The big trip

A weekend in Edinburgh

Everything you need to know for a city break in Scotland’s buzzing capital

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Why you should visit Edinburgh 

There used to be a “down season” in Edinburgh, when Scotland’s capital city “caught a slight breather” from tourists, said Condé Nast Traveler. But “no longer”, the crowds “keep coming, all year long”. Most famous for its “wild” arts and performance festival, Edinburgh also has a “buzzing” dining scene and is a city that “artfully balances the (very) old with the new”. This might be “Europe’s hottest capital right now”.

It’s certainly one of Europe’s most beautiful cities and “has its way of charming you”, said Jessica Wright on Bon Traveler. With its castle “towering over the city” and the contrast of the New Town and the Old, “the transition between the two is seamless”. Edinburgh has a way of “savouring the old and fuelling the new”.

With narrow and cobbled passageways, the city has “a rare charm”, said IntroducingEdinbugh.com. As well as its beautiful buildings, gardens and museums, it’s also known for its “dark corners”, where terrifying events have taken place.

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View of Arthur’s Seat hill from Blackford Hill in Edinburgh

View of Arthur’s Seat hill from Blackford Hill in Edinburgh

Iain Masterton/Alamy Stock Photo

Top attractions: things to see and do

Edinburgh Castle, Old Town and Royal Mile

A great place to start a weekend in Edinburgh is to explore the historic Old Town. Here you will find some of the city’s best attractions including Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile. A “labyrinth of cobblestone streets and dimly lit closes”, Edinburgh’s Old Town has seen centuries of history, said Helen Arnold on Culture Trip. Auld Reekie Tours hosts tours of the Greyfriars Graveyard, haunted underground vaults and “hidden secrets” of the Royal Mile.

Arthur’s Seat and Holyrood Park

Located within Holyrood Park, a short walk from the city, Arthur’s Seat is one of Edinburgh’s most iconic landmarks. Sitting 251m above sea level, this ancient volcano offers 360-degree views of the city and the Lothians. Climbing up to the top is “hungry work”, said VisitScotland.com. One “top tip” is to pack a picnic and enjoy it from the best “seat” in Edinburgh. 

Museums, culture and art 

Edinburgh’s New Town is the “artistic centre of the capital”, said Alexa Smith on Culture Trip. Here you will find the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. 

In 2004 Edinburgh was designated as the world’s first Unesco City of Literature. It is the birthplace and home to world-famous writers, poets and playwrights including Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes), Ian Rankin (Inspector Rebus), Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting) and Val McDermid (Kate Brannigan). Edinburgh boasts more than 50 bookshops and the National Library of Scotland is home to more than 24 million printed items. Book lovers should also visit the Scottish Poetry Library and the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

The National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street is one of the best indoor attractions in the city. Free to enter, it is home to more than 20,000 unique artefacts. 

Festivals and events 

Edinburgh is one of the world’s great festival cities with major events taking place throughout the year. Must-visit events include the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Science Festival, Film Festival, International Book Festival, Jazz & Blues Festival, International Festival and the Fringe.

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay

Another major annual attraction which has put Edinburgh on the global map is Hogmanay, Scotland’s New Year’s Eve celebrations. One of the world’s most famous events, it brings thousands of party-goers to the streets of the Scottish capital. Visitors can enjoy the iconic torchlight procession, street parties, Edinburgh Castle fireworks and the traditional singing of Auld Lang Syne.

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Hotels and accommodation: where to stay

Figuring out where to stay in Edinburgh is a “real puzzle” as “competition is fierce”, said long-time resident Mike MacEacheran on The Independent. Picking out his favourite places that combine “trendsetting style with enough tartan trim to remind you why you came to Scotland in the first place”, MacEacheran selected The Balmoral as “best for glamour”, Prestonfield House as “best for a Highland fling”, Cheval the Edinburgh Grand as “best for luxury”, and The Raeburn as “best for families”. 

Rock House, a “heavenly” 18th-century house hidden on Calton Hill, received a 9/10 expert rating by The Telegraph. Cheval Old Town Chambers, The Balmoral, and The Witchery by the Castle were also among the best hotels in Edinburgh that achieved a 9/10 Telegraph rating. 

The Rutland Hotel & Apartments and Hapimag Resort Edinburgh both received a 9.3 “superb” rating on LuxuryHotel.guru. Other highly-rated hotels on the site include Kimpton Charlotte Square (9 – superb), Black Ivy (8.8 – fabulous), and Rabble (8.6 – fabulous).

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Bottles on display at the Scotch Whisky Experience on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh

Bottles on display at the Scotch Whisky Experience

Iain Masterton/Alamy Stock Photo

Restaurants, pubs and whisky: where to eat and drink 

Restaurants and fine dining

Edinburgh’s restaurant scene is famous worldwide – and “not just for haggis, fried mars bars and whichever place does the best fish and chips on the Royal Mile”, said the Love From Scotland blog. It is full of tiny “one old pop and a couple of stool” places, brunch hangouts and hipster start-ups.

The city also offers some of the “most opulent and luxurious dining experiences you can find in the UK”, said Forever Edinburgh. The Witchery on Castlehill, The Royal Mile, has Scottish seafood, lamb, game and a “legendary” Angus beef steak tartare on its “inspirational menu”, while the “very best” of Scottish cooking can be found at James Thomson’s Rhubarb Restaurant in Prestonfield House.

The Michelin stars for 2022 were announced in February and included three of the city’s eateries, the Edinburgh Evening News reported. Edinburgh restaurants that retained their stars were Condita, Restaurant Martin Wishart, and The Kitchin. 

Whisky experiences 

You can’t visit Scotland, or its capital, without enjoying a wee dram of Scotch. Edinburgh has a host of whisky attractions including the eight-floor Johnnie Walker Princes Street, which features shops, a whisky cellar and two rooftop bars, and the Scotch Whisky Experience, home to the world’s largest whisky collection. Edinburgh has an amazing history which is “soaked in the whisky industry”, said Jason Thomson on VisitScotland.com. From distilleries and bars to walking tours, there’s plenty to drink in for whisky lovers. 

Pubs and bars 

Whether you’re after the finest single malts or locally-brewed craft beers, Edinburgh “does not disappoint when it comes to its many pub offerings”, said Time Out. Included on its best pubs in Edinburgh guide are The Sheep Heid Inn, Salt Horse, Malt & Hops, The Royal Dick, and Nauticus. 

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Transport: how to get there

Airports 

Domestic and international visitors can fly into Edinburgh Airport, which is located approximately eight miles away from the city centre. To travel to the city, take the Airlink 100 bus to St Andrew Square or a tram to York Place. 

Trains

Edinburgh Waverley is the main railway station and located on Princes Street in the city centre. There are regular direct trains to and from many UK destinations, including Glasgow, Aberdeen, London, Newcastle and Manchester. Haymarket is Edinburgh’s second-largest station and located in the west end of town.

If you are including both Edinburgh and London on your UK trip, then a unique way to travel between the two cities is by the Caledonian Sleeper train. Departing from London’s Euston Station, the Caledonian Sleeper Lowlander route runs to Edinburgh Waverley. Passengers can book a Caledonian Double room (double bed and en-suite with shower), Club room (twin bunk beds, en-suite with toilet and shower), Classic room (twin bunk beds with in-room washbasin), or Comfort seat. 

Ferries and cruises 

Edinburgh’s principal cruise port is Port Leith, said CruiseMapper.com. A Unesco World Heritage site, Forth Ports Leith is home to the modern Leith Cruise Terminal and only three miles from the city centre.

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Victoria Street in Edinburgh’s Old Town

Victoria Street in Edinburgh’s Old Town

Eye35/Alamy Stock Photo

What the locals say…

In her local’s guide to Edinburgh on The Guardian, food writer Caroline Eden picked out her favourite neighbourhood. “Photogenic Stockbridge, on the Water of Leith, is often recommended as a place to shop and eat, but it’s always worth revisiting, as new places open regularly,” she said. “The bookshop scene in particular keeps getting stronger.” 

Travel writer, foodie and photographer Hannah Henderson lived in Edinburgh for 16 years. On her HH Lifestyle Travel blog she recommends visiting Victoria Street in the Old Town. “This iconic street is an Instagram-ready shot of Edinburgh,” she said. “It also has some fab shops and restaurants along it. Make sure you try the whisky at the Bow Bar.”

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