Great British Escapes’ Review of Ardmor House and tips for a short break in Edinburgh.
Scotland’s bustling capital is a city of two halves, but each is as compelling as the other. Days can be spent simply wandering the steep, narrow lanes of the medieval Old Town and strolling through the wide crescents and gardens of the elegant Georgian New Town. There’s a great mix of sights, activities and restaurants to choose from – so much so that the choices can be a bit overwhelming! Here are our top picks for a short break in Edinburgh.
Hotel: Ardmor House
First things first, we know that a great break starts with basing yourself somewhere with character and excellent service. Ardmor House fits the bill perfectly as a home away from home. It is a beautiful boutique bed and breakfast, which easily stands out from the crowd in an area not short on guest houses.
You can be guaranteed a very warm welcome from Robin, who owns and looks after Ardmor House with his partner Barry. Robin is always on hand to provide plenty of useful recommendations about places to see and restaurants to try. Ever the perfect host, we were treated to a refreshing elderflower cordial and homemade shortbread on arrival, which set the tone for our stay - distinctly Scottish but with a modern and luxurious twist.
The rooms at Ardmor are stylish and extremely comfortable. There are plenty of little touches to make your stay that bit more special – delicious Scottish ‘tablet’ (a type of crumbly fudge) waiting on the plump pillows, proper coffee available in your room, wifi throughout the B&B, and decadent toiletries. Breakfast here is also a real delight – there’s plenty of delicious homemade treats on offer from the cold buffet (think freshly baked blueberry & banana muffins, pastries, rhubarb & ginger jam, and Scottish oatcakes) and a wonderful cooked breakfast with haggis served up on the side (if you want it!).
Ardmor House is 15 minute walk from Princes Street (the main shopping area) so, suitably set up for the day after a full breakfast and good night’s sleep, there will be nothing to stop you from getting out and exploring this wonderful city!
Event: The Edinburgh Fringe
The largest arts festival in the world, the Edinburgh Fringe dominates Edinburgh during August every year (this year the festival takes place between Friday 1 - Monday 25 August 2014). It is undoubtedly a fun and exciting time to visit but the city gets very crowded so you may need to spend a bit more time planning your days, and if you want tickets for the most popular shows, they will need to be booked in advance.
That said, with thousands of shows in more than 250 venues, one of the joys of the festival is enjoying up-and-coming talent, so it can be just as much fun to get a last minute ticket for one of the less well-known acts. The Fringe has a very easy ticketing system so just have a look at the website and see what takes your fancy!
As well as the Fringe, in August, the city also hosts the Edinburgh International Festival and the Military Tattoo, so there is something for every taste.
Attraction: Edinburgh Castle
Perched on top of Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle has an imposing location, looming over the city. It’s no wonder this craggy outcrop was used as a place of defence as early as the Bronze Age. Any visit here is a lesson in Scottish history from a building that has served as fortress, palace, prison and military barracks (which it continues to be today). It really is a fascinating place that shouldn’t be missed.
A word of advice though, Edinburgh castle is a very popular site and the entrance queues can get very long. One way to beat the queues is to buy advance tickets from the website (details below). Alternatively, if you will be spending some time in Scotland and want to visit a number of Historic Scotland attractions, you can purchase an Explorer Pass. This can be a cost effective way to experience a number of Historic Scotland attractions. Just let us know if you would like any more information about this or have a look on the Historic Scotland website.
Café: Cairngorm Coffee Co.
Our pick of the many cafes is an independently run coffee shop in the heart of the New Town. It opened earlier this year and is a cute little place full of rustic character. That’s not to say it isn’t modern - it fully embraces modern technology with ipads built into the walls and wifi available for customers to use. The coffee is excellent and there are lots of freshly baked pastries and cakes to tempt you. If you are there at lunchtime, try one of the signature ‘3 Grilled Cheese’ sandwiches. Keep your eyes peeled for it as it’s down some steps on the side of Frederick Street, just off George St (opposite the big Royal Mail Post Office), so quite easy to miss.
View: Calton Hill
Dominating Holyrood Park, there is a short but fairly challenging walk to the top of the well-known hill of Arthur’s Seat (actually an extinct volcano) which provides fantastic views over the city and much further afield. However, if you only have limited time, we would suggest the less challenging (and much shorter!) walk to the top of Calton Hill, right in the heart of the city. You still get great views over Edinburgh and a particularly impressive view back down Princes Street to the castle. It’s only a ten minute climb to get to the top of the hill from Regent Road so it will still leave you plenty of time for exploring the rest of Edinburgh!
Restaurant: Scran and Scallie
Well-known Scottish chefs Tom Kitchen and Dominic Jack have combined in this new Gastropub venture. Scran and Scallie is quickly gaining plaudits and, with an ethos of ‘from nature to plate’ offers an excellent modern and creative take on some traditional pub dishes. There is a small but well-presented pub area, serving up some good Scottish beers (we tried a beer matured in whisky casks for a very distinctive taste!), and a separate dining room. The very well-priced set lunch menu offers excellent value for this quality of food. The pub is slightly off the tourist track in the trendy Stockbridge area and there are plenty of good cafés and delis nearby. Get there by wandering through some of the charming streets of the Georgian New Town and via the impressive sweeping Royal Crescent.
Pub: Holyrood 9A
Holyrood 9A recently had a makeover and the décor and atmosphere are both spot on for a modern gastropub. It’s a bustling place popular with locals, found down in Edinburgh's old town, just off the Royal Mile. Their slogan ‘great beers, great burgers’ sums it up - the beer is taken very seriously with at least 20 different varieties on tap. A great way to spend an evening is to work through some of the different craft beers on offer by ordering a variety of ‘thirds’ (a third of a pint). Choosing what food to order is no easier a task – although burgers are pretty much the only thing on offer, the variety on the menu (including some more unusual options such as ‘The Pioneer’ which includes sautéed rosemary, wild mushrooms, crispy bacon, Swiss cheese & garlic mayo) makes picking what to go for a very tricky business!
If you would like some help planning your trip to Scotland or the rest of Britain, please do get in touch with us here.