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Travel: Auld Reekie reborn… Edinburgh springs back to life

© ShutterstockEdinburgh's Victoria Street.
Edinburgh's Victoria Street.

Edinburgh has become our go-to destination for a night away from the chaos of family life. There’s something magically recharging about the winding lanes and fairy-tale charm of our capital city.

Last time we visited was between lockdowns in 2021, and it was surreal to see the usually bustling streets so eerily quiet.

How brilliant it was, then, to return recently and find the old place bursting with life. This was Edinburgh as it should be, and we couldn’t help smiling at the sight as we trekked through those iconic streets towards the base for our trip.

And what a base.

First impressions are lasting, or so the cliché tells us, and on that front Sonder’s Royal Garden Apartments have nothing to worry about. An imposing and elegant grey stone building on a leafy corner of Queen Street, the location promised much, and I’m pleased to say, delivered in spades.

A secure, self check-in keypad entrance led to a warm, classy lobby. Pops of gold and calming colours cosseted us from the busy streets as we wound through a labyrinth of hushed passageways.

© SYSTEM
Royal Garden Apartments.

We all know that the slick, pristine interiors depicted on hotel websites and brochures don’t always match up with reality. For that reason, I often find myself a little nervous when we open a hotel room door. Fortunately, a swipe of the Sonder key card soon put my mind to rest. Our top-floor, one-bedroom apartment turned out to be one of those happy occasions when reality actually surpasses glossy promotional pictures.

The apartment was truly stunning.

Tall French windows flooded the spacious rooms with natural light, affording wonderful views across to the adjacent National Portrait Gallery – itself a work of art – and the open, green spaces of Queen Street Gardens.

Classy wooden floors swept around the place, leading to a living room complete with opulent velvet couch and flat-screen TV. Should you favour a longer stay, a pristine, modern kitchen awaits, offering everything you’ll need for a self-catering break. The bathroom continued the luxurious theme, and finishing everything off was a crisp, high-ceilinged bedroom with a bed fit to grace any high-end hotel.

© SYSTEM
Royal Garden Apartments interior.

Unpacked and wrapped in warm clothes, we set off into Edinburgh. First stop wasn’t far. Just across the street, in fact, to the National Portrait Gallery. One of the city’s most remarkable buildings, both inside and out, this red sandstone neo-gothic palace is a joy to explore. There really is so much to see and appreciate, both in the artwork on display and the glittering architectural flourishes around every corner, that one visit is never enough to take it all in.

After that, it was back into the fresh air for a stroll, and what better place to wander than the cobbled streets of Edinburgh? We began in the New Town, stopping for a quick lunch, and then headed to St James Quarter, the city’s newest district, where a plethora of designer stores make a haven for those who wish to shop ’til they drop.

A short walk back to the apartment to drop the shopping bags, and off we went again, this time in the direction of the Old Town. Here, in the shadow of the castle, we settled outside a Grassmarket pub and watched the world go by, while a band of street musicians set up and began to play jazz. It was a distinctly Edinburgh scene, the sort that really makes this a city like no other.

Later, a bracing walk back to the apartment helped us work up an appetite, but we’d decided not to dine at one of the countless restaurants on offer. The apartment was too good to waste, you see, so we cosied down, opened a bottle of wine and ordered dinner. Bliss!

A restful sleep later, we awakened to a crisp morning and, more than a little sorry to say goodbye to our stylish rooms, set off for breakfast. Before we left Edinburgh, though, we made the short hike to the summit of Arthur’s Seat, where a breathtaking vista provided panoramic views over Edinburgh, Leith and the Firth of Forth.

A wonderful way to end another successful trip to our favourite city. I doubt it’ll be long until we return.


P.S.

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery offers 17 new displays, featuring portraits of key figures including Mary, Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Robert Burns The gallery also has a shop, cafe, reading spaces, and a touch-screen gallery.

Factfile: 

Royal Garden Apartments offers 16 two-bedroom, 13 one-bedroom and one studio apartment. For further details, visit sonder.com