Fringe benefits: Visiting Edinburgh during the world-famous comedy festival
Published 21 July 2022

Credit: Kimpton Hotel

Visiting Edinburgh during August is a contradiction, existing simultaneously as the best and worst time to experience the Scottish capital. First and foremost, and before the clatter of pitchforks becomes overwhelming, it’s important to acknowledge thus: The Festival – a sprawling amalgamation of seven distinct events – is an incredible thing. While many locals love to moan, it is a joy and a privilege to live in a city that explodes with its creativity every summer, especially after a few largely fallow years of Covid-induced silence. That said, if you’re coming to Auld Reekie next month, just knowing the town a little better will make your visit much more mellow. 

Edinburgh is a beautiful place and there are a few options to enjoy the view with a glass and a plate. The Lookout offers wraparound skylines through floor-to-ceiling plate glass, and a concise tasting menu that more than measures up to the location. If you’re feeling flush, the penthouse suite at the Cheval Grand has one of the greatest rooftop terraces in Edinburgh, and room service cocktails from the bar below. Lamplighters, atop the new Gleneagles Townhouse, has a private balcony that looks across St Andrews Square, although you’ll need a room in the hotel or a friend with a membership to get in the door. If you have neither, head next door to Harvey Nichols – their terrace has the same views, and an impeccable cocktail list. Over at the Market Street Hotel, the Nor Loft looks back at the New Town across Waverly station and Princes Street Gardens, while the 1820 Bar on top of the Johnnie Walker Experience has some of the best Castle views in town. It’s not part of their tour, but you do need to book.

Credit: Gleneagles

You can drink whisky in any pub in town – whether it’s good whisky, or good value, is another thing entirely. In the centre, head to The Black Cat, Devil’s Advocate or over to Kaleidoscope on Queen Street. The latter is the public bar of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, serving a vast range of their single cask malts – become a member, and you can check out their home at The Vaults, down in Leith. Near there, Teuchter’s Landing has one of the city’s great beer gardens, perched right on the water and sharing its West End sibling’s enthusiasm for Scotch and ale. The Bow Bar has one of the capital’s great whisky selections, somehow managing to be a locals’ favourite on a tourist street, and Cloisters, the Jolly Judge and Brauhaus do a fine trade in great beer. For a brace of deeply local choices, head down to The Royal Oak or out to The Diggers, formally and infrequently known as The Athletic Arms. Respectively, you can choose from Guinness and folk music, or an unbelievable collection of drams.

Credit: The Devil's Advocate

Although dining at the hotel you’re staying in is often the reserve of the lost and the weary, Edinburgh does play host to some definitive exceptions that merit charging to the room. The Kimpton boasts both Baba’s hearty, smoky Levantine cuisine and Aizle’s hyper-seasonal tasting extravaganza, while round the corner at The Caledonian, Dean Banks’ decadent, East-Asian infused menu at The Pompadour also takes the tasting route, adding in some stunning castle views for good measure. Both the big, blue-ribbon openings from Gleneagles and Virgin are vying to impress. At The Commons Club, Edinburgh native Steven Wilson presides over a menu that basks in a wealth of local, Scottish produce, and The Spence was created with input from Zoe and Layo Paskin, whose head chef Jonny Wright cut his teeth at their Palomar and Evelyn’s Table sites in London. For the home cook, an incredible home to cook in – Observatory House, atop Calton Hill, has room for four and a kitchen with the best view in Edinburgh. Add on the apartment below and have some friends round for supper.

Credit: The Athletic Arms

It is easy to come to Edinburgh and get stuck in the middle. It’s a dense little city, and the festival is packed in, cheek by jowl – great news if you’re cutting between shows, less so for finding a table for dinner or drinks. Look a little further out, and you’ll find some gems. Down in Leith, the likes of Heron, Borough, Martin Wishart, and The Little Chartroom are all worth the walk, as are the cocktails at Nauticus and the pints at Malt & Hops. A trip out to Sabzi will yield exceptional Punjabi cooking, Little Rascal offers great wine out in Corstorphine, and aside from a beach (head to Beer Zoo for pre-chilled takeout options to enjoy in the sand), Portobello has Smith & Gertrude, the Portobello Tap, and the taproom of Vault City, who brew nearby. Back in town, if the throng gets too much, head to The Meadows. On a sunny afternoon, with a Wanderers Kneeded pizza and a few cold drinks from Marchmont’s Cork and Cask, it’s a glorious spot.