Best of both worlds

If it has a pun in its title, chances are it’s a cracking little independent shop worthy of at least a quick browse. So I knew I was on to a winner when I was going down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. I’d already clocked the coffee shop Has Beans, and assumed that would be the best name in town, when I spotted Scottish-themed gift shop Thistle Do Nicely. Sheer genius.

As a Christmas shopping destination, Edinburgh has it all: posh department stores, quirky independent shops and all the usual high street chains.

And once you’ve laden yourself down with bags, there are plenty of attractions to offer a change of pace, as you’d expect in one of Europe’s most popular capital cities. The tourist hot-spot is the Royal Mile, which runs from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace – the Queen’s official Scottish residence – and the Scottish Parliament.

Here, we visited the Real Mary King’s Close, a historical tour with a difference. Visitors are led down a flight of steps to a subterranean world of streets which were at the heart of Edinburgh life in the plague-ridden 1600s but were frozen in time when new buildings were placed over the top.

What at first glance looks like an unassuming set of narrow rooms is brought to life by the tour guide, who conjurs up the sights, sounds and smells of Edinburgh life all those years ago.

Our guide, in the guise of a plague pit worker, hit just the right note – good fun but not too hammy – and even got me to confess to being a witch and a cross-dresser in my ‘pantaloons’.

The Royal Mile falls in the middle of Edinburgh’s Old Town, a maze of gorgeous old buildings and cobbled streets. Everywhere you turn, there are restaurants, bars, tourist shops and ghost tours vying for your attention.

Over the other side of a very picturesque valley is the New Town, all designer handbags and ladies that lunch. It’s this combination of the old and the new that really makes a city break in Edinburgh pretty hard to beat.

We stayed at the very plush Glasshouse, a boutique hotel at the heart of the shopping district.

Even its facade conveys its hometown’s blending of new and old – retaining the 150-year-old frontage of the Lady Glenorchy church and adding glass to give it an up-to-the-minute look.

Inside, there were some lovely little touches that really made guests feel at home.

Each suite was named after a Scotch whisky. We were in the Glenturret room, so on our arrival we were greeted with a free bottle of Glenturret whisky.

The hotel doesn’t have a restaurant but guests can order room service to the Snug, a cosy lounge area with an ultra-modern fireplace burning in a huge bowl on the central table.

Here, there’s also an honesty bar – guests help themselves to drinks and just write down what they’ve taken so it can be added to their bill.

The hotel has a suitably stylish roof garden, perfect for admiring views of the city while enjoying a wee dram.

And breakfast was one of the best I’ve ever had in a hotel. The buffet offered not just the usual cereals and jams but also fresh figs and smoked salmon, and the full Scottish breakfast really hit the spot.

From the Glasshouse, it’s just a quick hop over the road to the St James shopping centre to start loading up on festive goodies.

All in all, Edinburgh is a great destination for an extended Christmas shopping trip, with loads of choice for shopaholics and plenty more on offer to distract any reluctant tagalongs!