Edinburgh is a city which has it all. The centrepiece, Princes Street Gardens, acts as a dividing line between the city's old and new towns and is one of the largest green spaces to be found within a city centre. The cobbled streets of the old town are filled with kilt-wearing bagpipers and cosy taverns, while the new town is packed with designer boutiques and some of Scotland's coolest bars.
The beauty of the city is that everything lies within easy reach, and even the attractions located on the outskirts of the city are effortlessly accessible: Leith docks (which is also home to the Royal Yacht Britannia), the historical Holyrood Palace and Arthur's Seat - an extinct volcano which towers above the city - are all just a short walk from the centre.
Where to stay
The beautifully designed Hotel Missoni
Edinburgh is home to some of Scotland's best hotels, including The Balmoral and The Scotsman, which can be found at opposite ends of the city's South Bridge. If you're on a budget, the Jury's Inn on Jeffrey Street offers fantastic views at great prices - rooms start from just £59 per night - and the location, just a short walk from the train station, is hard to beat. The slightly pricier Hotel Missoni, on George IV Bridge, is owned by the fashion house of the same name. The uniform worn by the staff was designed by Missoni, who are also responsible for the kilts sported by the doormen. The hotel itself is an explosion of colour punctuated by statement items of furniture, and the walls heave with works of modern art.
Food and drink
Steak and pan haggerty at One Square
For a modern twist on Scottish cuisine, head to One Square at the Sheraton Grand Hotel and Spa, where popular dishes include pan haggerty (a Northumberland classic made with potatoes, onions and cheese). For a bird's eye view of the action, it's even possible to dine in the kitchen at the chef's pass, where you'll be able to watch as the chefs add the finishing touches to dishes before they fly out the door. The One Square bar is equally impressive, with over 51 types of gin sourced from all over the world, and an army of gin sommeliers on hand to help guests discover their favourite type.
Karaoke bar Supercube
Some of the city's chicest bars can be found on George Street in the new town, behind Princes Street. This is also where you'll find Supercube, a fantastic karaoke bar comprising seven, sound-proofed rooms kitted out with enormous touch screens, wireless mics and plush seating. In the old town, the pubs which line the cobbled Royal Mile are packed full of character - think candle-lit alcoves, live music and enormous ranges of locally-brewed ales. Some of the city's best restaurants can also be found here. Wedgwood, on Canongate, is a prime example, and diners flock here for the fresh ingredients which the head chef combines to create a menu offering something for everyone; the haggis, neeps and tatties come highly recommended. If you're heading to Leith to check out the Royal Yacht Britannia, consider stopping off at The Ship on the Shore, which is famous for its seafood and rumoured to serve the best oysters in Scotland.
Edinburgh's best bars
- The stylish Bon Vivant bar on Thistle Street has an enormous cocktail menu although many of the drinks still have a Scottish twist. The cognac-based Hennessy Smash, for example, in served in a half-pint tankard.
- Stone walls and low lighting makes Café Voltaire on Blair Street one of Edinburgh’s cosier watering holes. Grab one of the booths and when hunger strikes, order one of the homemade pizzas. The fact that it was mentioned in Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting adds to the cool factor.
- Bar Missoni – at the hotel of the same name, on George IV Bridge – is achingly cool but surprisingly unpretentious. Order a cocktail and sink into the one of the designer armchairs while you indulge in a people-watching session.
- Visitors to Bramble Bar on Queen Street will enjoy a warm Scottish welcome and some of the world’s finest whiskies. The bar was the only Scottish venue to appear on a recent list of the world’s best bars compiled by Drinks International, a leading magazine for the global drinks industry.
- The Pear Tree is located on West Nicolson Street in the old town. It’s popular with students due to its close proximity to Edinburgh University, and has an enormous beer garden, which is one of the best in Edinburgh. There’s regular live music from local bands and barbecues during the summer months.
Things to see and do
Victoria Street, Edinburgh
Princes Street is one of Europe's longest shopping streets, crammed with almost every high street store in existence. Jenners, at the eastern end, is an enormous department store housed inside one of the city's oldest buildings, and, when it comes to Christmas shopping, if you're looking to tick off mum, dad and partner in one hit, there's no better place to go. George Street, which runs parallel to Princes Street, is where you'll find the designer boutiques and bars, along with the museum-like Standing Order pub, which is housed inside an old bank and the perfect stop-off for weary shoppers. The quirkier shops can be found in the old town - start on the painfully steep Cockburn Street, which overlooks Princes Street Gardens, and work your way back. The Grassmarket, just a short walk away, is an historic market square surrounded by pubs, restaurants and more independent shops.
Edinburgh at sunset
Edinburgh Castle dominates the city's skyline and no visit is complete without a tour of the Scottish Heritage site, which started life as an iron age hill fort. The Edinburgh vaults, located under the South Bridge in the city centre, were built in the late 1700s, but when conditions deteriorated, the businesses which had set up shop within the vaults moved away, and criminals moved in, setting up illegal breweries and brothels. The vaults are even thought to have been frequented by serial killers Burke and Hare, the Irish migrants who sold the bodies of their victims to Scottish surgeon Dr Robert Knox. Several outfits offer tours of these vaults, and the ones offered by Auld Reekie Tours are regarded as some of the best, although the ghost-themed ones which take place in the evenings are probably best avoided if you're of a nervous disposition.
Our Dynamic Earth
Budding Einsteins will love the Our Dynamic Earth on Holyrood Road. The enormous, tent-like structure within which this science museum is located is almost as impressive as the museum itself. Both kids and adults will be equally enthralled by the interactive, 3D and 4D exhibits which take a closer look at everything from the Big Bang to prehistoric Scotland.
Edinburgh in numbers
Edinburgh Castle dominates the city's skyline
- Edinburgh covers 259 square kilometres
- Edinburgh has a population of 450,000 but this figures doubles during the city's famous Arts Festival, which takes place in August
- Over 100,000 revellers cram into Princes Street Gardens for Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebrations
- Over one million people visit Edinburgh castle every year
- Edinburgh University is over 430 years old. It was established in 1583
- 75 per cent of the buildings within Edinburgh city centre are listed, and Edinburgh has more listed buildings than any other UK city, apart from London
Getting there and away
Although Edinburgh’s train station is located in the heart of the city, increasing numbers of visitors arriving from London are opting to arrive by plane. Earlier this year Virgin Atlantic launched Little Red, a new service connecting London with Edinburgh. Flight times to Edinburgh International airport from London Heathrow are just one hour and return tickets start from £88. There are six flights a day, and Edinburgh's Airlink bus service allows passengers to get from the airport to the city centre in under half an hour.
Edinburgh is a relatively small city and the main attractions are all within walking distance, but if you do plan on taking the bus, purchase a travel card from Lothian Buses. It's also worth purchasing an Edinburgh pass, which costs from £30 for one day, and includes entrance to over 30 attractions and transport to and from the airport.
See visitscotland.com for more information.
Words: Tamara Hinson, Photos: Rex Images and author's own