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National Hot Chocolate Day

Home > Edinburgh > Cafes | Chocolate | Dessert Bars | Fun Things To Do
by Gail L Clifford, MD (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer and photographer traveling the world, often following my daughter. Visit our site at
Scotland, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Fort Appin, Hot Chocolate, National Hot Chocolate Day, Best Hot Chocolate in Scotland
The Map of Our Search for Scotland's Best Hot Cocolate

National Hot Chocolate Day is January 31st. What is your favourite non-alcoholic winter beverage? For many people, like me, it remains hot chocolate. So what a treat to be able to traverse a country trying sample after sample.

After my time in Belize and at chocolate farms, I learned that the history of hot chocolate is a dark and rich one. Mayan civilizations worshipped xocolatl as early as 1500 B.C., a savoury, spicy concoction made from crushed cocoa beans, chilli peppers and cornmeal. They'd pour the liquid between two different bowls to combine flavour profiles and provide healing powers.

Spanish explorer, Hernan Cortes, is credited with presenting cocoa beans to King Charles V's court in the 1500s. By the 1700s, it spread to the remainder of Europe. But it wasn't until 1828, when a Dutch chemist, Coenraad Johannes van Houten, created cocoa powder and modern-day hot chocolate.

My family visited Scotland for Hogmanay, their New Year's Eve celebration. My twice great grandfather was born in Edinburgh, so it was especially nice to walk the streets he must've walked before emigrating to the United States.

One of my favourite childhood memories remains sipping hot chocolate on a cold winter's night. So one of our many tasks this trip was to find the best hot chocolate in Scotland. It was so nice to have something we could enjoy several times a day.

Are you a marshmallow or whipped cream person? Or both? Or, perhaps, a purist who likes neither? In Scotland, you can find them all.

NB: As with all things during the pandemic, check for periodic closures. Many of these establishments close in January for annual breaks following Hogmanay.

Edinburgh Castle
Castle Hill

Easily walkable from many parts of the city, Edinburgh Castle is an unmissable stop on any visit to Edinburgh, especially your first one. The castle will capture your imagination, especially the dungeons, while the scenery will take your breath away.

If you have hours to spend, take the audio guide and explore each exhibit in-depth. If you have limited time, take the live tour.

After the trudge up the hill to where the tours begin, you may be tempted to stop for hot chocolate at the Red Coat Café. Keep in mind that you've just climbed Castle Hill, the same of kings, queens, soldiers, and pirates as well as every man ready to learn something new about something historic. You may find it best to go multiple times.

Explore the Royal Palace, the dungeons, Saint Margaret's Chapel, and the Castle grounds. Then return to the Café for the piping hot chocolate, a perfect way to finish an afternoon at the Castle.

Mary's Milk Bar
19 Grassmarket

Just a five-minute walk from Edinburgh Castle, enjoy the most unusual hot chocolate, one with your choice of gelato flavour. During the pandemic, they only offer take away service and it's worth the wait. They have packaging for your gelato in ½ litre and litre portions that allow you to be out and about for two hours before melting. But if you're taking your hot chocolate, or hot chocolate float, to accommodate the gelato, we recommend having it right away. It's quite remarkable how the flavour profile adapts to the gelato you choose.

Mary was already a chocolatier when she decided to further her education at the Carpigini Gelato University in Bologna, Italy. They make the ice cream fresh each morning, so get there early before your new favourite flavour sells out. Everything is vegetarian and there are a few vegan options. Let them know if you have any dietary restrictions, including gluten-free, and they'll change their utensils to accommodate.

Best hot Chocolate in Scotland, Fort Appin, marshmallows, whipped cream, delicious beverage
The Most Decadent Hot Chocolate: Whipped Cream and Marshmallows

Castle Stalker View Café, Fort Appin
Fort Appin

Located about 25 miles north of Oban on Scotland's west coast, Castle Stalker is said to have been built in the mid-1500s and gifted by James IV to Duncan Stewart for use as a hunting lodge. A four-story tower, it sits on a tidal islet on Loch Laich, so the hunter has a walk or a row depending on the tide.

Our guide knew this was the best place to stop for hot chocolate between Oban and Glen Coe.

We learned during this trip that the most decadent tasting hot chocolate of them all included BOTH marshmallows AND whipped cream. They serve them here, often with multi-coloured marshmallows. I don't think I would've ever considered that in the past but admit it's something I do now as a special treat.

Those of you that are Outlander fans will appreciate that this Castle was used as a garrison for troops during the 1745 Jacobite Rising.

Cameron House
A82, Loch Lomond, Alexandria

Our favourite lodging during our trip, Cameron House has recently re-opened after an extensive renovation. Located on 24-mile-long freshwater Loch Lomond, they're known far and wide for great activities, experiences, and food.

Their hot chocolate can be enjoyed in the restaurant, the Great Scots Bar, the Tavern, the Lobby Bar, the Boat House Bar, the spa, or in your luxurious 5-star room or suite. For the best of all worlds, enjoy them in each space. If you're interested in adding a little alcohol to your hot chocolate, all of the bartenders we met were happy to oblige.

If you're touring Inverness, Oban, Fort William and Fort Appin, it's worth it staying at this location then to move each day with the less comfortable lodgings available on our tour in this part of the country.

The Inverary Inn
Front St E

We stopped at the Inverary Inn, est 1755, for scones but they were already sold out for the day, so we stayed for lunch. Its Lounge Bar provides an elegant library atmosphere while the Conservatory is light and airy with breathtaking views of Loch Fyne.

The Dining Room and The Argyll Bar were filled with women that lunch, little girls celebrating during tea as their Da had a pint nearby. The dense ambrosial hot chocolate was so good but, as the barkeep said, "have water standing by to clean the chute" when it's done. It's rich.

Oban Chocolate Company
34 Corran Esplanade

When in Oban, one must try Norie's fish and chips, considered by many to be the best in the country.

But for hot chocolate, I'd return to the Oban Chocolate Company. Run by a couple, native to Oban, who travelled to Perth, Australia before they were inspired to open this multi-award-winning café and chocolate shoppe, this location is perfect for viewing the Oban Bay.

The instant you step in the door, the relaxing aroma of chocolate infuses your body. The bustle of the chocolatiers in the factory heightens your joy and you may be able to resist getting your hot chocolate in favour of shopping first, but I recommend getting your drink and then indulging in your chocolate search.

I think their café offers the most options of any place we visited. Your hot chocolate can be flavoured with cinnamon, caramel or chilli if you like the extra spicy kick. Served with whipped cream, they offer dark, milk, and white-hot chocolates. I stuck with the milk chocolate with cream and the silky smoothness was perfect for a cold afternoon.

And for you foodies, their menu contains something for everyone: dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan options.

Then, of course, don't miss your chocolate shopping. You'll want some while you're touring Scotland and some to take home, for yourself and as gifts.

Iain Burnett, The Highland Chocolatier
Grandtully between Aberfeldy and Pitlochry

One of the things I love most about experiencing all these great locations is the variety offered. Master Chocolatier Iain Burnett purposely chose this spot in Scotland for access to the best and finest ingredients. All of his chocolates are suitable for vegetarians and are made only with natural, fresh ingredients. He selected the island of São Tomé in the South Atlantic Ocean from which to source his cocoa. To create his award-winning truffles and other products, he mixes this rare cocoa with exotic spices, fresh Scottish cream and, sometimes, crushed fruits.

The shop is filled with hot chocolate and hot chocolate accessories, like dark, dark with orange, dark with mint, milk, milk with sea salted caramel and white chocolate hot chocolate stirrers. If you love their hot chocolate as much as we do, don't be surprised if a few tins of their dark hot chocolate flakes make their way into your luggage. Not to worry, you can also order them shipped directly to your home or those of your friends and family. That way you can allow their chocolate fantasies to come true as well.

FoodStory Cafe
13-15 Thistle Street

The Food Story motto, share simple good food, is based on veggie and plant-based items that fit right into our preferences. Their menu makes it easy to avoid any allergens you may have. Your choice of hot chocolate includes vegan options (coconut or oak milk) and traditional milk. It's yummy.

If you're truly sensitive to milk type, and they're busy, be sure to watch that they use the right milk. Sometimes when they're overwhelmed by customers they return to the habit of grabbing for traditional cow milk.

The Grog & Gruel
66 High Street
Fort William

This best pub in Glencoe, recommended by our driver, provides an eclectic menu that truly offers something for everyone. While I enjoyed the fish and fries, my vegan daughter enjoyed the Vegetarian Haggis, the meat-free alternative to their Macsween of Edinburgh haggis served with Stornoway seaweed biscuits and Grog Highland whisky cream.

I'm not a fan of chocolate combined directly with fish, but hot chocolate made the perfect after-dinner drink. The owners are happy to have you linger over their fresh bean to cup coffee or one of 100 whiskies (scotch) and enjoy a bit of craic (fun), their whipped cream topped hot chocolate was the perfect sweet note upon which to end another long day of touring the countryside.

Scotland, Stirling Castle, Hot Chocolate, Historic, Best Beverages, Food & Drink
Stirling Castle: Home to Kings and Queen

Unicorn Cafe
Stirling Castle
Castle Esplanade

The imposing Stirling Castle, near the Firth of Forth remains an unmissable stop on any trip to Scotland. History and movie buffs find it especially meaningful. With easy access to both the bus and train station, keep in mind that you must book any necessary car parking in advance when you book your entry tickets.

When you enter the Castle, you enter the world of Scotland's Renaissance Queens (Mary, Queen of Scots) and Kings (James I through James VI/I) and glorious architecture with treacherous history. Plan to spend several hours to take each of the tours and explore all of the exhibits, with a restorative break in the middle.

Their Unicorn Café is valuable not only for a place to eat but also by knowing that the view from its roof offers spectacular views of the countryside and the Wallace monument. Inside, order the hot chocolate. When they've finished take away service, you can ask for your china to be "pre-treated" with hot water so that your hot chocolate retains its heat longer.

The rich, fragrant hot chocolate, better than homemade, is surprisingly inexpensive for a living museum café. For an extra boost, order the indulgent hot chocolate with a flavoured syrup shot.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
Argyle Street

Thanks to my daughter's persistence, we made it to Glasgow and the Kelvingrove Museum, which opened in 1901 where we were able to see Salvador Dali's Christ of Saint John of the Cross (1951). Their 22 galleries include both permanent and temporary exhibits ranging from ancient civilization to the modern-day with jewellery to household belongings.

If you go during the winter months, visit Elfingrove, the biggest ice rink in Scotland, on the Kelvingrove's grounds.

Choose to have your hot chocolate indoor at the museum cafe or out at the Mallow Café. It's a perfect way to cozy up and relax with family or friends and review what you've seen and what you have left to accomplish.

Kaf Coffee
5 Hyndland Street

On the west side of Scotland's largest city by population, Kaf's 8-ounce hot chocolate is made with a double heart, just like your favourite barista would do. If your sweet tooth can tolerate it, try the baked good of the day. Their vanillekipferl was an incredible combination, even good while dunked. It's a biscuit with almond and tonka bean, something I hadn't tried before but would definitely want to again.

Hotel Chocolat
7A Frederick Street

Whether you're in town for a week or a weekend, you should plan to stop at Hotel Chocolat at least once. Don't be surprised if you stop in over and over again. Their option varieties allow for repeat visits. One of the most unique things about their hot chocolate is the chocolate shavings in each drink.

You can go around the world within this one shop. I started in Spain and my daughter in France. The easiest way to describe the "Spain" hot chocolate is like an espresso compared to a cappuccino. Their Spanish hot chocolate, served in a half-cup, has a deep cocoa flavour with a silky texture. They tell me the thickness is due to cornstarch. Be sure to keep a glass of water, or something to dunk, nearby. Their French hot chocolate tasted like a rich chocolate caramel. They share that it's due to the addition of brown sugar and vanilla. It makes perfect sense, especially when you learn they use grated flakes of chocolate to maintain the intense flavour.

Glasgow Cathedral, Glasgow, Scotland, Hot Chocolate, Best of, Beverage, Food & Drink, Cathedral, Church, Night
Glasgow Cathedral at Night
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