ISAE 2016 recommends: Places to visit, eat and drink in Edinburgh and beyond
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National museum of Scotland – newly revised collection housed in a gorgeous Victorian building on Chambers Street. Lots of animal-related things to keep kids happy plus good exhibitions of Scottish history. Plus you can see the world’s most famous sheep, Dolly, slowly revolving in her glass case! Special exhibition on the Celts will be on during the Congress
Royal Zoological Society of Scotland – visit Edinburgh’s zoo to see penguins, pandas and parrots (and many other animals that do not begin with P: the meerkats and koalas are favourites). Edinburgh is the only zoo in the UK with pandas – every year there is an anxious wait to see if there will be cubs or not (so far not). The outside of the zoo also featured in our welcome video!
Deep Sea World – what lies beneath the waters of the Firth of Forth. Lots of sharks to keep little kids happy, plenty of fish and a nice view of the 3 bridges over the Forth. This location also featured in our welcome video.
Firth of Forth boat trips – if you can’t get to our seabirds excursion, or you can’t choose between this and others, then there is a DIY option from south Queensferry to get out onto the water and see some marine wildlife. And visit the Abbey at Inchcolm as well if you chose that tour.
Edinburgh Castle – who doesn’t love a castle? The Scottish Crown Jewels, the Stone of Destiny, Mons Meg and the 1 o’clock gun.
Whisky Experience – tours (travelling in a whisky barrel – what’s not to love?) and tastings of some of Scotland’s finest. Become an expert in Scotch or just taste a few drams.
Underground Edinburgh – beneath the streets of Edinburgh’s old town lies… a whole other city from the 17th Century! Tours will take you down into the old town to see how life used to be lived in ‘Auld Reekie’.
Ghost Tours – discover some of the stories of Edinburgh’s murky past – history, body snatchers, ghosts, from great local story-tellers (some tours employ ‘jumper-ooters’, you have been warned).
Literary Pub Tour – highly recommended this one for the stories, literature and the pubs!
Harry Potter – okay, so we can’t avoid this one, if you are a Hogwarts fanatic, a puzzled Muggle or just want a different tour of Edinburgh then this is an alternative tour around Edinburgh’s old town, and see some of the places that just might have inspired J.K Rowling (an Edinburgh resident).
Commie pool – as it is known to the locals (or more formally Royal Commonwealth Pool), right by the Conference venue, Olympic-sized swimming pool, cafe and gym. Also run a good kids club in the summer for those looking for childcare options whilst at the Congress.
Trekking on Exmoor ponies – the University of Edinburgh students run their own pony trekking herd of native breed ponies (Exmoors). Trekking is available for all standards and abilities from a leading rein pootle to a full day trek through the Ochil hills. These ponies are very hardy but they are quite small so this is restricted to those under 79kg in weight.
£££: Nice places (but expensive) serving the best of Scottish dining
The Witchery by the Castle – over the top gothic glamour, but very atmospheric and an Edinburgh institution for very good Scottish cuisine (of the game and seafood variety, not deep-fried Mars bars).
Tom Kitchin – Michelin starred and multi-award winning restaurant (so it’s not cheap) but the food is excellent and showcases the best in seasonal Scottish produce.
Ondine – seafood heaven.
The Tower – for views with your food – this restaurant is at the top of the Museum of Scotland with stunning views of the Edinburgh skyline.
££: Mid-range places
Angels with Bagpipes – lovely little restaurant on the Royal Mile just opposite St Giles Cathedral (where the eponymous angel with her bagpipes can be found if you want to hunt her out).
David Banns – modern vegetarian food, very nice restaurant which just happens not to serve meat!
The Grain Store – cosy, atmospheric little restaurant serving lovely Scottish food.
Fishers restaurant group – a couple of locations around the city, mostly seafood
Loch Fyne – if you don’t have time to go to the Oyster bar on the shores of Loch Fyne then this might do instead, more seafood
North Bridge Brasserie – occupying what was once the home of the Scotsman newspaper. Good Scottish food, in a great location.
Whiski Rooms – apparently people travel a long way for the haggis spring rolls! Also serves Cullen skink, cranachan and haggis in other forms (including veggie haggis). And whisky.
Jamie’s Italian – One of Jamie Oliver’s expanding group of restaurants, downstairs at the venue for the Welcome Reception.
£: More relaxed (aka cheaper) eating places
Spoon – an ISAE2016 LOC favourite – lovely bistro serving unfussy but very good food with lots of veggie options.
The Outsider – popular, busy, big portions!
Howies – The two restaurants in Edinburgh are long standing local favourites serving good Scottish food. Set menus are good value.
Hellers Kitchen: another popular one with the ISAE2016 LOC.
Celadon: delicious Thai food, banquets are good value.
Vittoria’s – very friendly, unfussy Italian food. Also serve gluten free pasta. Good for big parties (lots of space downstairs) and great with kids.
Hanedan – friendly, little restaurant serving great Turkish food
La Favorita – great pizza from an off shoot of Vittoria’s
Hendersons – vegetarian restaurant, bistro, deli and bakery.
Earthy – shop, café and restaurant for the best in locally sourced produce
The Mosque Kitchen – good, cheap curry!
Artisan Roast – this one is mostly about the coffee, but the cakes are good too.
Last Drop, Grassmarket – rather macabre reference to the last hanging in the Grassmarket and with it’s own resident ghost.
Blind Poet, West Nicholson Street – 18th Century building that was once the home of Thomas Blacklock (the Blind Poet), often has live music.
Sandy Bells, Forrest Road – world renowned folk music bar
Greyfriars Bobby, Candlemakers Row – named for the Skye terrier who watched over his master’s grave in the churchyard at Greyfriars Kirk next door. Bobby is also commemorated in a statue outside.
The Peartree, West Nicholson Street – with one of the few pub gardens in Edinburgh
Bannermans, Cowgate – more live music
The Dome, George Street – housed in an old bank: bar, restaurant and afternoon tea http://www.thedomeedinburgh.com/
The Devil’s Advocate, Advocates Close, http://devilsadvocateedinburgh.co.uk/
Jolly Botanist, Morrisons Street: one of Edinburgh’s gin bar, try a few of the artisan gins distilled in and around Edinburgh,http://thejollybotanist.co.uk/
Mothers gin bar, Howe Street http://www.mothersedinburgh.co.uk/
56th North West Crosscauseway http://www.fiftysixnorth.co.uk/
Heads and Tales Bar, Rutland Place http://www.headsandtalesbar.com/
Ghillie Dhu, Rutland Place http://www.ghillie-dhu.co.uk/
Panda and Sons, Queen Street, quirky, tucked away speakeasy – your first job is to figure out how to get in! http://pandaandsons.com/
Under The Stairs, Merchant Street http://www.underthestairs.org/
For those wanting to get out and about with your walking boots/running shoes on here are some nice local walks, quite a lot are uphill but the views are worth it!
Arthurs Seat (out the back of the Congress venue), an extinct volcano in the city, and Holyrood park. Short but hard if you go straight up, but there are more winding paths if you want to take your time.
The Hermitage of Braid: one without the views or the climb but nice walk along the banks of the Braid burn. New café at the start of the walk so you can get a coffee there too.
The Observatory/Blackford Hill: can combine this with the Hermitage, or on its own. Short walk to a fabulous view of Edinburgh, the firth of Forth and over to Fife.
Other local walks (and these) are listed here:
Roslin Glen: Malcolm says he saw an otter here! The rest of us haven’t but you never know: you might be lucky but otherwise there are lots of birds to spot.
Pentland Hills: nice walks, more hills
Yellow Craigs/John Muirs Country Park/Aberlady: Beach and dune walks, plenty of seabirds at Aberlady
Want more choices? Try here:
Scotland is full of beautiful places to see, wildlife to spot and things to do. This website is a great resource to get you started:
Where to go:
Aviemore – centre for outdoor activities in the Cairngorms
Highland Wildlife Park – RZSS northern outpost – drive through wildlife park in the Cairngorms.
Glen Coe – deservingly Scotland’s most famous glen - it’s beautiful
‘Bag’ a Munro or two
If you have the time then travelling to one of the Scottish islands on the west coast is a great thing to do. The islands have a different feel to the mainland, and each island has a slightly different feel too. Everybody has their own favourites but here is a little bit about some of the closer to ones (so easier to get to):
Arran – the closest island and the easiest to reach (less than an hour on the ferry from Ardrossan). Called Scotland in miniature since it is wild and mountainous at the north end but rolling farm land at the south. Red deer, red squirrels and golden eagles are all regularly seen on Arran (deer and eagles at Lochranza in the North; squirrels at Brodick Castle). There’s a couple of castles (one a ruin), a brewery, a distillery, loads of craft shops and galleries and lots of good walking.
Islay – famous for it’s whisky (nine distilleries making peaty but distinctly different malts) and music. Beautiful beaches, and home of the Lord of the Isles.
Mull – iconic Tobermory with its multi-coloured houses, catch and release aquarium and the amazing Fish Café (some of the best seafood in Scotland caught that day from their own fishing boat). Boat trips to Staffa (where you can get up close and personal with puffins), Fingals Cave and other islands. Great walking and a route across to:
Iona – short ferry trip from Mull to the tiny island of Iona with it’s long history as the cradle of Christianity in Scotland.
Skye – best known of the islands and one of the most accessible, by the bridge, which also makes it one of the busier islands (but we’re not talking traffic jams or anything, this is island busy). Wild and beautiful with abundant wildlife (otters, harbour porpoise, harbour seals).
Getting to the Islands? That’s part of the fun: ferry info can be found here: