From extravagant high teas to cosy cafes with scones and jam, we explored them all in search of the the best afternoon tea in Edinburgh. Read on for our recommendations.

It’s no secret that baked goods put us in our “happy place.” And if there was ever a (sort of) meal where baked goods are the star performers, it’s afternoon tea. Therefore it was a delight to sample some of the Edinburg’s best afternoon teas during our extended stay in the city.

Afternoon tea in Edinburgh can mean different things. It can be a gloves-on, pinky out affair with delicate pastry and finger sandwiches. Or it can be simpler mid-afternoon break with a traditional cream tea: a pot of tea and a scone with butter and jam or cream. (If you’ve read our post about finding the best scones in Edinburgh, you know we take our tea time seriously!) It’s even possible to have afternoon tea on a double-decker bus! Whatever your preference, you can to spend an enjoyable hour in the afternoon at any one of these spots.

Afternoon tea, Edinburgh: best spots for high tea

When it comes to high tea, Edinburgh has got more than it’s fair share of spots for a three-tiered extravaganza (often with optional champagne!). Certainly most major hotels have something on offer, no surprise there. We’ve sought out some spots that might not be that obvious, but still offer that great “special event” feel . . . in all price ranges.

Elegant high tea at the Colonnades in EdinburghIf you’re looking for a swanky, special-event-type-of-tea, this is the place. The Signet Library is an elegant early 19th century building owned by a prestigious Scottish legal society known as The Writers of the Signet. The majority of the building is private, but its lower library, “the Colonnades,” is open for lunch and afternoon tea. Nibble delicate sandwiches, cakes and freshly baked scones served on silver stands amid a hushed setting just off the Royal Mile. Great selection of teas, including the Colonnades’ own Signet Blend. Booking ahead recommended.

What we love: The beautiful setting and ultra-high-quality food.

Drawbacks: The price. At £38 (approx. $48 US) per person, it’s an expensive afternoon. We think the 2- or 3-course lunch, at £24 or £30 respectively, is a better value.

Elegant tea in a historic setting at the Grand CafeThe Grand Cafe offers a traditional afternoon tea with an old-world feel. Both the cafe and the hotel are located just off the Royal Mile in the former headquarters of The Scotsman newspaper. The soaring ceiling and marble-bedecked columns of the cafe began life as the Advertising & Notices department of The Scotsman. It’s easy to imagine a copy boy running through the room shouting “stop the presses!” At £21.95 (approx. $28 US) per person, it’s a good-value indulgence. There are options for enhancing your tea with a glass of Prosecco or Champagne as well. It’s a good idea to make reservations.

What we love: The Grand Cafe also offers a Children’s Tea, with treats geared to a more youthful palate, for £9.95 (approx. $12.50 US); great for traveling families.

Drawbacks: The genteel atmosphere can get a little boisterous as the adjacent bar fills up for early evening drinks.

  • House of Fraser/Jenners Department Store

High tea EdinburghThe cafe in this venerable old Edinburgh department store offers up a respectably traditional afternoon tea. The service is more casual than most three-tiered afternoon teas: you order at the counter and the food is brought to your table. But we can forgive that small service lapse due to the price. At £12.95 (approx. $16.25 US) it’s an excellent value. Don’t have a big appetite? Jenners also offers a simple cream tea for even less. [NOTE: During the month of August, in conjunction with the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe Festival, Jenners offers a special “Tea with Mr. Jenner” event for £29 (approx. $36.50 US). It’s super-swanky, held in the shop’s historic boardroom, and includes tales of the legendary retailers’ history. Reservations mandatory.]

What we love: The view. Located on the 3rd floor above Princes Street, the cafe offers a spectacular view of Edinburgh Castle and the Old Town.

Drawbacks: The savory sandwiches are a bit mundane (tuna, egg salad, etc.). But the scones and pastries are excellent–and isn’t that really why you’re out for afternoon tea anyway? 😉

best afternoon tea EdinburghEataket sells teas and tea-making accessories at a cluster of shops throughout Edinburgh, so you know their tea is top-notch. Their Tea Room on Frederick Street in the city’s New Town is a cozy, casual spot where you can sample their brews accompanied by the traditional afternoon tea accoutrements. For £15.95 (approx. $20 US) you get a choice of sandwich, a scone with cream and jam, and a selection of mini-pastries along with your tea.

What we love: For £8.95 (approx $11.25 US) Eataket offers a “High Tea,” which is a mini-version of their Afternoon Tea. (A half-sandwich, scone, and one pastry, plus tea.) This is a great value, and terrific for lighter appetites.

Drawbacks: While the tea was excellent, and the sandwiches and pastries tasty, we found the scones uninspired.

Afternoon tea, Edinburgh: best spots for cream tea

Ah, the simplicity of a cream tea! Edinburgh has more than its fair share of spots that offer a scone with a cuppa. Most cream teas in Edinburgh offer an option of either butter or cream (whipped or clotted) along with jam to top your scone. We’ve rounded up a few where the scones are a worth a special trip.

Blueberry scone, cream tea EdinburghThis cafe/gallery in the New Town is beautifully decorated with an ever-changing display of original art, managing to feel homey and sophisticated at the same time. Co-owner Stuart Allan bakes the best scones in Edinburgh—and you have a choice 6 varieties fresh-baked daily (4 sweet, 2 savory). They’re massive (about 4″ around), buttery, crumbly . . . and Stuart warms them to order. No need for the fancy stuff with a scone this good! (Although Stuart also bakes a selection of cakes daily if you’re seeking something sweeter.)

What we love: The blueberry scone, chock-full of fresh berries. Also, the cheese or sun-dried tomato & herb scones, which are served with butter and an onion jam or pickle, which make a great savory tea.

Drawbacks: Bon Papillon is closed on Mondays & Tuesdays. But I guess Stuart and his partner Ingrid Nilsson are entitled to some time off!

We almost missed this tiny cafe, run by Tom and Elaine Courtney tucked into the Royal Mile just west of the Museum of Edinburgh. But then we saw Elaine’s delectable scones displayed in the window, and knew we had to try them. Our eyes did not deceive us; they were crisp on the outside, crumbly and tender on the inside. We were particularly taken with their triangular shape, which gave them lots of crunchy bits.

What we love: The strawberry scones, which are plain sweet scones filled with strawberry jam, fresh whipped cream AND fresh strawberries. A real summer treat.

Drawbacks: The cafe only has about 12 seats, so you might not get a table during busy periods.

Cream tea in Edinburgh at Mimi's BakehouseMimi’s is an Edinburgh mini-chain, with 4 locations in the city, two of which are right in the Old Town and handy for visitors. In addition to rib-sticking sandwiches (called “sarnies”), Mimi’s bakes some hefty cakes and traybakes (bar cookies), plus whopping scones. The cafe offers both an afternoon tea (and a unique “beforenoon tea”), which includes a selection of all three. But the portions are so large, we opted to stick with the cream tea version, simply enjoying our scone.

What we love: The cafe on Market Street, just opposite the south exit of the train station, is a quiet oasis in the midst of the Royal Mile frenzy.

Drawbacks: The scones are popular and often sold out by noon or 1pm (according to the cafe worker we spoke to). This makes having an afternoon cream tea difficult. So, um, maybe they should make a few more?

Afternoon tea, Edinburgh: fun and unusual spots

Sometimes the atmosphere is half the fun! Below are two unique afternoon teas in Edinburgh, based on some quirky locations:

Best afternoon tea EdinburghOn top of being a great way to multi-task when visiting a city, this afternoon tea/bus tour is just plain FUN! Climb on board a vintage double-decker bus, sip tea/coffee and nibble on tasty treats while the vintage Routemaster bus drives by all the major sights in Edinburgh. During the 90-minute experience you’ll taste a selection of sandwiches and mini-quiches, pastries, and (we’re still not sure how they managed this one), freshly baked scones.

What we love: This beats any plain old bus tour, hands down. And it’s a great way to experience a lot of Edinburgh in a short period of time.

Drawbacks: The bus doesn’t drive particularly quickly, but it is a moving vehicle. So it might not be a good choice for clumsy sorts.😯

NOTE: This tea must be reserved in advance. Click here to book the Edinburgh Afternoon Tea Bus Tour on Viator. (This is an affiliate link, which means we earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you.)

  • Royal Yacht Britannia Afternoon Tea

Tea with the Queen? Not exactly, but this may be as close as most of us will ever get. The Royal Yacht Britannia, the former yacht of the British royal family, is open to visitors in Edinburg’s port of Leith. The Royal Deck Tea Room serves tea, cakes and light meals where the royal family once entertained. You can simply order a pot of tea with a scone for about £8 (about $10 US) or give yourself the royal treatment with the “Cream Tea special for one,” which adds a sandwich, slice of cake and a glass of sparkling wine to your tea and scone. Veddy posh!

What we love: Having tea on the yacht where Princess Diana spent her honeymoon is pretty awesome.

Drawbacks: The Royal Deck Tea Room is only open to those who have purchased a ticket to visit the yacht (approx. $20 US). But it’s a pretty fascinating self-guided tour—you can read about my visit to Royal Yacht Britannia here.

Want to enjoy more of the area? Explore the gorgeous New Town neighborhood in search of sites the 44 Scotland Street novels. Climb on board a Concorde at The National Museum of Flight, just outside of Edinburgh. Or go farther afield and take a Scotland road trip to see film locations for the movie Local Hero. You’ll find charming villages and one of the most beautiful beaches anywhere.

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afternoon tea Edinburgh

Changes in Longitude Larissa & Michael Milne at Arctic Circle

We’re Larissa and Michael, your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive updates and valuable travel tips subscribe to our travel newsletter here.

best scones in Edinburgh

We went on a quest to find the best scones in Edinburgh, and found them at a charming cafe in the New Town.

When you think of a food that defines Edinburgh, scones top the list. Well, some people may think of haggis, but really, the less said about that, the better 😉. (However if you must, check out our Haggis Taste Test.) But back to the scones. They are an Edinburgh institution. You can find them just about anywhere; virtually every cafe, tea shop or coffee house will have them on the menu, and markets carry prepackaged versions. Noted Edinburgh author Alexander McCall Smith even dedicated a title of one beloved 44 Scotland Street novels to them (The Unbearable Lightness of Scones.)Crumbly texture of good scones

Scones in Edinburgh are a good news/bad news scenario. Yes, you can find them everywhere—that’s the good news. But that’s also the bad news . . . it turns out there are some real clunkers out there. But for you, dear reader, we did the research. We explored the city in search of the best scones in Edinburgh, and finally found the hands-down winner!

What makes a good scone?

Best scones in Edinburgh-great crumbly texture

First, texture. If a scone has the proper texture, everything else—aroma, appearance, and, most importantly, TASTE—naturally follows. A good scone should be slightly firm on the outside, with a delicate crispy crust (it shouldn’t be spongy or squishy—this isn’t a yeast roll). Inside, it should be tender and crumbly, with what bakers would call a “crumb.” Create that texture and you’re onto a winner.

Second, the best ingredients. A good scone must be made with . . .butter. Anything less and you haven’t given your poor scone a fighting chance.

Armed with these two requirements, we purchased scones from bakeries and supermarkets, popped into coffee shops and cafes, and even stuck out our pinky at a few afternoon teas. We had some fair scones, a few lousy hockey pucks, and even a few good ones. But then we found the best scones in Edinburgh, and everything else paled in comparison.

The best scones in Edinburgh

Bon Papillon cafe and galleryLadies and gentlemen, I introduce you to Bon Papillon, an art gallery/framing shop and cafe on Howe Street, home of Edinburgh’s best scones! Bon Papillon is run by business and life partners Ingrid Nilsson and Stuart Allan. Ingrid is the artist and oversees the gallery; many of the works on the walls are hers. Stuart, a professional chef, is in charge of the cafe—and the scones.

Stuart makes his scones by hand (no mixer!) daily. Even before tasting one of these beauties I knew it was going to be a winner. It was a feast for the senses. Lifting it, I could feel the slightly firm crust, and upon breaking it open I was rewarded with a gorgeous crumb texture and a delicate butter aroma . . . aaaahhhh. The rich brown exterior gave way to a golden yellow inside, further testament to the buttery goodness within.

best scones in Edinburgh

My mouth was already watering by the time I had my first taste, and my fingers, eyes and nose hadn’t let my tongue down—this scone was delicious! The crust provided just a tiny bit of crunch, the interior was crumbly and moist (without being chewy or gummy-a sure sign of overmixing), and the taste was buttery and slightly sweet. All this deliciousness and I hadn’t even added any of the jam or freshly whipped cream provided on the plate! [Full disclosure, the whipped cream did NOT got to waste.]

I was a happy girl, we had found a winner! Michael announced he’d be purchasing 2 or 3 more to takeaway—a sure sign that he loved them as well (he hadn’t finished most of the scones we tried elsewhere.)

Sultana scones at Bon Papillon in EdinburghStuart with a tray of his freshly baked sultana scones

Scones at Bon Papillon

Unlike many cafes and tea shops that only offer one, or maybe two, varieties, Stuart Allan makes multiple flavors. He bakes them fresh each day, typically making 6 varieties: 4 sweet and 2 savory. (The savory versions are a delicious accompaniment to the salads or homemade soups for lunch.) We shared a blueberry scone on our first visit (there would be many more trips before we left Edinburgh); the seasonal specialty was bursting with fresh fruit. On the other hand, the “standards,” such as plain, sultana, and cheese are available every day. Stuart makes other flavors, like a savory scone with herbs and sun dried tomatoes or a sweet raspberry scone, according to seasonality or his creative whim.pretty cafe and art gallery

Bon Papillon’s scones are large, about 4 inches in diameter, and an excellent value. At £3 each, they make a delicious snack or light meal. Stuart and Ingrid serve sweet scones with strawberry jam and either butter or whipped cream; savory scones come with butter and a carmelized onion jam or savory pickle. The cafe also offers house made salads and soups, along with a large selection of teas and espresso drinks.

If you are traveling to Edinburgh, I recommend visiting Bon Papillon for a cream tea or light meal (with a scone!). Enjoy your scone amid artistic beauty, and you may even decide to take home some of Ingrid’s work. It will be a beautiful way to remember the day you tasted the best scone in Edinburgh.Gallery at Bon Papillon

Bon Papillon is located at 15 Howe Street, Edinburgh EH3 6TE

They are open Wed-Sun, 9am to 5pm (Closed Monday & Tuesday) 

Blueberry scone, cream tea Edinburgh

After you’ve fortified yourself with Stuart’s scones, consider visiting the Royal Yacht Britannia, or checking out the National Museum of Flight. Or explore the neighborhood of the 44 Scotland Street novels.

Changes in Longitude Larissa & Michael Milne at Arctic CircleWe’re Larissa and Michael, your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive updates and valuable travel tips subscribe to our travel newsletter here.

The Royal Yacht Britannia, the private yacht of the British royal family, is open to visitors just outside of Edinburgh, Scotland.  No longer in active service, HMY (Her Majesty’s Yacht) Britannia served the royal family for almost 45 years.

The 400-foot yacht was launched in 1953 shortly after Elizabeth II became queen. It was taken out of active service in 1997, due to cost cutbacks in the British government. Today the ship is anchored permanently in Leith, Scotland, about five miles from central Edinburgh. Visitors can tour the ship at their own pace; each admission ticket includes an audio headset that provides self-guided information.

Royal Yacht Britannia at sea

Royal Yacht Britannia during her days at sea.  At 5,500 tons (4% the size of  the Queen Mary 2) the yacht resembles a miniature cruise ship.

The tour is comprehensive. A set route guides visitors over several decks encompassing virtually all aspects of the ship. The dedicated staterooms of both Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip are each on display. Additional staterooms in the family quarters were used by whoever happened to be on board at the time, including honeymooners Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

Royal yacht Britannia Queens bedroom

Queen Elizabeth’s elegant and spacious stateroom aboard Royal Yacht Britannia.

Despite the small number of passengers, Britannia served as the Queen’s official residence while she was aboard, and was often the site of state dinners and receptions wherever the ship was in port. The State Dining Room, which can seat 96, is set as it would be for such a dinner. Although permanently docked, the ship still hosts official royal functions; the pre-wedding reception for Zara Phillips (daughter of Princess Anne) and her fiancee was held on Britannia in 2011.

dining room her majesty's yacht britannia

The State Dining Room on the Royal Yacht Britannia can seat almost 100 for official state dinners.

Those who are more interested in the Britannia’s mechanical side will enjoy visiting the bridge, crew’s quarters and engine rooms.  All are kept in top working order; the crisp white paint and polished brass epitomize the term “ship shape.”

Royal Yacht Britannia-polished brass

From the topmost deck down to the engine room, all the brass on Royal Yacht Britannia is kept well-polished.

After your unofficial “inspection” of Britannia, indulge in a little royal treatment by having lunch or tea onboard. The aft lounge on Royal Deck has been converted into a tearoom, where visitors can enjoy a light meal. With large windows overlooking the gleaming teak decks, relax over tea and a scone, and enjoy the luxury of living the life of royalty . . . even if only for a day.

Royal Yacht Britannia-Afternoon Tea

Visiting Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia

Address:  The Royal Yacht Britannia, Ocean Drive, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 6JJ

Website:  For further information visit The Royal Yacht Britannia.

Time to Allow:  About one hour to tour, additional hour for lunch or tea.

Who should go:  Those interested in the Royal Family, lovers of ships and nautical history.

Is it worth it?  At £12 for adults/£ 7.50 for kids (approx. $19/12 US) it’s not cheap, and there may not be enough to keep little ones engaged. But it is a one-of-a-kind vessel, and a true piece of 20th-century British history. And it’s fun to pretend you’re the Queen’s guest for tea, even if you do have to pay for the meal!

And the nautically-minded can stop by the Officer’s Club for a photo op!

Royal Yacht Britannia-officer's club

Like it? Share it . . . Pin it!Feel like royalty--for a day--by visiting Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh, the ship where Princess Diana spent her honeymoon.

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Free things to do in Edinburgh

Edinburgh, Scotland’s beautiful capital city, is the second most popular UK destination for overseas visitors. More than one million visitors hit the streets of Edinburgh each year to enjoy the city’s culture, cuisine and history.

City breaks can be pricey but if you’re looking for great cheap holidays, spending your time in Scotland’s first city needn’t be expensive. There are plenty of free things to do in Edinburgh throughout the year to make sure you get the most out of this dynamic city.

View the city from a volcano

free thigns to do in edinburgh arthurs seat

Arthur’s Seat is perhaps one of the most famous landmarks in Edinburgh. At 250.5m (822ft), it’s the highest hill in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park and an extinct volcano. Steeped in history, the hill is alleged to be one of the possible locations of the legendary castle and court of King Arthur’s Camelot. Climbing to the summit is not a strenuous task and the panoramic views of the city from the top are second to none; remember your camera for this one.

The world’s most beautiful garden?

Located only a mile from Edinburgh’s buzzing city centre, the Royal Botanic Garden is an oasis of calm and is regarded as the finest garden in the world. Set over 72 acres, this amazing garden is alive with a dazzling array of flora and fauna including Britain’s tallest Palmhouse and the idyllic Chinese hillside. The Royal Botanic Garden is open all year round and boasts a wealth of exhibitions and events throughout the year.

Enjoy famous Edinburgh Festivals

edinburgh fringe festival

You can usually find some sort of festival happening in Edinburgh throughout the year but August is the month of two of the city’s most famous fests.

Throughout the entire month of August, Edinburgh holds the largest arts festival in the world. Visitors from around the world descend on the city for both the Fringe Festival and the Art Festival. During the Fringe the cobbled streets of Edinburgh become home to street performers while the pubs, exhibition halls and theatres play host to well-known and amateur stand-up comedians as well as a variety of theatrical productions suitable for adults and children. Throughout the festival there are plenty of free admission shows available.

The Edinburgh Art Festival holds over 45 exhibitions at various museums and galleries across the city during August and provides an array of free live performances, guided tours and screenings.

A free guided tour of Edinburgh

free things to do in edinburgh walking tour

Most of the tours of Edinburgh will cost cash but Sandemans Tour Group offers free guided tours across the city for groups, adults and children. The tour company offers 100 walking tours per day conducted by professional freelance guides who work on a ‘tips only’ basis.

More than five million visitors have enjoyed the two-and-a-half-hour walking tours, which includes learning the history of the Royal Mile, discovering Edinburgh’s ghostly secrets and visiting the café where Harry Potter was created. Book your tour online or simply turn up at the Tron Kirk and tag along.

Rediscover you childhood spirit

Children and adults will love the Museum of Childhood on the Royal Mile that features a number of exhibitions and collections including toys and games from across the generations. The Museum of Childhood is a step back in time and guarantees some nostalgic moments for adults while children can learn what is was like to be a child in the 1930s era in Scotland.

Edinburgh has a variety of museums and many are free of charge including the Writers’ Museum and the amazing National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh’s historic Old Town.

The original New Year’s party

Many of the traditions that people use to celebrate New Year originated in Scotland and Edinburgh holds one of the world’s most famous New Year parties attracting thousands of visitors from around the world.

The New Year celebrations last for four days from the 29th December to 1st January with activities including a spectacular fireworks display over Edinburgh Castle and a torchlight procession up historic Calton Hill. The world-famous street party includes live music concerts and dancing but there is an admission price for the street party.

The above lists just a few free options and the Edinburgh Tourist Office will be able to supply a more comprehensive list of free activities in and around the city.

Sandwiches are one of the universal foods, they’re cheap and convenient. We ate way too many of them on our trip and offer up the 11 best sandwiches in the world.

1) Shawarma in Jerusalem

Shawarma Jerusalem

A shawarma is a Middle Eastern sandwich made from meats (often lamb or chicken) that are cooked while rotating on a vertical spit. While it may look like a human leg spinning around, the spiced meat is delicious. It is shaved off and placed in a pita bread with a choice of toppings; usually hummus, tahini, tabbouleh, cucumbers and pickled vegetables. The flavors meld together into an incredibly tasty combination. The shawarmas pictured above come from side by side stands in Jerusalem.

2) Ham sandwich in Auckland, New Zealand

Auckland French Market ham sandwich

At the Saturday-only French Market in Auckland, you can try one of the great Kiwi bargains; $4.25 USD gets you a freshly carved ham sandwich on a crispy French baguette with lettuce and dressing. 

Auckland French Market Ham sandwich

3) Chopped rib on weck in Saratoga Springs, New York

BBQsa Saratoga rib sandwich weck

PJ’s BAR-B-QSA is one of our favorite barbecue joints. It’s a road trip of American barbecue offering regional specialties from all over the country. The rib sandwich is served on a weck roll, a western upstate New York specialty that is topped with kosher salt and caraway seeds. 

4) Kapana in Namibia

men eating kapana in Namibia

Part of the fun of kapana, the popular street food of Namibia, is how it’s eaten. You tell the vendor how much you want to spend and he pushes that amount over on the grill with his knife. You then grab it with your fingers and dip it into a communal box full of salt and spices. Tasty yes but not a sandwich. To make it a sandwich do what we did. Walk over to one the vendors selling fresh Portugeuse rolls, split it open and stuff the bread with the kapana. Now that’s a sandwich. It might have been donkey meat, we’re still not quite sure, but it sure tasted good.

5) Pastrami sandwich in New York

Katzs deli pastrami best sandwiches in the world

We both grew up in New York where the love of pastrami was drilled into us at an early age. Our favorite is still the classic with pickles and an egg cream at Katz’s Deli in Lower Manhattan. It’s where Meg Ryan loved the food in a famous scene from “When Harry Met Sally,” or maybe she was just faking it.

6) Pulled pork sandwich in Cincinnati, Ohio

Findlay market best sandwiches in the world

The award-winning barbecue team from Velvet Smoke plies its trade at the historic Findlay Market in Cincinnati. The pulled pork offers the right combination of tenderness, flavor and bite.

7) Bahn Mi in Hue, Vietnam (Winner: Best value)

Banh Mi sandwich

The sandwich is called banh mi but that is just Vietnamese for bread, in this case, a delicious crusty French baguette. The stuffing is typically grilled pork, perhaps compressed pig ears, liver pate, cucumber, cilantro, pickled carrots and a spread such as mayonnaise or spicy chili sauce. These bahn mi were 35 cents each, feeding us a delicious lunch for two for only 70 cents. The baguettes alone were worth more than that.

8 ) Hog roast and haggis sandwich in Edinburgh, Scotland

Hog roast haggis sandwich Edinburgh

Nothing like slapping on some haggis before the roasted hog. Haggis, the national food of Scotland and something they are oddly proud of, is sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, oatmeal, onion, oatmeal, suet and spices wrapped in a sheep’s stomach. Seriously. When combined with roasted hog it is pretty intense.

Pork and haggis sandwich castle terrace market edinburgh

Hard to beat the setting just below Edinburgh Castle. For a video of our haggis taste test check out “A Fistful of Haggis.”

9) Porchetta in  Assisi, Italy

Assisi porchetta best sandwiches in the world

You know your sandwich is going to be fresh when the head is staring at you. We have to admit though, it did make us feel a bit guilty.

10) Philly cheesesteak in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Philly cheesesteak Cambodia

Yo, we’re from Philly so we had to include at least one cheesesteak. After a tiring day touring Angkor Wat, Little Rocky approved of this one at the Warehouse in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Gotta love that French baguette.

11) Kokorec in Istanbul (Winner: The best sandwich in the world)

Kokorec best sandwich turkey

And the winner is, the kokorec sandwich in Turkey. It’s so delicious it even earned its own blog post: Damn, that’s good sheep intestine The title sort of gives away one of the main ingredients.

The world’s worst sandwich: Vegemite sandwich in Australia

Vegemite sandwich

Men At Work made it famous, but the world’s worst sandwich is the Vegemite sandwich. For those who haven’t tried it, Vegemite tastes like salty, fermented toe snarf. Straight from Australia’s Bush country, here’s a video of our official vegemite taste test. Watch it at your own peril.

What is your favorite sandwich?

Here’s our review of pizza on 6 continents: The best pizza in the world, it’s not in Italy

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Where was the movie Local Hero filmed? We set off to Scotland to find out. The filming locations for Local Hero are scattered throughout northern Scotland; seeking them out makes for a great road trip [be sure to see our tips for driving on the left]. Along the way we discovered charming villages, breathtaking scenery and one of the most magical beaches in the world. We also found a mysterious phone booth.

Read on to learn more about the film, or jump ahead using the quick links below:

  1. About the Local Hero movie
  2. Visiting Pennan, Scotland (the fictional village of Ferness)
  3. Finding the site of the pub (Banff, Scotland)
  4. Exploring Camusdarach Beach, Morar, Scotland (the fictional Ferness beach)

About the Local Hero movie

Local Hero is one of our favorite movies. Released in 1983, the quirky film is the story of a Houston oil executive who heads to Scotland to buy an entire fishing village so the company can build a refinery there. The reaction he gets is not quite what he expected. It’s a story whose theme still resonates over 35 years later.

NEWS FLASH: Local Hero is back!!! It was remade into a stage musical and enjoyed a short run in Edinburgh in the spring of 2019 . . . and will premiere in London in 2020-YAY! Scroll down to learn more about Local Hero, the musical.

Peter Riegert plays Mac, the Houston oil exec. He’s perhaps best known as Boon from the classic Animal House. The oil company owner, Happer, is the legendary Burt Lancaster. The film also features a young Peter Capaldi as Mac’s Scottish liaison Danny; his gentle, geeky, multi-lingual character bears little resemblance to future super-strong roles, such as Dr. Who and the ominous Malcom from The Thick of It. Scotsman Bill Forsyth directed the film; Local Hero presages the current struggle between the search for energy and saving the environment.

Throw in a mermaid, the mist covered mountains of the Scottish highlands and a moody musical score by Mark Knopfler and the film creates a magical tableau. Forsyth went on to win the BAFTA (the British equivalent of the Oscars) award for Best Director. And Knopfler’s soundtrack is still one of our favorite albums.

Visiting Pennan, Scotland (the fictional village of Ferness)

Filming locations for Local Hero Pennan

The one-street village of Pennan, Scotland is nestled between the cliffs and the water’s edge (note the Pennan Inn on the left of the photo)

The village of Pennan (the fictional village of Ferness in the movie) is perched on the North Sea, about about an hour’s drive north of Aberdeen. Nestled into a small cove and tucked below grassy cliffs that look like something you’d find in Lord of the Rings (or maybe Game of Thrones in the winter), it’s hidden from view until you are nearly upon it.  Approaching from the south, you won’t even see it until the last minute—it seems as if you’re driving to the edge of a cliff with a great view. The road makes a few switchback turns downward, and—POW!—there you are, right in the center of the village at the water’s edge!

The Local Hero phonebox

Local Hero pennan phone booth

The village phone box plays a key role in the film since it’s Mac’s lifeline back to Houston. (Remember, this was before cell phones and Skype.) The phone box in the movie was a prop and later removed. But that doesn’t stop oiks¹ from descending on the wee village to make a phone call from the existing box anyway, oh look, there’s one now! (¹ Oik is British slang for “nit-wit.”)

The Pennan Inn

The Pennan Inn is the centre (to use the local spelling) of activity in the village—and in the film. It’s where Mac and Danny stay, as well as where they dine on Stella’s delicious cooking.

The Pennan Inn, Scotland

The great news for fans of the film and visitors to the area is that you can stay at the Pennan Inn! It’s a cosy spot with just a few rooms that have recently been updated to a high standard. We recommend making a night of it, enjoying the quiet pleasure of this lovely seaside village, with a meal in the Inn’s comfy dining room.

Be sure to book ahead, as there are only a few rooms and they fill up! Book a room at The Pennan Inn.

Local hero plaque on Pennan InnA plaque is attached to the exterior of the Pennan Inn to commemorate the filming. You can see the effects that the salty air has had on it!

If you have some extra time in the area, you might want to visit the historic lighthouse at Kinnaird Head, about 12 miles to the east.

You’ll notice walking around Pennan that there’s no long stretch of sandy beach . . . nor does the interior of the pub look quite like that in the film. Through the magic of cinematography it all flows like one tidy package, but the reality is the site of the famous pub is a few miles down the road in Banff, and the beach is even farther to the west. So let’s drive on . . .

Visiting Banff, Scotland (home to the Local Hero pub)

Banff, Scotland is about 12 miles west of Pennan along the coast, overlooking Banff Bay. Established in the 1200’s with the building of Banff Castle, the town was for centuries an important stopping point on the route between Aberdeen and Inverness. Much of the original castle is now gone, but the town still boasts a pretty center, a nice seafront setting, some great old buildings . . . and the pub from Local Hero.

The Ship Inn, Banff

Ship Inn Banff Scotland

Photo by Leslie Barrie, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66985935

The Ship Inn in Banff is an unobtrusive pub located on the town’s waterfront. The bar plays the role of the pub in fictional Ferness (where Gordon the innkeeper is the proprietor . . . as he is just about everywhere else in town). It’s the site of one of the most pivotal scenes in Local Hero, where Mac wants to change lives with Gordon. Watch this scene where Mac says our absolute favorite line of the film, “I’d make a good Gordon, Gordon.”

[Full disclosure: While searching for our lodging in Banff we stopped at the Ship Inn to ask for directions–without realizing it was the site of the famous “Gordon” scene. We learned the truth only after we had driven a further 150+ miles to the site of the beach scenes—DOH! Ah well, even travel bloggers make mistakes every now and then 😱.]

Other sights of interest in Banff, Scotland

With Banff’s long history there are other things to see after (or perhaps before) you settle in for a “wee dram” at The Ship Inn. Only a few walls and foundations remain of the original medieval Banff Castle, but you can walk around the grounds. The “newer” Banff Castle on the site (a house that’s over 200 years old itself) is now the home of community arts facilities, as well as The Kelpie Cafe, where you can have a bit of lunch or a freshly-baked snack.

Banff is also the home of Duff House, an elegant 18th century manor house that was once the seat of the Earls of Fife. (It’s no longer in the family.) The house also served as both an Allied Command HQ and POW camp during World War II; there are some intriguing architectural “signatures” from that period. It’s well worth a visit.

Hotels in Banff, Scotland

Banff makes a great spot to stay on your Local Hero road trip—especially if The Pennan Inn is booked. There are several nice inns and bed and breakfasts in town. Consider Carmelite House, and impressive Georgian B Listed structure, or The Country Hotel, owned by a French chef, who also operates a French restaurant and bistro on site.

Visiting Camusdarach Beach, Morar (near Mallaig)

Filming locations for Local Hero Camusdarach Beach The beach scenes were shot at Camusdarach Beach on the west coast of Scotland, about 175 miles southwest of the village of Pennan, just south of the town of Mallaig. The area around this beach is known as ‘The White Sands of Morar.” It’s a magnificent beach with the right combination of superfine sand along with rocks that create tidal pools. The scenes are quite magical (with even a possible mermaid popping up!)

This beach is significant: it’s the proposed site of the new refinery, yet it’s owned by a wily old hermit named Ben Knox. Ben’s not too keen on this new refinery. In this scene, Mac tries to negotiate with Ben:

Here’s the rocky spot on the beach where Ben’s shack stood during the filming of Local Hero (it’s easy to see why he was reluctant to sell!):Filming locations for Local Hero Camusdarach Beach

[NOTE: While the beach is public, it’s not immediately visible from the road, you must walk a short path over the dunes to reach it. There are no signs pointing the way, but everyone in the area knows it—we got directions from our B&B.]

Our Lady of the Braes Church

The church scenes were filmed on the west coast of Scotland at the (deconsecrated) Our Lady of the Braes Roman Catholic Church. Although in the film the church appears to stand guard over the beach, in reality it occupies a prominent site overlooking Route A830, the main road to Mallaig. Here’s a scene you can see the church from the beach:

And here’s our view of the church from the roadside (no beach in sight!):

Filming locations for Local Hero Lady Braes church

When we visited the beach we were surprised to see two houses . . .where was the church??? (see below). The film crew wrapped the house on the left in a plastic façade to look like the church during the filming of the beach scenes. Filming locations for Local Hero Camusdarach Beach

At the time of our visit the church appeared on Historic Environment Scotland’s Buildings at Risk list. It looked abandoned, so we went inside. It appeared that somebody might be renovating it.

Local Hero Our Lady of the Braes church interior

Bonus sighting: location of The Hogwarts Express

The west coast of Scotland is a popular spot for moviemakers. Just before we got to the church we passed the Glenfinnan Viaduct that carries the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films.

Harry Potter Glenfinnan viaduct

Mallaig Accommodation

Camusdarach Beach is a lovely area to spend a few days, letting the area’s natural beauty soothe your soul (just like it did for Mac in Local Hero!). Perhaps while there you can even try some haggis. The nearest town is Mallaig (about 5 miles north). There are some nice small hotels and B&B’s in the area. Following is a listing of some recommended Mallaig accommodations:

  • Braes Bed and Breakfast offers beautifully decorated, upscale rooms (some with sea views)
  • The Marine Hotel is a traditional family-run hotel with restaurant, located right in the small waterfront town of Mallaig, near to the ferry terminal (convenient for ferries to the Isle of Skye)
  • Arisaig House is a gorgeous country house hotel and restaurant for when you really want to splurge. It’s located just south of Camusdarach Beach.

Below, Michael is about to drop his watch in the tidal pool where Mac accidentally left his beeping watch behind. The scene demonstrates Mac’s transformation to the languid rhythms of village life. It was a fitting end to our road trip.
Filming locations for Local Hero Camusdarach Beach

Local Hero, the musical

According to The GuardianLocal Hero might be “what is possibly Scotland’s best-loved film.” Now, over 35 years after the film’s release, there’s a new musical based on Bill Forsyth’s original screenplay. Mark Knopfler again did the music, writing several new songs for the story’s characters. After a brief run in Edinburgh in the spring of 2019, the show will premiere in London in June of 2020. Libby Brooks of The Guardian wrote a great overview of what to expect from Local Hero, the musical.

And this brief video by the producers give us an idea of what we can expect:

Filming locations for Local Hero Camusdarach Beach

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We’re Larissa and Michael: a typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011. We seek off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

44 Scotland Street coverFrom Larissa ~ Although this was my first trip to Edinburgh, I felt as though I already knew the place. I had visited the city many times “virtually,” through reading. I am a fan of the 44 Scotland Street novels by Alexander McCall Smith. The author chronicles the fictitious, but very realistic, goings-on of a group of residents in Edinburgh’s New Town. (Note:  the “New Town” was built in the late 18th & early 19th centuries, history runs deep in Edinburgh.)

I spent an afternoon exploring the New Town in search of some of the locations referenced in the books. The center of all this activity is the eponymous 44 Scotland Street, an unreal address on a very real street. It is a Georgian-era townhouse apartment building; the type that boasts high ceilings, a spiral staircase and questionable plumbing.

Scotland Street, courtesy myweeklybook_netSeveral colorful residents weave their way through the books along with friends, relatives and other assorted hangers-on. Readers of the series (which now has seven installments) become friends with the characters, including: Domenica, the anthropologist who wants to study modern-day pirates in Malaysia; Cyril the beer-drinking dog, owned by Angus the portrait-painter; Big Lou, a no-nonsense gal from further up north who owns a café and dishes out great advice to everyone but herself; and Matthew, the totally inept gallery owner with a heart of gold.

Most endearing, however, is Bertie, the young boy with the mother-from-hell. Bertie just wants to be a kid, but his mother has him speaking Italian, studying the saxophone and attending a bizarre progressive school with kids named Tofu and Hiawatha.

The main character in the books is Edinburgh itself. Throughout the series Bertie et. al. frequent neighborhood haunts and city landmarks. Reading the 44 Scotland Street novels transports the reader to the streets of Edinburgh, making them a virtual neighbor.

view of Scotland Street courtesy myweeklybooknet

I found several of the places I had come to know and love:

  1. Scotland Street: a quiet wide residential street on a hill that slopes down toward the river Fife in the distance.  There’s no number 44, but you can get a sense of the neighborhood, with the large granite Georgian Townhouses and imposing front doors. I could almost hear Bertie practicing his saxophone.
  2. The Cumberland Bar: (Pictured at the top of this post.) A real bar a few blocks away that is tucked into an otherwise residential street.  Angus the portrait painter is a regular here, and this is where his dog Cyril (did I mention he has a gold tooth?) has his very own “beer bowl”.
  3. The Scottish Gallery: Located at number 16 Dundas Street, which is the proxy for Matthew’s fictitious Something Special Gallery. The spot where art snobs are unmasked and romance blossoms.
  4. Big Lou’s: Fictitious café across from Matthew’s gallery, home of a spectacular cappuccino machine that Lou is always polishing. It’s the center of all neighborhood gossip that doesn’t occur at the Cumberland Bar.
  5. Valvona & Crolla: Edinburgh’s oldest, and probably best, Italian deli.  This is where locals go for fresh mozzarella, espresso, and extra-virgin olive oil.  Perhaps the only benefit for Bertie of learning Italian—he absolutely craves the Panforte di Siena.

Valvona & Crolla, courtesy leilappetit_com jpg

Photo courtesy LeilAppetit.com

I loved touring around these sites, as it took me into the heart of a neighborhood that was right in Edinburgh, yet far off the tourist trail. It was wonderful to see the places mentioned in the books, bringing the characters to life for me.  While in Edinburgh, 44 Scotland Street became my new home address.

Click the link for more information about the 44 Scotland Street novels on Amazon.

Note: My camera punked out on me that day so most of these pictures are courtesy of My Weekly Book, a person who is reading a book a week for a year.

What books have made you want to visit a place?

Scotland is more than a wee land of kilts and bagpipers. It’s also the home of the most manly of foods—haggis. In our haggis taste test we try this food, which is basically a sheep’s stomach stuffed with sheep lungs, offal, oatmeal and spices. It may sound awful but it is so esteemed in local folklore that famed Scottish poet Robert Burns even wrote an ode called “An Address to A Haggis.” How many foods can claim such a literary heritage?

Haggis taste test neeps and tatties

Traditional haggis with neeps and tatties.

Every year on January 25th, Burns’ birthday, Scots all over the world congregate to celebrate their literary hero and devour a feast of haggis. The haggis is led in a procession preceded by a bagpiper, odes are read and much whiskey is drunk. Eventually the host spears the haggis with a dagger to release the steam or “reek.” And boy does it reek. Typically it is served with neeps and tatties, that’s mashed potatoes and turnip for those of you for whom English is your primary language.

haggis taste

For a fancier night out, how about some haggis bon bons?

During our time in Scotland our goal was to try haggis in every form imaginable. Well it was Michael’s goal. He had basic forms of it in pubs, fancy haggis (yes such a thing exists) set in tiers at posh restaurants, haggis bon bons, curry haggis, haggis lasagna and haggis potato chips. His one regret was that the restaurant serving haggis soup had run out.

Haggis ingredients

The label suggests adding a "dram" of whiskey to the haggis. You might need a dram yourself before reading the ingredients.

For our American readers who are  hankering for some haggis we’re sorry to say you can’t get authentic haggis in America, some crazy rule about importing products with sheep lungs. So you need to head to Scotland for the real thing. That’s not so bad since Scotland has been one of the highlights of our year-long journey.

Here’s a video of our haggis taste test, including haggis curry and haggis potato chips. Yum.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/rZXsVOFdqZE[/youtube]

If reading this has gotten you really hungry here’s a link to our story about a tasty kokorec sandwich we devoured in Istanbul, it’s made from sheep intestine.  A few months later  we tried to find kokorec at one of the many Turkish doner kebab shops in Berlin but were told it’s illegal to sell it in Germany. Apparently they run into the same problem as importing haggis into the US.

And if you’re really, really hungry here’s our taste test of lamb tongues in New Zealand.

What are some of your favorite foods with unusual ingredients?

The image of a lighthouse keeper is often a romantic notion: solitary men who keep the lights burning on storm-lashed coasts as they send their signal out to ships at sea. The reality is slightly different as it is a tough, often lonely, job. We toured the Kinnaird Head Lighthouse, the first lighthouse in Scotland, for an up close look at the lighthouse keeper’s life.

Usually lighthouses are just admired from afar, but Kinnaird Head offers the rare opportunity to climb inside an actual lighthouse. Since it was active until relatively recently, most of the mechanisms are still intact and in proper working order. It is also conveniently located next to the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses which tells the history of these sentinels of the sea.

Pictures of a lighthouse in Scotland

Kinnaird Head Lighthouse in Scotland

Kinnaird Head is in the fishing village of Fraserburgh in northeast Scotland. Those poles were used to string out the fishing nets to dry until the invention of nylon nets made the need to dry them obsolete.

Kinnaird Head Lighthouse castle in Scotland

The first light was set up here in 1787 on the top of the circa 1570 Kinnaird Castle. By 1824 Famed lighthouse builder Robert Stevenson, grandfather of Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stevenson, proposed tearing down the structure. He was persuaded not to by author Sir Walter Scott who was interested in preserving Scottish history. In an early example of adaptive reuse, the lighthouse tower was built inside the castle.

Kinnaird Head Lighthouse in Scotland interior stairs

The balustrades on the spiral staircase reveal the workmanship of a bygone era.

Kinnaird Head Lighthouse in Scotland pulley

This pulley holds up a weighted mechanism similar to a Grandfather Clock that would keep the light turning. It gave off a constant clicking sound so the keeper would know it was still working. If the sound stopped the keeper would spring into action to rewind the weight. Allowing a light to stop turning would result in the keeper losing his job.

Kinnaird Head Lighthouse in Scotland electric switches

Old switches from an early changeover to electricity.

Kinnaird Head Lighthouse in Scotland prismatic lenses

Can you find the small bulb in this picture? Due to the design of the prismatic lens, a bulb the size of a small pineapple can shine a light that is visible for 15 miles.

Kinnaird Lighthouse in Scotland paraffin lamp

The light was still kept glowing by paraffin until it became electric in 1978.

Kinnaird Head Lighthouse in Scotland TV

A TV in the auxiliary keeper’s room reveals the limited choices available for BBC viewers in the 1980s.

The Museum of Scottish Lighthouses

After touring the lighthouse head next door to the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses.

Museum of Scottish Lighthouses entrance

 

Go if you’re interested in: Lighthouses, nautical history, castles, historic preservation.

What makes it special? A rare chance to climb to the top of a historic lighthouse and watch a demonstration of the turning mechanism that still works.

If you like this you’ll also like: Dunnet Head lighthouse near John O’Groats on the northernmost Scottish coast.

Tips: The museum is located about 15 minutes from the coastal village of Pennan, where much of the quirky movie Local Hero was filmed. Here’s our post with pics of the filming locations for Local Hero.

Website: Museum of Scottish Lighthouses

The National Museum of Flight in Scotland stands out even among other aviation museums. It sits on a former airfield used in both World War I and World War II. One hangar is devoted to a display of the Concorde, the record-breaking supersonic airliner. Visitors can walk inside the Concorde Read more