternatives that I chose each morning in a bid to curb my eating.
Once out of the hotel and wrapped up warm we took in the city with gusto, here are some of my top tips for a successful winter break.
Soak in the History
As the song goes, the best things in life are free, and there are some incredible buildings to explore in Edinburgh. You need to pay to go into Edinburgh Castle but the walk up the hill is free and offers lovely views across the city. The lighting in winter is obviously limited but this gives the whole city a moody and spooky vibe which is perfect for the free ghost tours that take place every night from 7pm.
St Giles Cathedral also stands majestically on the Royal Mile and has lots of little nooks and crannies to explore. It is free to enter but donations are welcome and you have to pay to take photographs, trust me you’ll want to! The stained glass work is just stunning and the ornate ceiling will have you transfixed for hours.
The Royal Mile Market is housed in the Tron Kirk (church) which dates back to 1647 and is filled with local market traders selling their wares. From tartan scarves to hand carved phone cases, there is a gift for everyone and I would encourage you to go with a full wallet.
Gladstone’s Land is a surviving 17th century high tenement house which is also home to local traders. We particularly loved the candles and skin care ranges available in here, a great way to support local trade and give back to the local community.
There are numerous whiskey bars around Edinburgh, so many that I was actually shocked by the amount! The Scotch Whiskey Experience offers tastings, a whiskey school and the biggest selection of whiskies I have ever seen under one roof, in their shop. Not being a whiskey drinker I partook in the local gins on offer and Edinburgh Gin has some gorgeous liqueurs for those who may not enjoy the traditional flavours of gin. Daffy’s Gin is also from Scotland and one of my personal favourites so several of these were also consumed. I didn’t know that there are actually walking holidays you can do which take in the various terrains of whiskey development and the distilleries themselves. They are totally on my hitlist for my next Scottish adventure.
We enjoyed the tour of Real Mary Kings Close which is a warren of hidden streets from the 17th Century. Our tour guide, in full character, was entertaining and educational as he shared facts about how families would live and what happened in each of the rooms.
The Writer’s Museum is also free to enter (donations welcome) and celebrates the lives of great Scottish writers Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. I especially loved the paving stones outside so make sure you look down before you head in.
Surgeon’s Hall Museum is owned by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and includes the Wohl Pathology Museum to totally geek out at all things human body related. Various specimens have been prepared and preserved for your viewing pleasure and it is fascinating to see how different ailments affect the body. I would guess it is enough to stop you smoking let’s put it that way!
Harry Potter Geekery
Any Harry Potter fan will know that JK Rowling wrote Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban (my personal favourite)
from The Elephant House in Edinburgh. Fans flock to the coffee shop daily, so much so that they ask for a donation to enter! We popped in for an evening drink and loved the ambience of the place. There is a great mix of writers, readers sat alone with a book and glass of wine, and the fans obviously.
The toilets are filled with fan’s graffiti, I stood there for ages reading the various quotes and seeing where people had travelled from to visit the place.
Greyfriars Kirkyard sits eerily behind The Elephant House and is home to the grave of Tom Riddle, the name which JK Rowling borrowed for the real name of He Who Must Not Be Named, Lord Voldemort. The graveyard itself inspired the graveyard scene in The Goblet Of Fire too, and it is as spooky as you would expect.
George Heriot’s School which sits directly behind is thought to be JK Rowling’s inspiration for Hogwarts and also has ‘house names’ albeit not the same ones, I am sure the students are gutted about that. The gothic structure and turreted roof transports me to Hogwarts immediately.
I tried to eat healthily where possible and loved Bubba Q on the Royal Mile. This cobb style salad was on their lunch menu and the brisket fell apart just the way it should.
My favourite place was Laila’s which is a Mediterranean bistro just off the Royal Mile on Cockburn Street. They don’t sell alcohol but you can bring your own and they have a deal with the off licence opposite for great priced drinks. The food portions are massive with the Spicy Sausage Casserole being my absolute favourite and more than enough for two people never mind one.
I was pleasantly surprised that the direct train from Manchester with Cross Country trains cost just £70 return and we upgraded to first class on the way home as it is just £15 on a weekend. For that we got bigger seats, more legroom, tables with plug access and all the snacks/soft drinks we could manage. It was well worth it and I will definitely head back up North for another Scotland adventure, whiskey trail anyone?
Accommodation and travel was kindly provided by Accor Hotels