Thursday, 12 May 2016

GUEST POST: The Perfect Hen Do in Edinburgh

In recent years Edinburgh has become a prime location for those celebrating their impending nuptials. Stag and hen parties pull up in Edinburgh Waverley in droves each year – and why wouldn’t they? It’s the perfect setting for a group of guys or girls to enjoy a weekend of escapades before a close friend makes the ultimate commitment. The Scottish city is extremely walkable and picturesque enough to provide a stunning backdrop for photos, but trendy enough for there to be plenty of exciting options to thrill any bride or groom-to-be. This is why we chose it as the location for a friend’s hen do in April – here’s how twelve hens filled two glorious days in Edinburgh.

From Station to Hotel in a Hop-Skip-and-Jump

We pulled into Edinburgh Waverley at around 1pm on the Saturday, having had the compulsory picnic breakfast, prosecco from plastic cups and games on the train up from Manchester. We were all suitably cheery as we rolled our cases along the platform – twelve ladies weaving through the crowds like a lively, chattering caterpillar. Less than five minutes later, we were entering the impressive lobby of The Scotsman Hotel, checking into our rooms. The staff greeted us with friendly smiles and were incredibly helpful – considering twelve excited women had just descended upon them in one go.

We had booked several Classic Rooms, using the ‘Best Rate Guaranteed’ offer and paired off to deposit our suitcases – fortunately the hotel had put us in rooms close to one another so nipping in to share hair straighteners or advise on outfit choices later when we prepared for a night on the tiles wouldn’t be difficult! The hotel had kindly put the flowers and cupcakes we’d ordered with the bride-to-be’s name on in her room, just before our arrival. She was completely bowled over, not just by this personal touch, but by the beautiful Executive Room we had treated her and her Maid of Honour to.

The Aveda Spa: Pampered, Polished and Primped

The next step on our Edinburgh adventure was to grab our dressing gowns and head for the Aveda Spa for some serious pampering. After an early start and long train journey up, we were all ready for some proper relaxation. The spa is inside the hotel itself, making it easy for guests to access, while the array of treatments on offer meant difficult choices had to be made when we booked. Having arranged our treatments ahead of time, the spa knew exactly what we were each having (and why we were visiting Edinburgh) so they took especially good care of us and our bride-to-be.

As some of us headed for a swim in the stunning pool, others caught the spinning class that was just starting – we had all decided that in order to earn this decadent weekend, we had to work hard for it first! It was great to get our pulses racing in such luxurious surroundings – there were no crowds, the instructors were motivational and we had a really good laugh. After working up a sweat, we all met up in the steam-room for some high intensity relaxation. The refreshing eucalyptus essences transported us to a rustic Australian cabin and made us feel like we were a million miles away.

Next, we headed for the treatment rooms. I was booked in for a 30 minute, customised Elemental Nature massage – the masseuse asked me about my problem areas and tested my body for tension points before she began so she could tailor the massage to my needs. Whilst I was being pummelled and prodded (in the most lavish way, of course), some of the other girls chose facials, manicures, pedicures, natural tanning and waxing. By the time we floated (on a cloud of aloe, lavender and ylang ylang) back up to our rooms to get ready for our night out, we all felt brand new.

Chow Down - Edinburgh Style

Dressed to the nines and ready to start our night, we reconvened back down in the lobby. Since it was now 6:30pm – cocktail o’clock – we headed for North Bridge Brasserie. The hotel bar proved the perfect place to begin our night. The cocktail list was extensive… making even the most decisive amongst us hesitant. The barman was helpful and guided us through the menu, based on questions he asked us about our usual preferences.

I finally settled on a Highland Iced Tea – single malt whisky and Earl Grey tea with peach & fig liquors. It was one of the tastiest things I’ve ever drunk. In my life. The bride went for a (very seasonal) Bee On Rhubarb – Cointreau, rhubarb bitters and honey syrup – whilst others in the party enjoyed a combination of classic and exclusive-to-the-Scotsman tipples: Burnt Islay Old Fashioneds, Fruits of the Forests, Singapore Slings, French Martinis and Bellinis. Not a single one of us was disappointed and not a single one of us wanted to leave… but our dinner reservations were beckoning.

We could have eaten at The Scotsman (and believe me, the smells wafting from the dining room were making us salivate) but it was time for us to get out of the hotel and see some of the city sites. We’d booked into a restaurant in the New Town side of the bridge – near the lively nightlife spots of George Street and Rose Street. Iris is an intimate little restaurant, specialising in contemporary Scottish cuisine and it was only a 15 minute stroll from the hotel – perfect for a group wearing heels!

Using fresh, local ingredients, the team at Iris strive to provide customers with the most delicious and typically-Scottish flavours possible – as well as European influences. This is why we chose them for our evening meal – this group of women know their food and it has to be good… We indulged in delicious dishes such as smoked partridge with deep fried quail’s egg, seared scallops with black pudding and steamed Scottish mussels to start with. This was followed by lamb loin with haggis, roast duck breast with Drambuie, and monkfish tail wrapped in pancetta. The abundance of fish on the menu is a reminder of Edinburgh’s location and Scotland’s proud relationship with the sea. Too full for dessert (yes, even the chocolate beetroot cake) we moved onto our second bar of the evening…

Painting Edinburgh Red

Considering it’s a major UK city, hosting thousands of tourists every month, we were thrilled to find that most of the stylish, swanky, quirky cocktail bars Edinburgh houses are perfectly reasonably-priced. Most drinks we ordered – beautifully crafted by talented and knowledgeable barmen and women – were between £5 and £9… members of the party visiting from London were particularly impressed!

Just three minutes’ walk from Iris, is Bramble – one of the city’s favourite word-of-mouth haunts. Despite its sterling reputation, the downstairs bar is slightly difficult to find, making it all the more charming. It has steps directly down from the street, contributing to a clandestine, secretive vibe – it’s small, intimate and a tight squeeze for a group of twelve when it’s already buzzing! The drinks and atmosphere made it completely worth it though, and soon enough we had our own little seating area to perch in. We sipped on our Red Rums, Stepford Sisters and – of course – Brambles, as the DJ span funky mash-ups of new and old music alike, creating a lively and stylish atmosphere, without pretension. 

Another eight minute stroll, and we were at The Voodoo Rooms; a stunningly restored 1861 building with d├ęcor that fuses grandiose gold and black Victoriana and Tiki island grotto. With over sixty tequilas and sixty rums to choose from, this award-winning bar is heaven for anyone who enjoys exotic cocktails inspired by South America, and the Polynesian and Caribbean islands.

Choosing from the six themed rooms is no easy task – guests can settle in the plush Main Bar, Dining Room for food, The American Bar or The Ballroom for group or private events, a self-contained Speakeasy, or – where we had booked – The French Quarter. Rum punches, Mai Tais, daiquiris and coladas in hand, we were seated at our leather booth. This venue is particularly great for big groups, not only because of all the separate rooms… and the fact they serve fish bowls of cocktails and DIY cocktail kits – great to share and get in the spirit (bad pun) – but because they have live music at weekends. Folk, blues and jazz bands frequent this place and dancing is encouraged… not to mention a killer lit-up dancefloor in The French Quarter.

As far as atmosphere goes, this bar really delivers with its slick drinks list, relaxed attitude and friendly staff. For variety (and one or two fun gimmicks) we found it the perfect place to end our night… and only a five minute totter home for sore feet at the end of the night!

No Rest for the Soon-to-be-Hitched

Sunday morning (some a little delicate from the antics of the night before) we all re-met in North Bridge Brasserie for our inclusive breakfast. This was a meal that promised to deliver a hearty slice of Scottish tradition, as well as headache relief… for those who needed it. I mentioned our healthy appetites earlier… so, although the Continental Breakfast looked beautiful with juices, fresh pastries, fruit, yoghurt, cheeses, cured meat and fish available – all twelve around the table opted for the ‘Full Scottish.’

It was the right choice. The breakfast is served as a buffet where diners can help themselves and includes eggs (done any way – just ask the server), smoked Ayrshire bacon, Highland butchers’ sausages, black pudding, as well as grilled tomatoes and mushrooms. Additions, such as beans, haggis and tatties are available too – the staff are really accommodating. With each mouthful, the cobwebs vanished and soon enough we were all much perkier… ready for another action-packed day in the city.

Once the breakfast had settled, we set off for our day-time activity. This part was a complete surprise for the bride-to-be – up to this point, she’d had an idea about what we’d do but this part was unknown. We made our way back to New Town and arrived at the Edinburgh Escape Rooms – a team-building experience like no other. We were put into three teams of four and each team put into a mysterious room – from that moment on, you have 60 minutes to escape your room, using the clues provided and your logic, problem-solving and teamwork skills.

This was an absolute highlight of the trip – and with a weekend this enjoyable, it’s hard to make such a claim! We made sure we mixed ourselves up to have a fair spread of skills and personalities in each team, which meant we got to work with people we didn’t know that well prior to the activity. Afterwards, we were able to swap stories about the different themed rooms we had experienced (The Da Vinci Room, The Taken Room and Area 51) and laughed hysterically about some of the things we’d had to do. I don’t want to spoil the experience for you, so won’t offer any more details, but if you come to Edinburgh – whatever the reason – make sure you squeeze an hour in for this magical activity!

Everything Stops for Tea

Before leaving the city, it was time for one last gastronomic foray. Heading back in the direction of the hotel, we stopped off on our final luxurious pit stop before catching the train. Getting a bit peckish after all that brain power, we entered the impressive Dome – a historic restaurant and cocktail bar that, in the afternoon, becomes a haven for tea-drinkers. For £23.50 per head (or £16.50 without champagne) we settled down for a delectable afternoon tea in the beautiful Georgian Tea Room.

The food included delicate finger sandwiches – egg mayonnaise and mustard cress, smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumber, wafer-thin ham and coarse grain mustard – the chef’s selection of cakes, freshly-baked scones with clotted cream and jam, and an excellent range of loose leaf teas. This was the perfect, classy end to what had been a heavenly weekend. Over all too quickly, we made a final toast to the bride-to-be, picked up our suitcases and re-traced our steps to Edinburgh Waverley.

Our weekend is only one example of the plentiful opportunities open to hen and stag dos in Edinburgh – the possibilities are endless. Perhaps your friends would enjoy whisky tasting, a ghost tour, quad biking, cocktail-making, Scottish reel lessons or a crafting session. But one thing can be guaranteed and it’s that Edinburgh will provide an unforgettable weekend for everyone and The Scotsman Hotel was a central part to making our visit truly exceptional.

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