36 Hours in Edinburgh

Where old and modern merge seamlessly: along with medieval alleys, design-forward buildings and a ‘new’ Scottish cuisine.


Edinburgh, a charismatic city full of staircases and hills festooned with Georgian and neo-Classical buildings, is well-versed in incorporating the modern into the old. While it has always been an arts center and a cosmopolitan capital, the city is now turning its vibrant energy toward creating a new Scottish cuisine, a nearly uncountable number of craft beers, and design-forward buildings like the Scottish Parliament, which stands as the symbol of the new Scotland. Yet the charm of “Auld Reekie” is still there in its cozy pubs, medieval alleyways and talkative, wryly self-deprecating residents.

Friday

1. PAST TO PRESENT, 3 P.M.

The National Museum is one of Edinburgh’s crown jewels: a museum that presents a remarkably detailed history of Scotland, from its prehistoric past to the cloning of Dolly the Sheep, who can be found on the first floor. Ten new galleries opened in July, and it would be easy to spend an entire day watching videos about the country’s last lighthouse keepers, learning about the Scottish labor movement, playing with the interactive science exhibits, marveling at how small a vintage Tiger Moth airplane is, and admiring the gloriously airy Victorian atrium. Admission is free, so if you need a stimulant make the two-minute walk to Brew Lab, one of the city’s best independent cafes, which has an industrial chic vibe and top-notch coffee (3.50 pounds, or $4.65), then head back for more. Don’t forget to pick up a tote bag printed with Warhol-esque images of Dolly’s face as a souvenir.

2. PUB GRUB, 6 P.M.

In the upscale neighborhood of Stockbridge, even the pub food is excellent, especially at casual, stylish Scran & Scallie, from the owners of the Michelin-starred Kitchin. You’ll find classics like sausages and mash, and fish and chips, but consider going to the next level and order roast bone marrow, ox tongue and mushrooms, and girolles on toast. The clientele tend to linger over drinks and desserts (try the sticky toffee pudding if it’s on offer). Dinner for two, around £60.

3. BEER GALORE, 8 P.M.

Stockbridge Tap is a bar for serious beer lovers. The international selection changes frequently, but the knowledgeable and friendly bartenders will ask you to describe your favorite tipple and then find the perfect selection. End the evening with a short stroll to the Last Word for one of the most creative and professional cocktails in the city. This basement bar is dimly lit even at 4 p.m. Try the Same But Different, a mix of tequila, mezcal, strawberry jam, rose liqueur and fresh lime juice. There’s a small lab in the back where they do crafty things like clarify chartreuse. Bar snacks include a selection of cheese from the excellent I.J. Mellis cheesemonger around the corner.


Saturday

4. FRY-UP, 9:30 A.M.

The Scottish fried breakfast is a thing of legend (and also perhaps the world’s best hangover cure). The newly opened Angus Fling has a central location, booths upholstered in tartan and an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients. The Scottish “fry” comes with sausages, bacon, eggs, mushrooms, grilled tomato, fried potato bread and a slice of haggis (£6.90). Add a pot of tea for the full Scottish effect.

5. PARLIAMENTS & POETRY, 10:30 A.M.

Walk off that breakfast with a stroll to the Scottish Parliament building, making a detour down tiny Crichton’s Close for a visit to the Scottish Poetry Library. This hidden spot is a haven for literature lovers: Sit down in the second-floor listening library where you can put on headphones and listen to poetry. In the shop, you’ll find illustrated linotype postcards with lines of Robert Burns poetry (£1), and anthologies of Scottish verse. Move on to the Parliament building, a stunningly modern branch-and-leaves design created by the Catalan architect Enric Miralles. It’s a captivating building whether you love the style or hate it, and several themed tours (history, design, architecture) are offered throughout the day — book in advance. If you miss the tour, it’s still possible to pop your head into the chambers where Parliament members meet. If the independence vote ever passes, this is the place from which Scotland will be governed.

6. CASTLES & SHEEP’S HEADS, NOON

Edinburgh Castle is perhaps the city’s biggest draw, and even on a weekday ticket lines can be long. Instead of elbowing your way past the crowds, head southeast to Craigmillar Castle: just three miles from the city center but surrounded by grassy fields and refreshingly low on visitors (admission, £5.50; taxi, around £10). A beautifully preserved castle whose original incarnation was built in the 1300s, it grew over the centuries with each resident family making changes. Ramparts and arrow-slit windows offer fabulous views all the way to Edinburgh Castle. The guidebook (£2.50) provides ample information on the building’s details and its occupants (Mary Queen of Scots was a guest). From here, stroll along the edge of Holyrood Park for a mile to reach the Sheep Heid Inn, a low-ceilinged pub that claims to have fed guests for six centuries. Have a hearty lunch of sloe gin-smoked salmon followed by a chicken and ham pie. Take a peek in back, where an antiquated skittles alley (a type of bowling) is still in use.

image for Craigmillar Castle
7. SUMMERHALL, 4 P.M.

Once a veterinary college, the arts and performance space known as Summerhall is packed with warrens and small hallways that make it a fabulous place to wander for a few hours, especially if there’s a performance happening. The space hosts exhibitions, theater, dance and music events throughout the year, and even the hallways and elevators are home to shows during the annual Fringe Festival. Stop by to check out the art and browse through the original works for sale in the shop. In the tiny distillery in the back, giant casks of gin and rows of bottles await. Finish up at the bar, once the school’s Small Animal Hospital, and have a pint of Summerhall Pale Ale, made in the on-site brewery.

8. RHYMES WITH ‘HAZEL’, 7 P.M.

Aizle is one of the growing number of Edinburgh restaurants where the menu takes the form of a list of ingredients (black vinegar, chicken skin, summer berries, for instance). Happily, these ingredients manifest themselves as beautifully executed plates; a set menu of four dishes, with “snack” and dessert (£45), changes monthly, according to the harvest. If you’re looking for the future of Scottish food — local, thoughtful and laid-back — look no further.

9. WATER OF LIFE, 9:30 P.M.

Scotland’s production of small-batch and you’ve-never-heard-of-them whiskies is booming, and facing a menu of two or three hundred choices in a local pub can be overwhelming. At the Whiski Rooms, you can try one of the whisky flights (starting at £17), each a selection of four sorted by region and style, such as Highland malts, extra-peaty vintages from Islay, and sherried single malts. Stock up on bottles from the shop next door, which also offers guided tastings during the day.


Sunday

10. LEITH, 10 A.M.

Edinburgh’s historic port, Leith, sits on Firth of Forth and is the ideal place for a Sunday stroll. The face of the neighborhood has changed rapidly in recent years, and now the area is a fascinating hodgepodge of quirky pubs, secondhand stores and trendy cocktail bars. Stroll along the waterfront and then turn south, keeping an eye out for the murals, an ongoing public art project by the local organization LeithLate. Check out the hip young things sipping hair-of-the-dog cocktails with brunch in the Lioness of Leith, or stop for a pint in the bicycle-themed Tourmalet. Finish up with lunch at the King’s Wark, a 15th-century pub with mismatched chairs and a pub menu that includes Shetland mussels in garlicky broth.

11. COLLECTIVE ON CALTON, 1 P.M.

It’s a steep climb to the top of Calton Hill, but the panoramic views — of Leith, the Firth, and Arthur’s Seat (an ancient volcano) — are worth it. Developed as a public park in 1724, the hill is dotted with monuments, among them the acropolis-style National Monument, which has remained technically “under construction” since the early 19th century. Climb the spiral staircase to the top of the Nelson Monument (admission, £5; closed Sundays from Oct. 1 through March) for even more spectacular views. Make sure to stop by Collective Gallery, which relocated here in 2013 and operates a small exhibition space featuring pieces by artists working in Scotland.

12. SNUG PUB, 3 P.M.

Sink into the velvet seats of Kay’s Bar, a small Georgian coach house turned quiet Victorian pub tucked away from the crowds on tiny, circular Jamaica Street. This is the “local” for Edinburgh residents, from geezers nodding off over pints of the oft-changing selection of ales to university students solving the world’s problems as the table fills up with empty glasses. The smattering of original fixtures and the warm red glow of the walls, furniture and carpet make this snug pub a cozy place to retreat from the inevitable rain.


Lodging

 

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Ireland’s Travel Secrets: Copper Coast, County Waterford

The Copper Coast, in County Waterford, is named after the historic metal-mining industry and is now a tourist attraction thanks to the geological history of the area from Palaeozoic volcanism to the last ice age.

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In 2001 the area was declared a European Geopark. In 2004 it was named a UNESCO Global Geopark. The Copper Coast stretches 10.5 miles from Kilfarrasy to Stradbally.

The region is known for its panoramic seascapes, cliffs, bays, and coves. In fact, the Copper Coast Road, the R675 stretching from Dungarvan to Tramore, is considered to be one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the world. It’s also known for it’s beautiful, clean beaches such as Clonea and Bunmahon and the village of Bunmahon, Boatstrand, Dunhill, Annestown and Fenor. Tramore, the popular seaside resort, is the best known town along the Copper Coast, but it also has a wealth of “undiscovered” secluded coves and beaches.

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At Monksland Church, in Knockmahon, there is a visitor center dedicated to the geopark and its 460 million years of history. The geopark itself is an outdoor museum of geological records. The park explains how volcanoes, oceans, deserts and ice sheets all combined to create the rocks which provide the physical foundation of the natural and cultural landscapes of the area.

For those who want to explore the area’s mining center Bunmahon is the town to visit. This was the center of copper mining in the area during the 19th century. In fact, some of the Tankardstown Engine House is still standing near the village.

The Geological Garden, in Bunmahon, provides visitors with a glimpse into the geology of the Copper Coast. The Time Path in the garden will guide you through geological time with 28 slabs depicting the major steps in Earth history and evolution of life. There are also two ogham stones found nearby which are aligned to the summer solstice.

Westerly View, From Bunmahon, The Copper Coast, County Waterford, Ireland
Westerly View, From Bunmahon, The Copper Coast, County Waterford, Ireland

Other historic points of interest are the Gaulstown Dolmen and Dunhill Castle. The Gaulstown Dolmen consists of six upright stones forming a chamber with a capstone some five meters in length. The two portal stones stick out at the front and are at least two meters high. There are also a holy well, standing stones and promontory forts in the area.

Dunhill Castle was built by the la Poer family in the early 1200s. There is also some evidence of an earlier Celtic fort on the hilltop. The town’s name is derived from the Irish translation of the fort of the rock. While the silhouette of the castle is impressive, it comprises of only about half a 15th century tower with bits of outer walls dating to the early 13th century.

While you’re in the area you can take advantage of the beautiful countryside by taking a walk in the woods, on the shore or along country lanes. Whichever you choose you can dip into the geology, archaeology, the mining heritage, and the rich flora and fauna of the area. If you’re looking for inspiration, route maps are available from the visitor center. You can also download a podcast (here) that will guide you through the Annestown Heritage Trail.

The eight beaches in the area afford visitors the opportunity to avail of various activities including surfing or exploring the islands and caves via kayak. There’s also a great deal of good fishing to be found along this coast.

If water-based fun isn’t for you there’s always the Bog of Fenor which holds a wealth of regional flora and fauna. There’s also a mini-farm which is a big hit with children and the Ballymoat gardens.

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In the footsteps of giants

Giant's Causeway

The only Irish attraction to make Conde Naste Travel Magazine’s “20 Most Beautiful UNESCO Word Heritage Sites” was County Antrims’s Giant’s Causeway. The 40,000 basalt stone columns that stretch into the sea towards Scotland were formed, geologists say, by volcanic lava. But Irish mythology says the strange formations were the work of the hero Finn McCool, who built the causeway as a path to cross the Irish Sea and do battle with a rival Scottish giant.

Whatever the derivation, the Giant’s Causeway is a scenic wonder that you can not only gawk at, but climb over and around as well. And that’s what hundreds of thousands of visitors do each year, after taking a short bus ride from the visitors’ center, operated by the National Trust. In addition to climbing on and among (weather permitting) the columns, there are hiking trails to the top of the impressive cliffs which tower over the causeway itself.

The visitors’ center also provides an informative and entertaining film, which outlines both of the conflicting accounts of the causeway’s beginnings. You can also purchase Irish handicrafts and souvenirs at reasonable prices (the causeway is no tourist trap), and get information on other attractions along the ruggedly beautiful coast of County Antrim.

Other nearby sites worth visiting include:

Dunluce Castle

Imposing ruins, dating from the 16th century, dramatically situated on a cliff overlooking the Irish Sea.

The Glens of Antrim

Take a breathtaking ride along the coast, detouring into the nine glens, where you’ll find lovely hidden coves, time-warped fishing villages, forests, waterfalls, and even the mountain where St. Patrick is reputed to have tended sheep while in slavery.

Carrick-a-Rede

Here, you can walk, if you dare, across a rope bridge that spans an 80-foot chasm.

The Old Bushmills Distillery

Recover from the rope bridge experience at Bushmills Distillery with a taste of Irish malt whiskey, after touring the world’s oldest licensed whiskey distillery.

The historic village of Bushmills is literally minutes away from the Giant’s Causeway. A great place to stay is the Bushmills Inn, which provides one of the warmest welcomes you’ll find in an island famous for hospitality. Having a Bushmills double malt before a turf fire in one of the inn’s cozy sitting rooms is only topped by the superb dining in the inn’s acclaimed restaurant, where you can feast on Irish smoked salmon or succulent New Zealand lamb.

The Giant’s Causeway and Bushmills are about a four-hour drive from Dublin, mostly on modern highways. If you decide to say in Belfast and tour one of Europe’s emerging “hot” cities, try the Fitzwilliam International Belfast, a boutique hotel adjacent to the Opera House. While Belfast was for years considered “off limits” due to the sectarian troubles, with the current peace initiative, it’s actually one of the safest places in Europe these days.
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King John’s Castle Limerick reopened!

King John’s Castle is situated on ‘King’s Island’ in the heart of medieval Limerick City. The Castle overlooks the majestic river Shannon. It was built between 1200 and 1210 and was repaired and extended many times in the following centuries. The interpretative centre at the Castle contains an imaginative historical exhibition which tells the story of the Castle. Archaeological excavations have revealed pre-Norman settlements and evidence from the traumatic siege of 1642.
The courtyard and the Castle display some of the trades and traditions of the 16th Century. The Castle offers panoramic views of Limerick City and the surrounding countryside. The sights, scenes and sounds of the Castle and its environs all combine to recreate the atmosphere of the era.

King Johns Castle Location

Take a fresh look at King John’s Castle and experience Limerick’s history as you have never done before… A brand new visitor experience that brings together the Castle’s remarkable archaeology and 21st century technology to help you discover the history of Limerick and King John’s Castle. – See more at: http://www.shannonheritage.com/KingJohnsCastle/#sthash.Akwm3do4.dpuf