Edinburgh’s Hidden Gems
Hey readers. This is the story of two separate trips to Edinburgh where I did lots of exploring and road testing, finding some brilliant wee places. The first trip was in August during the festivals when I had a birthday party and stayed in The Art House. The second was in September - an impromptu trip to The Ivy when I stayed in the glorious House of the Gods.
This trip was kinda gorgeous – I’m a Mum of two young children, but on this occasion I was without kids or husband. It was just me, in a huge glamorous apartment all to myself. And time, sweet time to saunter around Edinburgh doing exactly as I pleased for a whole weekend. Bliss.
Arriving in Edinburgh in August is kinda exciting, it’s buzzing with the arts festivals in full swing. There’s nowhere in the world where a whole beautiful city takes on a carnival atmosphere celebrating the best of the arts in all its forms for a whole month. It’s something very, very special. It oozes fun and theatre, absurdity and silliness - but it’s an intelligent festival too - full of new ideas, thoughts and concepts. You can sway about in the throng of people from venue to venue, meanwhile gazing up at the beautiful buildings all around you. There’s plenty to entertain, and so many fabulous food and drinks options too.
It’s actually lots of different festivals combined, there’s the Edinburgh International Festival, The Fringe, the Edinburgh Book Festival, The Free Festival and there are several other things happening. Sounds like chaos but it all seems to work very well.
I stayed at The Art House apartment. It’s managed by a fantastic company called The Edinburgh Address who have a lot of high quality properties on their books, and I’ve had a genuinely great experience dealing with them so far. The lovely Operations Manager Karen was there to greet me at the door of the property and dealt with anything I needed promptly by WhatsApp.
Honestly, this apartment took my breath away. It’s not the art on the walls that make it The Art House; it’s that the whole residence is a work of art. The placement of different objects, soft furnishings and lighting pulled together to create this impactful, decadent synthesis that is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s classic Georgian yes, but there are contemporary geometric bedspreads and artwork providing that beautiful balancing act.
Many short-term rental properties in Edinburgh are money makers for wealthy outsiders. They Air BnB them to get the highest return on their investment. Doing it up the throw in a couple of DFS sofas and some ikea drawers if you’re lucky. This is really not the case here, in fact it’s the complete opposite. The curation of this beautiful apartment looks like a life’s work. The interiors are so superbly carefully crafted that you will spend at least an hour on arrival walking around gazing in wonder at it all.
The owners care so much about their guests that they trust them with the antique furniture, velvet sofas and the very very amazing artwork which looks like it’s been gathered lovingly over time from distinguished galleries. I was absolutely dumbfounded to find an art piece my brother Paul Barnes who exhibits at a renowned local gallery called The Open Eye. Turns out it was a piece bought by the owners about 25 years ago. It was a lovely bit of serendipity and told me everything I needed to know – The Art House was certainly a deserving name for this place without doubt.
Honestly I did not want to leave the apartment but the warm summer city air was calling and I had a surprise Birthday party to get to.
It was my friend Rachel’s surprise 40th Birthday – her Edinburgh friends had hired the mezzanine of Le De Vin which is a lovely wine bar in Randolph Square. After some serious hustling to get a cab (crazy people pushed in front of me in the taxi queue? Sorry but in the UK we don’t jump queues, it’s our thing. If left alone too long, a Brit will form an orderly queue of 1.) I managed to get there just in the nick of time to pop up from behind a sofa and shout ‘surprise’. A very fun evening was had by all.
The next day after lounging about in the apartment and capturing some pics I headed out. First stop, caffeine. I wandered around the Broughton Street area of Edinburgh and I was reminded of all the places Rachel raves about – Pickles, The Educated Flea. If you’re on this street, also take a look at Narcissus Flower Shop, they always have a gorgeous seasonal display.
To be honest, I don’t think you could go much wrong having a meal at any one of the restaurants on this street, but I was after coffee so I popped into Artisan Roast. A slightly grungy atmospheric wee place, nice coffee, good service. The cakes looked super good. I was amused by the plaque about JK Rowling. JK Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter book in a coffee shop in Edinburgh – many coffee shops claim to have had this honour, not this one it seems.
I wandered around, and was beckoned into a free Fringe show. I actually hadn’t booked anything for the weekend because I was down for the Birthday party. But that was actually okay - there are street entertainers and free shows and so many fringe venues all around the city. But if you’re coming specifically for the festivals then yeah due diligence would suggest that you check the programme in advance and book some stuff up. Go and see someone/something you’ve heard of before, but equally – there’s so much rising talent that you should explore your options. Go and see a bizarre play, some improv comedy, a music event and something completely obscure. It’s a rite of passage.
It was then on to a brunch at Scotsman Hotel with some friends, with hangovers we all quickly ordered a bottle of wine to ease the pain and discussed the fun, disgrace and debauchery of the night before. We wondered in and managed to get a table, but it’s possibly wise to book. It’s not really a hotel that’s been on my radar before but it is so beautiful. The grand room where we had lunch has a huge high ornate ceiling and there were classical musicians up in the balcony playing ‘Imagination’ from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - it was unexpectedly just one of those WOW moments. Definitely worth a look guys. Brunch was eggs benedict – pretty good. Service was very attentive despite us hogging our table for hours.. we were not rushed out.
After saying goodbye to my friends I popped downstairs to see the boutique cinema – it’s really stunning!! Oh my goodness, I’d LOVE to come here to watch a film, what a special treat. Small, intimate, exclusive. Perfect for date night, a special Sunday screening or a mid-week treat. Gorge.
Next to it I noticed a private event space also within the hotel - a beautiful conservatory area, it looked gorgeous. It’s worth having a look if you’re planning a private event. I’d say they have a very professional and switched on events team here.
You can exit the hotel from this lower level and you end up on one of those splendid tiny medieval lanes. This one was called Fleshmarket Close, I’m not sure I really want to explore why. I was somewhat enchanted by the Halfway House. A cosy looking pub on this lane, what a lovely place to stop for a pint, mid shop or museum trip.
The Halfway House
I took the medieval lane up to the main thoroughfare which is beautiful Cockburn Street. There are so many interesting independent shops and cafes in Edinburgh, Cockburn Street is a really good place to go to see examples of this. I wondered into Elk and Wolf to admire their beautiful displays.
After wandering about the bustling Royal Mile for a bit, I had to head back to the New Town. When they say new, they mean comparatively so. The New Town was built between 1767 and 1850 and is another area of architectural masterpiece. The grand sweeping neo-classical Georgian terraces are stu-nning.
Heading down I noticed Brewhemia, it looks so cool from the outside. It’s a cabaret restaurant if you like that kinda thing. It looks really fun.
I also passed by the very smart looking Market Street Hotel. They have an amazing rooftop bar – worth a look.
On Rose Street I spotted this seafood place. The Mussel Inn. There were queues right down the street. I’m presuming it’s a decent place to get seafood?? I love Fishers for seafood too if you want something just a bit lovely and fabulous. They have 2 restaurants in Edinburgh.
Passed Dishoom on St Andrews Square – if you have any inclination towards spice then this place is heaven. Smart, contemporary Irani-Bombay brasserie. Breakfast here is an absolute dream.
From St Andrews Square it’s worth wandering down Multrees Walk to drool over the beautiful displays of the luxury brands. My particular faves - Johnstons of Elgin and Maxmara. What with the trend towards ‘buy better, buy less’ I feel like these stores should be more on my radar.
I had heard good things about Rollo, so I popped in for a quick dinner. It was really super good.
Finally I got back to my beautiful apartment – The Art House, and my gorgeous big bed. (Available to book through The Edinburgh Address.)
The next day, I made myself a wee breakfast with some of the gorgeous crockery. I was so sad to be leaving. I’d love to stay a week here, maybe book into a spa somewhere too. Ahh bliss.
In September I was invited to the Ivy in Edinburgh to celebrate their 2nd Birthday. It would mean going all the way to Edinburgh from Aberdeen just for a dinner. EEK, could I really justify this? I called my Mum to talk the idea out - and she was like – ‘Sarah, just do it - you only live once’. Well thank you Mum, great advice, and just the advice I was looking for.
As luck would have it, I was offered a room for the night at a gorgeous new boutique hotel called The House of Gods. The House of Gods is a great concept. Smaller rooms, so the price remains super reasonable, but the decoration is absolute perfection. 5 star luxury. They’ve not scrimped on anything - all marble bathrooms, luxury beds and fabrics, bespoke joinery everywhere. And it’s situated in the cool Cowgate. They shake a mean cocktail too. Perfect for a few nights in Edinburgh. Highly recommended.
Some photos for proof –
After some cocktails at the gorgeous House of Gods, it was time to go for dinner at The Ivy on the Square, to celebrate their 2nd birthday. All I can really say is WOW, I swear to you everything was absolute perfection. If you've not experienced any of the Ivy restaurants, they specialise in traditional professional restauranting at it's absolute finest. The waiters are professionally trained at vocational level and everything in the kitchen runs like clockwork, because each plate of food is Michelin star standard. I have utmost respect for the talented team running this place. Please do go here if you're in Edinburgh. Book ahead to avoid dissapointment.
It does sound like I have the best job in the world and am constantly just swanning about from hotel to hotel. But honestly, most of my job is just sat in an office in front of a computer screen. If you really want to know the back story - like a total girly swat I worked hard at school, got my degree and sweated away in other people’s offices for 17 years before finally gaining the experience and courage to have my own. It’s all relative. Success is an iceberg an all that.
Hope you enjoyed this little visual account of my recent travels. Have you got any Edinburgh hidden gems you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section.
Thanks for reading this epic blog post.
Other lovely places I looked in on whilst there –
All photography: Chic Scotland