Hop around bonny Edinburgh
Known as the ''Athens of the North'', the capital of Scotland is an architectural gem with medieval streets and Georgian townhouses spread around a castle atop an extinct volcano. Edinburgh is best experienced during its world-renowned festivals, in the summer and around New Year. But the real heart of the city is its people, whose bonhomie (welcoming friendliness) can be felt the whole year round.
- Arthur's Seat
Arthur's Seat at sunrise
Start your trip by hiking (yes, it's a hike not a stroll) up the 251m-high Arthur's Seat. It's best to visit the famous volcanic peak at sunrise or sunset, to experience its panoramic views of the city when the lighting is most dramatic. The average person can complete the hike in 2 hours, but you can also save time by taking a taxi to Dunsapie Loch and walking from there.
Beneath Arthur's Seat you can visit Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh residence of the British Royal Family, or the modern Scottish Parliament Building.
- The Royal Mile
The Royal Mile
From the gates of Holyrood Palace, you can walk the Royal Mile, Edinburgh's main street stretching east to west through the Old Town. Along the way you can find attractions ranging from the Scotch Whisky Experience to St. Giles' Cathedral.
In summer, the Royal Mile itself becomes an attraction as it fills up with the street performers of the Fringe Festival.
- Edinburgh Castle
At the western end of the Royal Mile, perched atop an extinct volcano, you'll find Edinburgh's top attraction - the Castle. Inside the complex you can visit the Crown Jewels and National War Museum of Scotland, or enjoy splendid views of the city center for free.
Visit the castle on an August evening to see the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, a military show of music, tartan and bagpipes. The firework finale can be enjoyed from anywhere in the city!
- National Museum of Scotland
National Museum of Scotland entrance hall
Take some time to admire the museum's impressive glass entrance hall, then discover everything there is to know about Scottish history, from primeval times to the modern age. Look out for Dolly the Sheep, the first mammal to be cloned.
There is a free-to-acess roof garden where you can enjoy more of the unforgettable Edinburgh skyline.
- Old Town
Get lost exploring the winding, steep medieval streets of the Old Town, the inspiration for books like Harry Potter and Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde. You'll find cozy traditional pubs serving Scotch, beers and more, around every corner.
The Grassmarket square is a popular hub, with boutiques, restaurants and a market on Saturdays. Armstrong's Vintage store, popular since the 19th century, is well worth a stop.
- Princes Street Gardens
Princes Street Gardens with view of Scott Monument
Whichever season you visit Edinburgh, you can take a break in the Princes Street Gardens. Known as Edinburgh's open-air living room, the gardens are a strip of green between the Old and New towns, offering great views of the castle. Cultural attractions here include the Sir Walter Scott Monument and the free-entry National Galleries of Scotland complex.
In summer, you can enjoy the local bonhomie with cold drinks, ice cream, and a show at the open-air Ross Theatre. Look out for the floral clock! In winter, you can get festive at a Christmas fairground and market.
- Calton Hill
The National Monument at sunset
At the eastern end of Princes Street you can climb up Calton Hill for a view over the city's trinity of towers: the Balmoral Hotel, Scott Monument and Edinburgh Castle. Compared to Arthur's Seat it is just a wee climb of 143 steps. Go as the sun sets, to see it descend between the columns of the Acropolis-style National Monument.
Take center stage in the festival city
If you love culture and the arts, then you musn't miss Edinburgh in the summer. An incredible line-up of festivals keeps the city performing from mid-June to the end of August. The highlight is August's 3-week long Edinburgh International Festival, featuring world-class theater, dance and music. But its sister Fringe Festival often steals the show with its free street perfomances and alternative acts.
Feel some Harry Potter magic
If you are a Potterhead, you may know that Edinburgh was both JK Rowling's inspiration, and writing location for the first books of her bestselling Harry Potter series. Consequently, the city has plentiful HP merchandise shops, while the narrow Closes of the Old Town will transport you to Diagon Alley. To get to the heart of it all, join a Harry Potter guided tour or have lunch in The Elephant House, said to be JK Rowling's favourite haunt for writing.
Welcome in a new year at Hogmanay
No event will enable you to experience the locals' bonhomie quite like Hogmanay - 3 days of festivities to celebrate the New Year (December 30 - January 1). It opens with a torchlit procession, followed by a massive street party on New Year's Eve, with DJs, fireworks and the world's largest Auld Lang Syne sing-a-long (of course!). Finally, on New Year's Day, brave hearts can join the Loony Dook, a brisk dip in the Firth of Forth estuary whilst wearing your craziest swimming costume.
Getting to Edinburgh by Train
Edinburgh is situated in the south of Scotland, but on the north-western edge of Europe. As a result, you can only reach it by taking a domestic train from within the British Isles (Avanti West Coast, Cross Country, London North Eastern Railway). The main station is Edinburgh Waverley, conveniently situated in the city centre, between the Old Town and New Town.
From Edinburgh, you can board ScotRail trains with a Global Pass to explore the rest of Scotland, from thriving cities like Glasgow, to the wilds of the Highlands.
From London to Edinburgh
4 hours 20 minutes
From Glasgow to Edinburgh
From Oxford to Edinburgh
6 hours 15 minutes
Flights and Public Transport
Flights to Edinburgh land at Edinburgh Airport, to the west of the city. You can take the Airlink shuttle bus to the center in just 30 minutes. Alternatively you can make use of the (slightly) more frequent tram service.
Walking is the best way to get around Edinburgh - most attractions are reachable in half an hour. However, to take a break from the city's hills you can take a bus or tram.