Hannah Drake

Scotland

A Weekend Guide to Edinburgh

TravelHannah DrakeComment

Over the long Easter weekend, we decided to go to Edinburgh for our E date. Luke said he had been briefly, but I had never been before, so we were both so excited to go for a few days. We had gotten a few recommendations from friends and family (It was weird getting Europe recommendations from my parents since they went last year after our wedding!) and had a tentative outline of what we wanted to do, but we didn’t have any solid plans when we went, other than a gin tasting that we booked early.

It didn’t take very long for me to realise that Edinburgh is my favourite city in the UK (sorry London!) and my second favourite city in Europe (I see you, Rome!). But while I loved visiting Rome, I could legitimately see myself living in Edinburgh, especially if it’s in the Morningside/Bruntsfield area where we stayed.

Edinburgh also felt like a foodie’s dream come true. Like I said, we got a lot of recommendations from friends and family and we simply didn’t have enough time to eat at all the restaurants that we heard about. I’ll include both where we did eat and what else was recommended below. We could easily plan another trip just to eat at all these places!

WHERE TO STAY

We didn’t have a ton of time to plan the trip, so by the time I booked an Airbnb, a lot of places I thought I wanted to stay were already booked. We ended up booking a room in a family home, which isn’t usually our first choice (we prefer to have the whole place to ourselves), but it ended up being a godsend. We absolutely loved it!

The house is big enough that the room, which was an ensuite, felt separate from the family home. But Gi & Winston were truly the best Airbnb hosts we’ve ever had. When we arrived, Gi sat down with us over tea and homemade sourdough bread to give us some recommendations and show us the area where they live, Morningside.

We absolutely loved the area. Everything was very walkable (though I chalked up almost 26,000 steps on our first full day) and there were a ton of shops, cafes, and restaurants that looked amazing. I loved walking through the neighbourhood in the morning when things were quieter. I would absolutely recommend staying in Morningside or Bruntsfield, especially if you want to be outside the city centre a little, but still close enough to be able to walk (or take the bus) to everything you want to do.

On the Harry Potter Walking Tour we did, the guide talked about the Balmoral Hotel and the JK Rowling Suite, where she lived for six months to finish Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. If you want to go big (and can afford £1,500 a night), by all means, stay there!,

We had drinks at Black Ivy, but it looked like a really nice hotel as well.

WHERE TO EAT

Our Airbnb host recommended La Barantine for a quick breakfast. She said they have the best croissants she’s ever had, including in France. We stopped there for breakfast on our first full day on our way into town. It definitely felt like being back in Paris, sitting in the little French cafe having a croissant and coffee. Well, tea for me, of course. Gi said if you miss the croissants in the morning, you can head down the road a bit to their bakery and buy some straight from there.

We had breakfast at Southside Scran on Sunday morning since they only serve breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s on the expensive side, but it didn’t feel to me like we were overpaying for things we could make at home. Of course we could make breakfast at home, but we usually don’t make eggs benedict or avocado toast at home. We booked a table, but we really didn’t need to. The only bummer was that we went too early to get a Bloody Mary or a mimosa since they can’t serve alcohol before 11:00 on Sundays.

Gi also recommended Honeycomb & Co. for breakfast, but we weren’t able to try it during our visit. They’re brunch menu looks pretty good!

We’ve been wanting to go to Dai Pai since we first found out that Edinburgh had sushi burritos. We planned to go on our last full day in the city since it was near our gin tasting. We got two sushi burritos to go and sat in a nearby park for lunch. Sushi burritos aren’t the easiest thing to eat on a park bench, but they were pretty good. It was no Motomaki in Boulder, but it definitely hit the sushi burrito spot.

We actually had breakfast at Karine the morning before we left, but I’ll include it with the lunch spots because I basically had a sandwich for breakfast. It was SO GOOD and I think Luke really regretted just getting a croissant and a coffee to go. I can’t remember exactly what was on the sandwich, but it was something like ham, Brie, and some kind of chutney. It felt breakfasty enough for me and I’m so glad I got it. The cafe itself is also beautiful both on the outside and the inside. Again, you’ll feel like you were transported straight to Paris!

Our friend, via her sister who lives in Edinburgh, recommended Bread Meats Bread, a burger place with locations in Glasgow and Edinburgh, but we weren’t able to make it there on this trip. We did walk by it basically every time we went into town, though! They have vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, and halal options. Plus they have poutine!

We stumbled upon Oink while visiting the iconic Victoria Street. We had just had lunch (and a delicious one at that), so we basically just ogled over the pork sandwiches we could smell from outside. Oink is hands down the place I’m most sad about us not having time to visit on this trip.

Our friend recommended Dishoom as it’s the only place her father will eat out for a curry. That’s got to be the best recommendation I’ve ever gotten for a restaurant. There was a bit of a wait to even get into the bar, but they served traditional Indian drinks in line. The bar was absolutely stunning and the cocktails were delicious. Luke even considered posting his very first Instagram story of the bar, but settled for a regular post instead. I had the Kishoom Fizz and the Bollybellini while Luke fell in love with the Old Fashioned. They age some of their cocktails in these really cute apothecary bottles, which is such a cool idea. We pretty much decided on the spot we have to try that sometime. We definitely ordered too much food, but it was all so good. The couple sitting at the table next to us had ordered something that looked (and smelled) delicious and when I asked them what it was (Salli Boti), hoping it was something we had already ordered, they offered us a bite! We hadn’t ordered it already, but we were able to tack it on to our order. And it was worth it! If I remember correctly, we ordered the Vegetable Samosas, Butter-Bhutta, Gunpowder Potatoes (OMG!!!), the Dishoom Chicken Tikka, and probably more. It was absolutely a feast! They also have a location in Manchester and four in London. Each location has a different speciality dish, the Salli Boti being that for Edinburgh. I definitely recommend making a reservation.

My sister and her husband recommended Mother India’s Cafe to us, but we didn’t have time to try it. Rachel said she still dreams about how good Mother India was!

Our friend, again via her sister, recommended Kanpai Sushi, but we opted for the sushi burrito at Dai Pai instead. The menu looks amazing!

Our Airbnb host, Gi, recommended both Bia Bistrot and Three Birds, but we didn’t have time to try either.

We walked by Seeds for the Soul every day we were there and definitely thought about trying it. It’s a completely vegan place and while their website feels a little preachy, their menu looks pretty good! Nearby is Thrive, a vegetarian and vegan restaurant we also wanted to try.

And of course, we had to try Mary’s Milk Bar. My sister said she had the best ice cream of her life there: sweet corn and black pepper. Seriously! It was unseasonably warm while we were in Edinburgh so everyone was on the same page about getting some ice cream. We waited in a bit of a line, maybe 15 to 20 minutes, and I definitely felt panicked and rushed while we were in there, though I’m not sure I needed to. I felt like we couldn’t sample the flavours and even though there wasn’t anything as different as sweet corn and black pepper, I did play it safe with my choices since they didn’t have any of my usual go-to flavours. I got a cup of rhubarb and orange sorbet with cherry mascarpone ice cream. The cherry mascarpone was to die for! Since the shop is so small and it was so busy, we took our ice cream across the street to sit in the grass beneath the castle.

WHERE TO DRINK

We actually had dinner at Lebowski’s on our first night off a recommendation from my stepmom, who was given the recommendation by our friend at our wedding last year. Neither of us were very hungry, so we split a burger, which was really good. But of course the main attraction is the White Russian menu. The whole place is themed from the 1998 film, playing the soundtrack on a loop and showing the film on screens around the restaurant on a loop. The White Russian menu is quite extensive, based on quotes, characters, and more from the movie. I tried The Dude and The Kieffer, while Luke had The Marty and The Donny. Neither of us had every tried a White Russian before and even though I was worried I would feel sick from all that dairy, I felt completely fine.

Cold Town House was recommended to us for drinks, but we had lunch there as well. We ate lunch downstairs, splitting a pizza and fries, before we headed upstairs for drinks on their rooftop patio. It’s easily one of the coolest places I’ve ever been and probably has the coolest rooftop patio I’ve ever seen. If we lived in Edinburgh, I’d happily hang out there once a week at least!

We walked by Black Ivy while we were walking through The Meadows and I was immediately drawn to the facade. On the way back to our Airbnb on our last night, we decided to pop in and see what it was all about, even stopping for a drink. They had a really cool bar and Luke’s favourite beer on tap.

WHAT TO DO

Edinburgh Castle sits atop a hill visible from pretty much anywhere that we were at least. To be honest, I was picturing an entirely different castle because of an Edinburgh Instagrammer who I follow who regularly posts the castle from her hometown as well as her snaps of Edinburgh. Colour me surprised to find this castle instead. We saw it from all angles and walked up to the top, but ultimately decided not to go in. It’s £19.50 per person (£16 for seniors and £11.50 for children) and we just decided to spend our time elsewhere. We might get tickets next time we’re in town.

We decided when we got there that we would do a Harry Potter Walking Tour. We were able to book The Ultimate Harry Potter Walking Tour through Airbnb, snagging the final two spots for the tour the morning of. It’s £15 per person, but 100% of the money goes to Child.org. We met outside the Balmoral Hotel and our tour guide took us around the city, pointing out places that inspired JK Rowling when she wrote the stories, showing us where she wrote, and even the Scottish Writers Museum. The tour was certainly a lot of walking and we did see some cool stuff. The only thing I would have liked was more Harry Potter trivia. Our tour guide asked us a couple of trivia questions toward the end of the tour, but I wanted more!

We went down Victoria Street during our walking tour, but I recommend it regardless. It’s quite a touristy place, but it’s the most photographed street in all of Scotland and for good reason. There are a lot of shops (including two Harry Potter shops) worth popping into. It’s also where you’ll find Oink.

Luke found a Gin Tasting through Airbnb as well, which we booked in advance. The emails I got when I booked it called it a distillery tour (but it’s not labelled online as just a tasting), so we were a bit disappointed that it wasn’t actually a tour at all. One of the distillers at 56 North talked us through the process of making gin, what gin is made of, and basically all things gin while we sipped a G&T and got to taste a flight of gins. Afterwards, you get a mimosa upstairs, though I still don’t know why it’s a mimosa at a bar famous for their gin? If I recall correctly, 56 North has one of the largest collections of gin in the country, but they do have other spirits available as well. Luke and I got another drink after the mimosa and would have hung out there a bit longer, but Luke wanted to go watch the football match that was on. It was £25 per person, which includes two cocktails and an hour-long class.

My sister said we should visit the Botanical Gardens and I’ve seen plenty of beautiful photos, so I really wanted to. Sadly we didn’t have the time to make it on this trip, but it’s at the top of my list for next time.

Arthur's Seat Edinburgh

We really wanted to hike Arthur’s Seat on our second day, but we were absolutely wiped out from Saturday. We logged about 25k steps on Saturday and were genuinely sore from walking so much. Arthur’s Seat is an extinct volcano that you can now hike up, getting sweeping views of Edinburgh and the surrounding area. Depending on where you are in the city, you can probably walk there. It would have taken us about an hour to walk from our Airbnb to the top.

You have to visit the Morningside and Bruntsfield neighbourhoods while you’re there, especially if you’re not staying there. It was such a lovely place to stay and I really enjoyed walking around, seeing all the shops and restaurants. We stayed in Morningside, but walked through Bruntsfield on our way to the city centre every day. These were the areas that made me feel like I could live in the city. In a way, they reminded me on New York City, but much quieter.

We didn’t get to visit the Stockbridge neighbourhood while we were there, but my sister said it’s gorgeous. It looks to have some of the most picturesque streets in the city and it was seriously a mistake to miss this area.

Inside Stockbridge, you’ll find Dean Village, a former milling centre dating back to 1128. The buildings have been well maintained and it will probably make you feel like you’re outside of the big city and living in a quieter time.

Have you been to Edinburgh before?

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The Year of Alphabet Dates: E

MarriageHannah DrakeComment

Once again, for our alphabet date night, we’ve decided to do something different. Instead of doing an activity or a type of food, we decided to do a destination: Edinburgh!

We decided to take advantage of our long holiday weekend for Easter and go somewhere we haven’t been together (though Luke has been to Edinburgh before).

I won’t go into a ton of details because I’m working on a full Edinburgh post, but I will share some things. We loved our Airbnb. We had the most amazing weather. We ate so many delicious meals. We fell in love with the city.

It was such a wonderful weekend. I wish we could move into the neighbourhood where we stayed. I couldn’t recommend our hosts or the location more highly! We got so many restaurant recommendations that we literally didn’t have enough time to try them all! We loved hanging out in the sun and thoroughly enjoyed not even having the threat of rain in Scotland.

Edinburgh has shot up to my #2 favourite city in Europe and my #1 favourite city in the UK! I can’t wait to share more about our trip with you!

ACTIVITIES FOR THE E DATE NIGHT

  • exercise together - Whether it’s doing a tried and true favourite exercising or getting creative and trying something new, they say the couple that works out together stays together!

  • try an extreme sport - That can be a lot of different things: skiing or snowboarding, surfing, wake boarding, base jumping, bungee jumping…all kinds of crazy stuff!

  • have an Elf themed date - You know in the movie when Buddy the Elf describes the day he wants to spend with his dad? Do it together! But probably around Christmastime.

  • visit a new exhibit - Is a travelling exhibit coming to a museum nearby? Go check it out!

  • visit an expo - Whatever you’re into, find out if there’s an expo for it coming up. If you’re engaged, you could go to a wedding expo together.

  • do an escape room - This is one of our favourite group activities, but a lot of rooms accommodate for as little as two people.

  • visit an elephant sanctuary - Elephant rides have been popular in other countries for a while, but more information is starting to come out about how those animals are treated and trained. Instead, visit a reputable elephant sanctuary and spend the day with the elephants doing their thing, not yours.

  • explore somewhere - It could be your own city or area. It could be somewhere brand new that neither of you have ever visited.

  • educate yourselves - Take a class together to learn about something you’re both interested in. Maybe it’s online, maybe it’s in person. Your local museum, rec centre, or community centre probably offers classes on a wide range of subjects that are both ongoing or a one off class.

  • shop an estate sale - It’s like garage sales, but bigger!

  • have an early bird special - Live like you’re already grandparents and hit up a restaurant for an early bird special.

  • celebrate the ‘80s - Maybe that’s dressing up and painting the town red. Maybe that’s jamming out to ‘80s music or popping in a classic ‘80s movie. Maybe it’s doing something that was popular or trendy back in the day.

  • try some experiments - Get a kid’s science experiment kit or DIY something cool. Bonus points if you dress the part of a scientist as well. (But either way, make sure you have the property safety equipment.)

  • Easter egg hunt - You could help set one up for kids, you could do one yourself, or you could volunteer at a bigger event. Of course it’ll probably help if it’s actually Easter.

FOODS FOR THE E DATE NIGHT

  • E restaurants/bars - Does your favourite restaurant or bar start with a E? Or what about a spot you’ve been dying to try, but just haven’t found the time yet?

DESTINATIONS FOR THE E DATE NIGHT

  • Edinburgh, Scotland

  • Estes Park, Colorado

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Header Photo by Brianne Haagenson Photography.

Gigha, Scotland

TravelHannah Drake2 Comments

While we were in Scotland, staying at the Balinakill Country House, Luke and I spent an afternoon on the Isle of Gigha. First things first, it's pronounced like "gear". Scottish, am I right? It's the southernmost, and I'll say the most beautiful, of the Hebridean Islands off the west coast of Scotland.

Most of the Drakes at the house had already been on the island earlier in the week and recommended it for our Saturday activity, highly recommending the Boathouse Restaurant for a delicious seafood lunch. It didn't take much convincing on their part. A picturesque island and seafood fresh from the ocean? What more could you want?

We slept in on Saturday and had breakfast at the house with Luke's parents before setting off toward the ferry. It wasn't a long drive, but it was definitely a gorgeous one. We were a bit early for the ferry and it was starting to rain, so we ducked inside the shop for a cup of tea. I think it was around £5 each for a round trip and with the island being so small, we decided to leave the car on the mainland. It started drizzling as we began our journey, but from across the ocean, you could see that the clouds were broken over the island and the sunlight was pouring down. After the short journey, we were in a completely different weather system, staring out at the rain on the other side of the channel. It still boggles my mind how different they were with how close together they are.

Our main goal was to have lunch at the restaurant, so we decided to stop in first to make a reservation for an hour or so later. Unfortunately, when we got there, they said they were fully booked for the rest of the afternoon and couldn't accommodate us. That really cramped my style, to be honest. I was so disappointed that this place had been talked up so much and we weren't going to be able to eat there.

We decided instead to just start exploring. We turned up the main road to go toward the north shore of the isle, immediately passing a field housing dozens of cows, most of whom were right near the fence we were walking by. Watching the cows somehow managed to lift my crushed spirits and we continued on. After walking probably the length of a football field, we decided to go back to rent bikes at the corner shop we had passed.

Now on wheels, we were ready to actually explore. We rode up the main road passing all the farms that dot the hills of the island. We saw lots of cows, sheep, horses, and even made friends with a dog on the road.

It was easily one of the most beautiful bike rides I've ever taken, but it was kind of hard work. At one point, I had to hop off and walk my bike up a really steep hill as Luke cruised by me. We had the perfect weather too. It wasn't too hot (which we loved as a break in the middle of the hottest English summer on record), it wasn't raining, and the fresh sea air filled our lungs as we rode.

We really had no idea where we were or where we were going, but the isle is small enough that there's only one road from end to end. The man at the shop had told us it was 5 miles to the north end and only 2 to the south, but those 5 miles seemed quite long. When we got to a good vantage point and had been riding for quite some time, we decided to turn back to drive to Skipness for lunch, since Luke's brother had recommended a different seafood restaurant nearby.

We rode back without stopping as much and were pleased to see the dog from earlier back at the shop where we rented our bikes. (By the way, they were only £10 each for the afternoon.) We walked back toward the ferry and arrived just in time to catch it to go back. We were both getting pretty hungry and were a bit surprised to discover Skipness was 40 minutes away.

Unfortunately when we got there, we discovered that the Skipness Seafood Cabin is CLOSED ON SATURDAYS! Seriously! At this point, I was full-on hangry and all we had to eat were wine gums left over from our road trip.

We were able to eat at the Skipness Seafood Cabin the next day with Luke's parents before we started our journey home. Luke and I split the seafood platter and it was so good! It was in such a cool spot too and had beautiful views of the Isle of Arran.

Hindsight is of course 20/20, but I wish we had done some research before leaving the island. If we had looked up the restaurant before we left, we would have known it was closed. We could have stayed on the island and ridden toward the south, which had more restaurants and shops. And next time, I'm going to make sure I pack some snacks in our Muzmm backpack when we're out exploring because even though it looks picture perfect, it was kind of a disaster of a day. (By the way, you can use the code HANNAH10 to get 10% off your order at Muzmm and they've got a ton of cute styles.)

I would love to go back to Gigha someday and do it right next time! There's so much on the island that we didn't even realise. But despite all of our lunch and seafood troubles, it really was a great day and a memory I'll always cherish.

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