Rock It Like a Royal in Edinburgh

The Royal Mile in Edinburgh on a sunny blue sky day. Copyright Amy Laughinghouse

The Royal Mile in Edinburgh

GO THE EXTRA MILE

The Royal Mile, which is actually 1.12 miles (based on the old “Scots’ mile”), is about as royal as miles come. The sloping backbone of the Scottish capital is bookended by Edinburgh Castle, crowning the imposing Castle Rock at the top of the road, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse (the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh) at the bottom.

Golden afternoon sunshine illuminates the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. Copyright Amy Laughinghouse

Golden afternoon sunshine illuminates the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh.

The street in between is lined with higgledy piggledy, charming old stone buildings, most with shopfronts displaying cashmere, kilts, whisky, wine, Harris tweed and wee gifts. “Thistle Do Nicely” definitely wins for worst pun / best shop name.

CREATE YOUR OWN BESPOKE TIPPLE

Liz’s late mum, The Queen Mother, was known for knocking back her fair share of gin and tonic. The classic cocktail was actually invented by the British army in India as a tasty way to ward off malaria, thanks to the quinine in tonic water. Given that the Queen Mother lived to 101, there might be at least a little truth in G&T’s reputation as a healthy(ish) elixir.

Edinburgh gin tasting. Copyright Amy LaughinghouseHowever, you wouldn’t expect a royal to slip just any old hooch past their stiff upper lip. Surely, one would wish to create one’s own bespoke knee-wobbly, swiggly-giggly happy sauce, would one not?

Thanks to Edinburgh Gin‘s “Gin Making Tour,” you can, too. The class, which typically lasts about three hours, includes a visit to the still room (where the magic happens in what looks like two giant copper tea kettles), an all-important tasting of the distillery’s most popular gins and liqueurs, and the opportunity to design and bottle your own gin from a wide range of botanicals.

David Wilkinson, Head Distiller at Edinburgh Gin, will help you distill your own bespoke gin. Copyright Amy Laughinghouse

David Wilkinson, Head Distiller at Edinburgh Gin, will help you distill your own bespoke gin.

Even if you’ve no time for the full-on juniper juice tutorial, stop by Edinburgh Gin’s visitor centre on Rutland Place and pick up a bottle of their 57% ABV “Navy strength” Cannonball Gin. A few swigs of this, and you’ll be three sheets to the wind, swaying like a sailor yourself.

WHATEVER FLOATS YOUR BOAT

The Royal Yacht Britannia © Mark Millar

Queen Elizabeth II sailed more than a million miles aboard The Royal Yacht Britannia over the course of 40 years. Today, it is permanently moored in Edinburgh and is open for public tours. © Marc Millar

Speaking of sailing, head to the Royal Yacht Britannia to see how modern monarchs actually prefer to live. The 20th century ship is a far cry from the drafty chambers of Edinburgh Castle and the stiff grandeur of Holyroodhouse. It’s so modern, in fact, that visitors enter through…a shopping center.

Visitors to the Royal Yacht Britannia enter through...a shopping mall.

Visitors to the Royal Yacht Britannia enter through…a shopping mall.

While it’s fun to picture the Queen popping into Poundworld for a pair of pantyhose, the mall isn’t actually part of the relatively modest, 412-foot yacht. The Queen’s floating palace was simply moored out the back after it was decommissioned in 1997, after 43 years of service.

As the ship was built shortly after the end of World War II in an era of “make do and mend,” Queen Elizabeth was keen to steer clear of majestic excess. In fact, she famously rejected initial designs by Patrick McBride as being too lavish and asked Sir Hugh Casson to collaborate on a more casual, comfortable style. Ship guide Roger Moran relates an anecdote he heard from Casson’s daughters, who said their father drew McBride aside and assured him, “I’m going to treat your design like a lawn—and just take the whole thing down about half an inch.”

Royal Yacht Britannia State Drawing Room. Copyright Amy Laughinghouse

Royal Yacht Britannia State Drawing Room

So instead of silk and tapestries, the State Drawing Room is kitted out with floral chintz sofas and a practical electric fireplace, as well as a grand piano whose ivories have been tinkled by the likes of Noel Coward, Princess Diana, and Nancy Reagan. While the dining room is large, with a 32-seater mahogany table, it also did double duty as the ship’s chapel and cinema. “James Bond and Disney were particular favorites,” Moran reveals with a smile.

Royal Yacht Britannia State Dining Room. Copyright Amy Laughinghouse

Royal Yacht Britannia State Dining Room

The coziest rooms, however, are Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth’s adjoining bedrooms. Both are sparsely furnished, with a writing desk, precious little in the way of clothes storage, and a twin bed each. Seriously. You’d have thought Liz would spring for a Queen-sized bed, at least.

The Queen’s bedroom on The Royal Yacht Britannia features a single bed with hand-me-down linens from a previous royal yacht, the HMY Victoria & Albert III. She didn’t want the yacht to be too ostentatious, particularly as it was commissioned in an era of post-war austerity. © Amy Laughinghouse

The Queen’s bedroom on The Royal Yacht Britannia features a single bed with hand-me-down linens from a previous royal yacht, the HMY Victoria & Albert III. She didn’t want the yacht to be too ostentatious, particularly as it was commissioned in an era of post-war austerity.

In fact, the only double bed onboard is in the “Honeymoon Suite,” where newlyweds Prince Charles and Diana spent 16 days sailing around the Med.

Unfortunately for Harry and Meghan, this yacht’s sailing days are over. But hey, there’s always Royal Caribbean.

WHERE TO SLEEP LIKE A KING IN EDINBURGH

Afternoon tea at The Balmoral in Edinburgh. Copyright Amy Laughinghouse

Afternoon tea at The Balmoral in Edinburgh

The Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh once counted the Queen Mother as a regular for lunch, and it’s still a heralded dining destination. Alain Roux and his father Michel have announced plans to open a new brasserie here, complementing the existing hotel offering of the Michelin-starred Number One, afternoon tea in the Palm Court, and Scotch Bar. Guests staying three nights or more in the Scone & Crombie Suite can book the “Royal Experience” (£14,500, or $20,425) with a helicopter transfer to The Queen’s Balmoral Estate for a tour of the grounds, private tours of Holyroodhouse and the Royal Yacht Britannia, and more exclusive perks.

The Glasshouse, also in Edinburgh, is tucked into a converted church, with a two-acre rooftop garden and chic, contemporary decor. It’s part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection.

A suite overlooking a rooftop garden at Edinburgh's The Glasshouse

A suite overlooking a rooftop garden at Edinburgh’s The Glasshouse

More tourism info: www.visitbritain.com, www.visitscotland.com

 

 

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