If you hadn’t noticed, we often find ourselves in Edinburgh. We think Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city is a must see when planning a trip to Scotland (or Europe for that matter!). Not only is it Eve's “spirit city” but it is also a city rich in history and things to do! The great thing about Edinburgh is there are so many amazing parts of the city that have their own unique character yet they all still feel distinctly “Edinburgh”. This will be the first of several travel posts covering different areas of the city.
Today, we will focus on Old Town Edinburgh, where the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle reside. This area of the city is the oldest and has the most tourist traffic however we don’t mind one bit! To offset the number of tourists, you can always plan your visit during an off-season. The off-seasons typically run from September through November and Mid-January through April. Visiting during these times will dramatically lower the cost of your trip and the number of people wandering the streets and local attractions. We love Edinburgh In January, just after Hogmanay (New Years). The streets are empty and pubs are cozy with their fireplaces lit!
Here are some of our top places to eat, drink, stay, and play in Old Town Edinburgh….
xxx Ivy & Eve
Civerinos- $$ Known as the Italian street food and pizza slice bar in Edinburgh. They have a casual dining area with shared tables. We always try and stop in here once each visit for a slice or two. In summer months we order their Frosé!
The Halfway House- $ Looking for a traditional pub meal in one of the smallest pubs in Edinburgh? Look no further than The Halfway House! Located in the Fleshmarket Close between Market Street and Waverly Station entrance. It’s the perfect place to enjoy real ale and stovies (a potato, onion, and meat dish) while enjoying the atmosphere of locals (Mark the owner is usually at the bar nursing a pint and chatting with customers) tourists, and people waiting for their train.
Zizzi (Roxburgh Court)- $$ Probably the most cringeworthy place to include on a guide BUT Zizzi is truly a guilty pleasure of ours. Zizzi is a chain restaurant throughout the U.K. and we happen to LOVE their food! We recommend ordering their Primavera Rustic Pizza and a bottle of the Montepulciano #delish. They are also vegan, non-gluten, non-dairy, and vegetarian-friendly. If we haven’t convinced you we should mention they have one of the best views of New Town, Edinburgh.
The Witchery- $$$$ Worthy of splurging a little or a lot, The Witchery, is downright magical. Located at the top of the Royal Mile (the same location as the hotel - see Stay section) this restaurant is famous locally and globally. The menu consists of local Scottish fare and an extensive wine list. We have graced this place only a few times but each time has been perfect. TIP- check out their lunch and dinner prix fixe menu (£22 and £40 respectably) to save a little money while dining BIG!
Oink- $ Perfect for a quick bite at any of their three locations in Edinburgh (two in Old Town and one in New Town). Order a Piglet, Oink, or Grunter size Scottish hog roast on a roll, add some stuffing, and your choice of sauces and you’ve got yourself the perfect meal or snack to keep you going till dinnertime. Eve’s go-to is an Oink with haggis and apple sauce!
Elephant House- $ The sacred location where J.K. Rowling allegedly wrote Harry Potter! Pop in here for a warming cup of tea or coffee before or after strolling through Greyfriars Kirkyard. Grab a window seat at the back for a great view overlooking Greyfriars Kirkyard and the Castle.
Mussel and Steak Bar- $$ Stop in for lunch or dinner to eat your weight in mussels and steak (who would have guessed?!). This place has a relaxed but stylish atmosphere and a good wine list. We recommend getting a pot of mussels in their creamy whiskey bacon broth!
Marys Milkbar- $ The best ice cream in Edinburgh hands down! They make flavors like violet, brown bread, and passionfruit with lemongrass which are ALL to die for! As you exit, make sure to look up to admire their impressive view of Edinburgh Castle!
Ecco Vino Enoteca- $$ We previously shared our love for this cozy wine bar and restaurant when we wrote for This is Edinburgh…you can see the full post HERE. Perfect for a leisurely glass of wine and some tasty seafood-centered dishes. On warmer days sit outside or by the open windows to Cockburn Street (pronounced “COE-BURN”).
The Milkman- $ This specialty coffee shop is a perfect place to start your day. With bench window seating its also a great place to people watch!
The White Hart Inn- $ Located in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket, this pub is perfect for those seeking traditional Scottish fare and some not-so-traditional menu items. Get the Haggis Nachos…you won’t regret it! One of the oldest pubs in Edinburgh and home to more than a few eerie stories of the city’s dark past.
The Ensign Ewart- $ Need a break from the busy Royal Mile and maybe a place to warm up? The Ensign Ewart is the perfect place to go. Located on the Royal Mile just yards below the castle gates this pub is not to be missed. We frequent this pub on evenings to enjoy their live local musicians (Our favorite band to listen to is The Gorms). With four Scottish cask ales, a large whiskey list, and hearty pub food you can’t go wrong. If you visit for lunch they also have a great lunch special: any sandwich and their soup of the day for just £8.50.
The Jolly Judge- $ Another favorite of ours. Perfect for an afternoon drink or make it a late nighter. Tucked away right off the Royal Mile is this charming pub. Enjoy their nice warm fire which burns at most hours and a cool replica ceiling of the historic building, Gladstones Land, nearby. Ivy likes their selection of ciders and real ales while Eve always orders the “malt of the month” or a “tour is Scotland”whiskey flight. In warm(ish) weather, sit outside on the picnic benches and enjoy a pint or two!
The Witchery by the Castle- $$$$ Located on Castlehill at the top of the Royal Mile. This hotel was described as one of the seven wonders of the hotel world by Cosmopolitan. Each room different and drowning in indulgence. This place is on our bucket list of hotels to stay at. For now, we can dream!
The Grassmarket Hotel- $$ Comfortable and with touches of quirky Scottish decor, this hotel is at the bottom of Victoria Street at the corner of Grassmarket which means it is in the ideal place for exploring! Seriously, they’ll even make you a packed lunch to take with you on our day's adventure!
Fraser Suites- $$$ Quiet and comfortable and just off the Royal Mile. This hotel is perfect for anyone who wants a comfortable place to decompress after a long day walking the streets of Edinburgh.
The Royal Mile- (Free) The Royal Mile is actually a series of streets that run from Edinburgh Castle at the top of the hill all the way to Holyrood Palace at the bottom. The mile is chock full of “tartan tat” tourist shops as well as great restaurants, boutiques, and historic points of interest.
Edinburgh Castle-$$ Definitely worth the money, Edinburgh Castle grounds hold several restaurants, a whiskey shop, and SO MUCH HISTORY! Our favorite spots are the Dog Cemetery and St Margaret’s Chapel. TIP: Book your tickets ahead to skip the long lines.
View of castle lit up at night
Dog cemetery found within the castle walls
National Museum of Scotland- (Free, $ for special exhibition tickets) One of our all time favorite museums. Spend your time in the Scottish History and Archaeology galleries for some pretty spectacular stuff or head to the Art of Living gallery to see what Eve worked on during her internship in grad school! TIP: Head to the roof for spectacular views of Edinburgh Castle and surrounding areas.
Greyfriars Bobby statue & Greyfriars Kirkyard- (Free) Wander over to Candlemaker Row to see the famous Bobby statue before heading into the Kirkyard. Burials in the Kirkyard have been taking place here since the late 16th century and if you look, you might see some familiar Harry Potter names! Worth a visit if only to see a unique view of the Castle.
Mercat Tours- $ If you enjoy going on ghost tours, Edinburgh is the city for you! We have been on almost every ghost tour available in Edinburgh and we like Mercat ghost tours the best. We have gone on EVERY single one they offer! Our favorite tour is the Evening of Ghost and Ghouls tour. We love this one because it’s super creepy but if you make it out alive (hehe) you get to enjoy a drink in their cozy candle-lit cellar.
The Real Mary King’s Close- $$ If you aren’t one for straight-up frightening but want a bit of creepy history, we suggest this tour for you! They also have a café and fun gift shop to peruse before and after your tour. Splurge on the photo-op picture for a fun souvenir (see ours below). TIP: Make a night out of it by heading to Zizzi which is right next door for dinner!
Ivy trying to look like a ghost during the tour
The Scotch Whisky Experience- $$ Planning on enjoying some of Scotland’s finest whiskey while in Edinburgh? Learn all about Scotland’s whiskey-making history here! Part educational experience, part Disney-esque amusement ride, the “tour” begins when you step into your own whiskey barrel and ride (yes, ride) through the production of whiskey. Afterward, you step into their seminar room and are lead through the basics of whiskey aromas and production regions. At the end of the tour, you are led into their whiskey collection room (photo below) and enjoy a dram while admiring the collection of rare and old whiskeys. Afterward, sample a few more drams at the bar. We recommend their whiskey and cheese pairing flights! YUM!
Saint Giles’ Cathedral- (Free with suggested donation) St. Giles’ is one of our favorite places to take a breather from the hustle and bustle of the Royal Mile. Founded over 900 years ago, this church was also the center of the Scottish Reformation. Take a guided tour or just discover it at your own pace. The Thistle Chapel is particularly stunning and looks out for the carving of an angel playing the bagpipes! They also have a small affordable cafe and little gift shop for unique souvenirs.