Edinburgh is one of my favorite cities I’ve ever traveled to. Just walking around, you can feel the history all around you. There’s just something about sitting in a pub that’s older than the United States by almost 200 years. When my friend David told me he would be speaking at a design conference there this summer, I decided to write a small guide.
Most of my blog posts have just been overall recaps of my visits to Edinburgh. In this post I’ll dive into 5 of my favorite spots in Old Town Edinburgh, where I spent most of my time, to grab a drink and some delicious food.
The White Hart Inn
Nestled in along Grassmarket Square, The White Hart Inn is small but full of character and history. It’s (probably) Edinburgh’s oldest pub, dating back to 1516 and it’s also said to be Edinburgh’s most haunted pub.
Notorious serial killers William Burke and William Hare reportedly used the pub as a place to find their victims. After killing them, they’d sell the bodies to Doctor Robert Knox. Bodies for dissection in the 1800s were in low supply and with the University of Edinburgh nearby, one could make a fortune if you had bodies to sell. More on the murders here.
But beyond the history, there’s a reason why I love the The White Hart Inn so much: their mac and cheese. Made with Orkney cheddar, it’s creamy while not being too rich and beyond that, it’s just a simple dish but it’s my favorite and must have every time I visit Edinburgh.
There’s also a wide selection of spirits, and a number of scotch whisky flights to choose from. I may have tricked my mom into trying some Islay whisky, after she’d been sipping on whisky from Jura, which is somewhat sweet and not very harsh. Islay is notorious for it’s smoky, peaty whisky (which honestly makes me choke and breathe fire. It’s not my favorite.) My mother was not pleased when she took that sip.
All of the dishes I’ve had at the White Hart Inn have been good. There was even a weekend breakfast when I was there in 2015 but I’m not sure if that was due to the Rugby World Cup that was on at the time. It continues to be my favorite stop for some whisky and a bite to eat in Edinburgh.
Arcade Bar, Haggis & Whisky House
My brother, who lived in Edinburgh for a year, recommended we check out this Whisky & Haggis House for dinner one evening. It has a more upscale and new feeling, but old collides with the new as the old brick walls add to ambiance of the interior.
They have over a 100 whiskies available but if you’re feeling too overwhelmed to possibly choose something from that list, they have a whisky of the month that you can order.
Being in Scotland, and having tried haggis before, my brother and I both ordered a haggis dish. I ordered Robert Burn’s Famous Haggis with mashed turnip, potatoes and haggis, which came out beautifully presented on the plate in 3 precise layers. I also added whisky sauce to mine (and you can even add bacon.) It was honestly just a bit too much food for me but it was delicious & the best haggis I’ve tried in Scotland.
According to their website, they also serve breakfast which I’m very disappointed I didn’t know. I would have definitely gone back for that.
Deacon’s House Cafe
Nestled back in Brodie’s Close is the Deacon’s House Cafe. The ground floor of the cafe was originally Deacon (William) Brodie’s workshop. William Brodie was a tradesman who made cabinets and installed and repaired locks. He used his job to scope out security and habits of his clients. He would then make copies of keys using wax impressions and “break” into the homes to steal money. Deacon Brodie’s double life actually inspired the story by Robert Louis Stevenson, the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
The ceiling in the kitchen dates back to 1420, and that part of the building was a brewhouse for an abbey which once occupied the site.
The Cafe is extremely cozy and has a very warm vibe. The staff was very nice. You order up at the register and they bring you your food. They had an assortment of items you’d find in a normal cafe like bagels and muffins, but also full breakfast.
I kind of have a thing for a full Scottish breakfast and the closest item on the menu is called the Full Deacon: haggis-pork sausage, bacon (but not like what the USA has, even better), eggs and baked beans. Baked beans with breakfast: ah-mazing.
If you’re looking for a quick bite to eat while in Edinburgh, the Piemaker is the perfect spot. Located on Southbridge, near Cow gate bridge, it’s a small shop, but it’s full of delicious savoury pies. The Steak & Ale pub special was my & Ryan’s favorite. Served up hot, it’s the perfect snack to warm you right up on a gloomy day…or anytime really. Ryan and I returned to this spot a few times on our trip.
It’s also cheap in addition to quick, everything on the menu is under £3. If you’re not a meat-eater, fear not, they also have vegan and vegetarian items on the menu.
The Tolbooth Tavern is at the far end of the Royal Mile, away from the Castle and near Holyrood House. The building was constructed in 1591 and was the courthouse, jail and meeting place of the town council.
While we only popped in for drinks, reviews online are favorable for the food. We stopped in after walking around the Royal Mile, in and out of the different closes, and were cold as it had just started to drizzle. The pub has a great ambiance, like the White Hart Inn, it feels old and has retained it’s character. We warmed right up with our drinks. It’s also another reportedly haunted pub. According to their website, a suspected warlock was exercised in the building and was so terrorized by the experience that he died of fright.
While researching the histories of these places and looking at a map of Edinburgh, I’ve marked many more spots I missed when I was there. There is so much to discover, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of the city. There are still so many spots in New Town and the West End that I haven’t been to that are on my list.
Stay tuned for my next guide, attractions & spots to visit in Edinburgh the first time around.