If I had a good experience at a local business during my travels, I am going to tell you about it!
1. HOSTEL: Budget Backpackers, Cowgate & Grassmarket Edinburgh. Sitting close to the top of my hostel recommendation list, Budget Backpackers is conveniently located, nicely decorated, affordable, and friendly. Just make sure to book ahead, they are usually busy.
2. FOOD: The Elephant House, Edinburgh. This is the place that JK Rowling penned her first Harry Potter book. The building is gorgeous – inside and out. They boast specialty teas and a variety of coffees, the food is pretty good too. An hour or so spent here, in one of the cushy Victorian chairs with a medieval view, will inspire you too.
3. DRINKS: The OZ Bar, Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh. A quaint little pub run by Aussies, with a specialty toward travellers. Coming in for a drink will make you feel like you have walked into a room full of old friends – or like you have entered ‘Cheers’ in Boston (where everybody knows your name). Friendly! And the authentic Aussie food is ok too.
4. DANCING: Opium Alternative Bar, Cowgate Edinburgh. Reminiscent of the Toronto alternative scene in the 1990’s, stinky, sweaty, dark and loud – in an old crumbly building adjacent to a gothic bridge. If you can handle the music (or enjoy it, as I do), you will appreciate this place – or at least find it very interesting – and despite appearances, the staff are very friendly.
If you are not into the ‘alternative genre’, just up the street from Opium is Cabaret Voltaire. With an interesting ‘dungeon-y’ interior and beautiful, fashionable staff – you can rely on the Cabaret to provide you with an experience that includes whatever is ‘hip’ at the moment – lighting, drinks and music.
5. FOOD: Pizza Paradise, 32 George Iv Bridge, Old Town, Edinburgh. I have been eating my regular/thoughtless/quick meals here for years – and I didn’t even realize they had pizza until researching to find the name for this post. Why here? A place that gets 2 star ratings and doesn’t have the friendliest staff? Because the food is cheap, quickly prepared, (usually) fresh and the building is conveniently located just off of the Royal Mile and behind Greyfriars Bobby (as pictured above). Do you really want to think about every meal you have to eat? Where, and what and cost? No, I don’t think you do. I can recommend the variety of loaded baked potatoes (with so much heaped on top, it is a balanced meal in itself), though I can’t say anything about the pizza. They have good strong coffee here too.
6. FOOD: Clansman Hotel, Loch Ness. There is a quiet restaurant upstairs, and an often busy cafe downstairs. Having eaten at both, I say if you have some extra time while visiting the loch, head upstairs for a proper Scottish meal (and drink, of course). Sit by the window so you can take in the loch views. Got some Scottish blood ancestry? Try to find your clan crest. We were fortunate enough to get a good seat on our last visit.
7. TOUR: Haggis Adventures, Edinburgh. If you are unable to rent a car, or just afraid to drive in a foreign country, that’s no excuse not to see the rest of Scotland. I chose Haggis because it was the cheapest tour company I could find, what I discovered was a friendly company with local, knowledgeable staff and tour directors. Their coaches are comfortable and usually NOT packed in like sardines. I was definitely satisfied – and I used them more than once.