Destination Insight: Edinburgh City Guide
Destination Insight: Edinburgh
For dramatic architecture and brooding glamour, few British cities can rival Edinburgh, backed up with the cultural cachet from centuries of literary history and hosting the world’s largest arts festival every August.
That’s not to say it rests on its laurels; being home to no fewer than four Michelin-starred restaurants and a lively student population, new discoveries are as easy to trip over as the cobblestones on the Old Town’s many vertiginous lanes.
See Edinburgh Castle & Walk the Royal Mile
There’s no missing it really. Edinburgh Castle has dominated the city’s skyline since the 11th-century. Even if you skip the extensive tour of the landmark’s interior, its hilltop location at the head of the Royal Mile makes it a fine starting point for any day’s roving around 'Auld Reekie.'
Stroll down the Royal Mile, and duck into some of the atmospheric ‘closes’ and ‘wynds’, glowing with orangey gaslights and shadows ripped straight from the pages of a gloomy Ian Rankin crime novel.
Have a Harry Potter Cuppa
Stop for a cuppa at the Elephant House on George IV Bridge, a sprawling café popular with students, arts workers and tourists alike. With its stout oak tables and walls festooned with elephant paraphernalia, it’s easy to picture JK Rowling conjuring up her Harry Potter stories here, as legend has it that she did.
Tell the Time at the Museum
Call into the Royal Museum on the hour to see the Millennial Clock spring to life, an extraordinary kinetic sculpture by Eduard Bersudsky depicting a thousand years of human suffering and resilience.
Totter down the steep corkscrew of Victoria Street, possibly the Old Town’s most attractive street, packed with galleries, boutiques and fine food merchants, like cheesemonger Ian J Mellis, whose immense wheels of stilton and mimolette will likely arrest your nose before your eyes spy them. You’ll find yourself on the Grassmarket, once a humming cattlemarket and gallows site where the likes of grave robbers Burke and Hare were duly despatched, now a pleasantly continental pedestrianised thoroughfare with a busy vintage market at the weekend.
Pat Greyfriar’s Bobby
Talking of graves, loop back up the equally photogenic Candlemaker Row and pay your respects at the grave of Greyfriar’s Bobby in Greyfriars Churchyard - stopping for the obligatory statue selfie if you must!
Say Hooray for Holyrood
At the foot of the Royal Mile, past sundry tourist tat outlets, antiquarian bookshops and whisky shops, is the The Holyrood Parliament building. This uber-modern edifice, designed by Spanish architect Enric Miralles and finally unveiled posthumously in 2004, tends to divide local opinion, but the free tour is well worth doing, taking in the exterior collage of textures, Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s paintings and the honeycomb-like booths the MSPs use for offices.
Clamber up Arthur’s Seat
At the foot of the Royal Mile, you’ll reach Holyrood Palace, the Queen’s Caledonian des res, and you’ll also come to another seat, Arthur’s Seat. Like the Castle, this spectacularly craggy, gorse-clad mini-mountain can be seen throughout the city, but here’s your chance to get better acquainted. The hour-long hike to the summit rewards you with panoramic views of ‘Athens of the North.’
Dine at the Witchery
For the ultimate romantic candlelit dinner, try to get one of a handful of tables at the Witchery, where the oak-panelled walls, wall tapestries and red leather Chesterfield booths evoke the building’s 16th-century history. The 3-course table d’hote menu is surprisingly well priced at £35 per head. Expect fine dining with seasonal Scottish flourishes, such as seared scallops from the Isle of Mull and moist roast loin of Cairngorm venison.
Drink a Dram of Whisky
Cap the night off with one (or ten?) of some 220 whiskies served at the Bow Bar, a pleasingly unreconstructed boozer devoid of any concessions to modernity, with ramshackle tables packed in so cosily that you’ll have no choice but to mix it up with the locals.
And down some Ales too
Why bother with dessert when you can refresh yourself with a crisp pint of craft-brewed Innis & Gun Pale Ale at the Stockbridge Tap? The Tap is a convivial pub with stained-glass windows where urbane regulars furrow their brows over copies of the Scotsman and unhurried games of chess.
Explore the New Town
Edinburgh’s ‘New Town’ area is a masterpiece of 18th century town planning borne out of the Scottish Enlightenment and now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The best way to approach it is by striding down the Mound, a sweeping bank of greenery flanked with flowerbeds, and through Princes Gardens, a gorgeously landscaped park which centuries ago served as the Castle’s moat. Head down Dundas Street, taking in sublime views over the Firth of Forth from the brow of the hill, past chi-chi art galleries and artisan delis, to Royal Crescent, the first of many elegant rows, terraces and crescents of sandstone Georgian townhouses.
Scale the Scott Monument
Princes Street bisects the city and serves as the main shopping stretch. If you want to get the blood pumping you can scale the 287 stairs up the 200-foot gothic rocketship that is the Scott Monument (a tribute to literary titan Sir Walter) or follow in the shifty footsteps of Trainspotting’s Renton, where in the opening credits of the film he sprints away from the police and under the Calton Street Bridge.
Edinburgh Airport is served by a wide variety of airlines from most major UK airports.
Or travel green and clean and take the train from London Kings Cross, which delivers you to Edinburgh Waverley right in the middle of town in just over 4.5 hours.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the turretted, stone-clad Radisson Blu Hotel is an original Old Town building, such is its authentic styling, but in fact it was only built in 1990. The hotel’s location is hard to top, being slap-bang on the crossroads of the High Street and the North Bridge.
If you’re seeking a more intimate bolthole, The Bonham is a sound bet. This swanky boutique hotel tucked away on a residential New Town street gives easy access to Princes Street and the West End’s indie shopping. Rooms are voluminous, quirky and airy, some with serene garden views, while the piano bar is a low key delight for a late night tipple.