Drams, Scrans, and Tattoos in Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh, Scotland, is one of those places everyone seems to have visited. If they haven’t been there yet, it’s often high on their travel wish lists for its ancient stone castles, lush green vistas, and old-world charm.

As a fan of Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series, I was eager to walk the streets of his characters and have a cup of tea at the Elephant House and a pint at the Cumberland Bar.

My parents were joining us in Europe for a week, and my dad isn’t the Airbnb type. Instead of our typical accommodations for this trip, he booked two large rooms at The Scotsman, a luxury hotel housed in the building that formerly served as headquarters for the newspaper of the same name. It features an imposing marble staircase, a fine Scotch bar, and a doorman named Ivan who is perfectly suited for the role.


The marble staircase surrounded by stained glass at The Scotsman Hotel

We arrived to freshly-baked macarons at the front desk and champagne in our room along with complimentary drams of 12-year Dewar’s. A delightful start!

After a good night’s sleep, we made our way across the North Bridge and toward the Edinburgh Castle, which plays host to the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo every August during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. We ventured past The Balmoral and Scott Monument before noticing clouds of bubbles rising into the sky. Upon further inspection, a street performer dressed as a leprechaun was producing these iridescent orbs by the hundreds, much to the delight of the children dancing around him in the courtyard of the Scottish National Gallery.


The Rolling Stones were in town to play the Murrayfield Stadium on their No Filter Tour, and the city was crawling with guys in their 60s and 70s who looked like they could be roadies for the band. Many of them were on their way to the castle, too, and we indulged in a bit of people watching from our outdoor pub table at The Cannonball Restaurant and Bar.


The castle sits at the end of the Royal Mile, the main thoroughfare of the Old Town that also features Holyrood Palace, the residence of the royal family when they’re in town. It’s a bit like Scottish Disney World, absolutely crawling with tourists and littered with souvenir shops. There are also more street performers, some of whom are quite good and gather large crowds.


We booked a table at Edinburgh’s oldest pub, The Doric, for dinner one evening. Built in the 17th century, it was a short five-minute walk from The Scotsman. We tried haggis bon bons and enjoyed an excellent filet of pollock with a black olive tapenade crust, pork medallions with dauphinoise potatoes, and classic fish and chips along with a pint and a pour.


Haggis bon bons with straw potatoes and Arran mustard sauce at The Doric

Edinburgh (pronounced Edinboro, by the way) is a very walkable city, and there is a plethora of parks where you can take a rest or enjoy a picnic along the way, including the Princes Street Gardens, Holyrood Park, and The Meadows.

There are also lots of places to take a proper afternoon tea as well, such as The Balmoral and The Dome, both of which feature crystal chandeliers and starched white linens. I treated my parents to tea at The Scotsman – champagne and scones for my mother and, for my father, a dram and scran (a flight of Scotch with small plate pairings).

I’m told that maybe one stone in every hundred in Edinburgh is original, and perhaps that thought made the city feel like a bit of a medieval theme park. But the gardens are lovely and the Scotch is good, so I’m happy to have visited Auld Reekie.


A section of the Scotch bar at The Scotsman, where we drank Bruichladdich Octomore, which holds the world record as the peatiest Scotch on the planet