Edinburgh’s history unfolds through its architecture. A classic way to take it all in is with a stroll down the Royal Mile, a cobblestoned street bookended by the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the 12th-century Edinburgh Castle, which sits upon an extinct volcano. While Edinburgh is marked by its grand buildings, such as the neo-classical Scottish National Gallery, visitors should also explore it on a smaller scale. Duck down the tiny, uneven alleyways known as “closes” and see where you end up. You may just stumble upon a hidden green space, such as Dunbar’s Close Garden, with its manicured topiary arranged just as it might have been in the 17th century. And don’t miss the one-of-a kind Victoria Street, with its brightly painted storefronts popping against the sandstone buildings.
But this ancient city is hardly stuck in the past. Modernist buildings like the Fruitmarket contemporary art gallery and the Enric Miralles-designed Scottish Parliament (meant to resemble the surrounding craggy hills) have changed the city’s skyline. Edinburgh has a youthful feel thanks to the influx of university students, and the artists and chefs setting up shop in the former port of Leith. But the city truly comes alive in August during the annual Edinburgh International Festival, one of the largest festivals in the world. The Royal Mile takes on a giddy carnival atmosphere with actors promoting their shows and impromptu performances taking place in the street.
No matter when you visit, be sure to check out some of Edinburgh’s newest and most noteworthy spots, highlighted here.
Kestin Hare’s new flagship is located along the historic docks of Leith, just a few steps away from the Michelin-starred Martin Wishart. In hardy materials like bouclé wool and tartan, Hare’s menswear is classic with a twist. His new autumn-winter collection, The Trainspotters, is inspired by British rail journeys and the blustery winds on train platforms. Harris Tweed suits and seam-sealed parkas are meant to ward off the elements in style. His new boutique, called The Cruiser Store, pays homage to Leith’s nautical heritage: Oars suspended from the ceiling are used as clothing racks.
Customs Warf, Leith. Tel. 44-131-554-9177
In a country full of tea drinkers, it still takes effort to find a decent cup of coffee in Edinburgh. Tucked just behind Kestin Hare in a cobblestoned courtyard is the new, light-filled Williams & Johnson café, one of a handful of micro-roasteries in town. The café uses single-origin beans that are roasted in two ways for use in filtered coffee or espresso. The space has a minimalist, industrial look, thanks to concrete floors and exposed ductwork. The café shares space with Custom Lane, a multiuse art space, so customers can sip on lattes and flat whites while taking in the latest exhibit, pop-up shop or concert. The menu includes small, delicious nibbles such as bagels topped with Isle of Wight tomatoes and tangy rhubarb tarts. Don’t like coffee? Try a blood-orange hot chocolate that’s not too sweet.
Williams & Johnson
67 Commercial Street, 6LH, Customs Wharf, Leith
After completing a six-month internship at Alexander McQueen, womenswear designer Judy R. Clark returned to Scotland to launch her own brand in 2009. McQueen’s influence is evident in her designs, which have a romantic but tailored touch. Her bespoke and ready-to-wear collection includes high-necked blouses, cigarette trousers and plumed frock coats. The look is whimsical but sharp. Clark uses Scottish materials such as Harris Tweed and lace sourced from the last Scottish lace mill in the country. Her studio and shop, located in an old Victorian school, are open by appointment only.
Judy R. Clark
Abbeymount Techbase, West Norton Place, Edinburgh
One of the most lauded new restaurants in Edinburgh is Le Roi Fou (The Mad King), helmed by chef Jérôme Henry, formerly of London’s Les Trois Garçons and Anton Mosimann’s Private Dining Club. The space is small but elegant, with about 10 tables. The design is all about pared-down simplicity: White linen tablecloths and fine china offset the wooden floors and sculptural walnut chairs. The only adornments are a brightly tiled bar and bold wall art, chosen by creative director Isolde Nash. Henry’s menu highlights Scottish ingredients, such as buttery plancha-seared Isle of Skye scallops served with a lemony fennel puree, or tender, new season lamb noisette with sweetbreads. Finish off with a poached-rhubarb-and-pistachio crumble that strikes the right balance between tangy and sweet.
Le Roi Fou
1 Forth Street, Edinburgh. Tel. 44-131-557-9346
Pickering’s Gin is the brainchild of Marcus Pickering and Matthew Gammell, who have created Edinburgh’s first exclusive gin distillery in about 150 years. The gin is based on an old handwritten recipe given to Pickering that dates to the days of the Raj in Bombay. Containing nine fragrant botanicals, including fennel, coriander, cardamom and cloves, the gin is distilled and bottled on site at its distillery in Summerhall, a former veterinary school converted into a rambling arts venue. The tiny, two-room distillery is located in the former kennels, and the bottles of gin are stored in old cages. Try it on tap at the distillery’s adjacent bar, The Royal Dick, or order a classic G&T to sample its warm spiciness. Pickering’s is the official gin of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, a concert that takes place during the festival, and the Royal Yacht Britannia, the former floating residence of the Queen.
1 Summerhall, Summerhall Distillery, Edinburgh. Tel. 44-131-290-2901
Located in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, Timberyard restaurant is housed in (as the name implies) a vast former timber mill. The design combines farmhouse chic with industrial touches. Exposed beams and whitewashed brick are softened by a wood-burning stove and tartan throws on mismatched chairs. Looks aside, the real standouts are the attentive staff and the thoughtful menu which highlights local purveyors and uses herbs and edible flowers from the on-site garden. Kick off with a cocktail of berries, pine, barley wine and whisky before sampling one of the small plates, which can include raw venison with elderberry and mushroom, or scallop served with smoked roe, leeks, beach coriander and fennel.
10 Lady Lawson Street, Edinburgh. Tel. 44-131-221-1222