The real Scotland - from kilts to handbags, haggis and music: a guide to world class products and experiences in the Scottish capital.
Scottish stuff, souvenirs and gifts
As you head through Edinburgh you will be assaulted by tartan tat flapping from many a shop doorway. There are some genuine, local places not to miss amongst the inevitable polyester lookalike horrors. The Royal Mile has some great wee tourist shops but look around - as in every major tourist haunt, there is some tacky rubbish, but I hope this list will help you navigate your way. In a nutshell, shops blasting out bagpipe music at 1000 decibels are to be avoided.
Hector Russell in Princes Street (www.hector-russell.com) or Geoffrey Tailor kilt-makers and weavers on The Royal Mile (www.geoffreykilts.co.uk) are your best bet.
Between them they have years and years of experience in the kilt-making business. Having a kilt made to measure is the way to go if you can. There are some shops which sell light weight kilts in fake tartans, which are no more Scottish than Sophia Loren.
The traditional kilt is worn at a particular length, just on the knee. The accoutrements worn with it include a sporran, often made of sealskin or leather, a skean dhu, which is a small dagger worn in the sock, and small flags of colour used as sock garters called flashes. What you wear with the kilt is worth thinking about. During the day you can just wear a jumper or a traditional Tweed jacket; the evening jacket is called a Bonnie Prince Charlie. People do wear kilts as a matter of course and both of these shops will ensure you will leave looking like a Sean Connery kilt-wearer, as opposed to Gene Kelly in Brigadoon.
Howie Nicholsby is the son of the proprietor of Geoffrey Kilts so was brought up in the business. However, his shop - 21st Century Kilts on Thistle Street - puts a modern twist on the kilt, which the likes of Vin Diesel have fallen for. PVC, pinstripes, leather or block colour, pockets, waistcoats, suits: they are funky, fun and yes it's true, sexy. His mini baby kilts are the cutest things. Howie's shop is worth a browse as you will find all sorts of accessories that make perfect gifts too (www.21stcenturykilts.com).
Scotland is synonymous with cashmere and is available in so many places now, including some of the supermarkets! But as they say, you get what you pay for. Two outstanding designers of cashmere in Edinburgh are Hawick Cashmere (pronounced Hoik; www.hawickcashmere.com) situated in The Grassmarket and Belinda Robertson (www.belindarobertson.com), amongst the galleries of Edinburgh's’ Dundas Street - see Shopping in Edinburgh: a guide to art, antiques and auctions. Every colour of the rainbow is available in stylish separates, wraps, socks and even pants!
Catherine Aitken works from Coburg Studios, which is well worth a visit too as there are 70 artists working from here (www.coburghouseartstudios.co.uk). Catherine’s bags are made of Harris Tweeds, Mohair and cashmere, and she uses kilt pins and leather. Each bag is lined with unique pieces of silk, satin and lace. She does man-bags too, which are substantial and very macho - despite what you might think! Each bag is hand-sewn by Catherine herself (www.catherineaitken.com).
The Scotch Whisky Experience on The Royal Mile has over 300 single, grain and blended Scotch Whiskies. They know their stuff and hold regular tastings. You can even have a ride seated in a whisky barrel – it’s McDisney! The choice of Scotch can be mind boggling but such is the passion of the guys that run this place, they will not only give you a tasting but guide you to choose the right blend to take home (www.whisky-heritage.co.uk).
Well in for a penny. Why not? The novice version of the bagpipes is the chanter, which is a small wooden pipe and is harder to play than you might imagine. This is a great gift to take home, as it is small, portable and rather a rarity in other parts of the world. Head to the bottom of The Royal Mile, next to The Scottish Parliament, and you will find Bagpipes Galore! (www.bagpipe.co.uk)
Haggis is available fresh from most food shops but you can buy it in cans, which are perfectly acceptable to export anywhere in the world.
The shrink-wrapped haggis is not a thing of beauty but if you are travelling in the UK, keep an eye out for MacSweens Haggis, as it is the best. Don't ask what haggis consists of – just eat it and enjoy.
If you have asked, and have completely gone off the idea of eating it, then there is a vegetarian version, which is surprisingly as tasty and spicy as the real McCoy. Served with mashed potatoes (tatties) and mashed swede (neeps), with a drizzle of whisky cream it's a delicious meal and ideal for lining the stomach and keeping the cold at bay. If you get addicted you can also order it online for it to be sent anywhere in the world (www.macsween.co.uk).
Handcrafted leather goods
McKenzie’s Leather Shop on Dundas Street is situated in amongst all the art galleries on my gallery shopping guide - Shopping in Edinburgh: a guide to art, antiques and auctions.
Beautiful handcrafted bags, sporrans, belts, suitcases and wallets, made on-site. They started on the Isle of Arran, and this wee shop is hugely understated but the quality of the goods and the smell of leather brings about feelings of walking into the past (www.mackenziebags.co.uk).
Scottish pubs & live music
For another taste of authentic Edinburgh have a look at this Nightlife in Edinburgh: traditional bars, music and dancing
If you are travelling around I can recommend local radio stations to make you feel part of what’s going on. BBC Radio Scotland (www.bbc.co.uk/radioscotland) is our national broadcaster and Radio Forth (97.3FM; www.forth1.com) is exclusive to Edinburgh. Listen online before you arrive and get used to our accent!
Where to stay
You can see my full list of recommendations here – Edinburgh Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Edinburgh.
You can also read advice on Shopping in Edinburgh: credit cards at the ready and Shopping in Edinburgh: a guide to art, antiques and auctions or visit Shopping in Edinburgh.