Edinburgh Castle


Edinburgh Castle, the most visited tourist attraction in Scotland, is long famous for guarding the Princes Street shoe shops. But times move on. Many of those shops are now either mobile phone shops, Starbucks coffee shops or tartan tat emporia. And of course at the west end of Princes Street there’s a large McDonald’s and at the east end there’s the new shiny Apple Store. A few years ago the more upmarket fashion shops retreated north to George Street and then subsequently went bankrupt, notably Austin Reed and Jaeger. With House of Fraser under a financial cloud, that last bastion of old school Princes Street shopping, Jenners, may not be with us much longer, presumably being converted into either another ‘boutique’ hotel or a mega Wetherspoons. Their House of Fraser store at the west end has already been sold to property developers with a rumour that it will be converted into a hotel.

Meanwhile George Street has reinvented itself as Edinburgh’s premier drinking and dining destination, initially with stylish cocktail bars such as Montpeliers’ Tiger Lilly. More recently there has been a raft of new restaurants opening up in George Street and St Andrew Square such as Dishoom, The Ivy on the Square, The Refinery, Gaucho and Fazenda. Most of these are restaurant chains funded on venture capital debt and bank loans, knocking out the same pre-prepared stuff throughout the country. A better name for them would be VCCs—Venture Capital Cafés. This market segment is now heavily oversubscribed and in retreat. For example Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant chain is reported to be closing 12 of its 37 branches.

Hopefully these VCCs won’t distract customers away from Edinburgh’s traditional restaurants, many of which are excellent. Including in the city centre itself are Café St Honoré, Ondine seafood restaurant, the Pompadour by Galvin, the Bon Vivant and the Michelin starred 21212. Whilst down in Leith there are two Michelin starred restaurant—Restaurant Martin Wishart and The Kitchin.

Whatever happens, Harvey Nichols also in St Andrew Square should continue to do well with its restaurant, brasserie and bars on the fourth floor. The bars are worth a visit, especially the side bar with its picture window over looking the Firth of Forth towards Fife in the distance.

Just east of Harvey Nichols, through Mulberry Walk, the St James Centre has been demolished and is a hive of activity with a £850 million project underway to build a new retail complex with a cinema, residential units and a futuristic looking hotel.

The west end of George Street and Charlotte Square has seen less frenetic development apart from the redevelopment of the Roxburghe Hotel into the Principal Edinburgh Charlotte Square which now houses the Baba Middle Eastern restaurant. Perhaps this tranquillity is down to the Scottish First Minister having her official residence in Bute House, 6 Charlotte Square, although the square’s garden continues to be totally taken over by the Edinburgh Book Festival during the summer.

At the west end of Princes Street the red sandstone Caledonian Hotel is now trading as the Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh after a £24 million refurbishment. The hotel houses the Pompadour by Galvin restaurant and the Galvin Brasserie De Luxe, both offering outstanding quality.

Heading south from there along Lothian Road there is a constant churn of bars, restaurants and sandwich shops catering to the diverse requirements of Usher Hall, Traverse Theatre and Lyceum Theatre audiences together with lunchtime and after work trade from the Financial District. Special mention goes to the Dine restaurant in the Traverse Theatre building which is excellent, being led by chef Stuart Muir, formerly executive chef at the Edinburgh Harvey Nichols restaurant.

A recent development has seen the conversion of the Caley Picture House cinema on Lothian Road into a massive, multi-level Wetherspoons pub, called appropriately enough the Caley Picture House. And directly across the road, Brewdog have recently opened a bar in the old Cyldesdale Bank building. Just round the corner from the Caley Picture House, a Farmers Market is held every Saturday morning by Castle Terrace car park.

But throughout all this change, Edinburgh Castle just sits there, gazing down on all the turmoil as it has done for hundreds of years. The highlight of its year is surely the Military Tattoo performances held throughout August and then the huge fireworks display held to conclude the annual Edinburgh Festival. The facilities installed to host the Tattoo are usually used beforehand in July to host large outdoor concerts, with artists such as Rod Stewart, Runrig, Tom Jones and Deacon Blue having appeared there in the past.

Argyle Battery—Guarding Princes Street Phone Shops  

Backed up with Serious Fire Power from Mons Meg   

Festival Fireworks—Virgin Money with Money to Burn 

One O’Clock Gun—A Bigger Bang than Big Ben’s Bong 

View North from Harvey Nichols over to Fife