Edinburgh, Bonny Scotland’s capital for a family city-break.

Edinburgh, Bonny Scotland’s capital for a family city-break.

The ‘staycation’ is more popular than ever as a direct result of the outbreak of Covid 19 and for families considering a city-break, Edinburgh is the ideal destination. Recognised as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1995, Edinburgh’s medieval Old Town and Georgian New Town offer visitors an intriguing glimpse into a rich culture and a fascinating history.

I was most fortunate to visit the city prior to the restrictions on the hospitality sector and I checked into the Adagio Aparthotel, located on Cannongate, in Edinburgh’s Old Town on the Royal Mile. This modern property offers  first rate levels of comfort and service and features a private car park, a business hub, a fitness centre, and on-site self-service laundry facilities. The fully furnished and air-conditioned accommodations include contemporary double or twin bedded studios measuring 26 square metres and I secured a one bedroom apartment measuring 45 square metres with views across the city. The fully equipped kitchen features a microwave, hob, fridge- freezer, Nespresso coffee maker, kettle and toaster, and every gadget is provided to ensure that busy visitors are able to whip up a time-saving meal.

Alas, my culinary skills are sadly lacking and I headed, post-haste, for Makars Gourmet Mash Bar on Bank Street. This independent, family-owned restaurant is a regular winner of the annual Tripadvisor’s Traveller’s Choice Award and offers a relaxed dining experience, first class service and promotes local, independent, artisan producers. I ordered the beef haggis with heather honey and turnip purèe and accompanied by a glass of 2019 Aires Andinos Malbec, it was an outstanding dish, served with aplomb.

Back at the Adagio Aparthotel, and after taking advantage of the free unlimited Wifi, I slipped into a deep slumber, followed by a leisurely lie-in, cocooned in the soft duvet on my ultra comfortable bed. Full of beans, after my rejuvenating hot shower, I popped down to the hotel’s reception to collect the ‘Grab and go’ take-away breakfast, which was delivered in a flash. Back in the privacy of my apartment, perched on the plump sofa and catching up on the news, on the large television, I devoured the fresh pastries, yoghurt, cereal and fruit, and whilst sipping on my piping hot cappuccino I planned my itinerary for the day.

I decided to take the short stroll along to the magnificent Holyrood Palace, which is the official residence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and it’s crammed with striking works of art, glittering trinkets, elaborate tapestries and treasures galore. From 1561 to 1567 the palace was home to Mary, Queen of Scots, and the narrow, winding steps of the north-west tower, built almost 500 years ago, lead to Mary’s bedchamber.  I was surprised to find the doorway was rather low as although it is known that people were much smaller in the 1500s, Mary was six feet tall.  Mary’s tiny supper room is where she witnessed the murder of David Rizzio, her much admired private secretary. On 09 March 1566 Mary’s jealous and arrogant husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, accompanied by a group of Scottish lords, stabbed Rizzio 56 times.

Prince Charles Edward Stuart, known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, grandson of the deposed Catholic King James VII of Scotland and II of England, arrived at Holyrood in 1745. He set up court for six weeks during which time elaborate balls, lavish receptions, and extravagant dinners were held. Also known as ‘the Young Pretender’, and supported by his associates, he led a campaign, known as the Jacobite Risings, with the aim of overthrowing King George II and securing the British throne for the House of Stuart. In April 1746 he was defeated at the battle of Culloden by the Duke of Cumberland and the Red Coats and Bonnie Prince Charlie fled to the Outer Hebrides and then to Europe and a life in exile.

Highlights of the self-guided audio tour include the king’s bedchamber, the most lavish room in the palace. Designed for Charles II, it is dominated by the state bed, which has been at Holyrood since at least 1684 and was restored in 1976, swathed in rich scarlet damask to match the original fabric.

The gallery is the largest room in the palace and displays an extensive selection of portraits of Scottish monarchs commissioned by King Charles II. Painted by the Dutch artist, Jacob de Wet, the portraits were delivered between 1684 and 1686 and feature real and legendary kings of Scotland. Today, the gallery is used by Queen Elizabeth II for state banquets, receptions, and to confer investitures for Scottish recipients of orders.

Another royal residence, and another major attraction, is the Royal Yacht Britannia. Winner of the 2020 Which? Reader’s Award for the UK’s Best Attraction, Britannia is docked at the Ocean Terminal in Leith; only two miles from the centre of Edinburgh.  I hopped on a local bus and en route I spotted the delightful Mimi’s Bakehouse, which is located on Shore, within walking distance to the Ocean Terminal. I selected a cosy table by the window and whilst admiring the charming décor I ordered the delicious avocado toast with poached eggs and chilli flakes and whilst sipping on my lavender and lemon homemade soda, I browsed through some literature focused on Britannia.

Britannia was built by John Brown and Co and launched and named by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 16 April 1953 in Clydebank. The vessel remained in service for 44 years and sailed the equivalent of a voyage around the world for every year visiting more than 600 ports in 135 countries. Britannia was the ideal spot for a royal honeymoon and Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong-Jones, Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, Prince Andrew and Sarah, Duchess of York and Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips all took advantage of the privacy provided and the rare opportunity to sail into secluded destinations.  The Queen once stated; ‘Britannia is the one place I can truly relax.’ Alas, the vessel was de-commissioned in 1997 but it is now open to the public and I was immediately enthralled.

Entering the admiral’s quarters and wandering around the bridge and the top deck I was astonished by the lack of space and it must have been difficult for the crew and officers to go about their duties. I wandered onto the lower deck to view the royal accommodations, which are surprisingly sparse, yet functional and cosy without glitz and glamour and then I entered the state dining room, which is the largest and grandest room aboard. This is the spot where Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh entertained world leaders and powerful individuals including Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Sir Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela.

Whilst wandering around Britannia’s open decks admiring the views over the briny my appetite was awakened and I hailed a cab and headed for Dine, a chic, multi-award winning brasserie-style venue, located above the Traverse Theatre on Cambridge Street. I chose the succulent loin of Perthshire venison with potato fondant, wild mushrooms, quince jelly and celeriac purèe, which was served with savoir faire. And accompanied by the deep and intense flavours of the 2016 Alpha Zeta a Amarone it was an unforgettable dining experience.

Up with the larks the following morning I made my way to Edinburgh’s New Town, which has retained much of the neo-classical and elegant Georgian period architecture, dating between 1767 and 1850. Prince’s Street is the main thoroughfare and I explored the streets behind it, which present grandiose properties with towering Grecian pillars and large windows. The original character of the New Town, which includes cobble-stone roads, sandstone block facades and leafy communal gardens, is very well preserved.

Wandering along Hanover Street I fancied a ‘wee dram’ and popped into Milne’s Bar, which dates back to 1910 and the spot where Scottish literary figures, including Hugh MacDiarmid would gather to discuss politics and the arts in the 20th century. I selected an outside table and ordered a shot of malt whisky to warm my cockles. The enticing aroma of fish n’ chips wafted under my nostrils and I succumbed to the Belhaven beer-battered Atlantic haddock with triple-cooked chips and it was absolutely bursting with flavour.

Keen to indulge in some retail therapy I spent some hours exploring the quirky shops and charming boutiques on Rose Street and the upmarket shops on Multrees Walk. I was easily persuaded to blow my budget when I came upon the most wonderful displays of cashmere jumpers and cardigans, tweeds and tartans galore, the finest kilts and sporrans, and colourful tins of oak cakes and shortbread.

As I strolled along George Street, weighed down with shopping bags, I was delighted to spot the Hard Rock Café. Swiftly escorted to my table, I ordered the deliciously spicy baby back ribs, glazed with barbecue sauce, and I sipped on a rather potent hurricane cocktail, which includes Bacardi superior rum blended with orange, mango, pineapple juice and grenadine, and finished with a float of Captain Morgan dark rum and Amaretto. Exploring the café’s mesmerising collection of memorabilia, I was delighted to see a non-refundable JFK to London air ticket to the value of $750, which was issued to Jimi Hendrix on 20 February 1970, a sombrero, worn by Elvis in the 1963 movie Fun in Acapulco, Mick Jagger’s jacket, worn in 1976, during a performance in Buffalo, and an original poster promoting the 1969 Woodstock concert, which was once displayed on the back of a NY city bus.

Feeling slightly tipsy I headed back to my hotel and I regretted that my time in Edinburgh had come to an end. As I passed by Waverly railway station I spotted a lone piper, splendidly attired in his kilt and sporran, and I instantly recognised the wonderful song in remembrance of Bonnie Prince Charlie…..

‘Speed Bonnie Boat, like a bird on the wing, onward, the sailors cry,

carry the lad that’s born to be king, over the sea to Skye’

‘Top tip’ Accommodation

For more information on the featured property and other sites around the world visit adagio-city.com 

‘Top tip’ – Airport transfers – City Cabs Edinburgh

Avoid the queues and choose a reliable, punctual and well established company with more than 90 years experience. Download the app and track your driver using GPS, confirm, cancel and edit bookings, pay in cash or with a debit/credit card, select vehicle type and set up call backs. For more information visit www.citycabs.co.uk

‘Top tip’ Getting around Edinburgh with ease.

With the Lothian Buses Ridacard, the more you travel, the more you save. Take advantage of unlimited travel 24/7 across Edinburgh, Queensferry and in and out of the airport. For more information visit lothianbuses.com/ridacard

‘Top tip’ Attractions

For more information on the featured attractions visit royalyachtbritannia.co.uk and rct.uk

For a fun day out for all the family visit Edinburgh Castle. For information visit edinburghcastle.scot And visit Edinburgh Zoo, one of Europe’s leading centres for animal conservation and home to more than 1,000 rare and endangered animals including koala and giant pandas. Visit edinburghzoo.org.

by Rebecca Underwood BA Hons

Image Credits: main image, Edinburgh Castle, Royal Circle and Holyrood Palace courtesy Visit Scotland-photographer Kenny Lam, The Royal Yacht Britannia and the State Dining Room © Marc Millar and Britannia’s bell © Helen Pugh.