Cookbook author Sumayya Usmani shares her top things to do in this magical city.
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I've wanted to go to Edinburgh, Scotland for years—it’s one of those places I’ve only heard described with enthusiastic superlatives like, “The greenest!” “The most beautiful!” “The friendliest!”. After visiting for the first time a few weeks ago, I’m happy to say that my expectations were met, and then some.
With more trees per person than any other city in the UK (there are 112 parks in Edinburgh!), it certainly is green. Aside from the natural beauty of Scotland, the architecture of Edinburgh is old and stunning, which helps set a general fairytale vibe. And Scots, from your Uber driver to the friendly folks next to you at the pub, are welcoming and delightful.
But the surprise highlight of Edinburgh for me was its exciting entrepreneurial spirit and diversity of people and flavors. I met so many interesting folks, like Mary Higgis, founder of Mary’s Milk Bar in central Edinburgh—a quirky chocolate and ice cream shop that uses local ingredients for out-there ice cream flavors like hot-cross buns or blue cheese with grape—and Sumayya Usmani, a culinary teacher and cookbook author originally from Pakistan who has found her home in Scotland. As she describes it, she has a “Pakistani heart, Scottish soul.”
Sumayya left life as a lawyer in London to follow her passion for food and all things Scottish. She now lives in Glasgow (which is an up-and-coming culinary hotspot in its own right) but frequently does the hour train ride to Edinburgh for work or just to meet with friends. I met Sumayya while I was in Edinburgh and I got to experience Scotland, her way: cooking innovative takes on traditional Scottish recipes, reveling in areas steeped in history, and exploring Edinburgh by foot.
Together, we made her recipe for tattie scones, a traditional Scottish potato griddle scone, which includes her Pakistani-inspired addition of fresh herbs and butternut squash. She was kind enough to share her recipe with me (and you—find the recipe below!), and tell me all about her favorite things to do in Edinburgh...along with some great tips for Glasgow, too, like her suggestion head to the south side of Glasgow for awesome Pakistani food.
Katie Quinn: If you're visiting for more than a day, where would you stay?
Sumayya Usmani: Now I like to really treat myself when I’m out of town—especially when you’re in a grand place like Edinburgh. If you want to get away from the city center, there’s Prestonfield House. It’s very luxe, very expensive, but if you really want to treat yourself, it has the best high tea and really good lunches and dinners, as well.
KQ: Treat yo'self! What’s your favorite way to spend a Saturday or Sunday in town?
SU: I think the best way to really explore the city is to walk. I know people can be put off by the weather, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned since living in Scotland, it’s that there’s no such thing as bad weather, there’s just such thing as bad clothing. So as long as you have the right clothes and the right shoes, walking is the best. If you walk the city, you find these quirky little corners and streets that are worth exploring.
Katie Quinn: Where would you go for a celebratory dinner out?
Sumayya Usmani: Ok, this isn’t fair because it’s my friend's restaurant, but it is really good—it’s called Cafe St Honore and it’s on a beautiful little Mews street. It’s a French bistro, really into sustainability and local produce. Everything on the menu may be very French style, but the restaurant incorporates Scottish produce and celebrates seasonality.
KQ: Where do you head for a casual meal?
SU: There’s a place near Waverley Station called the Fruitmarket Gallery and they have lovely food—they have great coffee and they have really nice lunch menus, it’s one of my favorite places to pop in.
KQ: And what about in Glasgow?
SU: It’s such a growing place when it comes to food! There are a lot of vegan places that are great (and I’m not even vegan). There’s a place called Picnic in the city center that's one of my favorite places just now. If you go to the south side of Glasgow, there’s an area called Pollokshields. And you have some amazing Pakistani food there. If you go there and a place says it’s Pakistani cuisine, you want to walk in.
KQ: Where would you go for a proper cup of coffee or tea?
SU: There’s a place called BrewLab in Edinburgh. They do proper drip coffee. They roast their own beans—amazing.
KQ: What’s the spot in town with the best late-night eats? What’s the thing to order?
SU: Edinburgh is one of those cities that’s 24/7, I think, when it comes to food. So one of my favorite places to pop in is—you know, I have a real craving for chicken wings late at night—there’s a place called Wings just off the Royal Mile that’s fabulous and it’s open really late.
KQ: What about a night cap?
SU: One of my favorite places in Edinburgh is Oxford Bar, that’s where Ian Rankin had written some of his books and he’s known to sometimes pop in there for a dram [that’s a small drink of whisky or other spirits!] It’s a nice place for a dram.
KQ: And what’s the dish everyone should try once?
SU: I know this is going to sound so typical, but haggis really is worth it. I have to say that I’m a bigger fan of vegetarian haggis...not because I’m a vegetarian, but because I think it’s got a subtly to it that doesn’t overwhelm the palate. Because a lot of people, when they first try haggis—the first thing that hits you is the gaminess, and we all know what goes into it, right…[just in case you don't, it's sheep's pluck heart, liver, lungs]. If you’re a newbie, try vegetarian haggis because it won’t put you off the whole texture—it’s worth it. Or try a haggis bon bon.
KQ: Is there a museum or cultural activity you really love in the area?
SU: It’s really worth going to the castle because it’s in a beautiful focal point, and the coolest thing about Edinburgh is that you pretty much “see” the whole of Scotland from this city. It encapsulates being in Edinburgh. And if you’re in Glasgow, if you love arts, the Kelvingrove Museum is absolutely stunning. Beautiful sandstone structure, and it’s just been voted one of the best museums to go to in the UK!
KQ: Where can folks find the best view in town?
SU: The best view is Arthur’s Seat. It’s a beautiful walk and if the weather is good, you get the most incredible view of Edinburgh.
KQ: Is there a specific souvenir people should bring home from Scotland?
SU: This is going to sound very cliched, but I have to say that one of the best souvenirs is tartan, like the checked scarves you always see here. Every clan has its own tartan and it has so much history. There’s something quite magical about tartan and it just says “Scotland!!”
KQ: What’s the thing people shouldn’t leave Edinburgh without doing?
SU: You know, I’m not a huge sports person, but rugby is like a religion here in Scotland. So I’d say to soak in the atmosphere at a rugby game at Murray’s Field. The atmosphere is unreal.
What are your favorite Edinburgh spots? Tell us in the comments below!
From London to Edinburgh, Cornwall to Yorkshire, there's so much to do, see, eat, and experience all across the United Kingdom. In partnership with VisitBritain , we're so excited to share our favorite unexpected discoveries to help inspire your very own British adventure. Follow along on Instagram to see what's going on across the pond at @lovegreatbritain and what Great Britain is eating at @greatbritishfood.