Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to 24 hours in Edinburgh! Of course 24 hours in Edinburgh isn’t nearly enough time to see everything that Scotland’s most famous city has to offer. You could spend a month in Edinburgh and not discover all its secrets. But 24 hours in Edinburgh is enough time to eat some haggis, find a quirky tapestry museum, meet a cloned sheep, and encounter the world’s nicest sommelier. Let’s not waste another second!
24 Hours in Edinburgh
Where to Stay?
I don’t know about you, but when I roll up to a historic Scottish city, I want to stay in a charming bed and breakfast that serves a full fry-up every morning in a room decorated with lace tablecloths. If you feel the same, try spending your 24 hours in Edinburgh at the Ashgrove House Hotel. It’s a bit of a walk from the historic part of Edinburgh, but it’s definitely worth it. And if you’re staying in Edinburgh for the famous Fringe Festival, you won’t be overrun with crowds!
24 Hours in Edinburgh
What to Pack?
The United Kingdom, as you may have heard, is on the rainy side. So the two most important things you’ll need to bring are an umbrella and some rain boots. My favorite travel umbrella is the Repel Teflon Waterproof Umbrella. It is strong enough to stand up to the sometimes-quite-strong winds of Edinburgh.
For rain boots, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them to tea without feeling like some gauche American with gross feet.
Finally, if you’re not from the UK, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. UK electrical outlets don’t work with either American or European plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
24 Hours in Edinburgh
Morning: Canongate Brunch Tour
During my previous 24 hours in Edinburgh, I had enjoyed a fantastic food tour with Eat Walk Edinburgh. Figuring I should keep a good thing going, I decided to take their other tour, the Canongate Brunch Tour.
The Canongate is only one section of the famous Royal Mile that runs down Edinburgh. You might be asking, “How can it be possible to take a decent food tour if we only stick to one part of one street?” Only a foolish mortal who had never seen the wonders of Canongate could say such a thing. I’ll continue to prove you wrong with…
approximately top 5: Canongate
1) Haggis: It’s What’s for brunch
Our Canongate brunch tour started the way every brunch tour should, with a Bloody Mary! There’s nothing especially Scottish about this cocktail, but it’s nice to know that some traditions are the same all around the globe.
But while I might be able to get Bloody Marys with my brunch easily back in my hometown of New York City, I sure wouldn’t be able to get our opening brunch snack: haggis! You can’t spend 24 hours in Edinburgh without getting your haggis on. Here we have some delicious haggis bites served with a skewer of tomato and mushrooms.
For you sad, lonely people who didn’t read my last blog post about 24 hours in Edinburgh, haggis is a pudding made with sheep parts like heart and lungs. (Modern haggis often includes regular sheep meat too.) Then the whole thing is cooked in a (clean!) sheep stomach. You don’t eat the stomach, though. Once it’s finished, the guest is presented with a steaming mouthful of sheepy goodness.
I don’t know why some people are weirded out by haggis. It’s a dish that was developed because people in Scotland didn’t have a lot of money and they didn’t want to waste any part of the animal. Why do you hate poor Scottish people, Internet Stranger?
Alan, our guide, explained that there are only a small number of butchers in Edinburgh that make a really good haggis. On the previous tour, I had sampled the haggis from one butcher, but these haggis bites came from another. Internet Stranger, I promise you I could not tell the difference between the two. They were both equally yummy in my non-Scottish eyes.
2) The Scottish Shop
If you like to shop locally, make sure to visit The Scottish Shop. One of the owners is an American who has lived in Scotland for many years and fell in love with the country. Therefore, the store only sells Scottish products. I really was hoping someone would yell at me, “If it’s no’ Scottish, it’s crap!” But sadly no one did.
At this stop we feasted like King Robert the Bruce. I wonder if the amount of food was meant to satisfy any weirdos who complained that the first dish of the day was haggis. (The only other people on the tour when I took it were a large Welsh family, and they were all down with haggis.) Before you, you can see several different types of Scottish cheese, Venison chorizo, and an excellent pepper jelly chutney made by two local lads. I kind of suspect that chorizo is not native to Scotland, though I’m sure the Scots have been eating deer meat for centuries.
3) Fudge House
Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth, the Fudge House is worth visiting just to meet the owner. The store was founded by the current owner’s grandfather. They make 27 different flavors of fudge, and all of it is done in the shop itself. I just adore people who keep family traditions alive, especially when that family ritual is making candy and not passing down emotional trauma from generation to generation.
Photo taking is not allowed in the store, so you’ll just have to take my word that the pistachio and cherry Bakewell fudge we sampled was exquisite. Actually, you’d have to take my word anyway, as science still has not developed the technology to pass fudge through a computer screen. After the samples, we were allowed to choose a piece of fudge of our very own to take with us. I’m always looking for the weirdest possible flavors, so I chose the white Highland cream fudge because I had never heard of white fudge before. It was about a million times better than white chocolate, let me tell you.
4) Secrets of Edinburgh
The tour wasn’t all eating and drinking, as delightful as that would be. We got to take advantage of having a real Scottish guide because Alan took us into some of the secret places in Edinburgh. Above you can see the Dunbars Close Garden. Even though it was just off the Royal Mile, which is crazy touristic, here we were completely by ourselves. Alan said it’s a good place for locals to have a quiet lunch by themselves. I guess it was a good place until I spoiled it by revealing it on this blog. Sorry, office workers of Edinburgh!
My favorite Scottish secret was these sculptures made out of pages from books. An anonymous person has been making them for years and leaving them around Edinburgh. The one above is adorably called The Poetree. Alan said that the famous Scottish mystery writer Ian Rankin knows who’s doing it, but he won’t reveal the secret. Isn’t that just like a mystery writer? Hmm, in a mystery novel I supposed I’d be the one making the secret sculptures. After all, I am definitely the last person I suspect.
5) Whisky, Whisky, Nancy Whisky
Little known fact: it’s actually illegal to go on a food tour in Scotland and not drink whisky. So let’s not break the law and instead stop in Cadenhead’s. This is the oldest independent bottler in Scotland. I feel like that’s a lot more impressive than being the oldest independent bottler in Hohokus, New Jersey. Their whisky is all single-cask, which means each bottle is aged in one cask, not a blend of the contents of several different casks.
I’m not sure what single-cask whisky is supposed to taste like because I’m tragically not yet a whisky expert. But I can tell you that my sample of whisky was some powerful stuff that went straight to my head and warmed my belly simultaneously. Don’t go drinking this and then lifting heavy machinery right after.
The fine folk at Cadenhead’s nicely gave us a small bottle of their product to take home. I like this idea, at both the whisky store and the fudge house, of giving people on a food tour larger samples that they can eat at their leisure. That way they get plenty of food without being so stuffed that they become ill.
6) The Swedish Restaurant
Our food tour very cleverly continued with an actual smorgasbord at one of Edinburgh’s only Swedish restaurants. There was so much food here between the ham, shrimp, and herring that anyone who claimed to leave this food tour hungry was a big fat liar. It was also a cozy place to sit and get a break after all that tramping about finding Edinburgh’s secrets and walking off the homemade fudge.
7) Beers of Edinburgh
Our final stop was in a pub in Edinburgh’s old brewing district. It had never occurred to me that the Scottish made any type of alcohol aside from whisky. But if I’ve learned anything from my time in Edinburgh, it’s never underestimate a Scot. A people who can invent haggis are capable of anything.
The beers were a dark stout and an IPA, which is one of the most English of beers. IPA stands for India Pale Ale. It was developed by the English because they needed a hoppy beer that could stand the long and hot voyage to their colonies in India. Couldn’t the English just as easily have decided to not colonize people? “We’ve been asking that for centuries!” yells back all of Scotland.
24 Hours in Edinburgh
Afternoon: National Museum of Scotland
The National Museum of Scotland is one of the most impressive museums I have ever visited. Their inspiring collection spans multiple giant buildings and a staggering number of floors. On top of that, it is free! It’s really a shame that we only have 24 hours in Edinburgh to see so many things because I’m confident we could spend 24 hours in Edinburgh just in this museum. But we have to make do with what we have.
24 Hour Treasure: Dovecot Studios
Before heading to the National Museum, I suggest making a quick stop at Dovecot Studios, which is right near the ending point of the food tour. I told Alan that I liked art, and he insisted I poke my head into this place. Dovecot is one of the finest tapestry studios in the world, and it’s free to visit. There are usually tapestry related exhibits on display. When I was there, I saw a show on female tapestry artists.
My favorite piece was these chairs called “All Whores Are Jacobites”! I’m an American, so I don’t think I’m legally allowed to understand what a Jacobite is. I think it’s either a Communist, a French sympathizer, or someone who wants to restore Bonnie Prince Charlie to the throne.
When you’re done with the exhibit, you can walk above to a viewing area and watch where they make the tapestries. Look at the size of those looms! This must be an incredible upper body workout, I must say. And now that we’re done with our tapestry break, it’s time to head to the National Museum for…
three fun facts: national museum of scotland edition
1) why am i looking at a globe?
Not only is the National Museum free, regular free docent tours are included with the non-price of admission. Rich parents are out there bribing college officials to get their kids an education and the city of Edinburgh wants to give you one for free! It’s your lucky day.
Our docent guide, whom I shall dub Mr. McGregor because he refused to tell me his real name, was a retired Scottish doctor in his 70s, and the topic he had chosen was astrological equipment. He explained that humanity has been trying to read and understand the stars throughout our history. One of the devices they developed was something called an astrolabe. This used the position of the stars and time of year to tell what time it was when you were at sea. Why didn’t they just use cell phones? Maybe because reception is bad when you are out in the sea.
Mr. McGregor had most impressively built his own astrolabe and took it out so we could all play with it and see if we would have been able to use it to tell the time if we were 17th century Scottish pirates. I wasn’t very successful at using the astrolabe, but now I definitely want to be a retired Scottish doctor when I grow up because truly Mr. McGregor seemed to know everything.
2) why am i looking at a sheep?
Arguably the most famous exhibit at the National Museum of Scotland is this old sheep pictured above. “What’s the big whoop?” you ask. Well, this isn’t just any sheep, it’s Dolly! The world’s first clone made from an adult cell was performed at the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh. They named her Dolly after Dolly Parton because she came from a boob cell. That’s not a joke.
Unfortunately, Dolly developed lung tumors after several years of life, and she had to be put to sleep. The success the scientists had in creating Dolly did not lead them to go on to wildly clone other sheep, willy-nilly. I suspect this disappointed many Scots, who had decided to clone sheep over all the other animals to give a boost to the haggis industry.
3) why am i looking at this?
I’m more of an artist than a scientist, so my favorite exhibits were on the arts and crafts of the United Kingdom. I was most excited to see this red tapestry above. It was a product of none other than Dovecot Studios, which I had visited a few hours before!
This tapestry on the right is called Emblem on Red. The artist was Graham Sutherland, and I admire his weaving, but I think he could have worked a little harder on the name there. It’s exciting to see that Dovecot is bringing tapestries into the 21st century. I’m hoping for stained glass and monastic herb gardens to make a comeback too!
24 Hours in Edinburgh
Evening: Dinner at Number One at the Balmoral
We’ve saved plenty of money by visiting not one, but two free museums today. So let’s blow it all on a majestic fine dining experience to conclude our 24 hours in Edinburgh! Number One at the Balmoral Hotel is one of only four Michelin star restaurants in Edinburgh.
Even though my clothes were nothing fancy, I still got spectacular service, warm without being obsequious. And the sommelier gave helpfully detailed explanations of all the wine pairings, so it was basically like getting a free wine class along with the dinner. But I’m much more qualified to teach an eating class, so let’s get started with…
approximately top 10: Number One at the Balmoral
1) Course One
A tasting menu almost always starts with a few little experimental snacks to get you excited for the main course. These were some satisfyingly pungent cheese and chorizo bites. Maybe I was wrong and chorizo really does come from Scotland? Also I apologize for not getting a better photo, but I couldn’t do that without standing up to take the picture and that didn’t seem like a very classy move.
Up next we have an adorabite of mackerel. Alan, my food guide, had mentioned that Scotland is famous for its seafood. Number One specializes in using Scottish ingredients. They want to show that Scottish cuisine can be part of a fine dining experience. So it makes sense that there would be multiple seafood dishes on the menu.
Now we get to the signature starter of Number One. This is smoked salmon under glass with a quail egg and caviar. First of all, I always like when chefs put a bird egg and fish eggs in the same dish. It’s delicious and it makes you think. What even is an egg? Is time just a round circle? Second, I can still taste the fragrant smoke gently wafting off the salmon flesh. I’d venture to say that the Scottish cook with smoke as well as any people in the world.
The vegetable course featured heirloom tomatoes with raspberry sorbet, raspberry vinaigrette, and gazpacho gel. I thought gazpacho was a soup, not a gel, so I learned something new today. Also, I always like when people combine sweet and savory ingredients in the same dish. After all, tomato is a fruit, so there’s no logical reason to not pair them with berries.
Our final seafood course of the meal was a halibut with smoked oyster and zucchini. (Courgettes for my readers from the UK.) This is doubly Scottish because it has two different kinds of seafood and also smoking as a cooking technique. All it needs is a shot of whisky and a big scoop of haggis on top, and it could be the Scottish national dish.
I had never eaten a smoked oyster before, but it’s an excellent way to intensify the flavor. Personally oysters are one of my favorite foods, so anything that makes them More Oystery is A-OK by me.
The meat course was lamb served with the traditional accompaniments of pea and mint. Look how pink that lamb is! I always order meat medium rare at a good restaurant because I want the flavor of the high quality meat to shine through. The lamb was cooked to perfection, but I must admit I don’t know if I would have spent so much time looking at Dolly at the National Museum if I’d known there would be lamb on the menu. I kept imagining her staring at me mournfully while bleating “Jolene” as I ate my lamb.
We kept the Scottish theme going with a plate of fine Scottish cheeses. This cheese plate was optional, but I make it a policy in life to never turn down a cheese plate. Here we have a Scottish blue cheese, a Scottish brie, and something called Auld Reekie smoked cheddar. You just can’t stop a Scot from smoking any food they get their hands on, can you? The name of the cheddar is very clever because Auld Reekie is a nickname for Edinburgh. It means Old Smoky, naturally.
Having one dessert only is simply out, darling. That’s why I was relieved that Number One had the sense to give me a pre-dessert. It was a ginger custard with ginger and melon. I always enjoy a complex dish with different contrasting flavors that somehow manage to come together harmoniously. But there’s something to be said for doubling down on one ingredient like this as well.
Also, I realize that I should have taken the lid off this dish before photographing it. I am not killing it with my Instagram game today.
This dessert is about as Scottish as a fine dining dessert can get. It’s a cheesecake made with Crowdie cheese and topped with strawberries, honey mead, and creme fraiche ice cream. (Crowdie is a kind of Scottish fresh cheese made from curds.) With the Crowdie cheese, creme fraiche, red berries, and grains, this seemed like a deconstructed version of the traditional Scottish dessert, cranachan. A clever and yummy way to end a perfect meal!
Also I need to thank the very cute sommelier once again because when I told him that his explanations were very helpful, he turned bright red from head to toe, bowed slightly, and said, “It’s my privilege.” Call me, cute sommelier! I don’t think a traveling lass can ask for more than a guy with an adorable accent who can get her all the classy wine her little heart desires.
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in Edinburgh!
What would you do with a perfect 24 hours in Edinburgh? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Edinburgh right now? Did you know that Dolly was cloned from a boob? And when will that sommelier call me? Please leave your thoughts below.
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Edinburgh. If you have another 24 hours in Edinburgh, try this itinerary!