Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A low-key wedding in Edinburgh?

Dear ESB,

In order to avoid the ALABAMA WEDDING MACHINE, my fiancé and I have elected to "elope" (with ~35 close friends and family) to Edinburgh next spring. 

Do you or your readers have any suggestions of venues to hold a low-key reception? Anything else that is a must-do in Edinburgh?

Thank you!


Kirsty from A Safe Mooring has written you a SLAMMIN where-to-get-married-in-Edinburgh guide. (And also included must-dos such as a good smelly cheese shop + a creepy museum because duh.)

Here she is:

First off, congratulations! You're joining a long line of vagabonds and misfits who have eloped to our fair nation over the centuries. Generally speaking, people eloping to Scotland have been fleeing from parental disapproval and pesky age limits, but the Alabama Wedding Machine sounds equally forbidding.

Before I get started on reception venues, a quick word on ceremonies. Civil marriages in Scotland have to take place either in a registry office (Lothian Chambers is a beautiful one, bang in the middle of the Old Town) or in a place that has been formally approved by the City Council (here's a list of approved places). Most popular reception venues are approved for ceremonies, as are a random assortment of public buildings from the whisky society to the zoo.

In keeping with our tradition of liberal marriage laws, Scotland is also one of only six countries in the world where a humanist ceremony is legally binding. Unlike their civil counterparts, humanist and religious weddings can happen absolutely anywhere. That includes the great outdoors, if you're willing to gamble on the Scottish elements. (Pro tip: bring an umbrella. Even in spring. Especially in spring.) If you're being married by a humanist or religious celebrant though, you'll need to pick up your wedding licence at least seven days before the wedding, so make sure you keep that in mind when you're planning your trip.

So, on to the reception. Edinburgh is a city of many characters. The so-called New Town (strictly speaking it's not all that new, but wait until we get to the Old Town) is filled with airy Georgian terraces and elegant neo-classical architecture. If you were looking for something super glamorous, I'd suggest Edinburgh landmark The Dome. An intimate dinner in one of its private rooms, followed by cocktails in the glass-domed bar, wouldn't be bad at all. But for something more low-key, try Howies Restaurant on Waterloo Place instead. It mixes a beautiful period interior with fresh Scottish food (and has that all-important civil ceremony licence, should you decide to keep things all under one roof). If you really want to channel your inner Jane Austen, the Georgian House, run by the National Trust for Scotland and next door to the First Minister's pad, is the real deal.

That's classic European elegance out of the way; let's move on to something a little darker (metaphorically and quite literally). Edinburgh's historic Old Town is riddled with vaults, alleys and sinister tales. The growth of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has seen many dingy, forgotten spaces opened up and transformed into venues. Lucky for you, the Fringe is in August, so come springtime you'll have your pick.

Marlin's Wynd and the Rowantree are both worth investigating. Ancient, candle-lit vaults built into the very fabric of the city... it doesn't get more atmospheric than that, as long as you don't mind a venue with a bit of witch-hunting and the occasional murder in its past. Hey, nowhere's perfect. If you'd prefer somewhere with actual daylight, the Secret Garden is an old close (alley) that has been glassed over and turned into a restaurant. Old Town charm with added vitamin D. The food's pretty tasty too, and the service is excellent.

Just around the corner from these crumbly old cellars is something at the very opposite end of the spectrum: the Hotel Missoni. From the men in chevron-patterened kilts flanking the entrance to the branded bathroom stalls, everything about the place screams Italian passion and fun. Why they chose to open in Edinburgh is beyond me - the spiritual home of dour Presbyterianism isn't exactly known for embracing la dolce vita - but I'm not complaining. It's even right across the road from the registry office.

If you're just looking for somewhere reasonably priced and relatively stylish where you can treat your nearest and dearest to a good meal, then Edinburgh has no shortage of restaurants. La Garrigue and Iggs are particular favourites if you fancy some European flavour. Timberyard is a relatively recent addition but it's already making a big impression; the interior is as stylish as it gets, and the food has been going down a storm. It also boasts an enclosed courtyard, perfect if you're lucky enough to see some of Edinburgh's rare spring sunshine. (I really wasn't kidding about the umbrella.)

As for must-dos, I'm reliably informed by my American friends that a massive castle in the middle of the city never gets old. The best view of it is from Calton Hill (you can actually rent out Old Observatory House, which sits on top of the hill, if you're looking for somewhere really special to stay).

Edinburgh's a fairly compact city with lots of meandering streets, so it's ideal for those who like to wander. For shopping, I'd avoid the chain stores of Princes Street and the abominable tartan shops of the Royal Mile. Instead, head for the independent boutiques dotted along West Bow, the Grassmarket and West Port. Admire work by local artists and designers at Red Door Gallery or Black Box Boutique, indulge in some seriously smelly cheese from Iain Mellis, and finger some Scottish cashmere and Anta soft wool blankets (preferably do this before you've fingered the cheese).

If you feel like venturing outside the city centre, the Shore area of Leith is worth visiting for some fresh Scottish seafood (try Fishers, or The Ship for the best fish and chips you'll ever have). And just along the road is an attraction that I recommend without a trace of irony: the Royal Yacht Britannia. It's like your granny's kitsch holiday house has been blown up and floated out to sea. If your granny were the Queen.

For those into museums, the recently-reopened National Museum is pretty excellent (oh hey, and it has a ceremony licence and a great restaurant too - let's add that to the list, shall we?). And lastly, because anything London can do we can do better (you'll find this is a common theme in Scotland), we have our very own museum of creepiness, with a bonus serving of serial killer. Enjoy.

p.s. I also found you a PHOTOGRAPHER! (Okay, Kirsty found you a photographer.) These images from Lorna & Dave's wedding are by Edinburgh-based Lauren McGlynn.


  1. Also be sure the get the correct visa. My good friends planned a beautiful, small wedding in Edinburgh with close friends/family (with the help of a European destination "specialist" no less) only to be turned away at the airport when they showed up with tourist visas and a wedding dress.

    1. Nooooo! That would be devastating.

      We had one of our wedding guests put on the next plane back to the states for lack of a correct visa (or, indeed, any visa) so yes, definitely make sure the bride and groom and all the guests have this sorted out well in advance.

  2. Aw. I love Kirsty. I'd do whatever she says.

  3. If I went to Edinburgh... I would love to go to a bar called "Royal Dick" at the Old small animal hospital of Dick Vet School. Hey, I am a vet, so a bar, at the old vet school is my thing.
    Ashleigh wrote about it at the end of this post and I have been dying to go ever since.

    Also I'm with LPC: Kirsty, I will do whatever you say.

    1. Amanda that bar is part of the old vet school which has now been converted into a arts centre and venue, it's so cool. We went to a Christmas fair in amoungst the old labs, you would have loved it. Excuse for a visit?? xox

    2. They do weddings too! I've heard the event space is beautiful. Bit big for a 35-person shindig, but would be lovely for a larger wedding.

    3. Oh really that would be amazing, I was wondering that last time we were there, unfortunately we already have our wedding venue...

  4. This is one of my favorite city guides ever posted... It may be time to plan a trip back to Scotland to do the many, many things on this list that I apparently missed out on.

  5. I wouldn't call it low-key, but The Witchery has got to be one of the most romantic restaurants in Edinburgh. A dark, gothic, candlelit extravagance at the foot of the Castle.

  6. Kirsty, this post makes me want to go to Edinburgh, and I already live here!! Good choice on the wedding destination, all of the above are wonderful choices!

  7. Oh and Mary Anne, the Secret Garden in Kirsty's post is part of The Witchery. Same food, slightly more atmospheric area for a wedding.

  8. Yes, The Witchery & The Secret Garden have oodles of character! Dripping in dark Scottish glamour... Aw I used to live in Edinburgh and look at all these places I missed! It's a bit hard to get there from New Zealand now though.
    Oh and The Caves are amazing, you can taste the history and bloodshed, but beware if you're celebrating on a weekend evening that area can turn pretty messy later on. I've had many a lairy night down by the caves.

  9. Three comments

    1) Lauren is a fabulous photographer. I love the pictures she took of our wedding.

    2) Do you know in Scotland Edinburgh is called the city that's "all fur coat and nae knickers!"

    3) God I miss Edinburgh, and my beloved Glasgow.

  10. Thanks to all from this Alabama gal! Can't wait to get started!

    1. You're very welcome! If you need any help or insider info, feel free to drop me an email any time.

  11. These are great suggestions. I think Timberyard have hosted small weddings so they might be worth a try for your reception. I would also suggest The Gardener's Cottage for food, The Hanging Bat for great UK beers, The Bow Bar for whisky, Nobles for brunch, Holyrood Park for views, and The Botanics just because they are one of my favourite places in Edinburgh. Enjoy your stay!

  12. Standing tall and proud on College Green since the 19th century, The Westin Dublin is the perfect choice for a beautiful wedding in the heart of your city.