Edinburgh is perhaps the most handsome city in the United Kingdom, argues Cool Places, and the perfect place for a short break
Gathered around its craggy central castle, the medieval core is a warren of cobbled streets, towering spires and turbulent history; there are museums and galleries of international importance, wild grassy moorland, dramatic viewpoints, huge Grecian edifices and effortlessly elegant Georgian streets. It’s a handsome, memorable city, and, despite being home to less than half-a-million people, has a cultured, contemporary vibe that is unique in the UK.
Below we highlight the very best places for a great weekend with a little help from Cool Places; read more at www.coolplaces.co.uk.
Set across the leafy Meadows park from Edinburgh's Old Town, the small Argyle Backpackers has a relaxed, mature vibe that's not often seen in the large, corporate-feeling hostels up in town. A practical range of services and facilities such as free wi-fi is supplemented by homely features like a real fire in the living room and a conservatory beside the private garden at the back. Plus you're only a ten-minute walk from the university and city centre. Perfect.
A slice of high-end, international glamour from the famous Italian fashion house’s first hotel anywhere in the world. The distinctive, multicoloured ziggety-zaggety patterns and quality fabrics come at you from every angle, and there's a high commitment to making a few nights here fun, memorable and distinctive. Fall out the door and you're on the Royal Mile, too.
It feels like rock-star territory, and given Edinburgh's prominence on the cultural scene, plus the fact that the massive Playhouse Theatre, a popular venue for touring bands, is right next door, it often is. Behind the well-preserved, if slightly out-of-place 150-year-old facade of Lady Glenorchy church is a glittering five-star boutique hotel featuring a startling football-pitch-sized roof garden, onto which many of the rooms lead directly through patio doors.
Inspired by a Swedish bakery, Peter's Yard brings a bit of Scandinavian chic and some seriously good baking to the southern fringe of the Old Town. Its location by the side of a broad footpath/cycleway leading to the Meadows and the University makes it a chilled-out spot for better-heeled students and the trendier local professionals. Stop in for a cinnamon bun and coffee, healthy soup or a sourdough sandwich and enjoy the conviviality of the long table or the people-watching opportunities from the window stools or outside tables.
Sleek, contemporary and very popular, David Bann's vegetarian restaurant has well and truly buried the open-toed sandal image of meat-free eating. Dishes such as smoked mushroom and basil tortellini with watercress soup, or a soufflé of blue cheese, beetroot and apple, are sophisticated, well-presented and full of taste – and there’s not a lentil in sight.
In his late 20s Tom Kitchin stormed the Scottish culinary scene by picking up a Michelin star eight months after opening his eponymous restaurant. Committed to a seasonal approach, Kitchin binds himself closely to numerous local producers and suppliers, bringing a highly trained French classicism to his cooking, while keeping his dishes distinctive, imaginative and unpretentious. With undressed tables, young staff and a window into the kitchen, there's a lack of stuffiness about the place, despite its price tag and well-deserved prestige.
The 30 hectares of landscaped garden, mature trees and exotic vegetation that makes up Edinburgh's botanic garden is an obvious escape from the bustle of the city. Located between the New Town and the Forth shore, you can come here to discover landscape art, great views of the Old Town skyline and themed mini-gardens, while there's plenty to learn about plants and botany in the eco-designed Gateway Centre and interlocked glasshouses.
Winding its way through west and then north Edinburgh, the Water of Leith is the only river of any size in the urban area, but unlike the Clyde in Glasgow or Thames in London, it doesn't define the city. Pleasantly verdant, if occasionally a little scruffy, there’s a walkway that sticks to the riverbank along most of its length: the most interesting section for visitors is between the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, through the former mills and mill workers houses at Dean Village, to Stockbridge. It eventually leads to the sea at Leith, and along the way you can now see various statues by Anthony Gormley of a man standing in the river.
One of the UK's great Italian delis, with a fascinating history to go with its place among the established highlights of Edinburgh. Towering shelves and gleaming glass displays dominate the narrow shop, with fantastic Italian delicacies at every turn, alongside an excellent selection of Scottish cheeses, whisky and fresh bread from the in-house bakery. The wine selection is a regular award winner, and there are regularly queues to get a seat at the cafe-bar in the rear of the shop.
Cool Places is a new website devoted to selecting and celebrating the best of UK travel, whether you’re booking a last-minute weekend away or looking for ideas for next year’s holiday. They cover the UK’s best places to stay, from stunningly located campsites to cosy boutique hotels, great gastropubs and restaurants to beachside cafés, and the country’s quirkiest independent shops and markets. Check it out, and add your own local favourites.