Edinburgh is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, draped across a series of rocky hills overlooking the sea. It’s a town intimately entwined with its landscape, with buildings and monuments perched atop crags and overshadowed by cliffs. From the Old Town’s picturesque jumble of medieval tenements piled high along the Royal Mile, its turreted skyline strung between the black, bull-nosed Castle Rock and the russet palisade of Salisbury Crags, to the New Town’s neat grid of neoclassical respectability, the city offers a constantly changing perspective.
A 12th-century fortress perched atop an extinct volcano with the elegant sprawl of Princes St Gardens in its shadow, Edinburgh Castle dominates the skyline and is Scotland’s most popular attraction. Inside you’ll find the Royal Apartments, the Stone of Destiny, prison vaults and a chapel that’s the oldest building in Edinburgh. Even if you don’t do the tour you’ll catch glimpses of this towering icon wherever you are in the city, and can (sort of) hear it every day (except Sunday) when the one o’clock gun is fired from the battlements in a tradition dating back to 1861.
The Royal Mile
Here is the Edinburgh of your imagination: cobbled streets, higgledy-piggledy houses, dark wynds, dank closes, and more shops selling the holy trinity of tartan, cashmere and whisky than you can possibly imagine (or need). There’s a medieval castle at one end, Europe’s oldest inhabited palace at the other, and countless historic buildings stuffed in between, including the Scottish Parliament and St Giles Cathedral. ‘Daunder’ from top to bottom, dipping into closes and secret gardens, and eavesdropping on the ubiquitous guided tours.
National Museum of Scotland
Fresh from an ambitious £47m development, the National Museum of Scotland, one of the top twenty most visited museums and galleries in the world, is cherished by locals as much as tourists. There are more than 20,000 artefacts, from the medieval Lewis Chessmen to Dolly the sheep, the first cloned mammal to be created from an adult cell. For many the greatest draw remains the museum itself: an outstanding example of Victorian architecture, its Grand Gallery rising the full height of the building.
The New Town
The joke is that only in 'auld' Edinburgh would a masterpiece of Georgian architecture constructed in the 18th century be referred to as ‘new’. The harmonious grid of neoclassical houses and communal private gardens that make up the city's New Town has to be the world’s most elegant response to overcrowding. Walk the cobbled streets and admire the pillars, high ceilings and decorative friezes of the residences. Then go for a craft ale or whisky at the traditional Victorian Cumberland Bar or Kay’s and pretend you live there too.
Not many cities can boast a walk like this: an ancient volcano rising from the roughly hewn expanse of Holyrood Park with stupendous views across Edinburgh, Fife, and beyond. Described by Robert Louis Stevenson as ‘a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design’, it’s all just a moment’s (steep) walk from the Royal Mile, yet even on a warm, sunny day you are guaranteed a spot of your own.