Edinburgh is a deceptively complex yet compact city, built on many layers and extending from mountain to river to port, and while there are places that stick out – think Edinburgh Castle – there are also lovely spots that hide away. To guide your wanderings, here’s a brief overview of what to expect.
The obvious starting place is Edinburgh Castle, visible from almost everywhere in the city. Skip through its halls, explore its dungeons, and take a photo on the Esplanade. Afterwards, make time for a quiet whisky in one of the many pubs nestled in the closes (alleys) that run down from the main Royal Mile, and then continue down to Holyrood to visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse or the Scottish Parliament.
On your way back up, a left turn will take you towards the National Museum of Scotland and Greyfriars Kirk, and the nearby home of the bronze statue of the famous dog Bobby. On your way you’ll wander through or over the Cowgate, which transforms into the grunge club scene every night; while its western end, the Grassmarket, is a popular restaurant-lined square in the shadow of the Castle.
Alternatively, a right turn from the Royal Mile will take you to the Mound, the artificial hill that runs between the Old and New Towns. The impressive Gothic structure on the Old Town side is New College, home to the Church of Scotland – as well as the University of Edinburgh’s divinity faculty – and was once the site of the Scottish Parliament. Below, nestled in Princes Street Gardens, is the Scottish National Gallery, with free entry to all its permanent exhibitions.
Journeying over to the New Town, enjoy the shift from Gothic to Georgian architecture, as the maze of the Old Town is replaced by the perfectly planned streets of a later generation. If you’re feeling energetic, climb the Walter Scott Monument for a gorgeous view over the city; otherwise, enjoy a cocktail in one of George Street’s high-end bars, or a meal in one of Rose Street’s cosy restaurants. Eastwards, find the dramatic St Andrew’s Square; in the other direction, Edinburgh’s West End, where boutique shops nestle next to trendy bars.
That’s the centre covered, but don’t forget Edinburgh’s unique ‘villages’ that spread out from the centre. Eat a perfect croissant in Bruntsfield, attend an alternative art event at Summerhall in Newington, wander past the West End to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art by Dean Village, and follow the Water of Leith Walkway all the way to Leith, Edinburgh’s old port district, to drink a true Scottish pint. Oh, and don’t forget to climb Arthur’s Seat!