Weekend in Edinburgh with Teens
Maria Boyle discovers the Scottish capital is the perfect city to visit with teens in tow on her weekend in Edinburgh.
When children hit their late teen years and are on the cusp of adulthood, finding a weekend destination they want to travel to with a parent can feel like climbing Mount Everest but on a recent first visit to Scotland’s magnificent capital, we struck lucky and hit the jackpot, well the travel equivalent.
Like many other cities, Edinburgh has a fascinating history, beautiful architecture, plenty of museums, great restaurants and bars. Yet it also has a genuine charm that makes visitors of all ages – as we soon realised – fall in love with the city.
The Balmoral An Iconic Hotel
For our weekend in Edinburgh, we chose to stay at The Balmoral, a Rocco Forte hotel given its excellent location, right next door to Edinburgh’s main Waverley station in the heart of the city. The hotel first opened in 1902 and was originally called The North British Station Hotel. At the time, the hotel’s iconic clock was set three minutes fast so that people would not miss their trains and this is still the case today (apart from Hogmanay). An Edinburgh landmark in its own right, the hotel is frequented by stars from stage and screen as well as royalty and has recently undergone a multi-million pound refurbishment overseen by its Director of Design, Olga Polizzi.
With 187 rooms (classic, executive rooms and 20 suites, five of which are Forte suites), families of all sizes are catered for. We opted for a suite which was elegantly designed in a modern-classic style, spacious, the beds were extremely comfortable. The bathroom was equally chic with grey and white marble throughout and the fluffiest of towels, dressing gowns and cushioned slippers.
On the lower ground level is a spa area that includes a gym, pool, steam room and sauna, and super friendly staff offering spa treatments in private rooms.
Breakfast each day took place at Brasserie Prince (which also serves lunch and dinner). Hands down, we all agreed this was the best hotel breakfast we have enjoyed anywhere in the world. Its buffet was extensive with its mix of fruits, pastries and yoghurts and the à la carte menu had plenty of great options including a full Scottish breakfast, Belhaven Smokehouse smoked salmon and scrambled eggs and Eggs Florentine – all cooked to perfection.
The Balmoral hotel is also known for its award-winning afternoon tea served under a sparkling glass dome in its historic Palm Court. Its walls are decorated in de Gournay wallpaper and the atmosphere is set with a live harpist playing from the gallery up above. A choice of Champagnes and 88 teas as well as flavoured coffees are on offer and poured tableside (my teens loved the Jasmine Silver Tip tea and also the butterscotch latte). Arrive hungry as the menu is plentiful and includes amuse bouche, savouries and finger sandwiches, scones and pastries which we devoured.
As well as three restaurants, the hotel has a selection of bars and one of its most famous is SCOTCH. Stocking more than 500 different types of Scottish single malts and blends, its collection is the one of the largest in Edinburgh, with its most expensive being Macallan 40 – which is £750 a measure!
It has also just launched the ultimate Scottish experience for guests staying in its Glamis Suite: having their dinner piped into the suite by Scotland’s National Piper Louise Marshall with the opportunity to take part in a post-dinner piping master class!
A Tour of Edinburgh
Edinburgh is the cultural heart of Scotland with its famous international festivals, including the Edinburgh Fringe and Edinburgh International Festival, world-famous art collections and free museums. We decided it would be a good idea to explore the city with Local Eyes Tours, a wonderful company with highly experienced guides who are all local. We opted for the Hidden Treasures Tour and took in parts of the Edinburgh not often visited by tourists including pretty Dean Village, lesser-known parts of the New Town, Water of Leith and Stockbridge. It was excellent and fascinating to learn about Edinburgh’s rich history, take in views of the city from Carlton Hill, and walk down lots of picturesque cobbled streets including Circus Lane in Stocksbridge.
Edinburgh Castle, standing on Castle Rock, dominates the city’s skyline and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. While it can be admired and photographed from the outside, we organised tickets in advance and explored inside, seeing historic pieces such The Stone of Destiny which will be used in the forthcoming Coronation of King Charles, The Honours of Scotland, the oldest Crown jewels in Britain, the Castle’s Dog Cemetery which has been used since Queen Victoria’s reign as a burial place for regimental mascots and officers’ dogs, and the Royal Apartments.
Another great experience involved all of us going under Edinburgh’s famous Royal Mile as part The Real Mary King Close’s one hour tour. Exploring the underground streets of Edinburgh and a warren of uniquely preserved 17th century buildings, we were able to wander through a labyrinth of Old Town alleyways and discover stories of the people who lived, worked and died there, led by an entertaining, in-character tour guide.
The city boasts plenty of free museums and galleries and we also did a whistle-stop tour of the National Museum of Scotland, a great place to start with its collection taking visitors through the history of Scotland, the wonders of nature, art and design, science and technology, and world cultures.
As Edinburgh is a UNESCO City of Literature and has inspired some of the world’s most famous writers we also visited The Writers’ Museum which tells the stories of three giants of Scottish literature – Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. A fascinating hour was well spent seeing portraits, rare books and personal objects including Burns’ writing desk, Robert Louis Stevenson’s riding boots, a rare first edition of Scott’s novel Waverley and a plaster cast of Robert Burns’ skull, one of only three ever made.
Edinburgh Food and Drink
Edinburgh’s food and drink scene has really ramped up in the last few years according to locals. Centrally located on St Andrew Square, Dishoom Edinburgh is one of the city’s top rated Indian restaurants, with a curated menu of Bombay comfort food dishes and creative drinks including a Bolly Bellini and Kokum Milk Punch. Excellent food matched with excellent service makes this a go to after a full day of sightseeing.
The Southeast Asian restaurant Ka Pao, located in St James Quarter, delivers some seriously tasty dishes. The menu honours the team’s time living and travelling throughout the region. We opted for the sharing menu which delivered a succession of mouth-watering dishes including corn ribs with salted coconut, shrimp and lime; hand-dived scallops, pomegranate, shredded cabbage, lime leaf and lemongrass; and crispy pork bellow, sorrel, watercress and calamansi salad. Another great spot with truly exceptional food.
On our last night, we decided to go for a late night drink to The Alchemist, located just around the corner from the hotel. This dispenses seriously creative cocktails with a touch of molecular magic delivered in a theatrical way by its expert mixologists. Appealing to all ages, we enjoyed cocktails including a Smokey Old Fashioned served in chemistry flasks; Cherry Poppins, a raspberry gin-based cocktail with a cherry fog bubble which we popped to release its aroma, and one of its famous colour-changing cocktails before we headed to bed.
Edinburgh boasts four Michelin star restaurants, two of them are located in the trendy Shore area of Leith which is becoming a real hot spot for foodies. On our final afternoon, we paid a visit to Heron, a relaxed fine dining restaurant, run by Tomás Gormley and Sam Yorke, two incredibly talented young chefs. Heron offers farm-to-table fine dining with an a-la-carte menu and tasting menu that changes every few weeks, showcasing the best of Scotland’s seasonal produce. We enjoyed a spectacular lunch with dishes including Orkney scallops – the best scallops we have ever tasted; beef with sweetbread and wild mushrooms; and partridge with beetroot, damson and chard. Desserts were magnificent with the teens rating the Chocolate, cardamom and honeycomb the best dessert they have ever had.
Jumping on the bus back to the hotel, it was time for home and we were running late as usual, we picked up out bags and rushed for our train back home, sad to say goodbye to the city that has instantly charmed us but secretly smiling as we knew we were three minutes early…….thank you The Balmoral for that most timely farewell gift! It really was the perfect ending to a glorious family weekend.
- Go here, the official website for Scotland’s National Tourist Organisation.
- The Balmoral Edinburgh – rooms start from £180 in low season, based on a double occupancy with breakfast and taxes included https://www.roccofortehotels.com/hotels-and-resorts/the-balmoral-hotel/
- https://www.localeyestours.co.uk Tours start from £15 per person.