With a history dating back over a thousand years, Scotland’s remarkable capital is also one of its oldest cities. This is reflected in the stunning architecture, from the captivating medieval castle atop Castle Rock to the Georgian tenements in Stockbridge and beyond.
A beautiful grandstanding city, Edinburgh is at once compact and sprawling. The Old Town’s wynds (small streets) and alleys vie for your attention with their quaint independent shops and cosy cafés. Yet the Royal Mile’s grand thoroughfare and designer stores easily compete with London’s more affluent areas. Recently famous for its two major festivals each August, Edinburgh is transformed in the summer. Street performers mingle with the crowds, theatres bulge with thespians treading the boards and the city is alive with innovative art. It is fantastic place to visit at any time of year, bustling in the sunnier months, but equally enjoyable in the winter. Great bars and comfortable restaurants are a welcome respite from the Scottish bluster – a wee dram to warm the bones might be just what you need after a brisk walk through Holyrood Park.
Since its formation as a Royal burgh, Edinburgh’s Old Town has been the major hub of the city. At one end of the Royal Mile – the main thoroughfare including the High Street – the castle sits majestically guarding the city from threats. Both the Grassmarket and the narrow side streets which thread off the Mile are home to famed restaurants and theatre venues. You can also find the statue of Greyfriar’s Bobby at Greyfriar’s Kirk. Bobby was a Skye Terrier who sat by his dead master’s unmarked grave until his own death in 1872, fourteen years later.
Planned and built in the 18th century, the New Town has an altogether different feel to the older parts of the city. Its grid system and beautiful neo-classical Georgian style sits in contrast to the winding narrow streets of the Old Town. An affluent and well-sought after area, much of the New Town’s residences have been modernised into flats and plush offices, but you can find brilliant restaurants and hotels suitable for all occasions too. Large communal gardens and parks complete these elegant houses, perfect for a stroll in the city.
The bohemian, village-like atmosphere of Stockbridge – over the Water of Leith in the north of the city – is a welcome change from the lively city. Antique shops, fashionable delis and hip cocktail bars are the toast of Stockbridge. There is also a high volume of charity shops, and due to the affluent nature of the neighbourhood, the quality of items have made these branches some of the highest grossing in the UK. Inverleith Park is worth a visit, and the Royal Botanic Gardens within – dubbed Scotland’s Kew Gardens – are superb.
Holyrood Park is a hilly, windswept tract of ancient dormant volcanos just next to the Old Town. The Royal residence in Edinburgh, the stunning Holyrood Palace, is on the edge of the park. For those willing, the walk up to Arthur’s Seat is a must, as you will not get a better view of Edinburgh centre, Leith’s harbour and on a clear day, the Firth of Forth over to Fife. Holyrood is a great place to relax in the summer, and if it snows over winter, you’ll find people sledging down the hill.
While Leith is now considered part of Edinburgh, it is a separate town with a rich maritime culture of its own. The Shore – the revamped old harbour – stands on the Firth of Forth, the estuary of the River Forth that stretches from Edinburgh to the North Sea. Leith is a popular area packed with delis, cafés, shops and bars, with a laid-back cosmopolitan crowd. Take a relaxing and beautiful stroll from Leith into Edinburgh centre down the Water of Leith Walkway, straight into the New Town.
Rising out of Edinburgh’s southern borders, the Pentland Hills offer spectacular hill walking for those looking for a more outdoor holiday than a stroll through Holyrood Park. Allermuir Hill provides panoramas of the capital and some great ridges to brave, so bring your walking boots. North of here is West Lothian, where you will find some hidden gems – such as the coastline along the Firth of Forth. Don’t miss out on a trip to Beecraigs country park, with herds of red deer and a fantastic playground for the kids.