I arrived by Virgin Trains first class from London to the bustling train station in Edinburgh, Scotland, after attending a conference to meet Richard Branson. Historic architecture meshed with modern lines and kilted locals cast a spell over me before my driver delivered us to boutique hotel, Nira Caledonia.
From arrival, the service was impeccable. Boyish grins and encapsulating Scottish accents greeted us as we stood in amazement at the stone building accented with flowering hanging baskets. Europe is known for small hotel rooms, and I was amazed how expansive our suite was with an oversized jetted tub large enough for two. Fresh flowers upon arrival, a sitting room overlooking fresh gardens, and a wool couch which exuded coziness.
Famished from travel, we stepped into the restaurant where whisky infused orange marmalade danced on our taste buds. A wing-backed throne style chair graced our view in the warming dining room that sparked our imagination as what life may be like as Scottish Royalty.
Edinburgh defines preserved heritage and architecture that has moved forward with time creating its modern day charm. Edinburgh Castle delights with its bountiful stone walls and historic roots standing at the end of the Royal Mile. Moving and heartwarming, a Scottish Gentlemen in full kilt attire played ‘Amazing Grace’ atop the cobblestone entrance. Storefronts along the Royal Mile are filled with local wool goods, scotch, and plaid designs you want to take home.
Enjoy local Haddock served in the fish and chips entrees, and I recommend tasting flights of whisky if not for anything but the memories. You may find yourself intrigued by taking a look at the underground of Scotland, discovering a past world of bubonic plague and interesting characters in Mary King’s Close. It is the former city under the new city. It is slightly dusty and chilling, however a sight worth seeing if you are into history.
My favorite dining experience in Edinburgh was Scram and Scally. Fresh caught fish from the local sea, I dined on Hake fish (a member of the cod family) and bone marrow, paired with flavorful curry cauliflower, spinach, and a hint of corn, easily earning a top ten spot in fish dishes in the world. The Stockbridge area restaurant hints at sophistication with its low lighting and separate bar area, where it is easy to strike up a conversation with a local.
One of my favorite things about Scotland, are the people. Stimulating dialogue and enchanting encounters with with locals willing to point you in the right direction, discuss their heritage, or welcome you with a smile.
If you enjoy Italian cuisine, a visit to Amarone is in order with a variety of true Italian tastes to satisfy any palate, as well as an extensive wine list. It is more abundant in boisterous personality allowing you to experience Scottish nightlife firsthand.
Sadly leaving the charm of Edinburgh to see Scotland in a different light, I found myself in the West End of the industrial city of Glasgow. Mesmerized by a picture perfect architectural structure appearing as Hogwarts from Harry Potter, was the University of Glasgow.
Ranked in my top three Scottish eateries is Montgomery’s. With my all time favorite Eggs Benedict, delightful pastries, incredible coffee, and lovely atmosphere, it is a must visit on the way to Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum. All the museums in Glasgow are open to the public, complimentary admission. Plan at least an afternoon to view the history and art of Scotland.
Although Edinburgh appeared to have more stone walls and architecture, Glasgow did not disappoint with its historical cemetery, Necropolis. The views, the walk, and the monuments are postcard perfect and something interesting to take in, if you enjoy these types of things.
Parched, we hit up a local brewery, DryGate, which I quite enjoyed. It reminded me of an up and coming craft brewery that was making a statement as a world class “local” competitor, such as so many in Western North Carolina, only this one was larger than Highland Brewing.
Now, I know I said you must try the whisky. And you must. You will find one you like, as everyone will discover a slightly different flavor that suits them the most. However, if I could make a further suggestion, you should also try Isle of Harris Gin. (This is coming from a woman who does not love gin.) Visit Brel Bar located on a cobblestone street that is home to many quaint spots that look inviting. Pair the Harris Gin with London’s Fever Tree Tonic Water and grapefruit (not lime!), and it might just become your go to drink for a while.
I’ve kept you off the beaten path in Glasgow, however most tourists stay downtown around the main train terminal where everything happens. With multiple shops for daytime pleasure, it also turns into the place to be for nightlife.
The Pot Still is the recommend traditional Scottish pub. The locals pride themselves on their Scotch, and frankly they should. At heart, it is no secret that I am a champagne girl, so when I found the Champagne Bar (located in the Grand Central Hotel), I had to go. It was elegant and classy with several variations of champagnes for order.
If I could recommend one more stop in Glasgow, it would be The Hidden Lane Tea Room. It was the most darling place I think I have ever seen, and completely off the tourist path with places for sipping tea, as well as beautiful antiques for purchase.
Glasgow is the one place in Scotland that felt different than the rest of the country. It was more fast paced, perhaps more daring to take risk, which made it feel as a hybrid of Brooklyn, New York, Portland, and Asheville. You need to look beyond the tracks and industrial buildings to discover the gems, but when you do, you will be glad you said yes to adventure in Glasgow and the traditions in Edinburgh.