As a food lover, Edinburgh is one of my favorite European city travel destinations. Scottish cuisine is amazing–delicious Aberdeen Angus steaks, incredibly fresh seafood (salmon heaven, I tell you), and a focus on fresh complimenting veggies that extend much further than “neeps and tatties”. Speaking of “neeps and tatties”, let’s not forget Scotland’s most famous culinary contribution haggis! Love it or hate (I love it!) you’ll find it on the menu in some form or another at just about every restaurant/pub in Edinburgh.
fun fact: did you know that Traditional scottish haggis has been banned in the usa since 1971?
During my 4 day/3 night trip to Edinburgh, I found tons of places to eat, drink, and see. But I only want to share the places that truly stood out. If you’re looking for recommendations for places to eat, drink and see on or near the Royal Mile of Edinburgh THIS article is for you.
Let’s start with the food! I’ll first show you where to experience fine dining with creative Scottish dishes at prices that don’t break the bank. If you’re on a budget, or just want a quick bite, I think you’re going to love my second recommendation! For my final recommendation, allow me to make sure you truly experience haggis bliss and not waste your time with mediocre dishes that skimp on this culinary delight.
Places to Eat
Of course I ate at more than 3 places during my trip. I had some great meals at other places, too. But these places I’m recommending I’d personally make sure to eat at every single time I visit Edinburgh. They’re worth writing about.
#1: Hewats On The Mile
I first visited this location in May of 2016. At the time it was called Dubh Prais. The food was amazing and so was the atmosphere, a quaint basement dining area with low ceilings that exuded a sense of history. It was one of the most memorable meals I had on the Royal Mile, and I vowed to return and bring my gal there someday (I’ll take all the romance points I can get).
Fast forward 2 years later and I was a little worried when I discovered that Dubh Prais was no more. Hewats On The Mile now occupied the location. But one look at their menu easily convinced me that they were worth investigating. I’m so glad I did. Not only did they maintain the special feel of the restaurant, their food was incredible–inventively using traditional Scottish ingredients to create fine dining dishes that were delicious and yet affordable.
Seriously Delicious Starters…
Starters on the menu range from £5-£10 and you’re sure to find something to enjoy be it soup, salad, or something special. Wanting to jump right into Scottish cuisine we decided to order the haggis and salmon dishes.
The most creative haggis dish I’ve experienced!
When in Edinburgh I’m compelled to order haggis either as a starter or a main every single time I order. I’ve found that often haggis starters tend to be deep fried breaded balls of haggis, or perhaps a Scotch egg wrapped in haggis. It feels like there’s a limit to creativity when it comes to haggis starters.
Hewats on the Mile changes the game for haggis starters with their Stornoway Black Pudding with Haggis Risotto & Crispy Pancetta (£7). It is the first and only haggis starter I’ve seen that incorporated risotto and the mix of flavors in this dish was sublime!
The mild peppery seasoned haggis is blended into a creamy risotto with a creamy sauce. A generous portion of Scotland’s award winning Stornoway Black Pudding sits atop the risotto and is crowned with a thin strip of crispy pancetta. When I travel I often find dishes that inspire me in the kitchen. This is one of those dishes. If you are apprehensive about trying haggis (I get it, some folks are) then this is a great dish to dip your toe in the experience!
Smoked salmon happiness…
The Smoked Salmon, Lobster & Crab with Caviar Crème Fraîche (£8.50) combines all the ingredients from the ocean that I love into one delicious starter. A long strip of lightly smoked Scottish salmon is slathered with a mixture of lobster and crab meat, caviar, and Crème Fraîche. The salmon is then coiled and topped with a mixed garden salad. For me the perfect bite was a bit of salmon and salad with a dab of the creamy dressing.
On to the Mains…
Hewats on the Mile has 7 main dishes on their menu ranging from £14.50 to £30. The difficulty of ordering here is that EVERYTHING on the menu sounds amazing.
I’m one of those guys that when I order I’m trying to get the biggest bang for my buck. I’m also looking for something interesting. So when I see Roast Tenderloin of Boar with Pork Belly, Apple Compote & Gravy, Pulled Pork Mash with Black Pudding & Braised Savoy Cabbage (£22) on the menu I’m thinking “BINGO!”. One dish containing two distinctly different dishes. Yes, please.
Pictured above is the dish made with slices of roasted wild boar tenderloin which sandwiched a layer of black pudding between a pad of pulled pork infused mashed potatoes. All of this porky goodness was drizzled with a thin brown gravy for maximum flavor penetration.
Next to the wild boar dish was this thick crispy pork belly on a bed of savoy cabbage. As I live in Bangkok crispy pork belly is a regular dish that I enjoy and it’s not unusual for me have it with fried cabbage. But the flavors of this dish were completely different than the soy flavors I’m used to. I enjoyed the difference, especially the sweet apple compote topping the succulent pork belly. It was an excellent dish that I’d certainly order again.
Something from the sea…
Hewats on the Mile describes itself as a relaxing restaurant with Scottish/Mediterranean cuisine and a bistro vibe. The Blackened Fillet of Halibut with Saffron Crème Fraîche, Lobster Mash & Wilted Spinach (£20) is a great main dish that showcases their Mediterranean side of the menu. It comes with a thick filet of deliciously seasoned halibut, a side of creamy mashed potatoes with chunks of lobster meat, and a garden salad. If you’re a fan of fish you will love this.
Where is it?
Hewat’s Restaurant has been wowing diners with their fine dining dishes since 2004. Their recent move in July, 2017 from the Causewayside to the new prestigious High Street (a.k.a. Royal Mile) location makes this local favorite dining gem especially accessible to tourists looking for an incredible meal experience. For this reason, and because space is limited, reservations are highly encouraged (contact details on their Facebook page).
I say “pulled pork sandwich”. Folks in Edinburgh say “hog roast roll”. Toe-MAY-Toe, Toe-MAH-Toe, whatever you call it I don’t mind so long as I get an amazing sandwich! Oink is where you go in Edinburgh if you want an amazing pork filled sandwich. My only caution is that once you have one, you’ll always have a craving for another. They are addictive.
Oink’s origins date back to 2001 when sheep farmer, Sandy Pate, and pig farmer, Adam Marshall, decided to combine their quality natural products and deliver them from farm to city at the Edinburgh Farmers Market. Based on the enthusiastic response at their booth they decided to open a brick and mortar branch on Victoria Street in 2008, then another branch at Canongate in 2013, and most recently in 2017 a new branch at Hanover Street.
Ordering at Oink is simple. There are only 4 steps to ordering a delicious sandwich: choose your size, choose your bread, choose your stuffing, and choose your sauce.
There are 3 sizes to choose from depending on the weight of pulled pork you want. The Piglet (80 grams) (£3.40) is perfect for the small appetite. The Oink (160 grams) (£4.60) is their best selling sandwich size and you won’t feel like slipping into a coma immediately after enjoying one. For the gluttonous pork lover who wants to visit Sleep City, the Grunter (250 grams) (£5.80) will get you there for sure.
Every day they bring a freshly roasted hog to each branch. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Knowing there’s a finite resource here you’re going to feel compelled to get the largest size you can get along with some extra crackling. Please, please, please know your limits. Don’t waste any of this beautiful pork, and don’t put yourself in a situation where you just want to lay down with meat sweats when you ought to be enjoying the city.
Now that you’ve selected your size there are 2 types of bread rolls to choose from: white or brown.
Continuing to keep it simple there are 2 types of fillings: sage and onion or their very own homemade haggis. You honestly can’t go wrong with either!
Finally, here’s where you can fine tune that sandwich to your own specific craving. There are 5 different homemade sauces to choose from: apple, mustard mayo, BBQ, chili cheese, and chili jam. Get creative!
Where is it?
There are 3 different branches of Oink: Victoria Street, Canongate, and Hanover. Each of them is an easy walking distance from the Royal Mile (with the Canongate location being near the bottom of the Royal Mile). For this particular visit I went to the Canongate Branch.
#3: Arcade Haggis & Whisky House
I tried haggis at many of the pubs and restaurants I ate at. I know from experience that I really liked haggis but I wasn’t really being “wowed” with it. Often I’d be disappointed, especially if I ordered it as a main dish, because they’d be stingy with the haggis portions. There’d be a heaping mound of mashed turnips and potatoes (“neeps and tatties”) and then a thin patty of fried haggis. Boo!
When I discovered Arcade Haggis and Whiskey House I immediately noticed their proclamation of having “THE BEST HAGGIS IN TOWN”. So I gave them a chance, and I got my “WOW!”.
Simply the best!
Simply put, Arcade Haggis & Whiskey House was the best haggis experience that I had in Edinburgh. Not only is their haggis delicious, they don’t skimp at all in the portion size that they give you. Their menu is chock full of haggis dishes as a breakfast, starter, or lunch/dinner meal.
After debating the many choices I opted to order the Princes Diana Haggis (£14.99). I received a thick layered tower of mashed potatoes, turnips, and haggis with a saucy moat of cream, tomatoes, onions and Drambuie liqueur. This is a meal that would be suitable for any competitive eating contest. It’s easily shared!
An inspiring haggis dish…
The Haggis Stuffed Chicken (£13.95) is inspiring. I firmly believe that bacon makes everything better. So wrapping bacon around medallions of chicken meat that have been stuffed with haggis is a shortcut to making my tastebuds happy. The meal also comes with a side salad, mashed potatoes, and a choice of cherries and lemon thyme or cracked black peppercorn sauce (pictured).
Where is it?
Located on Cockburn Street, Arcade Haggis & Whisky House is an easy walking distance from the Royal Mile. If you want to eat haggis, I strongly recommend you visit here–for me it was the best haggis in Edinburgh. As a bonus, they also have an extensive whisky menu. Save some room for a few drams after your meal!
It’s quite popular for dinner so reservations are highly encouraged (contact details on their Facebook page).
Places to Drink
Near the Royal Mile in Edinburgh you can’t stroll more than a few meters without finding some interesting places to pull a pint down. Nearly every pub has a some sort of historical significance; you can even visit Scotland’s most haunted pub or smallest pub. The same holds true if whisky is your pleasure. There’s loads of places for a dram–just take your pick.
But for the gin enthusiast, there’s one place in particular that I want to highlight as a special recommendation.
The Jolly Botanist
For a truly amazing gin experience, The Jolly Botanist is a must visit drinking establishment. Though they offer plenty of options for non-gin drinkers, it’s a nirvana for the gin fan.
Their menu boasts a carefully curated selection of 77 different gins from around the world (you can download their gin menu here). Each gin on the menu has tasting notes, the alcohol strength, region, and information about the mixers and garnishment that accompany the drink.
The Jolly Botanist is a place where time slips away from you. Their motto, “Show me gin curiosity & bafflement” makes sense when you you discover your gin curiosity has resulted in a table of various half empty tiny tonic bottles. It’s a hard place to limit yourself because there’s just so many interesting gins to try!
Where is it?
Located on Morrison Street, The Jolly Botanist is an easy walk from and staggering return to the Royal Mile.
Places to See
The “Royal Mile” gets its name from the fact that it is slightly more than a mile from the gates of the Palace of Hollyroodhouse at the bottom to the entrance of the Edinburgh Castle at the top. Just walking along the Royal Mile you’ll find plenty of things to do and see that will help you to discover Edinburgh’s rich history as well as its vibrant street performance scene.
Rather than reinvent the wheel here, I’d rather recommend this excellent article from Culture Trip which features 10 things to do and see along the Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.
That being said, I do have 4 recommendations for FREE places to see in Edinburgh. I enjoyed each of these places not just because they were free, but they were also great experiences (often letting me burn off some of those extra calories), and rewarded me with some great views of Edinburgh city.
#1: Calton Hill
Calton Hill is considered the Acropolis of Edinburgh. Along the gently sloping hill lie some of Edinburgh’s most notable landmarks.
Built in 1816 and resembling an overturned telescope, Nelson Monument was meant to commemorate the Admiral Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
The National Monument is another key architectural site on Calton Hill. Some view it as a “National Disgrace”. Originally built in 1822 by a group of wealthy Scotsmen is was meant to be an exact replica of the giant Parthenon in Athens and honor the Scots who died fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. Unfortunately only half of the money that was required was raised and thus the construction stopped after only the 12 columns we see today were built.
But the real reason to make the climb of Calton Hill is to see the panoramic views of the beautiful Edinburgh city.
Where is it?
It’s tough to miss this landmark as the hill towers above the city.
#2: Princes Street Garden
Beneath the shadow of Edinburgh Castle lies Edinburgh’s public park, Princes Street Garden. In the warmer months this is a very popular location to soak up some sun and the scene.
The East side of Princes Park contains a beautiful gothic structure dedicated to Sir Walter Scott (there is a fee for entry to the building). Though taking cool pictures of it from outside is 100% free!
Where is it?
#3: Scottish National Gallery
Art fans can rejoice learning that for the low, low price of free they can visit the Scottish National Gallery. For real art enthusiasts they also provide a shuttle service that allows you to visit the Scottish National Museum, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, and Scottish National Portrait Gallery (a £1 donation required for the service).
Many of the paintings adorning the walls may look familiar as they are often featured in famous art books. The controversial “Monarch of the Glen” was one of my favorites.
Where is it?
The Scottish National Gallery is located in the area that divides Princes Garden East and West.
#4: Arthurs Seat
Want to burn off some of those calories you’ve stacked up from eating and drinking well? Then I recommend a nice walk up to Arthurs Seat. There are actually a few routes to get there depending on what you want to see and the level of difficulty you want to expect. You can easily spend a couple of hours or half a day hiking. I recommend this article from GeoWalks as an excellent resource for some self guided walking tours.
Where is it?
Arthurs Seat is a 251 meter hill with nothing around it. From the base of the Royal Mile you can’t miss it!
Bonus: Where Should I Stay?
There’s tons of accommodation options in Edinburgh for travelers to choose from. But the prices rise quickly when you want more comforts and then rise exponentially as you approach the Summer (especially during the days on or near a festival). These prices then explode the closer you get to the location of the Royal Mile.
So when I was able to find an apartment style accommodation with a fully furnished kitchen, private bathroom, laundry, living room, and bedroom located on an small alley just meters from the Royal Mile for £107.10 (inclusive of a 20% VAT)/night in July just before the Tattoo Festival–I was wondering if it was too good to be true. But I still jumped on it.
The good news, it’s true. I paid £321.30 for a 3 nights stay in a very comfortable 1 bedroom apartment meters from the Royal Mile and St. Giles Cathedral just days before the Tattoo Festival. Which is why I will always try to stay at Silver Lining – Mile Apartments when I visit Edinburgh.
Want to see the video of our adventure?
My gal put together this short video of the amazing time we had. It also includes the time we spent on whisky tours near the Highlands. Enjoy!
Is Edinburgh On Your Travel Bucket List Now?
I just love to visit Edinburgh. The food is absolutely amazing. There’s never any shortage of places to enjoy great whiskey, gin, beer, and conversation. The Scottish people are proud of the food and drink they serve–and happy to converse about it. It’s a place that just never feels fully explored–and so I’m always wanting to return.
I hope that by sharing some of my favorite places to eat, drink, and see that you feel inspired to visit this wonderful city. If you do visit I’d love to hear about any interesting places you find. Feel free to contact me or comment below!
So is Edinburgh now on your travel bucket list?