Princes Street and leafy Princes Street Gardens form a dividing line running east to west through Edinburgh city centre. To their north are New Town’s Georgian terraces, with medieval Old Town‘s labyrinthine alleys to the south. These form the compact city centre, watched over by brooding hilltop Edinburgh Castle. South of the Old Town, most of the university campuses lie in Southside. To the east lies Holyrood Park, the tallest of Edinburgh’s seven hills and home to extinct volcano Arthur’s Seat. Further north, Leith is the spruced-up port region now home to waterfront apartments and some of the city’s top restaurants.
In the compact Old Town, grey medieval alleyways tumble and wind, dominated by Edinburgh Castle, now housing the crown jewels. At the other end of the Royal Mile, the award-winning Scottish Parliament building is an innovative mix of steel, oak and granite where visitors can see democracy in action. Browse works of established local artists in the Scottish Royal Academy, or newer ones at the Talbot Rice Gallery, part of the university campus. In Leith, visit the Queen’s ex-home, Royal Yacht Britannia, moored at the Ocean Terminal.
Energetic types walk up Holyrood Park to 823ft-high Arthur’s Seat, a volcano dormant for 350 million years, for sweeping city views. Pay homage to Edinburgh’s golfing history with a round at the Musselburgh Old Course, the world’s oldest, using original 19th-century clubs. The 12-mile-long Water of Leith is the city’s hidden rural corridor once lined with mills and now home to herons and kingfishers, best explored on foot or bicycle.
Scour Edinburgh’s snug streets for vintage clothes and the best whiskies. Potter around the bohemian stores on Grassmarket for retro clothing and quirky jewellery stores. Cavernous Jenner’s department store sets the tone for busy Princes Street, filled with popular high-street chains. Head to designer-clad George Street for top fashions, or the Royal Mile for Edinburgh souvenirs – think tartan kilts and powerful single malts.
Relaxed licensing laws and a friendly, open-minded attitude makes Edinburgh an eclectic nightlife hot spot. Grassmarket is hub of the Old Town, livening up even more after dark, where you can sample malt whiskies from around Scotland at wood-panelled bars. Head out from your Edinburgh hotel to coastal Leith for a new breed of cocktail bar overlooking the water, or fine dining in innovative Scottish restaurants. For musical culture, take in an opera or rock at Usher Hall, or a concert at one of Edinburgh’s historic Old Town churches.