But Edinburgh is a mad god’s dream
Fitful and dark,
Unseizable in Leith
And wildered by the Forth,
But irresistibly at last
Cleaving to sombre heights
Of passionate imagining
From soaring battlements,
Earth eyes Eternity.
by Hugh MacDiarmid
For me Edinburgh will always be associated with dark alleyways, magnificent architecture, endless cups of coffee, spending hours in book shops, scattered autumn leaves, friendly people, getting lost on the narrow streets of old town and most of all falling head over heels in love with a city.
It was many years ago when I first visited Edinburgh having no expectations at all; the beauty of the whole place caught me by surprise the first evening walking down the old cobbled streets, there was no people any more on the streets because we arrived so late and everything was quiet. You could feel the age of the old town, see the dark coloured buildings sweeping down the Royal Mile from the castle to Holyrood, the wind was blowing a bit scattering falling leaves - it was magnificent. No place had captured my heart like that ever before.
Every day I spent there that autumn just made my feelings for Edinburgh grow a little bit stronger. I can easily understand what this one American said at the breakfast table “I feel like every place I look at is even more beautiful than the one before, I think to myself that this must be what Heaven looks like”. Maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but easily understandable if you happen to like Edinburgh.
As far as eating out in Edinburgh goes I found it almost as easy as here in Finland - which just happens to be one of the easiest places if you can’t have gluten - people usually understood what no gluten meant, and at some places, like Vittoria, they have the no gluten sign on the menu.
I tend to be a creature of habit when it comes to eating, so in Edinburgh I eat lunch at the Baked Potato Shop, which has a magnificent range of baked potatoes. The potatoes themselves are a work of art; crisp on the outside and soft on the inside with delicious fillings. They have always understood what no gluten means, so just ask, if you are unsure eating there. The fillings are vegetarian and it’s a very vegan friendly place, but more protein rich choices like the egg mayonnaise one are on the menu. I must mention though that the potatoes are huge and even I can’t finish the medium one.
Vittoria on the Bridge is one of the most gluten-free friendly restaurants in Edinburgh, they have everything marked on the menu and they even have gluten-free pasta. The food is delicious and the service deserves a special mention; it is very professional while maintaining friendliness. It is usually very busy so book a table in advance, especially during the high season.
For some dining in a romantic setting and excellent French style food made with local ingredients I would recommend The Grain Store. We had a fantastic evening there and the scallops were to die for.
You will find the best steaks - do try some local beef while in Scotland at least once - at Wildfire on Rose Street. You will probably need to book in advance here too, during high season especially.
Thai Orchid is also a place worth a visit, the setting is very enjoyable, the staff is attentive and the food is excellent. It is right next to the castle, so do book in advance when dining during the evening.
I usually drink coffee several times a day whenever in Edinburgh - for some strange reason I don’t do much coffee drinking at home - and Has Beans on the Royal Mile is one of my favourite places, the service is friendly, the coffee is excellent and they have Orkney ice cream there too which is a huge plus. Starbucks at Waterstone’s on Princes Street is worth visiting because of the view. There is also a tea room which has a very old fashioned charm to it on the Royal Mile, Canongate, called Clarindas, if you are not indeed someone who has to avoid gluten, go for the cream tea there.
Chocolate Soup is the place to visit if you like chocolate and a sugar shock. It has very filling hot chocolates made with melted chocolate and they also have these chocolate shots which are too sweet, but for the sugarholics they must be heavenly - I can imagine. It is located on Hunter Square; you will find it walking down the Royal Mile.
Edinburgh is filled with excellent restaurants, cafes and pubs; these were just some places that came to my mind writing this. Leith is of course also worth a visit if you are “gastrotraveling”, no need to stay around the Royal Mile and Princes Street area.
Don’t be afraid to ask about gluten-free foods, or information about the food you are about to have, the people are very helpful and friendly at most places.
Having just a quick bite can get a bit difficult, if you don’t know where you are going, I have usually had a quick snack with me for situations like that and I would advice any gluten-free travelers the same, so that you don’t get stuck into a situation where you need some food and all you find is places selling sandwiches. Pret A Manger is of course a given for situations like that, you can even find the nutritional info on each food on their website, but there are only three Prets in Edinburgh and they are all located in New Town.
Places to visit, things to do
The deeply historic ambiance of Edinburgh makes it an ideal travel place for people for are interested in history, you will find almost endless places to visit around the city and also a bit outside of Edinburgh too if your interests lie within history in general.
My favourite tourist attraction is Mary King’s Close; it is basically an old street which lies underground and it has many paranormal stories attached to it. The most interesting thing about it is seeing the way people lived back then in Edinburgh, and it doesn’t hurt that the guides are usually very entertaining (thank you Ian for the great tour!). It’s a very touristy kind of place, but the place is real and the guides, although very funny, are telling real researched facts.
Arthur’s Seat is the main peak at Holyrood Park and it reaches up to around 800 ft, the views are worth the hike, but if you have a fear of heights like I do, I suggest you don’t go up; I was literally trembling with fear up there. You will also need to be in good condition to hike all the way up.
Edinburgh is closely connected to paranormal events and ghost stories, which is why many people take one of the ghost tours when visiting. I would say that the ghost tours are mostly full of inaccurate stories and fluff; the historical tours have more substance and are in the end more interesting. If you are really headstrong on going on a ghost tour, Mercat Tours is the best choice in my opinion.
Greyfriars Cemetery is definitely worth a visit, although the Covenanters Prison is closed. It’s basically a regular graveyard, but an old one with many stories attached to it.
One of my favourite places is also the ever so popular Rosslyn Chapel, it is of course famous because of the Da Vinci Code, but it’s still worth a visit even if the book didn’t get you interested in it. The atmosphere there is very spiritual and the architecture interesting, also the mysteries within Rosslyn would most likely interest many. You can also walk down to the castle ruins from there and see it.
The castle is something that almost every tourist goes to see and it is interesting, you can also get to Stirling castle easily from Edinburgh.
Dunbar’s Close is a sort of “hidden” garden which I like to visit, it’s always quiet there and it’s the perfect place to rest for a while. You will find it on the Royal Mile at Canongate, on the left hand side walking towards Holyrood, if I remember correctly.
There are many places to visit and see in Edinburgh, but please don’t go running from destination to destination, but rather take it slow and enjoy the city in general.
Always be prepared for almost any kind of weather, dress in layers and keep an umbrella with you. Take comfortable shoes with you because Edinburgh means walking, walking and more walking if you are seeing it as a tourist.
I would suggest visiting Edinburgh during autumn and spring, the festival in August for example is really hectic and nice in its own way with all the shows, but you will get more of a feel of the place during the low season.
The buses only accept exact amounts of money, which is 1,20 £ one way, they won’t give you change, so keep coins with you and when you step on the bus have the money ready.
Some places don’t accept credit cards - I really have no idea why - therefore keep some cash on you along with your cards when seeing Edinburgh and especially if you are going outside Edinburgh.
The buses are not as reliable as they are in Scandinavia for example, so when going to Stirling, or Rosslyn etc. be prepared that the buses might be (very) late.
People in Scotland tend to be friendly and they are indeed very proud of Scotland. The flags and thistles you start to see everywhere when going to Scotland act as a hint of how Scots feel about their country.
I have usually been staying at the Novotel hotel at Lauriston Place, I like the fact that it’s quiet, efficient and clean, also the coffee they serve at breakfast is beyond good. For a more personal touch when staying in Edinburgh, I would recommend a Bed and Breakfast of some kind.
Although traveling is nice, nothing beats coming back home, especially when the temperature is still near 30 + Celsius and you can go straight to the sea for a swim. I wish that this summer would not end.
Before closing this post I wanted to recommend a new blog I found on gluten-free health stuff, it is written by a doctor from New Zealand and the posts have already been interesting, the blog is called Gluten-Free Planet.
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