AFTER splurging all my annual leave on a month-long trip to Asia this summer I’ve made it my mission to use my weekends more productively and explore closer to home to get my travel fix.
A few months back, I tackled North Wales and Mount Snowdon and now it’s the turn of Scotland and...well, I didn’t quite make it up Ben Nevis. Maybe next time.
My only previous experience of Scotland has been music festivals viewed through bleary eyes, but friends have always waxed lyrical about the delights of Edinburgh, so this cultural capital was top of my list.
Flybe’s direct route from Manchester Airport also made this the ideal weekend break, the flight schedule fitting neatly around working life.
My friend Jenny and I jumped on the 5.10pm Sheffield to Manchester Airport train last Friday and the 80-minute direct journey got us in with time to spare for the 8.40pm flight.
I had considered driving north, but after a busy week at work, a four-and-a-half hour slog was not very appealing.
The relaxing 60-minute flight was far more attractive — no sooner are you up than you are down — and using the airline’s app to check in made the process even smoother.
There’s no faffing around with paperwork or desperately trying to find a printer as you pack.
Flybe operates up to four flights daily to Edinburgh from Manchester, with fares starting from £29.99 one-way including all taxes and charges.
Edinburgh Airport is located around 25 minutes from the city centre, so a taxi will set you back around £35 whereas an Uber is around £10 less.
Our home for the weekend was the Macdonald Holyrood Hotel situated in the city’s historic old town, just a stone’s throw away from the world famous Royal Mile and overlooking the Scottish Parliament building.
Our chatty taxi driver told us we were staying in the best location, so that was a good start, and it was clear to see upon check-in that the hotel and spa had recently benefitted from a £3 million investment.
After lots of oohing and ahhing at the size of our room, shiny complimentary apples and skyline view we headed to Sandy Bells to get acquainted with the locals.
Macdonald Holyrood Hotel
I like to judge a bar on the quality of its resident dog, so this ranks highly.
We were greeted by a beautiful white Staffordshire Bull Terrier who was perched on his owner’s knee at the bar as we entered the world-renowned folk venue.
The snug bar’s instant warmth and autumnal glow were like a lovely cuddle and the folk musicians jamming in the back corner provided a jolly soundtrack.
Nightly traditional music sessions have been an institution at Sandy Bells since 1942 and have been known to break out in the daytime, too.
And I can happily confirm that the Forrest Road bar has a comprehensive collection of whiskies.
After a (very) sound sleep and hearty breakfast our first stop was Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park which is right on the doorstep of the Macdonald Hotel.
Arthur’s Seat is an ancient volcano and rises to 251m above sea level at its peak, which gave us some incredible views of the nearby freshwater loch.
We meandered through the ruins of a 15th-century medieval chapel on our gentle walk up on the footpath, which I would recommend over the slightly punishing stairway down the opposite side.
Adele and Jenny at Arthur's Seat
Walking shoes or trainers are ideal as it’s a bit of a scramble near the summit.
By chance, we seemed to time travel on our descent as we bumped into Jacobite soldier and actual man mountain, Andy the Highlander, who was on his way up to take part in a flag parade.
Andy the Highlander
After strolling around the food and flea market we headed up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle, itself perched on top of another extinct volcano and offering yet more stunning views.
Inside it’s a tale of rags and riches as we explored prison cells and marvelled at Scotland’s Crown Jewels – including the famous Stone of Destiny.
After a day spent in Edinburgh’s old town we spent our evening in the new town dining at Pomegranate – a Middle Eastern and Moroccan attack on the eyes and taste buds.
With its bright pink and green decor, the restaurant was bustling and bright and is BYOB–perfect.
Further into the West End is hidden gem Panda and Son’s which from the outside looks like a barber’s shop.
But don’t be fooled, if you’re lucky enough to get inside and navigate through the fake bookshelf then you’ll emerge into a speakeasy-style cocktail bar where drinks are served in noodle boxes or shrouded in dry ice.
It took a while for our drinks to be served, and before they had even arrived at our table, cocksure barman Dane had sent his phone number over to Jenny before scarpering at the end of his shift — smooth.
We informed another barman that we’d prefer our drinks rather than Dane’s digits and after apologising for his sleazy colleague he gave them to us on the house.
Apparently, Dane is off travelling soon and has “given up” on work, so ladies beware because he could be coming to a hostel near you.
We spent our second day in the capital aboard the sight-seeing bus which came with a tour guide rather than a set of headphones, which made the experience more personal and friendly.
What I loved about the city, though, was that it’s so easily accessible by foot.
Nothing was more than a walk away – like the stunning Royal Botanic Gardens where we spent most of our last day.
There was so much more on our list that we didn’t get time to enjoy — museums, palaces, the Scottish Parliament, ghost walks and even the JK Rowling connection — so this is definitely a city to be continued.