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  • JULIE WHITE

The Visitor Centre today is ... Johnnie Walker Princes St.

This is the best whisky experience in the world, they tell you. Will it live up to the hype?

facade of johnnie walker princes street edinburgh tour and visitor experience

(Note - This guide contains info from both our initial visit and a follow-up visit)


I went to Edinburgh in February 2022 with high expectations and much excitement. Be ready for an unstuffy, disruptive, immersive storytelling experience, hailed as the future of whisky experiences, the brand tells us.


I had been reading about Diageo's plans for their Johnnie Walker experience in Edinburgh for years and had eagerly watched the videos from world-renowned experience and production agency BRC Imagination Arts, so I had teasers as to what to expect. The brand home's success has been well reported too. Since opening in 2021, the brand home has won over 13 international awards including the DRUM awards (Best Brand Experience or Event 2022) and two from the Scottish Design Awards 2022.


Full disclosure, I'm a designer and whisky fan and have been lucky enough to visit and tour well over a hundred distilleries, so I appreciate that I went with different expectations than the everyday tourist. I was looking for something completely different, some amazing design features and surprising storytelling applications. After all, Donna Davidson (Global Project Development Director, BRC) tells us, "This is going to be the best whisky experience in the world."


That's quite a lot to live up to.


You can read about how my first visit went in the guide below. However, I returned again in 2023, to experience a little more of the visitor centre and I'll add in that information too.


But first, let's find out a bit more about the brand.


Brand History

The Johnnie Walker story starts like many large drink brands, with humbler beginnings as a grocer. Schweppes, Famous Grouse, Ballantines, to name but a few can trace their origins back to grocery stores.


John 'Johnnie' Walker was born on a farm in 1805. His father died young and left him the farm, which was subsequently sold in 1820 with a portion of the proceeds invested into opening a grocery store in Kilmarnock, Scotland, which at the time was considered a large and elegant town, which had benefitted from the arrival of the railways and heavy industry. The teenage John became a trader, in teas and spices, sugar and soap, and spirits such as rum and brandy. With a thriving import and export trade in Glasgow and Greenock, John began to create his own whisky blends, originally known as Walker’s Kilmarnock Whisky, which became increasingly popular.

After Walker’s death at 52 in 1857, his forward-thinking, entrepreneurial son Alexander 'Alec' Walker, took over the running of the company, where whisky was the best seller by some margin.


He turned the small grocery business into a massive concern, blending his own Old Highland Whisky. His core beliefs were quality and value, with a keen interest in consumer trends and a passion for upholding the family name. The business expanded rapidly over the next few decades, with wholesale and export trade dominating the whisky side of the business. In 1878 he built a massive bonding, blending and bottling facility, with a cooperage, case makers, store and stables, which would soon dominate the town centre.

A John Walker advert from 1887. Photograph: Science & Society Picture Library/SSPL/Getty Images

He introduced the iconic square bottle in the 1860s, making his whisky easier to export all over the world and less likely to break in transit. During the 1870s, its iconic slanted label was designed and applied at an angle of 24 degrees to accommodate more text. He trademarked it in 1876, which was incredibly forward-thinking, as the trade mark laws were still in their infancy. Unbeknown to them at the time, Alec and his designers had created one of the most enduring and recognisable packaging designs ever produced.


Alec Walker passed away in 1889 and the company, by then the world's leading Scotch whisky business, was passed to his sons Alexander II and George P. Walker. He left a personal estate of £93k, the equivalent of £12 million today. George focused on the business side of the company, while Alexander II became the master blender. In 1906, the familiar White, Red and Black Label were launched, each with declared age statements.


The Striding Man advertising image - Image Wikipedia

The Johnnie Walker Striding Man logo appeared in 1908, designed by Tom Browne, a well-respected comic illustrator of the time. He is a figure used in their advertisements to this day, though it took until the 1950s for him to appear on a bottle.


During World War I, Johnnie Walker supplied the British troops with whisky, and the brand became even more popular worldwide after the war. By 1920 Johnnie Walker whisky is available in over 120 countries and the brand goes public in 1923 and earns its first royal warrant in 1934.

First World War advertisement showing Johnnie Walker meeting a recruitment sergeant in 1914. Image - Chronicle / Alamy Stock Photo

In 1999 Johnnie Walker launches their first global advertising campaign with their "Keep Walking" slogan. The "Keep Walking" advertising campaign has since become one of the most famous and successful marketing campaigns in the history of the whisky industry, based on the idea of progress and the notion of always moving forward.

Martin Schoeller + Johnnie Walker Ad Campaign - Image on Behance

The Kilmarnock facility closed in 2012 after 192 years of production and the buildings were demolished, much to local dismay. Johnnie Walker is now bottled in Fife. Following the closure, there were calls for Diageo to build a visitor centre in Kilmarnock as a way of maintaining a link to the town's whisky heritage and providing a new source of employment. However, Diageo ultimately decided not to pursue this option, citing a number of reasons including the challenging economic climate, changes in the whisky industry, and the company's focus on developing its existing visitor centres in Scotland.


Today, Johnnie Walker is sold in over 180 countries and is the best-selling Scotch whisky in the world, according to The Spirits Business report in 2022.


If you want to learn more, can I recommend Nicholas Morgan's, A Long Stride, which I picked up at Glenkinchie Distillery. Morgan is the head of whisky outreach at Diageo, and therefore has unfettered access to the brand's fascinating archive. A fine read, even better accompanied by a dram.

a long stride book cover nicholas morgan author

The Visitor Centre design

The 8-storey Johnnie Walker Princes Street was designed as a global flagship visitor experience and part of the largest single investment programme that the whisky sector had ever seen. It formed part of Diageo’s £185 million investment, spread across this and their existing twelve distillery visitor attractions in Scotland. The investment also includes the reopening of distilleries in Port Ellen on Islay and Brora on the North-East coast of Sutherland.


Architects Simpson & Brown, in collaboration with masters of brand storytelling BRC Imagination Arts, were appointed by Diageo to breathe new life into the dilapidated, category B listed, former House of Fraser department store, which sits at the West End of what has traditionally been the main shopping street in Scotland's capital.

There’s plenty of evidence of a sensitive yet sleek, high luxe redesign of the building, reinstating original features such as the entrance canopy, flagpole, light sconces, and the famous 1960s Binns clock. There are impressive environmental credentials too, as it has already earned itself a Green Tourism Gold Award and is on the way to a coveted BREEAM Excellent and LEED Platinum award.


The site will no doubt have increased footfall levels in the area, especially given that the new St James Quarter development and earlier Multrees Walk, has seen a shift in location for Edinburgh's premier retail hub to the east. The site neighbours The Angel’s Share hotel and bar, the equally popular and recently refurbished Usquabae Whisky bar and the home of the Edinburgh Whisky Trail which arranges walking tours of popular whisky hotspots in the city. In August 2022, Cask 88, the world's smallest whisky bar opened up on the pavement right outside the Johnnie Walker experience. It's an area that should definitely now be rebranded as Whisky Corner.

exterior of cask 88 edinburgh the world's smallest whisky bar

The Tour

On a wet and windy February day in 2022, I booked online for the standard Journey of Flavour tour (£25 for 90 minutes when we booked but now £28), to see what the regular visitor would get, though there are other experiences and bars that you can book to enjoy. This initial visit was still in the midst of Covid restrictions in Scotland, so we were on a tour of 20 people and all masked up.


Welcome Lobby

entrance foyer display stand at johnnie walker princes street visitor experience

The welcome was very friendly from a bubbly tour guide, who took time to ask where we were all from and remembered that information throughout the whole experience.

First things first and it’s time for a touchscreen moment, a questionnaire on a tablet, designed to decide what our flavour profile is. The FlavourPrint™ programme would influence a drink we would be getting later we were told. Your reward is a coloured wristband, depending on your answers. I brought my husband along (for a more impartial view) and we both received different colour bands and were interested to see how well the algorithm had profiled us later in the tour.

As a side note, I must mention the very impressive staircase, which is a design joy. Well done that joiner!

staircase and wood panelling at johnnie walker princes street edinburgh

The brand history presentation

Next up would usually be the bog standard, brand history video presentation. Not this time.

Johnnie Walker’s 200 year rise from grocery store in Kilmarnock to the planet’s bestselling scotch, is told via a narrator who could have worked for Disney, with a script tailored to audiovisuals, impressively delivered whilst walking across two, airport style travelators. Quite a feat. You can't video it so I took a few photographs for you.

tour guide on travelator at johnnie walker princes street
tour guide in hat with cane johnnie walker princes street edinburgh

This is definitely a unique performance piece with plenty of effects and moving parts, that I won’t spoil by elaborating on too much.

It is different for sure and clever, and you learn about the countryside origins, the grocery store, the square bottle design, the angled labels and the international trade routes.

It felt, by the end, like a scene from The Greatest Showman and was, if I’m being truly honest, just a smidgen over theatrical. The effects were great, but might have slightly distracted from all the facts landing with full effect with everyone. But it got a round of applause, so I have to give them the benefit of the doubt and as a performance it was memorable.

We were also reminded that we can drink their whisky however we want, which I fully applaud.

I would have preferred to have seen some subtitles or a space for a display where someone could have signed the performance. When you are spending this much money on a visitor experience, it would be better to be as inclusive as possible.


The Grocer’s Sensorium

grocers sensorium table and chairs tasting room johnnie walker edinburgh

Next to the welcoming, well-appointed, modern adaptation of Johnnie Walker’s original grocer's store, The Grocer’s Sensorium. It has a long, central table and comfortable chairs, so we can all sit at the same level and is easily accessed by those in wheelchairs. In the centre of the table is a collection of garnishes for us to choose from. Masks removed, this is where the wristbands came into play. It's going to get multisensory.

Guests pick a glass that matches the colour of their flavour wristband, pop it into a unique drinks-dispensing machine and it is filled with a highball that matches their preferred flavour profile.

drinks dispenser in a display johnnie walker princes street
drinks dispenser johnnie walker edinburgh
drinks on a bar cocktails johnnie walker edinburgh

So, how right did they get it? Out of 20 drinks made, only five guests left theirs half drunk. The algorithm, while not a complete success, proved to be not bad at all then.

Thankfully there was a little more time here for the guide to go off the well-polished script, which made a welcome change and brought out more of her personality.

A slight negative was that there were no questions about us, our drinking habits, our preferences, even though we were in a room that was supposed to showcase how we’re all different. A lost marketing opportunity perhaps?

To be applauded are the drink dispensers that save the experience using 14,000 single-use glass bottles.


The Production Process

tour guide with guests johnnie walker edinburgh

We're whisked off to the next room and an audio-visual display on production, delivered via a cartoon figure projected on the walls.

Each of the ‘Four Corners Distilleries’ — Glenkinchie, Clynelish, Cardhu, & Caol Ila, get a display each.

On each section were glass vessels, reminiscent of specimen jars, and a bottle of the malt from that distillery. There's a lot going on in here and plenty to watch, but we never got time or were encouraged to look around each display. For a room designed to be immersive, there is nothing to touch here, so guests with sight loss might be a little disappointed.

And where are the cool looking bubble smoke machines that are in BRC’s video? They must have been out of action which was a real shame, as we lost that level of immersion. No smells, no actual sounds, no real distillery images. Technology and effects don’t always play ball as we know. Maybe next time.


Flavour Profiles

To the next room and you’re surrounded by walls of whisky bottles, with more projections on a central display, focusing on flavour profiles, earthy, sweet, fruity etc, followed by a graphic representation of the wood used in the casks. No actual wood, something I knew wasn’t offered and the one thing that from a tactility and sensory perspective is all too often missed in tours.

Each bottle in the core range is accompanied by an abstract painterly projection, to reflect the sense of place, by Scottish artist Scott Naismith, who has designed artworks and a sculpture for the building. Some real images mixed in for context might have made for a deeper sense of place. Still, it was interesting.


The tasting room

We head along a corridor with displays housing archive advertising campaigns with text below, none of which, sadly, we were given time to read, as we were ushered swiftly to the next space. I would have loved to have more time as the brand history is fascinating.

archive pictures on wall johnnie walker edinburgh

A quick round up on what we had all learnt and a bit of audience participation, which got a few laughs.

We are told the doors to the tasting room will open and we can finally get to taste, but only for 25 minutes. Sadly, it’s slightly drilled into us, just 25 minutes.

The tasting room doors open and the guide is joined by two servers. We each get a smart, oak tasting board, which I didn’t see sold in the shop, but would sell well I’m sure. They do sell the elegant, ribbed, highball glasses, which if branded would have been even better, as similar glasses are available elsewhere, hence why I didn’t buy them.

Driver's drams are freely available, which is great.

drivers drams glass and tasting board johnnie walker edinburgh

We get a menu and we’re quickly served 2 drinks. Large font at the top says World of Flavour tasting with all cocktails made with Johnnie Walker Black Label. You can see where the brand are positioning their product to their visitors. Same size font for the Old-fashioned menu in the middle. Languishing at the bottom, in tiny font, drams. Strange, as this is the one opportunity to taste the whisky in the core range, without it being masked in a cocktail. At least give us dram drinkers equal billing.

Of the 20 people on the tour, 5 went for drams. This is usually where you enjoy your drams and decide on your future purchases. Sadly, not this day. We are given a countdown, 20 minutes, 15 minutes, 10 minutes. It was like being in the Bake Off tent and it certainly raised the pressure.

Now, I’m happy to spend around £100 or more in the shop on one bottle, if I’ve enjoyed the tasting, so which dram to choose? The six on the menu came minus any flavour profiles. I plumped for a quick Google search on my phone and chose the 18 yr old, being the most expensive to buy, and the Green Label, which Google said was an insider’s tip, as more complex. I just needed more time to enjoy them.

This is where the tour fell a little short as there were plenty of wasted opportunities for deeper engagement or the subtle upsell before guests hit the shop. No one asked us our thoughts on our drams. 5 minutes left we’re told.

dram in glass johnnie walker edinburgh

A light appears in the countertop, for Instagram they tell us. Grab that shot and the drinks were collected up. Out we go, some drinks sadly left behind. It felt too rushed, but we appreciate there are a lot of people to get through. It's a tough choice between sales due to dwell time and sales just from the hundreds of tour tickets purchased daily.


The store

The store is open to the public as well as tour guests and is a large, well lit, shiny, open retail space, packed with product and displays of clothing and merchandise. I admit I linger a little longer than most, to make a considered purchase, definitely to do market research, so I look at everything, check out all the design details, whilst also watching what happens with those from our tour and to see how many buy.

Our group of twenty come through. Three buy, but of those I’m not sure what they buy.

There’s an interactive flavour finder table display, so visitors not on the tour, can try their hand at some sensory experiences. In fact, there are tablets here that have the same flavour profile questions as we got at the start of our tour. For the casual walk in guest, this is a great addition, but sadly on our first visit, no tastings were on offer of product, due to covid restrictions.


There are several signs to advertise that spending over £100 on a bottle would get you free engraving, which happens right in front of the guest in store.

There are lots of duplicates of product and several different expressions in the store, which could do with more information about them, not just the price. The expensive bottles, in a more exclusive section of the store, got a handy write up next to them though.

Bags, cocktail equipment, playing cards, shirts, hats, umbrellas, those cocktail glasses, it’s all in there.

There’s the Johnnie Walker Princes Street black label edition, mentioned briefly in the tour, and here on the shelf, but with no text about it. That could do with a write-up, as we appreciate distillery only editions.

There is a Seasonal blend display, in the bottle your own section, mentioned very briefly on the tour, so they are doing something seasonal, which is always refreshing.

There was a distinct lack of staff on the retail floor.

Call us over the display says. So I do.

“How was your tour?” the assistant asks.

“Interesting. Different to a distillery of course,” I answer.

“Yes, this is more engaging,” she replies.

“That’s a matter of opinion,” I answer politely with a smile.

She looks me up and down and replies curtly, “Well, they are boring, and this is not.”

And off she strides back behind the till point.

Sadly, that was the final engagement on my initial visit.


Fabulous design and lots of money can't guarantee absolutely everything lives up to expectations.


Our follow-up visit

We're back in Edinburgh in 2023, eager to see what, if anything, has changed in parts of the visitor centre, since our initial visit a year ago, in February 2022.


Diageo's Johnnie Walker experience in Edinburgh has been a huge success, with over 300,000 visitors in its first year and it is reported to attract as many men as women, which is great news for us female whisky drinkers.


We headed back, not for a tour, as we had done previously, but this time to experience the rooftop bar and to see what's changed in the retail space, now that covid restrictions have been removed. I'll return again to experience more of the tours and events at the site in the future. It helps that it's so close to home.


Welcome Lobby

It's so refreshing to see the space open to visitors without restrictions. You get to access much more of the ground floor now and visitors can now easily walk between the retail space and the main foyer.

staircase at johnnie walker edinburgh looking down

As I mentioned in my previous post, the staircase is a wonderful bit of joinery. You have to check it out.


The 1820 rooftop bar

Visitors can't just walk into the rooftop bar, you have to be invited in by one of the hosts in the foyer. A quick call was made and we're in luck.

The lift whisks us up to the bar reception area where we are greeted by another staff member and then escorted to our seats.

rooftop 1820 bar with stools and tables johnnie walker edinburgh

It was not exactly packed, but it is an afternoon in February. There are seats at the bar for those just drinking, plus other seating for those wanting food.

Good to see that the menu includes something seasonal, but I plump for a Clynelish 14, a real favourite of mine, since we visited the distillery last year. My husband was driving, so ordered a soft drink.

Our drinks are delivered with little to no conversation, which is a shame, as there are only two other people at the bar. A bit of chat about my whisky preferences would have given the bartender a chance to sell me something different for my next round.

They do serve food, but we have dinner reservations elsewhere. If the charcuterie platter is as good as the one we had in Clynelish then we'll be back.

Time to wrap up and head outside to the roof terrace, the huge draw of the bar.

It doesn't disappoint.

I come to the city a lot, but never get to see the views like this. The castle sits on its hill, framed by burnished perforated cladding and some Corten steel coloured walls.

I love some perforated cladding and it's similar to that on the roof of the Stonehenge visitor centre by Denton Corker Marshall.

Perfect selfie spot!

There are some great views down Princes Street to Calton Hill.

And you get views up Shandwick Place in the West End, with Murrayfield Stadium behind the 300 ft chimney stack of the now closed Caledonian Distillery, which is one of the tallest Victorian towers to remain in Scotland.

There are even views across to the Firth of Forth and Fife beyond.

The root top isn't enormous, and due to the time of year sparsely furnished, but it gets busy with visitors and they're rewarded with great views at every turn. It is February. This place would be fabulous in the warmer months.

We found the other rooftop bar, The Explorer's Bothy, closed for refurbishment.


The store

I'm back to see how the retail space has changed and gladly, now covid restrictions have gone, there are a few more visitors and some local and seasonal offerings, interspersed by the masses of branded product.


The interactive flavour table display, where visitors not on the tour, can try their hand at a sensory experience, is still quite a draw. On this, our second visit, we find the scents strong, so it looks like it is topped up regularly.

There are signs for a themed tasting, this one being for Valentine's Day.

And there's a seasonal blend tasting table.

The Bottle Your Own display features seasonal blends too and free engraving over £100.

There are still lots of multiples of product and different expressions in the store, which could do with more information about them, not just the price. But there is something for everyone and lots of items for all budgets.

We did see a new limited edition expression, which is very exciting and definitely one for the collectors out there.

The brand has collaborated with a particular favourite of mine, the luxury textile brand Harris Tweed Hebrides. The items include bottle holders, jackets, key rings, scarves and lots more. There's even a special edition whisky to tempt you, at £169, which comes in a bespoke bag, created in conjunction with Scottish ethical manufacturer BeYonder, who employ young fashion and textile students. It can be reused in many ways too, so it can have another life. Better than a boring box I'm sure you'll agree.

The turquoise in the plaid and on the label really pops, and is inspired by the fishing ropes and nets used in the outer Hebrides. The designs definitely brighten up the retail space and blend the modern with the traditional. Lovely work.

The collaboration is the first of many planned in the "Johnnie Walker Princes Street Collective” series, where Johnnie Walker will be working with some of Scotland’s amazing creative brands to create unique whiskies and merchandise.


The whisky is a world first for the brand, which has nearly 11 million casks maturing in their inventory from which they can create blends. The Johnnie Walker x Harris Tweed Hebrides collection is a blended whisky, bottled at 40% and matured for twelve months in American oak casks in the underground Whisky Makers Cellar at Johnnie Walker Princes Street. Holding just 26 casks, it is unique among bonded warehouses in Scotland, and can even be accessed on one of the tours, the 90 minute long, Whisky Maker's Cellar tour (£95). This is one for the connoisseur, or the curious like me. Visitors can taste direct from the cask, amongst the maturing whisky, destined solely for the Princes Street store.


The cellar is not like a usual maturation warehouse. It is much more experimental and has proved to be a warmer space, where the temperature changes due to people being in it more often. This has resulted in the whisky maturing quicker, giving notes that you don't get in standard warehouses. All 26 casks are used in the one collaboration, which results in around 10,000 limited edition bottles unique to the store. Another 26 casks have gone into the cellar, ready for a new collaboration and future releases. I can't wait to try it.


Visitors will certainly enjoy buying something uniquely Scottish.


In conclusion

I know this is not a distillery, but a tourist attraction, but it is the face of the brand. Let’s be fair, they’re not the only drinks brand with an experience that isn’t based where production happens. Many spirit brands have tasting rooms in a city rather than at their production facility. The Johnnie Walker Four Corner Distilleries are, for some, difficult to travel to, but well worth a visit, and all are receiving welcome upgrades. Please do try them out if you can.


Clynelish and Glenkinchie, both of which I have had the pleasure of visiting since the refurbishment, are useful for comparison. We experienced a deeper engagement there. On those tours, I spent a long time on the drams offered in tasting, with a tour guide who only rarely seemed to follow a script, who chatted to us about what we liked or disliked, who gauged the audience and subtly upsold. We were told about the history and shown the sights and smells that only an actual distillery can offer. In both, I bought £150 plus of products, in very nice surroundings, that had a real sense of place and which I have recommended many to visit.


Real money has been spent on Johnnie Walker Princes Street, and it shows. It’s very smart and has a top location. Like the massively successful Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, the Princes Street experience has rooftop spaces for those wanting less engagement, but a selfie with a drink and a terrific view for social media. It will be beautiful up there in the summer.


The glassware and tasting boards are very smart and the seating has a luxury feel. If there were multi-sensory experiences that were broken during our visit, then, from what I can see online and from friends who have visited since, they look fun. I would have appreciated more physical interaction with exhibits. One area I do feel is lacking somewhat is seamless inclusivity. Guests visiting with hearing or sight loss should be catered for, when this sort of investment is made, without having to ask for their specific needs to be addressed. More exhibits to touch such as models or 3D panels with braille would be a welcome addition and there is space for these to be retrofitted. And can we get some subtitles or even simple handouts for those guests with hearing loss, which could double as a guide for those visiting where English is not their first language. Let's make this experience fully accessible for all. I am sure this will be addressed in time.


For those that have a greater appreciation for the spirit, they offer a straight-from-the-cask Whisky Maker's Cellar tour in the basement cellar for £95. That's one for the connoisseur.


I still feel there are a few places where a little casual conversation from the staff members would increase engagement and definitely encourage spend, so there's still room for improvement.


It was worth returning, if only to check out the Harris Tweed collaboration, merchandise, and those amazing views. I will definitely go back, and I look forward to their Johnnie Walker History Adventure tour so I can see more of their archive material. Nicholas Morgan's book, A Long Stride, has definitely left me wanting more.


I wish them well, as investing in my capital city is always welcome, and it really isn’t like anything else in the whisky industry.

However, for customer engagement, spend and advocacy, there’s something to be said for going off-script and finishing tours in the bar!


How long was the visit?

For our initial visit, we were there for just over 2 hours. The tour we went on lasted 90 minutes and we spent a little longer than all on our tour in the shop. There are tours running sometimes every 20 minutes, depending on season, so they can get through plenty of guests. For our return visit, we were there for just over an hour.


How much are the tickets?

We paid full price and this was not part of any advertising.

We went on the standard Journey of Flavour tour which has gone up to £28 per person since we visited. This gives you 3 drinks along the tour but does not include access to any of the bars in the building which annoyingly have to be booked separately. If, like us, you go on a busy weekend, you might not be able to do both, so it pays to book in advance.

Tours and the bars need to be booked in advance online, but on the day we visited there were spaces in the bar and on tours when we asked.


Opening times

It's always worth checking with the venue for their current opening times, as they can vary.


Can we eat there?

Yes, but as we have said, you need to book this separately from the tour.


Accessibility

It's great to see a visitor experience that appears accessible for those with mobility issues. Great accessible toilets, lifts, counter and bar heights, so everyone feels equally welcome. Maybe a hearing loop system and some braille signage would be worth investing in to make the spaces even more accessible.


 

Getting here:

As parking is so expensive we often use the tram for our trips into the city. Edinburgh is well served by trains on the national rail network and also has an international airport, with a tram and bus link direct to the city centre, which is expanding in 2023. Driving into the city is to be avoided if you can.


We feel very lucky to be connected by a Park and Ride bus system that whisks us from our home town into Edinburgh at regular intervals, though it needs to be booked well in advance due to popular demand. We can highly recommend and used the Ember bus, the UK's first all-electric, intercity bus service. It drops off and picks up from Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirling, Kinross, Edinburgh Airport and more and we find the service to be well run, well priced and very comfortable. It's our preferred way to come to Edinburgh.


Where we stayed:

We're really lucky to live only 40 minutes from Edinburgh so we don't always need to stay over. However, we made a weekend of it and stayed at the Kimpton Charlotte Square Hotel.

We had stayed in the hotel a few years ago but it has since been refurbished and we had a very pleasant stay indeed, if only for one night. Steps away from the Johnnie Walker Experience it is an ideal base when visiting the city and is a little quieter than staying on the likes of the Royal Mile. We never ate in the hotel but can tell you that their Baba restaurant was full at 6 pm as was their bar, so this is definitely an after work hot spot. Had a cracking cocktail in the bar before we headed off into town for some food.


What else is there to see close by:

There's so much to do in and around Edinburgh, it's hard to know what not to recommend.


One thing we have mixed feelings about is recommending Edinburgh in August. This is when the world-famous Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Fringe take place and the city is draped in posters advertising theatrical and comedy acts. To say it is busy is an understatement and it seems to get busier and less easy to navigate every year. We love it and hate it in equal measure.


August is also Tattoo month, so the castle grounds are transformed into an outdoor venue for the global showcase of military bands and cultural performances.

We often recommend May and September as great times to come and see the city and the surrounding areas, if you want it slightly quieter though it is always full of tourists.


Edinburgh Castle is always worth a visit, especially if you're around when it is lit up for one of the Kingdom of Colours events.


The National Museum of Scotland is huge and free and really does have something for everyone from science to ceramics, Egyptian artefacts to natural history displays. It is certainly great for families and those needing to escape a rainy day.


I am known to while away many a lunch hour at either or both buildings of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. It has a nice little café and changing exhibitions that are always worth a look.


If you fancy some more whisky then you can always visit the Scotch Whisky Experience

or the Holyrood distillery. If you have access to a car then we urge you to visit Glenkinchie Distillery, part of the Four Pillars Johnnie Walker distilleries for a truly authentic distillery experience. If you can wait a little while then the vertical Port of Leith distillery is set to open in 2023.


And if gin is more your thing then in November 2023 you can visit the new site of Edinburgh Gin Distillery. If you can't wait, then there are excellent tours available at Lind and Lime and Pickerings.


Surgeons' Hall Museum is a fascinating place and I'm completely biased as I ran an event there last year. Home to the site of the first Scottish female medical students, the building houses a weird and wonderful collection of surgical and medical historical objects. It is definitely something out of the ordinary if you're coming to Edinburgh.


For those wizards out there, the self-guided Harry Potter walking tour is really good and gets you around the city in a most magical way.


For those that golf, everyone knows that Scotland has plenty of amazing courses for you to try out. But for us, it's all about rugby, so we can always recommend coming to Murrayfield for an international match. 70,000 people singing Flower of Scotland, our national anthem, is something to behold.


And lastly, a huge favourite of mine, is the excellent Real Mary King's Close, where costumed guides take you under the city streets and into the capital's history of the plague, ghosts and royal visitors.



Visited: Feb 2022 and Feb 2023

Photographs: ©Julie White unless noted otherwise


Disclaimer - The views and opinions expressed are solely my own. I paid for the tours in full, unless mentioned specifically, and any comments reflect my personal experiences on that day. Please drink responsibly. Please visit so you can foster your own opinion and feel free to research the brand and the visitor centre in question for yourself.

 

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