Take an extinct volcano, an Old Town straight from medieval times, and elegant Georgian townhouses.
Add in Michelin-starred restaurants, vibrant nightlife and a packed calendar of festivals, and you've got a city that genuinely has universal appeal. Edinburgh, you’re spoiling us.
Set off bright and early for the Royal Mile. Look past the tourist tartan souvenir shops, and gaze up to towering buildings for a sense of how locals once lived, piled high, shoulder to shoulder. Peek into dark, atmospheric closes, and pay tribute to the Heart of Midlothian, set into the cobbles in front of St Giles Cathedral.
Edinburgh Castle is a must-see, but it takes a while. Instead, grab some photographs from the Esplanade – on a clear day the view stretches right across the New Town chimney pots and over the Firth of Forth.
There might just be time for a quick wander around the fascinating Camera Obscura, a quirky mini world of illusions, or to nip into the Scotch Whisky Experience (both on Castlehill) to learn about the national drink.
Pop down to the Grassmarket, where public executions were held, via Victoria Street – a pretty two-tier crescent of painted shops and cafes. The Vennel at the south west corner is a perfect spot to snap Edinburgh Castle from an unusual viewpoint.
The Palace of Holyroodhouse is within 15 minutes' walk – pose for a snap outside before crossing the road to inspect the striking new Scottish Parliament building.
Share a picnic lunch with the swans at St Margaret’s Loch in Holyrood Park, beneath Arthur’s Seat.
Edinburgh is bursting with stylish eateries, offbeat attractions, funky shops and masses to see and do. Here's how to do it justice in two days.
Kick off your weekend with a hike up Arthur’s Seat — the view is fabulous.
Back at ground level, check out the royal apartments at the Palace of Holyroodhouse (Canongate) before heading into the city. Browse the Royal Mile’s souvenir shops for tartan treasures. When hunger strikes, go off grid for tasty gems. Try the Castle Arms on Johnston Terrace for chunky Scottish steaks or the Scottish Café at the National Gallery of Scotland, where you can expect Shetland Mussels, creamy Cullen skink and hearty oxtail stew on the menu.
Soak up the history at Edinburgh Castle, or swing by the National Museum of Scotland to play with the interactive displays. For a little more kick, take in the grisly exhibits at Surgeon’s Hall Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons.
Finish up at the Old Town boutiques and vintage shops for cashmere throws, Celtic brooches and antiques. Decide over a pint in a Grassmarket pub whether you’re really brave enough for a night-time ghost tour of the Old Town kirkyards.
You’ve done the Old Town, now get with the new.
The New Town dates to the 18th century, when something had to be done to solve the overcrowding within the city walls.
The result is smart, perfectly preserved townhouses that ooze style and grandeur. The National Trust for Scotland’s Georgian House reflects Scottish life at the peak of the Enlightenment.
Stay in the mood with some fashion enlightenment at George Street and Multrees Walk’s designer shops.
If the weather is kind, stock up with Italian goodies from Valvona & Crolla and picnic in Princes Street Gardens.
Then head out to Leith to explore the Royal Yacht Britannia, the Queen’s floating palace, followed by a visit to the port’s atmospheric waterfront bars for a locally distilled gin. Round it all off at one of the area’s two standout restaurants, Martin Wishart (the Shore) and the Kitchin (Commercial St).
Got time to spare? It just so happens that Edinburgh, the Lothians and the surrounding areas are packed with places to go and things to see.
Start off in the calm surroundings of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (Inverleith Row). It dates from the 17th century and covers 70 acres of often rare and unusual plants. Or head for the Pentland Hills for a wilder setting.
Strolling around is a great way to get to see the real Edinburgh. Explore the village atmosphere of Stockbridge with its pretty mews lanes, then follow the Water of Leith to Dean Village with its tumbling waterfalls. Pause to snap a unique viewpoint of Thomas Telford’s arched Dean Bridge, which towers overhead.
Take a dander to picturesque Cramond and stroll along the causeway to Cramond Island. Watch the tide though, or you’ll be spending the night there.
Out of town
With so much to do in Edinburgh, there’s no real reason to leave – it even has a beach at Portobello.
But with golf, Highland scenery and castles galore on the doorstep, it’s only fair to explore a little. Book a bus excursion and you could be in Loch Lomond, the fishing villages of Fife or the home of golf, St Andrews, by lunchtime.
Scotland’s golf coast, East Lothian, is just half an hour away and boasts some of the best links courses around.
Snaring a round at Muirfield, one of the world’s oldest courses, takes a lot of planning. You could opt instead for a round at Musselburgh Links, an original Open Championship venue bathed in golfing history. Hire hickory clubs and play the course as they did in the old days.
East Lothian’s pretty harbour towns of Gullane, North Berwick and Dunbar are packed with individual shops, traditional bars and restaurants selling produce straight from the sea. Tuck into lobster, crab, mussels or line-caught mackerel with a cool, crisp Orange Lager from local craft brewery Eyeball.
The recently opened railway brings the Scottish Borders towns, stately homes and rolling countryside within easy striking distance. Stop off at the award-winning National Mining Museum at Newtongrange, and discover just what conditions were really like for miners and their families.
Hire a bike and explore the Borders’ picturesque cycle trails and mountain bike runs at Glentress Forest. Slip on your hiking boots and nail a section of the Borders Abbey Way, a circular route of 68 miles (109km) linking the area’s abbey towns.