Journal: 14 February 2018
Edinburgh is very special to me. I vividly remember my first arrival into Edinburgh Waverley station (by train). I'd always felt a strong sense of emotion seeing the imposing castle. My dad’s family are Scottish and I made the trip regularly to see my family and play for the Scottish netball team.
I’ve only just been able to articulate why I find this city so special.
For me, it’s the combination of a busy-vibrant city with beautiful architecture, offset against a vista of mountains (providing a connection with nature).
Edinburgh has a real Scandinavian quality. The combination of city and scenery is incredibly powerful.
I know the city reasonably well but I’d not explored it as a family and with a young child. I soon discovered there was more to do, lots more than we could possibly fit in to our three days.
Here are our highlights and recommendations for museums & galleries, things to see and eateries.
National Museum of Scotland
The museum came highly recommended through Instagram so this was our first stop. From the street entrance you arrive into the vaults and what lies beyond is deceptive because, wow, it is vast. The building is a combination of old (completed in 1888) and new buildings (completed in 1998) and is Scotland’s most popular visitor attraction.
Today, the extensive collections span; ‘Art, Design and Fashion,’ ‘Natural World,’ ‘Scottish History and Archaeology,’ ‘Science and Technology’ and ‘World Culture.’
You could quite easily spend all day exploring.
We climbed to the very top of the building, to the gallery, which provided a panoramic view of the city which was incredible.
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
On our ‘8 cities’ tour, we’ve been exposing Stanley to various forms of art so it’s something he finds accessible from an early age. The gallery is housed in two buildings, separated by a road, with a cheeky Antony Gormley between the two.
Stanley is four and a busy and curious boy, so I won’t claim that he’s really able to understand modern art yet, but we do like to talk about what we’re seeing and what the artist is trying to communicate. The fold out guide for families was brilliant, we followed this to the letter and it gave Stanley something to focus on in each room. He called the guide his map. The gallery staff were friendly and I loved the break out area for children to draw and read in.
We had brunch in the cafe at ‘Modern Two’ beneath the mirror sculpture, which Stanley described as a ‘mummy lion robot’.
We also saw Barabara Hepworth’s sculpture in the grounds. We opted for a taxi to the gallery but there’s also a bus that links between the galleries, which would have been perfect, had we had more time on this trip.
Royal Botanic Garden
Stanley’s really interested in dinosaurs (and the landscape they inhabited), so we thought we’d take him to the Royal Botanic Garden. We headed for the glasshouses as understandably the grounds were a bit sparse being out of season. That said, we did see several squirrels much to Stanley’s delight. The glasshouses were lush and verdant and contained an extensive collection of tropical plants.
Sadly, we didn’t make it in time to go inside the castle on this trip, but we did go as far as the entrance and look over the sides at the city down below. Honestly, the views in February were truly spectacular.
I’ll cherish the view of the snow capped mountains.
Chapel of St Albert
From an architectural perspective, I wanted to take a look at the chapel. We arrived just as the sun was setting. There were a few worshippers inside and some scaffolding up on a neighbouring property but it was still worth the walk. The building has a majestic sense of calm.
The largest monument to a writer and it stands on Princes Street, above Princes Gardens.
A beautiful part of Edinburgh to walk and admire the buildings and shop in the independent stores.
Alas, our city breaks don’t really feature shopping as such (with Stanley in tow), but we did make time to nip into–
Bon Tot, to see our friends and former stockist based in Stockbridge. They sell a beautiful curation of clothes and toys and have designed a child-centred store.
I’m very interested by the Aesop brand and, where possible, like to see how the individual stores are designed. The autumnal hues are inspiration I’m drawing on for a current project.
I didn’t get to Life Story simply due to a lack of time but it looks beautiful and, on our next trip, we will visit.
Located near where we were staying on Princes Street, it’s nestled below street level. The cool minimailst aesthetic was a familiar and calming sight. We enjoyed pastries and coffee.
Mary’s Milk Bar
Stanley loves ice-cream so we popped in after lunch and had a tub of ‘dark chocolate’. I had a taste and can confirm it’s velvety creamy. Stanley’s highlight was the ice-cream lights, whilst I admired the stool top and bar which were made from recycled milk bottles.
Unintentionally, we enjoyed our first and last coffee in Edinburgh from the two Lovecrumbs coffee shops located in Grassmarket and Stockbridge. Great coffee and very friendly service.
Pizza is Stanley’s current favourite. The food, laid back vibes and carafes of prosecco were enough for us to go back for a second visit! Civerinos are located just off the royal mile and if there is a queue, it’s worth the wait.
We flew from Norwich to Edinburgh with Logan Airways (on a prop plan – which was entertaining!).
From the airport, we took the tram which gave us a great introduction into the city. It was a must for Stanley, after witnessing how much he loved the trams in Lisbon last year.
No trip to Edinburgh would be complete without a trip to Edinburgh Waverley for our our train enthusiast son. So we took a ride from Edinburgh across the Forth Bridge, to North Queensferry. Despite the chilling winds, we walked down to the beach and Stanley enjoyed a beach comb before our return journey back across the bridge.
We succumbed to a couple of taxis, as we just couldn’t have fitted in all that we did otherwise. Even the Hackney cabs were reasonable but I do understand there’s some great bus services.
We stayed at Mercure Edinburgh City Princes Street. I’ve never stayed so central and we felt like we were really in the thick of it. To the left of our building was Jenners, the oldest independent department store in Edinburgh.
The views from the balcony were epic and the staff were particularly helpful.
On our final day we were graced with a dusting of snow – it really was the icing on the cake.
As usual, we over-estimated what was possible with a small child so here are few things we’ll do/see next time.
– Walk the Scotsman Steps.
– Enjoy the views from Arthurs Seat.
– Tour of Scottish Houses of Parliament.
– Wander around Holyrood Palace.
We have made memories in Edinburgh that will last a life time.
Next on our 8 cities in 8 months tour is Sheffield in March.
Words and photography by Fiona Burrage.