Top Historic Places to Dine in Edinburgh
03 November 2021
- food and drink
Not only does Edinburgh have some of the best places to eat in the UK, it also has some of the most historic. The wealth of historic buildings throughout the city offer so many opportunities to wine and dine in atmospheric historic surroundings – if walls could talk, these buildings would certainly have a few interesting tales to tell!
To both pique your curiosity and tempt your tastebuds, we’ve rounded up a few of these eateries:
This 19th former bank is now famed for its fabulous Christmas lights.
Starting life in 1845 as the head office of the Commercial Bank, The Dome on George Street is now a popular bar and restaurant. Whether you’re sitting down to quintessential afternoon tea in the luxurious surroundings of the Georgian Tea Room or relaxing with a decadent cocktail in the Grill Room, you can’t fail to be awed by the opulent surrounding and décor.
Step through the impressive entrance, past the enormous classical columns and you’ll find the Grill-Room, once the main banking hall, with its impressive domed roof flooding light into the room.
The bank’s coat of arms can still be seen in mosaic on the floor and in stained glass windows at the back of the building.
14 George Street, Edinburgh, EH2 2PF
The Royal Yacht Britannia
Dine like royalty on the Queen’s former floating palace.
The iconic Royal Yacht Britannia, now permanently moored in Leith harbour, was the Queen’s floating Palace, playing host to Heads of State and dignitaries from all over the world.
Now available for private hire, guests can enjoy the same legendary hospitality and luxury cuisine offered by Her Majesty to such luminaries as Frank Sinatra and Nelson Mandela. The Royal experience begins long before you even step aboard, with a gold-edged crested invitation winging its way to your guests in advance of your event.
Or for something a little less formal, why not indulge in tea and scones in the Royal Deck Tea Room. With waterfront views, a visit to the Tea Room will make you feel like royalty.
Ocean Terminal, Edinburgh, EH6 6JJ
Cannonball Restaurant & Bar
Look up to see the cannonball lodged into this building!
Spilt over 3 floors, with the top floor providing stunning views of Edinburgh Castle, Cannonball Restaurant & Bar opened in 2014 by Victor & Carina Contini and offers a contemporary menu featuring the very best of Scottish artisan produce.
If you glance up at the upper windows of this 17th century building, the carved initials of past owners Alexander Mure and his wife Margaret Niellems can still be seen, together with the date 1630. And as you enter, look out for the ‘tirling pin’ still fixed to the main door, old Edinburgh’s version of a door knocker.
The intriguing name, Cannonball House comes from the cannonball lodged into one side of the building. Believed to have been fired in 1745 from the castle towards the Palace of Holyrood where Bonnie Prince Charlie was in residence during the Jacobite Rebellion, it’s more likely that it was placed there by engineers to mark the exact height above sea-level of the Comiston springs, which in the 17th century provided the city with its first piped supply of fresh water.
356 Castlehill, Edinburgh, EH1 2NE
An elegant bar that started life as a bath & kitchen showroom!
Tucked behind the bustling Princes Street, you’ll find the gem that is Cafe Royal.
Elegant stained glass, sparkling chandeliers dominate the bar area, but the crowning glory has to be the Royal Doulton ceramic tile portraits celebrating some of history’s greatest innovators.
This stylish building was built in 1861 and originally opened as a bath and kitchen showroom, but by 1863 had become the Café Royal.
In the late 1960’s the restaurant was saved from possible redevelopment when the then-owner tried to sell to high-street retailer Woolworths. With the help of a 8,700 petition, the building was thankfully saved, with the building and its interior listed, thus preserving it for the future.
19 West Register Street, Edinburgh, EH2 2AA
The King’s Wark
Commissioned by royalty in the 15th century; now a popular bar & restaurant.
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For a plate of mouth-watering sustainable Scottish seafood, shellfish or wild game be sure to pay The King’s Wark on the Shore area in Leith a visit. With a relaxed and cosy atmosphere, they also have an extensive cask ales list, as well as a range of Scottish gins and whiskeys.
This charming bar and restaurant has a history that few bars can rival. Designed to serve as a royal residence, a store-house and an armoury, James I began work on the building in 1434, but it was not completed until about 1500.
The building continued to have a varied past – becoming a plague hospital, a weigh-house, and at one point, incorporating a tennis court!
36 The Shore, Edinburgh, EH6 6QU
Slouchy seats, a woodburning stove and chunky wooden tables all add to the warm and welcoming atmosphere of Timberyard, a family-run restaurant housed in a converted warehouse.
The building itself dates back to the 19th century, when it was built as a props and costume store.
The current name alludes to the restaurant most recent past life though - Lawson’s Timber was set up in 1952, the first DIY store to open in Edinburgh. The store moved to Lady Lawson Street in the early 1960s before eventually closing its doors in 2004.
10 Lady Lawson Street, Edinburgh, EH3 9DS
The oldest building in Scotland with the same continual purpose.
Home of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, a member society who aim to educate and entertain about the delights of whisky, The Vaults are open to members and their guests for dining and events.
As the oldest building in Scotland with the same continual purpose, the site of The Vaults has been home to fine drink, food specialists and pleasurable pursuits since the 1300s. Situated above four medieval vaults, it has housed Edinburgh’s wine and spirits merchants and ‘fleshers’ (skilled butchers), the Vintner’s Guild auction rooms as well as leisure rooms, including a 16th century ‘caich pule’ for ‘a game of chases’ (indoor tennis).
Today, tradition continues, as the underground vaults still store fine wines and, with a nod to the wine and spirits industry, it has been home to The Scotch Malt Whisky Society since 1983.
87 Giles Street, Edinburgh, EH6 6BZ
The Grain Store
Intimate restaurant housed underneath 19th vaults.
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Beautifully baked bread, pasta and delicious desserts, all made using the very best of Scottish produce await you at The Grain Store.
Situated on the historic Victoria Street, which itself was built between 1829 and 1834 as part of a series of improvements to Edinburgh’s Old Town, the restaurant can be found underneath the stone vaulting and archways of the original storerooms used by the warren of shops below.
Soft candlelight adds to this intimacy of this special restaurant.
30 Victoria Street, Edinburgh, EH1 2JW
Colonnades at the Signet Library
Described by King George IV as “the finest drawing room in Europe”.
For an afternoon of pure decadence, step inside the beautiful surroundings of the Lower Library of the Signet Library, known as the Colonnades, for the time honoured tradition of afternoon tea.
Whilst enjoying delectable savouries and decadent cakes served on a bespoke silver tea stands, take some time to marvel at the library’s magnificence. The Signet Library was completed in 1822 in time for the highly anticipated visit of King George IV to the city, who described the upper library as “the finest drawing room in Europe”.
The library is also home to the Society of Writers to Her Majesty’s Signet, an association of Scottish lawyers which back to the 15th century as the officers authorised to produce royal manuscripts with the King of Scotland’s seal, ie the Signet.
Parliament Square, Edinburgh, EH1 1RF
Hotel du Vin & Bistro
A luxury hotel with a highly varied former life.
Traditional French cuisine and exquisite wine is at the forefront of Hotel du Vin & Bistro’s menu, so whether you’re staying for the night or enjoying a meal in their bistro, you’re in for a treat.
Today the building is a mix of the old and the new – the original stone building dates to 1743, with a modern extension added in 2007, when the hotel opened.
Located just off the bustling Royal Mile, this luxury hotel has certainly had a varied past life – once a poorhouse, then psychiatric hospital, then a science lab.
11 Bristo Place, Edinburgh, EH1 1EZ
The Gardener’s Cottage
19th gardener’s cottage still growing its own seasonal produce.
The Gardener’s Cottage has rapidly gained a great reputation since opening in 2012, breathing new life into a quirky building in the leafy setting of Royal Terrace Gardens.
Dating from 1837, the cottage was intended to house a tenant, who would also look after the neighbouring gardens and rent out keys to local residents. In return they were allowed to use part of the space for their own cottage garden. Today, the restaurant has an intimate and warm atmosphere and continues to use the garden to grow a range of seasonal produce for their delicious and creative dishes.
1 Royal Terrace Gardens, London Road, Edinburgh, EH7 5DX.
Wedgwood the Restaurant
The Edinburgh building with links to Morocco.
Wedgwood the Restaurant is well known for its food - innovative dishes created with the finest local produce and ingredients - but not many people know its proper address, Morocco Land.
Perched high up on this building is a strange sculpture, which some say represents the Emperor of Morocco. Legend has it that in the 17th century local man, Andrew Gray was accused of assaulting the Provost of Edinburgh but managed to flee the country before his execution. He ended up a slave of the Emperor of Morocco, but was able to rise up through the ranks, gaining favour with the Emperor, and amassing a considerable fortune. In time, he returned to Edinburgh where he cured the Provost's daughter of plague, married her and settled in this Canongate tenement.
It’s thought the figure was erected to honour the Emperor. Although another more plausible explanation may be that it acts a sign to indicate a tradesman’s place of business.
The building was rebuilt in the 1950s, but the turbaned figure remains to this day.
267 Canongate, Royal Mile, Edinburgh, EH8 8BQ
Hungry for more? Whatever your tastes, Edinburgh has a restaurant, café and bar for everyone – discover more in our Guide to Food & Drink in Edinburgh >