To mark National Curry Week, here are my top tips for finding great curry dishes in Edinburgh... A good curry is fairly easy to find, but a GREAT curry can be that most elusive of prizes! Having sampled many of the city's curry options, my tip is to seek out the less obvious or expensive big name restaurants, avoid the chains, and take a chance on something a little less familiar. That way you're more likely to encounter a hidden gem to treasure! These are the ones that make my hitlist...
A true Edinburgh institution, with several awards and prizes to its name. Near the heart of the University of Edinburgh's Potterrow area it's justifiably popular with students, but you will also be surprised at the cross section of people cramming into its cosy interior. Be ready to share a table, if needed, in order to get a seat, and whether you go for a warming korma or a fiery patia, the flavours are as immense as the portion sizes...
THE MOSQUE KITCHEN
One of the foundations of the Islamic faith is the sharing of food, and Edinburgh's Central Mosque welcomes you to share one of their tasty curries at their dedicated restaurant on Nicolson Square. Don't expect a huge menu - with basic chicken, lamb and vegetable options - but the flavours are robust and authentic, the portions healthy and the pricing very pocket friendly.
Indian cooking often boasts exciting and intriguing vegetarian options, and Kalpna is an Indian restaurant dedicated to vegetarian curries, working wonders without meat. Located on St Patrick Square in the Southside, the restaurant is friendly, welcoming and its food known for its variety of flavours, colours, and textures.
A little further up Clerk Street is this south Indian restaurant, another favourite with locals for its healthy portions and flavourful menu. Try their 'dosai', savoury crepes packed with beautifully meat and vegetables - they're a true speciality offering something a little different from the majority of mainstream curry houses. Note that Tanjore offers sit-in only - their food is not available for takeaway!
Saving the best for last - this truly is my favourite place in the city for curry! Predominantly offering takeaway dishes, they also have a limited number of tables to sit in. At peak times you can wait up to an hour for food to be delivered, but it's well worth every minute - their chicken tikka biryani is full of tender meat and rich spices, and their saag aloo dish of spinach and potato is the perfect side dish.
All my private Edinburgh walking tours include a personalised information service, with restaurant recommendations and suggestions to suit you!
It's that time of year again! Every summer, Edinburgh's historic city centre becomes transformed into the world's largest arts festival, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Actually, what is commonly referred to as 'the Edinburgh Festival' is really a collection of festivals, staged all year round, with the summer being the time when a number of them coincide and overlap, creating almost a single festival experience.
But for those who haven't experienced the festival before, or have no idea what to expect from Edinburgh during August, here's my brief history of, and introduction to, Edinburgh's festivals...
The first festival was staged in 1947, when arts companies from around the world were invited to stage a celebratory series of performances to mark the newly won peace across Europe, following the Second World War.
That original festival continues today, in its 70th year, as the Edinburgh International Festival, a roster of theatre, opera, dance and music from around the globe, all carefully curated to an annual theme, and staged in some of the larger venues around the city.
In 1947, a handful of theatre companies who weren't invited to perform at the first festival came to the city anyway, and staged their work in small church halls and community centres. The next year, the number of 'uninvited' companies grew, and eventually the gathering of non-curated theatre companies coalesced into what is today the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
(One of the many frustrations I experience during the annual Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the number of people - and promoters and journalists and theatre companies - who describe it as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Something by that name would no doubt draw barbers and hair stylists from all around the world (and some theatre festivals are indeed branded as Fringe Festivals).
But the Edinburgh Fringe grew up as a distinct entity to the original Edinburgh Festival and, as such, became something which took place outside of, on the edge of, separate from, the Festival itself. Hence, the Festival Fringe!
And, as a point of grammar, it is not possible to be IN the Fringe, merely ON it or AT it. If you take that original notion of 'fringe' as being 'on the edge', then the notion of being IN the edge makes no sense whatsoever.)
Today, also in its 70th year, the Edinburgh Fringe is, by itself, the world's largest arts festival, with around 3,500 performances taking place across the city every single day. If you aren't prepared for what that looks, sounds and feels like, then you're in for a treat!
Around 350 venues are set up around the city, some purpose built, others transformed from rooms and halls that may otherwise be unused throughout the year, and you can find everything from circus and burlesque to stand up comedy, dance, and high drama, from international companies and student troupes, experienced figures from the world of entertainment to new performers just starting out their careers.
As in 1947, the Fringe is uncurated, meaning it's open to anyone and everyone to come and take part. The quality of work can vary wildly, but that is all part of the excitement and interest!
The Edinburgh Military Tattoo was originally staged by the British Army as their contribution to the Edinburgh Festival in 1949. The first performances were at the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens, but today takes place in the large stadium built at the front of Edinburgh Castle.
It's a massive spectacle of military bands from all around the world, with lights and images projected on the castle itself, and concluding with a huge firework finale. The Tattoo takes place throughout August, and - spoiler alert - is generally sold out by January/February each year. So if you've just arrived in Edinburgh and don't have your tickets for it yet, your chances of getting a few returns at the official Tattoo office are limited!
And the Edinburgh International Book Festival takes place for two weeks in August too, celebrating literature from all around the globe with hundreds of event with authors, publishers and illustrators.
So that's what you should brace yourself for if you are coming to Edinburgh this summer. They say the population of the city swells from around 460,000 people to over 1.5 million during the month of August, so you'll be in good company (and lots of it!).
It also means you are heavily advised to pre-book anything you plan to do in the city, from visiting Edinburgh Castle to seeing shows in the festivals, to restaurant reservations and travel plans.
But most of all enjoy it, and - if it's your first time - allow yourself to be immersed in the madness. Edinburgh during the festival(s) is like nothing else.
It is, some might say, the greatest show on Earth. Welcome.
My daily Festival City Explorer Tours run everyday in August at 10am and 12pm; my Edinburgh Tour and Whisky Tasting runs three times a week. Advance booking is essential!
Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum Theatre is about to present the world premiere of a new play with its roots in the very heart of the city's Old Town. Glory on Earth is Linda McLean's dramatic vision of August 1561, when Mary, Queen of Scots returned to Edinburgh for the first time since Scotland had moved away from Catholicism to Protestantism, under the eye of John Knox, the fiery minister of St Giles cathedral.
The story examines not just the personal conflicts between these two iconic figures of Scottish history, but also the political, religious and social turmoil which engulfed Edinburgh in the sixteenth century.
The Reformation of the Scottish church transformed Scotland, and laid the foundations for a whole new relationship between the people and their church, with ministers now preaching in the language of their congregation, and dismantling the power structures that the Catholic church had established.
The impact of the schism in the religious fabric of Scotland can still be felt in the country today, and one of the most enduring consequences of the rise of Knox's vision of faith is still embodied by Scotland's focus on the importance of education for all - it became a matter of law in Scotland for people to be able to read the Bible, now that it was available in Scots/English, which necessitated a requirement for all social classes to be literate.
Thus the emphasis on the education system in Scotland became a matter of priority, and one which continues to be an important feature of Scottish society - it is unlikely to be a coincidence that Scotland became a seat of learning for great thinkers, academics, philosophers, and scientists into the eighteenth century, the period known as the Scottish Enlightenment.
Visitors to the city can still walk in the footsteps of Mary, Queen of Scots, and John Knox today. St Giles cathedral has a bronze statue of Knox, and in Parliament Square outside the church parking space number 23 is noted as 'the approximate site of the burial' of the Protestant reformer.
Meanwhile, visitors to the Palace of Holyroodhouse can still visit the private chambers and bedroom of Mary, as well as the birth room in Edinburgh Castle where she gave birth to her son James, a future monarch of Scotland and England.
The Lyceum's production - directed by artistic director David Greig, is a world premiere, and may shed a little more light on the tempestuous times in which it is set, putting the city of Edinburgh back at the front and centre of the world's stage.
Glory on Earth runs at the Royal Lyceum Theatre from 20 May - 10 June 2017.
Explore Edinburgh in more detail with my private city walking tours!
Plenty of folkloric rituals surround the turning of the year and traditional May Day celebrations - often associated with pagan rites, the May Day itself probably started with the Romans as a way of marking the start of the summer season.
In Edinburgh, the most popular way of marking the turning of the season survives in the tradition of the Beltane fire festival, held on the slopes and summit of Calton Hill at the east of the New Town. This annual parade of dancers and acrobats wielding flaming torches is a modern interpretation of ancient Celtic festivities, but it is far from being the only such way of marking the May Day itself.
Arthur's Seat, in Holyrood Park, has been a focus for some other traditions which blend pagan mythology with Christian sites of worship. The peak of the hill is considered by some to be a focal point for mysterious ley lines channelling energy, and one famous tradition has taken place in the area for centuries.
It is said that a visit to St Anthony's Well in Holyrood Park at dawn on the morning of May Day, to wash in its water or the dew from the grass around it (and, some suggest, returning another eight times to repeat the cleansing ritual during the month of May) has healing or health-giving properties.
The poet Robert Fergusson described the ritual in his 18th-century poem Caller Water:
On May-day in a fairy ring,
We’ve seen them round St. Anthon’s spring,
Frae grass the caller dew draps wring,
To weet their ein,
And water clear as chrystal spring,
To synd them clean.
St. Anthony's well was one of seven Holy Wells that used to be found in Holyrood Park, but it no longer has running water. It is still observable on the path up to the summit of Arthur's Seat - look for the boulder with the ancient collecting bowl sitting at the front of it, from which its water used to be drawn - beneath the ruins of St Anthony's Chapel, a structure dating back at least as far as the 13th-century, but with no clear evidence for its date or purpose of construction.
The well itself has a long history of being a site of pilgrimage for those seeking miracles, and in the 19th-century it was said the slopes leading to St Anthony's Well would be well populated by locals trekking to secure the benefit of its powers first thing in the morning of 1 May, but would be nearly deserted later in the morning.
Today the reverse is more likely to be true, with Arthur's Seat proving a popular spot for visitors throughout the year, with a steady stream of walkers ascending throughout the day - if you're heading up this morning, keep an eye out for the historic well on your way (or down)!
Explore Edinburgh in more detail with my private walking tours!
Probably the most famous of Edinburgh's old graveyards, Greyfriars Kirkyard boasts views across the Old Town to Edinburgh Castle, as well as one of the most popular graves for visitors to seek out.
The graveyard is home to one of the city's best known residents, a dog called Greyfriars Bobby, whose legend which was immortalised in the 1960s when Disney made a film of Bobby's story. The popular tale tells how Bobby spent 14 years sleeping every night on the grave of his master, night watchman John Gray, earning him the reputation as man's most faithful friend. The reality of the situation is less romantic, but arguably more interesting! Join me for a tour to hear the alternative/real history of Greyfriars Bobby...
The graveyard also draws pilgrims seeking out inspirations for the Harry Potter stories, and within the graveyard you will find the grave of Professor McGonagall's namesake, Scotland's 'worst poet' William McGonagall, as well as the grave of 'Tom Riddle'... You'll also enjoy views to George Heriot's School, a building which is believed to have partially inspired the Hogwart's Academy from the Potter universe.
Other features of the area include the Covenanter's Prison, where scores of men, woman and children were held during the 'Killing Time' of the late seventeenth century, when religious martyrs protested against the new king Charles I, many of whom lost their lives along with many more who suffered for their beliefs. The tomb of George Mackenzie - known as 'Bluidy Mackenzie' for his persecution of these Covenanters - is reputed to be haunted by a lively poltergeist, and is accessible to the brave on some of the city's ghost tours...
The existing Greyfriars Kirk dates back to 1602, and burials have taken place here since shortly before that time, with some of those including James Craig, the famed designer of Edinburgh's New Town (who died a pauper), James Hutton, the 'father of modern geology', and John Porteous, who gave his name to the riots in 1736 which led to an overhaul of the system of public executions in the city.
You may also find the curious 'mort safes', devices designed to prevent body snatching from recent burials during the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-centuries...
Take a tour with me to explore the city's graveyards (and more!) in greater detail...
Some of Edinburgh's most popular and peaceful areas are its historic graveyards, of which there are five in the city centre. They all have public access and offer some wonderful insights into the city's history, the people who have lived here and shaped Edinburgh as we see it today, as well as delivering some the best views and perspectives on the city itself.
On the side of Calton Hill, above Waverley Station, is the Old Calton Burial Ground. Originally relatively inaccessible from the Old Town, the route up to this gaveyard followed a set of steps which still exist today, leading from Calton Road right up the side of Calton Hill to Regent Road. The steps, called Jacob's Ladder, still offer some of the best angles from which to see St Andrew House, the site of the old Calton Jail, but no longer lead directly to the graveyard itself.
In the nineteenth century, the main thoroughfare of Waterloo Place was planned to connect the grand houses of Regent Terrace to Princes Street, and was run straight through the site of the old burial ground, requiring the transposition of several hundred bodies to the New Calton Burial Ground, a little further along the hillside.
One of the highlights of the Old Calton Burial Ground is the mausoleum of philosopher David Hume, which cost (by his own stipulation) no more than £100, and bearing just his name, date of birth, and date of death. A modest tomb to a great figure of the Scottish Enlightenment.
The most prominent structure in the graveyard is the Martyrs' Monument, a needle-like structure built to commemorate five men who dreamed of a democratic political system at the end of the eighteenth century. Fearing that what had happened in France, with the overthrow of the monarchy and the government, sometime earlier, the men were arrested and put on trial for sedition, and punished with transportation and 14 years labour in a penal colony in Australia. Only one of them survived long enough to return to his homeland after his sentence, and in the 1840s the monument was erected in their honour.
Most intriguing of all is the statue of former American president, Abraham Lincoln, in the graveyard. He stands atop a memorial to the Scottish soldiers who fought alongside him in the American Civil War, and it remains the only Civil War memorial outside of North America. The statue of Lincoln was the first statue of an American president to be built outside the US when it was erected in 1893.
Other burials in the graveyard include Sir John Steell, who produced several of the iconic statues in the city, and Robert Burn, who designed the nearby Nelson Monument on top of Calton Hill.
Explore the city's graveyards in more detail with my private Edinburgh walking tours!
It has long been known as 'Auld Reekie' - or 'Old Smokey' - the city of Edinburgh cloaked in the smoke from the wood and coal fires which provided heat and power to the households in the Old and New Towns. And in addition to my existing tour and tasting packages, the city can now once again be viewed as residents would have experienced it back in medieval times, with my new tours of the city exclusively for smokers!
Join me for a casual amble through the city, stopping regularly for a cigarette break or the opportunity to refill your pipe, and see the city through a haze of black smoke, the way it was built to be seen. And just as my whisky and beer tour and tasting packages finish with a tutored tasting experience at Jeffrey St. Whisky & Tobacco, so these smokers' routes will end with a few minutes exclusive use of the shop's inbuilt humidor.
Routes will minimise the amount of physical effort required, ensuring that visitors don't get too tired by the challenge of climbing stairs or walking up the long hills of the New Town, and each walk will be tailored to come past as many corner shops and off licences as possible, in case you need to stock up on filters, rolling tobacco or accessories like lighters and matches on the way.
As we walk, gain an insight into the impact of smoke on the city over the centuries, and understand how the city centre was (dis)coloured by the presence of coal fires, industrial premises, and high levels of consumption of cigarettes, pipes and cigars during the medieval times, and well into the more recent industrial ages too.
These tours will be offered for a limited time only, so get in touch to confirm pricing and availability, or with any questions you may have.
Smokers' Tours of Auld Reekie - showing you the the city as it should be seen, through a haze of black smoke!
Edinburgh Expert is run by Gareth Davies, an adopted native of Edinburgh with 18 years of experience living and working in the city.