Expert guide to Edinburgh
An insider's guide to Edinburgh, featuring the city's best hotels, restaurants, bars, shops, things to do, attractions, and how to travel there and around. By Linda Macdonald, Telegraph Travel's Edinburgh expert.
It is not difficult to understand how local boy Robert Louis Stevenson came to write Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, growing up as he did in a city of such extraordinary variety. From the history-soaked medieval tenements, vennels and wynds of the Old Town to the sweeping elegance of the Georgian New Town, Edinburgh deserves its reputation as one of the most beautiful and compelling cities in the world.
Easy to get around by bus, Edinburgh is built on a human scale. This is a city that repays close inspection so the best way to get to know it is on foot. There are amazing views, hidden courtyards, secret gardens and stunning architectural details to be discovered almost everywhere you look.
Think of Edinburgh and the words ‘International Festival’ and ‘Fringe’ come to mind, but it has much more to offer than just history, architecture and the arts. It is an increasingly cosmopolitan city too, with five Michelin-starred restaurants, a rapidly growing bar/cafe culture, vibrant nightlife and a varied and accessible arts scene. You will also find plenty of the independent shops, boutiques and small galleries that make browsing an addictive pleasure.
Because Edinburgh is so compact, it is not just the city centre that is easy to explore. Try exploring a little further: to Leith or the ‘villages’ of Stockbridge, Morningside, Duddingston and Cramond, each with its own distinctive personality and attractions. There are surprising country walks in the city too, on Arthur’s Seat, along the Water of Leith and in the Blackford and Braid Hills.
With all this and now a festival in almost every month of the year, it really is always a good time to come to Edinburgh.
When to go
Edinburgh’s population is said to double in August, while Edinburgh’s Christmas and Hogmanay (New Year) celebrations feel nearly as crowded with Christmas markets, rides and attractions, ice skating, bright lights and the famous fireworks and street party. But really, there is no truly quiet season for Edinburgh. Just remember, you do not come to Edinburgh for the weather, so think like a boy scout and be prepared. Autumn and winter are my favourite times of year; the cold clear light highlighting the austerely beautiful architecture and the shorter days making all those pubs with cosy fires even more appealing.
A bright and breezy spring day is delightful as the blossom rushes out in all the parks and squares and the city seems to sparkle. Summer is always busy in the build-up to the festival frenzy of August, but walking down the Mound in the never-ending twilight of a late summer’s evening is a bit of magic everyone should experience at least once.
Know before you go
The VisitScotland website (visitscotland.com) is a useful source of information on where to stay and what to do while you are in Edinburgh. The main Edinburgh VisitScotland Information Centre is at Waverley Mall, 3 Princes Street, EH2 2QP; call 00 44 131 473 3868. There is also a desk in the airport main concourse.
An Edinburgh Bus Tours Royal Edinburgh Ticket gives fast track entry to Edinburgh Castle, the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the Royal Yacht Britannia, as well as 48 hours of travel on several Edinburgh Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tours. Adults, £51; child 5-15, £28; seniors/students, £45 (edinburghtour.com).
A Historic Environment Scotland pass gives free entry to any of their 78 paid entry properties around Scotland, including Edinburgh Castle and Craigmillar Castle. From March a three-day pass is £31; child, £18.60; concession/student, £24.80; family, £62 (historicenvironment.scot).
As a general rule, people do not tip taxi drivers in Edinburgh, although some people will round up to the nearest £1 and occasionally tip 10-15% if a driver has been particularly helpful. Similarly it is not usual to tip bar staff. Some restaurants have a service charge (which will be indicated on the menu); otherwise, 10-15% of the bill is usual. It is also worth remembering that locals almost always thank the driver as they get off the bus.
British sterling – Euros are accepted in some shops and hotels. Banks in Scotland print their own notes, so you will see a bit of variety in the appearance of the currency, but don’t worry, it is all good (although you might occasionally have difficulty spending Scottish banknotes in England). If you need to convert Scottish notes to English, the Royal Bank of Scotland West End office (142/144 Princes Street EH2 4EQ) has a cash machine that dispenses only English banknotes.
Police, Ambulance and Fire – dial 999. To reach the police in a non-emergency situation, e.g. to report a theft, dial 101.
Take a sweater and an umbrella, no matter what it looks like outside the window in the morning.