I’m a Glasgow girl through and through – after two years of living here, people can certainly pick that up from my accent, and I love it. They might even be able to pick it up from my behaviour, as a friend of mine put it very adequately after the police had been called to our hotel on a recent trip, because I was chatting to loudly with my balcony neighbour at 1am: ‘you can take the girl out of Glasgow, but you can’t take the Glasgow out of her.’

Glasgow is rowdy, it’s cutting-edge and it’s cool. Edinburgh on the other hand, is touristy, comparably quiet and some might say too polished. And yet, it managed to knock my socks off, when I took a 24h-break from the Glasgow city-life back in April. When you look behind the shiny gloss of the medieval old town and the romantic castle, brush all tourists aside and just focus on what the city has to offer beyond that, you’ll figure, it’s actually a pretty darn cool city. I made it my mission to find some of those hidden gems and can proudly present you a list of five cool things to do in Edinburgh. As it is festival season in Edinburgh right now as well (August), consider these places as a kind of add-on to all the things you can experience here during the Edinburgh Festivals.

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1) Have lunch on top of the National Museum

Like so many other museums in this country, the National Museum of Scotland is free to enter. The collection at display is a hotchpotch of art, technology, Scottish history, world cultures and dinosaurs – a little bit of everything. There is a rooftop terrace, freely accessible to all visitors, but there is also a restaurant with its own terrace, and believe, me the view is worth having lunch here! Castle Hill and the Edinburgh Castle lie right in front of you and when the sun shines, there’s nothing nicer than having a nice fancy lunch up here, away from all the hustle and bustle of the busy old town streets. By the way, you might even be toasting to a star across the room – Kevin Spacey has had lunch here, as well as Anna Wintour!

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2) Marvel at Camera Obscura

You might ask, ‘Another museum?’ Yes, but not one like you’ve seen before - Camera Obscura is more like a visual experience on six floors. A camera obscura is a historical prototype of photography, a box with a hole, a lens and several mirrors which help to project a live image of the surroundings onto a white surface. The camera obscura of Edinburgh is a little bit like a surveillance camera and in a fun live demonstration the guide shows you how it works. The rest of the visit you spend on yet another rooftop terrace (this time in the middle of Old Town – you can see as far as the sea), and exploring the lower indoor levels. There are optical illusions, a mirror maze, try-it-yourself displays, a light tunnel and about a billion of kids you have to fight for a little bit of fun. There is even a musical staircase – and in case you don’t know what that is, go and find out!

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3) Visit the Edinburgh Gin Distillery

I think after all, I’m still just a cheap rip off of a Scot, because: I don’t like whisky. I’m more like an English lady who puts her gin above everything. Luckily, Scotland is not only great for whisky fanatics, but also boasts a variety of amazing gin distilleries. My personal favourite is Hendricks gin, which is distilled about an hour south of Glasgow along the coast, but when in Edinburgh, definitely check out the Edinburgh Gin Distillery in New Town. You can do guided tours, or just come here for drinks at Heads & Tales, the new bar serving all things gin to the thirsty crowd. My favourite drink is the G.I.Y. – Gin it yourself – where you choose a gin, a flavour and a glass to get exactly the drink you want.

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4) Cocktails at Panda & Sons

And while we’re at boozing it up, I need to tell you the secret that is Edinburghs’s coolest cocktail bar; and to be honest, as of yet, I have not found a comparable place in Glasgow. Panda & Sons at the end of Queen Street looks like a barber shop, except for the security outside, there is no sign, that this would be a bar. Walking past an old barber’s chair you come down some stairs and have to enter the actual bar through a bookcase. You’ll be greeted by a crowd of bearded hunks and pretty girls, a set of decorative panda exhibits on the walls and cupboards, and a cocktail menu which will could take you hours to skim through. I took the easy way out, and asked one of the masters behind the bar for a gin-based recommendation – you don’t want to mix up your spirits. I can’t tell you what he handed a few skilled pours and twirls later, but it was straight from heaven. The cocktail was off the menu and tasted so good, that when the second round came round, I asked for another creation of his, and again I wasn’t disappointed. My friend went all in and ordered the ominous looking Birdcage, a whisky cocktail which is served under a smoke-filled bell jar – the full flavour only coming through once its set free again. Magic!

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5) Brunch at the Out of the Blue Drill Hall

A night like that requires a relaxed morning walk, and where would be more suitable than the up-and-coming area of Leith. Out of the Blue is an arts charity who repurposed the former military Drill Hall as a space for workshops, performances studios and a cafe. Every Sunday you can come here for the Bruncheon! with yummy food and live music performed by local artists.

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And just like that, Edinburgh has found its way back into my heart and head. There are of course many more cool things to do in the Scottish capital, so I’d suggest you come here for longer than a day. If you head here in August, you’re in for a treat, as Edinburgh is hosting 8, yes 8 festivals throughout the month, and there is theatre, performance, comedy, readings, live music and all other sorts of events happening all over the city. I will of course be there to cover the festivals for Travelettes and tell you more about the festival city that is Edinburgh soon!

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More inspiration for Scotland:

The Travelettes Guide to Edinburgh

The Travelettes Guide to Glasgow

The Scottish Highlands: The best things to do & see

The Sea Kayaking Introduction Course in Oban

Kathi’s 8 Reasons why Scotland is the Perfect Place for Solo Travel

*additional photos via Panda & Sons, Edinburgh Gin Distillery & Camera Obscura.

This is a post by Kathi Kamleitner.

Kathi Kamleitner was a regular contributor at Travelettes from 2013 to 2019. Originally from Vienna, Austria, she packed her backpack to travel the world and lived in Denmark, Iceland and Berlin, before settling in Glasgow, Scotland. Kathi is always preparing her next trip – documenting her every step with her camera, pen and phone.

In 2016, Kathi founded Scotland travel blog WatchMeSee.com to share her love for her new home, hiking in the Scottish Highlands, island hopping and vegan food. Follow her adventures on Instagram @watchmesee!