Kash’s Edinburgh

Blogger and budget travel expert Kash Bhattacharya moved to Edinburgh, Scotland and fell head over heels. Read about what makes this Kolkata, India native’s heart flame for the Scottish capital, then add your own favorites in the Comments section below. Follow Kash’s adventures and get great travel tips on Twitter and on his website, budgettraveller.org.

Edinburgh is My City

The first place I take a visitor from out of town is up Arthur’s Seat, a wilderness right in the heart of the city from where you can get panoramic views of Edinburgh’s stunning skyline and the Firth of Forth in the distance.

When I crave a pint of beer I always go to my local Holyrood 9A (9A Holyrood Rd.), where you get a great selection of local and international beers on draft plus an awesome selection of gourmet burgers.

To escape the city I head for a walk down the Water of Leith, Edinburgh’s best kept secret, where you come across gems like the quaint, historic Dean Village. Tranquil, peaceful, and an oasis of calm, walking down by the canal you feel far removed from the city.

For complete quiet, I can hide away few miles southwest of Edinburgh in the Pentland Hills. Despite being so near the city, the hills have a really desolate and rural feel. Popular with hikers and mountain bikers, these rolling hills provided inspiration for Scotland’s greatest writers, like Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, who spent his summer holidays in the idyllic village of Swanston.

If you come to my city, get your picture taken with the statue of Adam Smith, philosopher and father of modern economic thinking. You can find him on the High Street, just before St Giles Cathedral, staring down the lane at his hometown of Kirkcaldy across the broad expanse of the Forth River.

If you have to order one thing in Edinburgh it has to be Scotland’s national dish, the beloved haggis. Whatever you’ve heard about its ghastly origins, it’s all true. Still, it’s damn tasty. Give it a go.

My one-stop shop for great gifts is Flux in Leith. It has a great selection of fair-trade and recycled gifts, and features work of local artists.

Locals know to skip the expensive bars of George Street and check out the less fashionable but quirkier pubs along the Shore area of Leith for a good night out.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped I go to the charity shops of Stockbridge and Morningside for a good old rummage of second-hand fiction and classic records.

For a huge splurge I go for cocktails in the Dome, formerly the headquarters of the Commercial Bank of Scotland. The 1930’s bar has great ambience — I melt into their comfortable leather chairs and order a Long Island Iced Tea. It’s the perfect ending to a hard week.

Photo ops in my city include the Castle, the hidden alleyways of the Victorian Old Town, and the city’s stunningly laid out geometric Georgian New Town. The best vantage point without a doubt in my opinion is Calton Hill.

If my city were a celebrity it’d be Sophia Loren, aging gracefully and still looking as stunning as the first time I saw her face.

The most random thing about my city is that it’s the first city in the world to have its own fire brigade.

My city has the most rugged, handsome-looking men. Think Gerard Butler.

My city has the most intelligent, imaginative, and coffee-loving women. Case in example: JK Rowling.

In my city, an active day outdoors involves a climb up Arthur’s Seat at sunrise, then, after a hearty full Scottish breakfast at Holyrood 9A, a walk up the Water of Leith and then popping into the village of Stockbridge for a drink at Hector’s before a sunset walk through the stunning Royal Botanical Gardens — 70 acres of beautifully landscaped greenery.

My city’s best museum is the newly refurbished National Museum of Scotland where under one roof you can enjoy the natural world, world cultures, art and design, science and technology, and Scottish history. It’s a great day out for the kids, and the best thing is that it’s free.

For a night of dancing, go to Cabaret Voltaire, Edinburgh’s best nightclub, which serves up a mishmash of disco, house, funk, techno, and electronic music.

Or, for live music, check out Whistle Binkies, a dimly lit subterranean cave just off Royal Mile that showcases the best local bands and attracts a quirky mix of students and classic rock devotees.

Bene’s Fish Chip Shop, at the bottom of the Royal Mile, is the spot for late-night eats. Great fish and chips. Plus you can get a deep fried Mars Bar here, too.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read The List magazine, Edinburgh’s definitive entertainment listings guide.

You can tell a lot about my city from standing on one of its many hills. The breathtaking skyline of Victorian and Georgian architecture shows the many layers and richness of Edinburgh’s history.

You can tell if someone is from my city from their friendly character and banter. Contrary to stereotype, people in Edinburgh are some of the friendliest people you will meet on your travels.

In the spring you should head out to North Berwick, a Victorian seaside resort just 30 minutes outside Edinburgh, to see what David Attenborough describes as one of the twelve wildlife wonders of the world: the ‘Bass Rock.’ This is a time when you can take a boat trip out to Bass Rock and see the 150,000-strong colony of gannets nesting on the rock up close.

In the summer it’s festival season in Edinburgh when the city is host to the world’s biggest arts festival (the Fringe Festival).

In the fall you should head out and go hillwalking in one of Edinburgh’s hills.

In the winter you should visit some of the cities excellent museums. Edinburgh is blessed with a bunch of world-class museums — and they’re all free.

A hidden gem in my city is the Shore area in Leith where the Water of Leith canal ends. I like to think of it as the seafood hub of Edinburgh. You can dine in classic seafood gastro pubs like the Ship on the Shore or restaurants like Fishers Bistro, an Edinburgh institution serving up the best of Scotland’s fruit de la mer — like grilled queen scallops from West Loch Tarbert.

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For a great breakfast joint try the Larder, Old Town’s best-kept secret, with its emphasis on high quality and local ingredients. The prices are not cheap but the food here is an excellent value for money. I love their delicious streaky, smoked bacon from Ramsay of Carluke (which won the Gold Taste Award) in a fresh roll (£3.50).

Don’t miss the Edinburgh International Book Festival in Charlotte Square during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. This event attracts a stellar line up of writers and poets — both local and international — across all genres and age groups.

Just outside my city, 10 miles northwest, you can visit South Queensferry, a former Royal Burgh on the banks of the Firth of Forth. Check into the Boathouse restaurant on the High Street for their excellent Fish Supper. Make sure you get a window seat for a view of one of Scotland’s most iconic, enduring landmarks — the Forth Road Bridge.

The best way to see my city is by hopping on one of the City Sightseeing Tour Buses. The guides are local and knowledgeable. If you are blessed with a day of no gale-force winds, rain or snow, hop on one of their open-top buses for great views of all the city’s key landmarks.

The best book about my city is Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh’s gritty novel about the city’s underclass. It shows a darker side to Edinburgh, an image of the city that tourists never see.

When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is Mark Knopfler’s theme tune from the film Local Hero, “Going Home.” This film was my introduction to Scotland when I was growing up in India, and this song was the first song on my iPod when I set foot in the Edinburgh Airport.

If you have kids, you don’t want to miss the Edinburgh Zoo and its new residents, the giant pandas: Yang Guang and Tian Tian.

Hogmanay, the celebration of New Year in Scotland, could only happen in my city. Each region has its own unique traditions for celebrating the last day of the year, but Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations are truly breathtaking. It’s the largest New Year’s party of its kind in the world with a spectacular fireworks display from the top of Edinburgh Castle.

My city should be featured on your cover or website because coming to this city is like perfect love: once you’ve met Edinburgh, you’ll fallen madly in love with her and just keep coming back for more.

All Photos: Kash Bhattacharya

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