Edinburgh is the most romantic of cities and no trip to the UK is complete without a visit. Nira Caledonia offers luxury rooms in one of the New Town’s quaint terraces.
Despite its small size, the United Kingdom is actually a pretty varied place (it is made up of four different countries after all!). Often time-pressed visitors fly into London and don’t make it much further than the south east. This is understandable, there is a lot to see down there and it can be expensive to travel around Britain, however it is also a shame.
To the north of England is the wonderful country of Scotland, home to a distinct culture, spectacular landscapes, and some awesome cities. If you really want to understand the UK, you have to make your way up there, and if you do, you absolutely must spend some time in Edinburgh.
Nicknamed ‘the Athens of the north’, Edinburgh’s center feels like a fantasy thanks to its medieval streets and interesting geography. Its castle sits at the top of a steep cliff face, and the ancient Royal Mile runs down from its gate with quaint lanes weaving off on either side. At the bottom is Arthur’s Seat – an extinct volcano – as well as Holyrood Palace, one of the Queen’s favorite houses. To one side of the Mile is a drained loch which now houses the station and train tracks, and if you continue past this you reach the new town which, despite its name, dates back to 18th Century and is full of handsome Georgian terraces. It is an astoundingly picturesque place, steeped in history, and with a romantic air that is only enhanced by the sound of street performers playing bagpipes.
We were luckily enough to stay in one of these New Town terraces at the Nira Caledonia hotel. This place was quintessentially boutique! Converted mansion? Check! Great design details? Double Check! Interesting and great location? Check! Artsy and non-businessy? Check!
The hotel actually consists of what was once three adjoining houses, and was lovingly converted around five years ago. As soon as you enter, you notice the grand spiral staircase and the old-world feel of the interior, which matches the city perfectly. When we arrived our room wasn’t quite ready so we were told we would have a short wait before we could check-in. Not to worry though, we were given an extremely warm welcome! They showed us through to the bar and brought us tea and coffee. All the staff were extremely friendly and seemed to genuinely enjoy they jobs. Good service is good service, but when there is a happy atmosphere on top it makes your stay that extra bit special.
Nira Caledonia is a member of the ‘Small Luxury Hotels’, an exclusive global club which requires high standards of its associates. As such the hotel is very comfortable and has a classy decorative style. The lobby is lined with vitrines filled with trinkets from local artisans. From jewelry to gold plated taxidermy, there are all sorts of interesting things to look at. Most of these pieces are the products of local artists and designers, while the interior design as a whole was coordinated by Jefferys’ interiors and you can certainly see their expert eye throughout.
Jefferys’ magic hand was at play in our room as well, and I loved everyone of the design details. It had high double ceilings which made it look huge, and large windows which were great for cozying up in front of. I really liked the pillow cases, and wish I could get a set for myself. We stayed in one of the suites (some of these have gardens you can walk out into), and it had all the features you would expect from a hotel of this class including a Nespresso machine which was much appreciated. Each room is decorated slightly differently but I think it is safe to say that they are probably all lovely.
Nira is home to an excellent restaurant – Blackwood’s Bar and Grill – which serves up modern takes on traditional Scottish favorites. We had dinner there one night and it was delicious! We started with the terrine (made from pigeon and venison – about Scottish as you can get), as well as a creamy pumpkin soup. As you can probably guess from the name, their speciality is grilled meat so we gave their steak and chicken dishes a go for mains and were not disappointed.
One tasty and interesting extra was the vast selection of mustards. We never knew there were so many different types, and apparently some of them are quite hard to get hold of! It left quite an impression on Chris and ever since he has admitted to secretly hoping that there will be a mustard concierge everywhere we eat.
The real highlight is the breakfast however. As well as a generous buffet of continental options (including croissants, fruit, yoghurt, cheese, and hard boiled eggs), they also offer what is – in my opinion – a must, The full Scottish Breakfast. You might have heard of the full English with its bacon, sausage, fried egg, baked beans, and tomato (amongst other things), and the Scottish version is very similar except with the addition of white pudding, black pudding, and a potato scone. It is a great way to start the day, and if you are not use to it you might find yourself tempted to skip lunch!
Being a relatively small hotel, Nira Caledonia doesn’t have space for things like a gym or a swimming pool, but it does offer some pretty awesome excursion options. The shopping haven of Princes Street is only a few minutes walk away and if that is your thing, you can go on an organized shopping trip with priority access to some of the best shops in Edinburgh as well as a personal shopper to assist you. Scotland is also internationally known for its golf courses and with Nira you can play at some of the best clubs in the country. If you really want to push the boat, out you can even fly by helicopter to possibly the best course in the world – St Andrews.
If those don’t sound like your sort of activities, there are plenty of other things to do in Edinburgh. You should give yourself some time to walk the Royal Mile and explore the rest of the city center. The castle is well worth a visit and going inside is like stepping back in time. If you are feeling active you can climb Arthur’s seat, and it will only take you a couple of hours to get to the top and down again. You should also experience the atmosphere of one of Edinburgh’s traditional pubs – Deacon Brodie’s Drop is a great one to try out.
At various parts of the year, the city plays host to a range of different festivities and all are well worth checking out (you will have to make sure you book your accommodation well in advance though if you plan to visit during these as the place is always packed). Hogmanay is the Scottish name for new years, and the whole city center is closed off as it turns into one massive street party. Internationally known bands play in the shadow of the castle, fireworks are set off, a huge viking procession takes place (complete with burning wax torches), and of course, Auld Lang Syne is sang by everyone once the clock strikes twelve.
The Edinburgh Festival (which is actually a series of different events which take place over the summer – including the famous Fringe Festival) is world famous and features music, theatre, art, dance, and comedy performances. A final big event is the Tattoo which takes place in the courtyard of the castle. Every year hundreds of military bands from every country which was once part of the British Empire come to perform their own traditional marching songs. It sounds like a bit of a niche occasion, but it is great fun to watch.
Edinburgh is a gem of a city and if you ever find yourself in that part of the world, don’t think about it, just go there. Stay in Nira Caledonia and you will be comfortable, well located, and get a genuine Scottish experience. It – like the city as a whole – makes the perfect place for a romantic getaway and furthermore, the Scottish highlands are only a few hours drive away.