“Edinburgh is alive with words” – Sara Sheridan. The Scottish capital has absolutely exceeded expectations. Itching to get away from London for a bit, we decided to spend 5 days up north in Edinburgh to escape from the hustle & bustle. What we expected at this time of the season (mid-November) is rain and gloom, but it wasn’t. The skies were clear and the air was crisp. Throughout the five days, we only encountered a slight drizzle. It did get rather windy at times though. But all in all, the city’s been a gem and you can read all about our Edinburgh Travel Guide here in this article where we talked about our itinerary, things we like and didn’t like about the city, the best places to stay, food & restaurants, etc.
How to get to Edinburgh from London
There are frequent flights operating from all London airports, as well as regular train services from London King’s Cross to Edinburgh Waverley Station. Flights take about 1 hour 30 minutes, whereas direct trains take no more than 4 hours 30 minutes.
We debated between getting a flight or a train and eventually settled with the latter due to slightly cheaper prices. The train station is centrally located right at the heart of the city and the hotel we were staying in is only a 5-minute walk from there so it’s certainly a more convenient option. If you consider the time for getting through airport security and getting into the city centre etc., going by flight is not that much quicker than the train.
Lastly, there’s also always the option of driving and making it a road trip. The drive would take at least 7-8 hours from London.
Where to stay in Edinburgh
There are many nice hotels around both Old Town and New Town Edinburgh. We stayed at the Mono Suites, which is a very centrally located apartment hotel. The apartment was modern, spacious, and does contactless check-in and out. All main attractions are within walking distance.
Edinburgh Hotel Recommendations:
- Aparthotel Adagio – ££
- Apex Waterloo Place Hotel – ££-£££
- Hilton Edinburgh Carlton – £££
- Hotel Indigo Princes Street – £££
- The Scotsman Hotel – £££
- Radisson Blu Edinburgh City Centre – £££
- Eden Locke – £££
- Kimpton Charlotte Square – £££
- The Balmoral Hotel – £££££
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If you’re staying in central Edinburgh, everything is generally accessible on foot. Although do note that there might be quite a bit of uphill walks and plenty of stairs to climb. The bus network and tram system are very convenient as well should you want to either venture a bit outside of the city centre or let your legs take a break.
What to do in Edinburgh (our 5-day itinerary)
We spent a total of 5 days in the city and spread out the activities quite a bit. You can totally squeeze everything into a weekend / 3-day itinerary.
We arrived at Edinburgh Waverley station at around 4 pm due to a little train delay. Once we were out of the station, we grabbed a very quick bite and headed to our hotel, which is only a 5-minute walk away. After settling in and catching our breaths a little, we spent some time just casually walking around.
The first place we hit up is the Royal Mile since it’s literally just there outside our doorstep. It runs through the heart of the city centre and connects the two royal residences (Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyrood House). Plenty of shops, restaurants and bars are located on this main street.
Victoria Street & Grassmarket
Then there is Victoria Street, a.k.a Diagon Alley if you’re a Harry Potter fan. It is the most photographed street in Edinburgh thanks to the way the cobbled street curves around the gentle slope and all the colourful shopfronts. And for Harry Potter fanatics, while Diagon Alley was shot in London in the movies, Victoria Street is said to be the real-life inspiration for J.K Rowlings. You will find plenty of references to Harry Potter here.
At the bottom of Victoria Street, it would lead you to Grassmarket. It is a historic marketplace and is lined with independent shops & restaurants/bars. From there, you would find Edinburgh Castle in view.
It would be impossible to miss the Scott Monument as you walk along Princes Street. The Gothic monument is the world’s second-largest that’s dedicated to a writer. It is dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, who was an outstanding Scottish literary figure back in the day. Unfortunately, the monument is closed during the time of our visit. But basically, inside the monument, you can find a museum room where you can get to know the story of Sir Walter Scott and a narrow spiral staircase to reach the top of the monument for a bird’s eye view of the city.
Dinner at Butta Burger
We ended up near the New Town side of Edinburgh and grabbed a late dinner at Butta Burger where they offer selective halal chicken options. Despite the big portions, the chicken burger was underwhelming. They use chicken breast, which inevitably makes the chicken less succulent compared to using chicken thigh. We also feel the chicken could be better marinated. Chicken is halal at Butta Burger EXCEPT for the chicken wings. You can read a little bit more about our experience there from our Edinburgh Halal Food Guide.
Morning Coffee at Milkman
The Milkman is a super popular coffee shop in Edinburgh, most known for its cosy interiors and, of course, superb coffee quality. They are located on Cockburn Street and they are two branches on that street. The one with its iconic cosy set-up is the one at the bottom of the street, right opposite Warriston’s Close.
It’s impossible to miss the iconic stairway at Warriston’s Close. The stairs connect you from the base of Cockburn Street to High Street. For the best photo point, capture those long stairways from Cockburn Street.
Edinburgh Castle, Vennel Viewpoint & Ross Founatin (Princes Street Gardens)
We didn’t visit inside the Castle but walked around different viewpoints for the best views of the castle. My favourites are the Vennel Viewpoint and the Ross Fountain in the Princes Street Gardens. To get to the Vennel Viewpoint, simply head to Grassmarket and the Vennel is just a few steps away from there. As for Ross Fountain, it is located in the Princes Street Garden which is a lovely stroll in the heart of the city – you won’t be able to miss it.
Lunch at Laila Cafe
Its striking pink facade is bound to attract all the Instagrammers to stop by. Admittedly, I had my doubts that it would just be one of those that looked pretty but lacked substance. Thankfully, it wasn’t! The food was pretty decent in my opinion. We tried out the Buttermilk Fried Chicken Pita Wrap, Chicken & Waffles, and the Shakshuka (not pictured). Whilst not super wowing, it definitely still has our stamp of approval and is a good brunch spot! Read more about our experience & review at Laila Cafe here.
If you’re looking for the best view of Edinburgh, Calton Hill is the place to be. Calton Hill is actually listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and is free of charge to explore. You basically get a whole 360-view of the city, from the Old Town and all the way towards the shore. It’s a must-visit spot for any Edinburgh travel guide and itinerary.
Apart from the glorious views, you can also find plenty of historic monuments there including the National Monument of Scotland, which has earned the nickname “Acropolis of Scotland”!
Dinner at Ondine
Ondine is no doubt the highlight for me of this trip. From the food to the ambience to the service, it was flawless. Ondine is an award-winning seafood restaurant at the heart of Edinburgh (located right next to the famous Victoria Street) and it lived up to every single expectation. We had oysters to start and lobsters for mains. Not only was the food exquisite but the staff were very accommodating to any dietary requirements and looked after us well without being overbearing. This was the best meal we had in Edinburgh and one I would recommend especially if you are a seafood lover. Read more about our experience & review at Ondine Edinburgh here.
On day 3, I started the day with another coffee shop hunt and ended up at Mayvn Cafe. The cafe is part of the Eden Locke Hotel and features an incredibly aesthetic interior. The coffee was decent and they have a couple of simple dishes available on the menu plus bakery goods. I enjoyed the croissant with butter & jam and a cup of latte.
There isn’t much around this area per se but if you’re a sucker for pretty photo spots like me, Circus Lane is a fantastic spot to be. Located in Stockbridge, the lane features terraced mews, draped with plants and such that make it so charming and picture-perfect. It is a quiet spot, with only the odd car passing by here and there, so you can take your time for that Insta-perfect shot!
Brunch at Pirlous
Pirlous is a small little cafe in Grassmarket offering brunch, sandwiches, and some bakery goods. We had the Persian shakshuka, which was okay and did the job but it wasn’t quite the standard I’d say. The eggs were still a bit too raw in my opinion and there weren’t enough other vegetables in the tomato base. If you fancy sandwiches instead, the chicken is halal there.
Leith and the Royal Yacht Britannia
We went to meet with a friend at Leith for the evening. We didn’t do much but just walked around and also stopped by the Ocean Terminal mall for a view of the Royal Yacht Britannia albeit rather dark by then. The Royal Yacht Britannia was the former royal yacht of the British monarch and was in service to Her Majesty from 1954 until 1997. Today, the yacht is a tourist sight in Edinburgh and you can pre-book tickets online to get on board for a visit as well.
Breakfast at Stack & Still
Stack & Still is a pancake house situated in the New Town area of Edinburgh and is a popular chain across Scotland. Both sweet and savoury options are available. The savoury selection included a few halal options but I’m not sure I would be down to try the likes of doner kebab, peri-peri chicken, or chicken tikka pancake stacks. Anyway, I stuck with the sweet ones and enjoyed a Nutella stack. The buttermilk pancakes were fantastic and fluffy, but the toppings were slightly overindulging in my opinion. Great service there as well.
Dean Bridge & Dean Village
Another super cute photo spot in Edinburgh is Dean Village! Perched above the tranquil streams of the Water of Leith, Dean Village is literally a photographer’s dream. It is about a 10-minute walk from the New Town or you can take a bus where it takes you nearby the Dean Bridge and the pathway to the village.
The bridge is one great photo point but there’s no need to fully cross the bridge. Follow the sign and the cobbled streets and it will lead you to rows of picturesque colourful houses. From there, head down to the Water of Leith walkway and you will find the best photo spots there.
Hike to Arthur’s Seat
The beauty of Edinburgh is that there is a hiking trail right at the heart of the city. A hike up to the Arthur Seat summit generally takes about 45 minutes each way and there are quite a few photo spots along the way. There are a few trails to reach the top, some easier or faster than the others – it would be good to do some quick research beforehand to know which path you want to take.
We started out from the Holyrood Palace and took the trail up to the summit. The hike was reasonable with a few slightly strenuous/tricky parts but generally doable for everyone. It’s extremely windy at the summit though so make sure you dress the part and take the weather into consideration when planning the hike. If you want to take it easy and are not fussed about making it to the actual top of the summit, you can just follow an easy trail around the Salisbury Crags which is still a scenic one.
Rooftop dinner at Chaophraya
For our last night in Edinburgh, we decided to treat ourselves to a rooftop dinner at Chaophraya restaurant. It is a Thai restaurant located in the New Town with views over Edinburgh Castle. The terrace would’ve been amazing during the summer months but, for this time of the year, it’s just a pretty dark view with some lights from Princes Street and the top of the castle. For a nice rooftop dining, the prices were very reasonable.
Edinburgh Central Mosque
This is the last day of our trip. After checking out from Mono Suites and leaving our luggage for storage, we went to grab a morning coffee at a random coffee shop and just hung around near the Edinburgh Central Mosque for Jummah. Afterwards, we headed to the Mosque Kitchen to fuel up before leaving Edinburgh.
Lunch at Mosque Kitchen
The Mosque Kitchen started out as a small canteen to serve food to Mosque attendees only. But they’ve later opened their doors to the rest of the community and are now a popular spot for everyone to pop by for a quick meal. There are two branches of the Mosque Kitchen, one behind the mosque and one on the main street – they are both the same. You can find a range of homely Indian curries there and it’s a no-frills cheap and cheerful spot for food. We sat around for a bit and eventually left Edinburgh at around 4 pm to return to London.
Other recommended places we didn’t visit
Edinburgh Camera Obscura
We didn’t visit the Camera Obscura but have received plenty of recommendations and its rooftop presents one of the best photo spots of Edinburgh. Next time definitely!
If you’re visiting Edinburgh during warmer months, Portobello Beach is an extremely popular destination. It is known to be very picturesque and charming, and the waters are suitable for swimming.
Summary: What We Like & Don’t Like About Edinburgh
Overall, we loved and enjoyed our stay in Edinburgh a lot. At first, we thought we would get bored by the end of the trip but we ended up feeling we could actually stay for a couple more days just to chill.
What we like:
- Cute city and beautiful scenery
- Laidback & easygoing atmosphere
- Easy navigation around the city
- Plenty of activities, e.g. hiking, going to the beach, all easily within reach from the city centre
What we didn’t like:
- Shops close rather early – we’ve been spoilt with London’s city life and weren’t ready to have shops and dessert parlours closing by 6pm. It was a struggle if you were to look for desserts elsewhere after dinner.
- Halal food options are there but they haven’t been too impressive (read also: Edinburgh Halal Food Guide)
- It’s quite hilly around Edinburgh so be ready to be walking up and down a lot, as well as climbing stairs in the Old Town