Presenting a distinctly Gothic cityscape as it spreads out below its ancient castle, reaching out to the port of Leith, Edinburgh is far from dour. The canny Scots have crafted a capital with enthralling culture and festivity, veneered with sophistication but seeped in history. It's a heady combination that never fails to charm visitors to the city.
The first thing that catches the eye in Edinburgh is the looming battlements of the castle, sitting atop sheer granite cliffs that can only be accessed from one steep ridge. Today the castle heads up the Royal Mile and a linear set of streets making up the 'New Town', created when Edinburgh was re-designed in the 1700s, after the Act of Union with Britain. The New Town; named a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the Old Town, is the artistic heart of the capital, with an abundance of galleries, shops, cafes and historical sites.
When it comes to sightseeing, many of Edinburgh's attractions are based on historic stories and legends, from the churchyard where Greyfriar's Bobby, the terrier, refused to leave his master's grave, to the grand royal apartments of Holyrood House, where Mary Queen of Scots watched her husband kill her lover back in the 16th century. Although, unquestionably engaging from historical and cultural perspectives, Edinburgh also has a strong culinary presence, with five restaurants sporting Michelin stars and a growing fine-dining and bar scene.
A spirited city at any time of year, Edinburgh's eclectic nature is never more pronounced than during the summer months, when the Edinburgh Festival fills the city with drama, creativity and colourful visitors from around the world. Another occasion when Edinburgh pulls out the stops is during the traditional Hogmanay New Year festival, when jovial festivities are celebrated with Scottish malt whisky and ales in the many local pubs.
Edinburgh is perhaps best summed up by one of its famous sons, the novelist Robert Louis Stevenson, who described it as 'a profusion of eccentricities; a dream in masonry and living rock'. Rich in culture, with modern and medieval architecture woven together and a burgeoning music and nightlife scene, Edinburgh provides a captivating experience for travellers from all walks of life.
The imposing castle that stands on the craggy mound of an extinct volcano in the heart of Edinburgh is not only the city's top attraction, but a proud and lasting symbol of the Scottish nation. The castle rock has been inhabited since 800 BC, but today most of the remaining structures date from around the 16th century (with the big exception of St Margaret's Chapel, Edinburgh's oldest building, dating from the early 12th century). Of all the things to see and experience at the Castle, including the spectacular view of the city, the favourite for visitors is the Crown Room, which contains the Scottish crown jewels and regalia of state. Also on view here is the legendary 'Stone of Scone', upon which all the monarchs of Scotland have been crowned.
The castle also still functions as a military headquarters, and is the site of the spectacular military tattoo, which is world-renowned and held each August. At 1pm each day, except Sunday, the 'one o'clock gun' is fired, traditionally to allow ships in the Firth of Forth to check their chronometers. The gun is also fired at New Year to mark midnight during the Hogmanay celebrations. Tickets should be pre-bought online to avoid queuing on arrival, especially if visiting during the summer months.
The Palace of Holyrood was originally an abbey, built in the 12th century, and later the home of Mary, Queen of Scots, notorious for her turbulent reign and dramatic life. Today the palace is the official Scottish residence of Queen Elizabeth II, and is used by the Royal family for state ceremonies and entertaining, but much of the imposing baroque building is open to visitors. A great audio guide (included in the admission cost) steers visitors around the grand royal apartments, the Throne Room, the Great Gallery, the apartments of Mary Queen of Scots and her husband Lord Darnley and their bed-chambers linked by a secret staircase.
A plaque on the floor marks the spot where Mary's Italian secretary David Rizzio was murdered in 1566. The rooms feature splendid plasterwork ceilings and magnificent furnishings and tapestries. The tour ends with the ruins of the old abbey, still attached to the palace, which are glorious in and of themselves. The gardens can also be enjoyed in the summer months, but are closed in winter. A visit typically takes at least an hour and a half, but those who want to explore thoroughly should allow substantially longer.
Not just any garden, the Edinburgh Botanic Garden is acknowledged as one of the finest in the world. The garden features six percent of all the world's known plants, the most tender being cosseted in elegant Victorian glasshouses. Visitors can admire vegetation from 10 climate zones from tropical palms to arctic tundra, and see some of the world's oldest plants in the orchid and cycad house. There are also several restaurants and cafes, and a gift shop.
The garden was established in 1670 as a physic garden in Holyrood, was later moved to Leith and was firmly planted in Inverleith in 1820, where it has remained a top attraction ever since. It is now one of the top-ranking attractions in Edinburgh according to tourists. Although the garden is at its best and busiest in the summer months, the impressive greenhouses are worth visiting at any time of year, making the botanic garden immune to the seasons to some extent. The views of Edinburgh Castle from the garden are some of the best in the city. The plants are very well labelled, and route maps can be picked up at the visitor centre.
The National Gallery of Scotland is situated in the heart of Edinburgh and is home to Scotland's greatest collection of European paintings and sculpture from the Renaissance to Post-Impressionism. The museum opened to the public in 1859 and includes works by Botticelli, Cézanne, Van Dyck, Pisarro, Monet, Raphael, Rembrandt, and Titian. The Gallery also boasts the most comprehensive collection of Scottish painting in the world. Regular temporary exhibitions bring exciting art works to the gallery. Internationally recognised as having one of the best fine arts collections in the world, the National Gallery is a must for art lovers in Edinburgh.
The Scottish Portrait Gallery can be found nearby at 1 Queen Street and includes great paintings of Scots rather than by Scots. The gallery takes visitors through Scottish history by introducing them to the characters that have shaped the country's history and captured the national imagination. Both museums are housed in impressive buildings, but the wall murals in the Portrait Gallery are one of the most striking features of the museum, making it worthwhile to pop into the foyer of the gallery even if you don't have time for a thorough exploration. Both galleries have good cafes on site.
Get to grips with the mystery and magic of the ancient city of Edinburgh at the museum dedicated to its history, from prehistoric times to the present day. The Museum of Edinburgh contains important collections relevant to the city's history, from pottery to documents, shop signs to silverware. The building in which the museum is housed is also of interest, dating from the 16th century, it has a chequered history of ownership and tenancy by a variety of people from aristocrats to common workers. There is a gift shop on the ground floor, and although there is no food or drink allowed, there are a number of great pubs and restaurants nearby.
If you enjoy the Museum of Edinburgh, and have a fascination for the history of this old and atmospheric city, another attraction worth visiting is The People's Story Museum. The museum has an emphasis on the personal, exploring the lives of ordinary people in Edinburgh from the late 18th century to the present. The exhibitions immerse visitors in the everyday home and work lives of Edinburgh's population using personal possessions, newspapers and the recreation of a number of rooms and offices to illustrate the changes over the decades. Like the Museum of Edinburgh, the People's Story Museum is free.
Alongside Edinburgh Castle, visitors can enjoy a 'wee dram' and uncover the secrets of brewing Scotland's famed malt, grain and blended whiskies, known to the locals as 'the water of life'. The whisky tour includes a barrel ride through the history of whisky, a tutored tasting, and a chance to meet a resident ghost. The bar offers the chance to choose from about 270 different whiskies, and a restaurant serves up traditional Scottish cuisine.
The interactive tour promises fun for the whole family, although of course only adults are permitted to sample the wares. There are several different tours on offer: The Silver Tour is ideal for families; The Gold Tour offers a more in-depth experience; The Platinum Tour is perfect for the confirmed whisky lover; The Taste of Scotland offers a mixture of whisky tasting and Scottish food; and the Morning Masterclass is crafted for connoisseurs. Although booking is not required it is recommended that visitors book in advance to secure a tour; for the Morning Masterclass pre-booking is essential. The guides are experts in their trade and do a fabulous job of educating visitors and keeping them entertained.
The famed Royal yacht, Britannia, is the pride of the Ocean Terminal in the port of Leith, Edinburgh's recently developed waterfront shopping and leisure area. Numerous illustrious passengers, including Sir Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela, have trod her decks, not to mention the British Royal Family themselves, who used the ship for 40 years. Now visitors can board this vessel on a self-guided audio tour (available in 22 languages), cruising through the fabulous state apartments, the crew's quarters and the gleaming, polished engine room. Most of the accoutrements on board are original, and there are some surprises too: like the Queen's bedroom and one of her shiny Rolls Royces.
A number of framed photographs of the Royal Family on board the ship make the visit seem all the more intimate. At the Visitor Centre, you can learn about celebrity life on this luxury ship, and browse through the souvenir shop. Having a bite to eat, or at least something to drink in the tearoom is a must. The Royal Yacht Britannia is the top attraction in the country according to VisitScotland, and the tour consistently receives rave reviews from tourists.
Made famous by the conclusion of the exciting novel (later turned movie) The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, this 15th-century Gothic church has become a touristic site of pilgrimage, just six miles (10km) south of Edinburgh's city centre. Known among the clergy as the 'Collegiate Chapel of St Matthew', the church was founded in 1446 and features the famous Apprentice Pillar, and remains a working church with regular services on Sundays. Rosslyn Chapel is a beautiful place of worship and features a wealth of sculptures and interesting Gothic features.
Regular introductory talks on the history of the chapel are given by guides throughout the day, which are free of charge and can be attended by anybody who has paid admission. These talks are conducted almost upon the hour from Monday to Saturday, and at 1pm, 2pm and 3pm on Sundays. No photography or video is allowed inside the chapel, but there are no restrictions on photography of the exterior of the building. There is a lovely coffee shop stocked with fresh produce and baked goods from the community in the visitor centre, with great views over the grounds, and a small shop selling souvenirs.
The Edinburgh Festival Theatre is used primarily for musical events and touring groups, and it is one of the main venues for the annual summer Edinburgh International Festival, as well as being the year-round venue for the Scottish Opera and the Scottish Ballet. This historic location is Edinburgh's oldest continuous theatre site: there has been a theatre on the site since as far back as 1830. After decades of illustrious but tumultuous performances, in 1963 the theatre became a bingo hall for nearly thirty years, but was still occasionally used as a festival venue.
It re-opened in June 1994 with a glass-fronted structure as the new entrance and a dramatic mix of art nouveau, beaux-arts and neo-classicist architecture, and now has adequate acoustics, serving all the artistic requirements of the community, and seating nearly 2,000 people. There are frequent children's plays and performances at the theatre, making it a good option for families. The Edinburgh Festival Theatre is supposedly one of the city's many haunted buildings, stalked by a tall, dark spectre rumoured to be the famous illusionist Sigmund Neuberger (The Great Lafayette), who was one of a number of performers burnt to death in a stage fire at the theatre in 1911.
An essential activity for travellers in Edinburgh is a stroll along the Royal Mile, a succession of streets forming the main thoroughfare of Edinburgh's Old Town. Fittingly, the Royal Mile is approximately one Scottish mile long, running between two historic attractions; Edinburgh Castle at the top of the Castle Rock and Holyrood Abbey. This is Edinburgh Old Town's busiest tourist strip, rivalled only by Princes Street in the New Town. The streets that make up the Royal Mile include Castle Esplanade, Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, Canongate and Abbey Strand.
The Hub, at the top end of the mile, plays host to the Edinburgh International Festival, and holds integral information on all the Edinburgh festivals. Its gothic spire, which is the highest point in central Edinburgh, towers over the adjacent castle and surrounding buildings. During the Festival the Royal Mile comes alive with entertainers and visitors. It would be quite an achievement for any sightseer in Edinburgh to manage to not walk the Royal Mile at some point as the stretch is riddled with many of the city's best and most popular attractions, as well as being the most photogenic amble in Edinburgh. There are many wonderful restaurants, pubs and shops along the Royal Mile, and tourists often choose to find accommodation nearby.
Like the London and York Dungeons, the Edinburgh Dungeon gives a graphic and spine-chilling look into Edinburgh's history. The dungeon employs every trick in the book to scare the life out of its visitors, and it does a pretty good job of it. But behind the scary masks and gruesome make up, it also offers an educational and interesting look at history, which makes it a fun way for children of all ages to learn. The Dungeon is a thrill-filled journey through a thousand years of Scotland's most dramatic and bloody history, and is very funny as well as frightening. The tour takes about 80 minutes and includes 11 live shows and two underground rides as well as incredible sets, disturbing sounds and disgusting smells. Visitors will come face to face with some sinister characters, including serial killers Burke and Hare, cannibal Sawney Bean and Scottish hero William Wallace, among others. Although a huge highlight of a visit to the city for kids, Edinburgh Dungeon is also very popular with adults and nobody will judge you for showing up without children. Booking online not only gets you a discount, it allows you to bypass the often-lengthy queues at the entrance, and is therefore highly recommended.
Featuring a wonderful variety of cute and exotic animals, children will be absolutely thrilled with a visit to the Edinburgh Zoo. It also offers younger visitors a Kids Zone where they can do puzzles, meet new additions to the zoo, find out about wildlife in their own back garden and more. A must-see is the penguin parade, held each day at 2.15pm. Another huge attraction of the Edinburgh Zoo is its Giant Panda enclosure, but note that visitors must book a time-slot to see these magnificent animals as they are kept largely out of the public eye. More than a thousand animals are housed in the zoo, in a lovely parkland setting.
For those young visitors keen to meet some marine life as well, Deep Sea World, Scotland's national aquarium, is located just 20 minutes outside the city, and is the perfect place for a fun-filled family outing on a rainy day. Children can view marine life such as sharks, eels and rays from one of the world's longest underwater tunnels, watch seal pups play, and even get to watch a shark-feeding session. There are a series of shallow 'touch pools' for younger tots to touch and handle some of the sea life, such as starfish and sea urchins.
When travelling to Edinburgh with children, a trip to the Museum of Childhood is an absolute must and a favourite with both adults and children. It contains wonderful displays, featuring toys from the past and present from all around the world, as well as displays about other aspects of childhood, including school, sports, health and holidays. The toys fill five floors and all the classics are here, including model railways, hundreds of dolls and exquisite doll houses. There are also more original and unexpected toys, including ones made at home when money was too short to buy.
While children enjoy playing with the toys, adults will enjoy the feelings of nostalgia at seeing their favourite childhood playthings. Many of the antique toys are kept safely behind glass, but there are some fun interactive exhibits including a puppet theatre, Lego, books and a dress-up section. There is also a delightful museum shop filled with toys, books and games. There is no restaurant or cafe in the museum, but there are many lovely places to eat nearby as the Museum of Childhood is on the Royal Mile.
Situated at the foot of Edinburgh's beautiful Salisbury Crags, this science centre is a fabulous attraction for children of all ages and adults alike, and aims to educate and inspire visitors to think about our planet and its evolution. Our Dynamic Earth takes visitors on a journey through planetary events like the Big Bang, the history of Earth with dinosaurs and prehistoric landscapes, fascinating natural phenomena like the magical Aurora Borealis and volcanic eruptions, and current important issues like climate change and population growth.
Featuring a number of changing exhibitions, there's always guaranteed to be something new to discover upon each visit to Our Dynamic Earth. Most of the attractions are interactive and many are positively thrilling as well as educational. Take a spin in the G-Force space ball, and explore the many wonders of the world in which we live. Our Dynamic Earth will delight adults as well as children, and is a wonderful Edinburgh attraction for a rainy day.
The tallest of the seven hills that form Holyrood Park at 822 feet (250m), Arthur's Seat is actually an extinct volcano that overlooks the city of Edinburgh. There are the remains of an Iron Age hill fort, with several grassy plateaus that make for pleasant stopping points on the way up. Described by poet Robert Louis Stevenson as 'a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design', Arthur's Seat is popular for hikes, and the view from the top over Edinburgh and the surrounding countryside is well worth the climb.
There are many different walking trails and the hill can be climbed from almost any direction, though the easiest and most popular route is from the east. The climb is not difficult but does get steep at the end so sensible shoes are recommended. Those who are less fit can drive half way up the hill before beginning their walk. There are many ideas for how the hill got its name, among them the famous legend of King Arthur and his half-sister Morgan Le Fay; the hill is sometimes suggested as a possible site for Camelot, but the suggestion is seldom taken seriously. Traditionally, the young women of Edinburgh wash their faces in the dew on the slopes of Arthur's Seat every May Day to make themselves more beautiful.
The historic city of Edinburgh is brimming with old castles and fascinating sights that can be enjoyed by adults and children alike. Kids love Edinburgh's spooky aspects; the castle alone could fill a whole day with excitement.
An outing to the Royal Yacht Brittania or a visit to the many animals at the Edinburgh Zoo can be appreciated by the whole family. A picnic and Frisbee session in the beautiful Royal Botanic Garden for some fresh air and sunshine is another lovely way to spend a day. For an educational excursion, visit the Museum of Edinburgh to soak up the history of this famous city, or venture to Our Dynamic Earth which will astound the little ones and get them thinking about their place in the grand scheme of things.
When skies are grey and outdoor attractions are not an option, take the kids to discover some aquatic animals at the Deep Sea World Aquarium, or make use of indoor playgrounds such as the one in Edinburgh Park, Happy Castle Play Centre or Time Twisters. Another real highlight for kids (and often their parents too) is the Edinburgh Dungeon.
Edinburgh has a temperate, maritime climate which is relatively mild considering the city's northern latitude, but may still frustrate tourists with plenty of cold, rain, wind and fog year round. Edinburgh, like the rest of the UK, has very unpredictable weather, with sunny summer days sometimes rapidly changing into damp, showery bleakness or vice versa. Summers are generally fine though, with mild temperatures and bright sunshine, although days might start out misty. Winters are long and damp with many frosty days. The winter months of December, January and February are the rainiest (although rain is likely in any season) but snow is infrequent. The average temperatures in summer, between June and August, range between 49°F (9°C) and 66°F (19°C). The average temperatures in winter, between December and February, range between 34°F (1°C) and 45°F (7°C). The best time to travel to Edinburgh is during spring and summer, between April and August.
With a thriving food scene, there is no reason to go hungry when visiting Edinburgh. With restaurants to suit all tastes and pockets, hungry travellers need not survive only on traditional Scottish fare such as Haggis, salmon and Aberdeen Angus beef, despite being widely enjoyed. A broad range of international cuisine is readily available in Edinburgh, along with numerous modern cafes, bistros and gastropubs feeding the city's growing gourmand culture. Quality seafood is also a highlight, sourced locally and served deliciously fresh.
There are a number of Michelin-starred restaurants with famous chefs in Edinburgh; in fact, the city is second only to London for Michelin-starred restaurants in the UK. These renowned establishments include The Kitchin, 21212, Castle Terrace and Number One in Balmoral hotel.
When eating out in Edinburgh, the best local cuisine, including good old fish and chips, can be found in and around the Royal Mile or the historic port of Leith. For French, Italian and Indian cuisine, diners should try the area around the castle, Ocean Drive (also in Leith), George Street and Lothian Road. Those on a budget will find many familiar international fast food chains in the city. Edinburgh has many popular restaurants serving tasty vegetarian and vegan fare.
Most restaurants are open daily and reservations are recommended. A 10 percent tip is customarily given to the waiter if the service is good.
Some of Edinburgh's top restaurants are to be found not in the city, but by the sea. In the historic port of Leith just a short bus ride from the city centre you will find Britannia Spice, three-time winner of the British Curry Awards and the 'Best Restaurant in Scotland' accolade for the BIBA restaurant awards. Traditional cuisine from India, Bangladesh, Thailand and Nepal is served up in a large, immaculate, nautical-themed dining room. The restaurant prides itself on fresh ingredients, perfected flavours and fantastic service. Open Mondays to Saturdays for lunch and dinner and Sundays for dinner.
Arguably Edinburgh's most renowned restaurant, Witchery has been operating in a historic 16th-century building at the gates of Edinburgh Castle for so long that it has become part of the scenery. Numerous celebrities as well as local fans dine in Gothic splendour on a delicious menu featuring traditional Scottish classics, including beef, lamb, game and seafood dishes. Some of the most popular items on the menu are hot smoked salmon with leeks, Angus beef fillet with smoked garlic broth and Scottish oysters.
The atmospheric dining rooms and 'secret garden' can be savoured just as much as the food. Witchery offers lunch and dinner, with an á la carte menu. Even those on a budget can enjoy lunching at the Witchery, which offers a reasonable set price for a two-course meal.
Small and intimate, it is wise to book at La Bruschetta because it is Edinburgh's most popular authentic Italian restaurant, particularly at lunch time when its bistro menu is available. The owner, Giovanni Cariello, is also the chef and is a master of his craft. Specialties usually involve Scottish fish. La Bruschetta is open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and supper from 12pm to 2pm and 6pm to 10.30pm.
No visitor to the United Kingdom worth his or her salt can leave the islands without indulging in a traditional fish and chip supper, and in Edinburgh the Clam Shell on the Royal Mile may be the best 'chippy' in town, although there have been some mixed reviews. A veritable emporium of tasty delights, the Clam Shell doesn't just stop at battered fish and crispy fries: there is a whole range of food including local specialties like haggis, black pudding, a range of tasty sausages and deep-fried mars bars on offer.
Positioned above the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, Tower restaurant offers spectacular views of the castle and cityscape along with some of the city's finest cuisine. A high point for dining in more ways than one, the Tower has a chic, glamorous interior, excellent service and a vast menu, covering everything from oysters to moreish steaks.
Specialities include seafood, notably Scottish lobsters. The Tower is also renowned for its huge award-winning wine list of about 150 varieties. The outside terrace, which seats 70 diners, is extremely popular in summer and arguably offers the best view of the city to be had anywhere. The Tower is open daily from 10am to 10pm, open until 10.30pm on Saturday and Sunday.
Formally known as Centotre, this Italian café and restaurant is much less formal than its facade suggests. A chic café and bar style inside, Contini serves simple and light Italian dishes. Although Centotre originally focused on Italian staples, Contini puts a greater emphasis on creativity, balance and showcasing the quality of their produce. Their menu has evolved to include dishes that can be shared and diverges from the standard format of starter, main and pudding. The front is ideal for brunch and light lunches; downstairs is more suited for intimate diners. Reservations are advisable except at the café and bar.
Widely hailed as one of the most important celebrations of the arts in the world, the Edinburgh International Festival is now more than 50 years old, and is held every year during the summer months. Artists, performers, musicians, writers and anyone else wishing to partake flood the city from all over the world, and it is advised to book accommodation well in advance. Almost every public venue in the city turns into a theatre or gallery during the summer, and visitors often find it difficult to choose what to see and do. A short stroll down the Royal Mile will reveal a crowd of performers giving free previews of their shows to help visitors make up their minds.
The Military Tattoo takes place as part of the festival every year at the Edinburgh Castle and is so popular that it is sold out to over 217,000 people in advance and is synonymous with the festival. Part of the greater Edinburgh International Festival, the Fringe Festival is one of the world's largest and most famous art festivals, which had its beginning when unofficial theatre groups set up their shows around the fringes of the main festival in 1947. Unlike the official festival, performers do not need to undergo a selection process to take part, and as a result it attracts a huge diversity of entertainers with hundreds of shows expressing a wide range of cultural and artistic performances.
Hogmanay is Edinburgh's famous New Year's celebration, when the entire city becomes one huge party. In fact, it is so popular that entry to the city is open only to those with advance tickets. Over the years the organisation of Hogmanay has become increasingly professional, and a slick festival-style event, attracting major international musicians and bands who perform in the castle or the city's botanical gardens. Visitors are well advised to book tickets and accommodation as far in advance as they can, due to the sheer size and popularity of this event.
The main festivities include a massive street party which attracts some 80,000 revellers to the heart of the city, where 12 giant screens and fireworks usher in the New Year. At the same time, the Concert in the Gardens hosts world-famous musicians entertaining the crowds. Another really popular event, taking place on December 30th, is the Torchlight Procession, in which about 35,000 people carry torches through the city streets for charity. Throughout the month of December, fun events and parties lead up to the main festivities, making it a glorious time to be in Edinburgh. Hogmanay is one of the most famous New Year's celebrations in the world.
Every Easter, the city of Edinburgh becomes a gigantic laboratory of discovery, exploration, and entertainment. Non-stop shows, demonstrations, hands-on activities, workshops, and exhibitions are presented to educate and enthral people all ages.
The Edinburgh International Science Festival is designed to encourage discovery about the sciences and a variety of exciting subjects including outer space, our planet, the inner body, and modern gadgets and technology.
Kids can feed their curiosity through a number of interactive exhibits and experiments. Meanwhile, adults can explore the chances of the survival of the human race in the 21st century, getting up to date on important scientific advancements and discoveries.
Edinburgh's Science Festival is one of the largest of its kind in Europe and should prove fun for everyone. There is also a Gastrofest, a mini food festival within the science festival which celebrates Scottish cookery and traditional dishes and explores the general science of food and drink.
Every year the gardens are transformed into an enchanting tented village that is home to one of the biggest and most animated literary events in the world. The International Book Festival has a varied programme for adults and children, including debates and discussions, writing workshops, book signing and storytelling. The festival gives book lovers the chance to meet their favourite authors, discover new writers and buy books.
The festival welcomes more than 800 authors from diverse literary fields, including novelists, poets, scientists, philosophers, sportsmen, graphic artists, historians, biographers, economists, environmentalists and musicians. Many winners of the prestigious literary prizes, like the Booker and Nobel, make an appearance in Edinburgh during the festival. For kids, the Baillie Gifford Children's Programme offers plenty of entertainment and enrichment. The programme also includes events designed for teenage audiences, which makes the festival a fun affair for the whole family. Many of the hundreds of events on the kid's programme are free of charge. The official festival website provides visual documentation and details of past events for those interested in attending.
Edinburgh's nightlife comes alive during its many festivals, but outside of these energetic periods a more subdued, trendy bar, pub and nightclub scene can be enjoyed by visitors. There is no central nightlife district in Edinburgh and instead a few different neighbourhoods offer slightly different atmospheres after dark.
Despite the Old Town's name, the district has new and trendy areas such as Cowgate and Grassmarket. Both of these are popular bar-hopping destinations. Great live bands and folk music is best heard in both these areas and the surrounding small alleys and walkways. The Royal Mile is also home to a few atmospheric traditional pubs.
The seafront area of Leith has a contemporary feel, but like many areas in Edinburgh, the trendy bars and clubs compete with charming old pubs. After-work watering holes dot the Edinburgh streets of most neighbourhoods as they have done for centuries. These popular local haunts are a great place to begin an evening or end a day.
Edinburgh enjoys a relaxed nightlife atmosphere, which is complemented by lax rules and drinking hours. Most bars stay open until one to three in the morning, and much later for festivals. The city parties hard during the Edinburgh Festival and the New Year's celebrations of Hogmanay.
Shopping in Edinburgh provides something for everyone; from high-end boutiques and luxury brands to vintage treasure troves and unique speciality stores, it's easy to come away with a quality buy.
Princes Street, the main street of the New Town of Edinburgh, is by far the most well-known and popular strip to do a spot of shopping. Here most people manoeuvre their way through the bustling crowds to get to some of the major UK chain stores, as well as a few independent shops. The slightly calmer and more exclusive George Street runs parallel to Princes Street but is somewhat pricier. At the east end of the street, Princes Mall contains plenty of specialist shops and boutiques.
The Royal Mile, which forms the spine of the atmospheric Old Town, is a slightly more off-beat shopping destination with loads of quirky independent stores. Popular buys in Edinburgh include tartan scarves and kilts, whisky, Edinburgh Crystal and tweeds. The many shops along this stretch clearly cater primarily to tourists, with plenty of souvenirs on offer. The Stockbridge Sunday Market is also worth a visit to browse the stalls selling fresh local produce and handcrafted wares including jewellery, ceramics and soap.
Shops in Edinburgh are generally open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5.30pm, with late-night shopping on Thursday until roughly 8pm. Some larger stores open on Sundays. Many shops (especially those frequented by tourists) are part of the Tax-Free scheme and shoppers are advised to keep their receipts and fill out a claim form to have the 17.5 percent VAT refunded.
A good network of bus routes covers the city and this is the main form of public transport. Buses are given exclusive use of certain lanes within the city, and as a result the services are fairly free-flowing. Exact change is required as one enters the bus, so buying a One-Ticket pass is a convenient option: this allows unlimited travel in and around the city by bus. Night buses come into operation after midnight, offering an economical way to get home after a night out. Black taxis are easily hailed in the street and there are numerous taxi ranks, but rates are a bit expensive. Rental cars can be useful for touring the country, but driving around Edinburgh's one-way, narrow streets can be confusing, and parking is difficult to find. The city is definitely best explored on foot for those who can handle the steep roads; in fact, any other mode of transport will deprive visitors of some glorious sights.
Sightseeing in Edinburgh reveals a score of attractions, highlighting this ancient city's historical, cultural and visual charm. Most Edinburgh attractions are quite centrally located and best enjoyed during the summer, when the days are both longer and warmer. It is easy and pleasant to get around the main tourist enclaves of the city on foot.
Located on the mound of an extinct volcano, Edinburgh Castle includes structures from as early as the 12th century. The National Gallery has displayed fine works of art to the public since 1859 and continues to exhibit an impressive collection. For Scottish opera and ballet performances, visit the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, while the Museum of Edinburgh is another worthwhile attraction.
The Scotch Whisky Experience shows visitors the art of brewing Scotland's celebrated whiskies, locally referred to as 'the water of life'. The Royal Yacht Brittania is docked in the port of Leith and has hosted the likes of Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela. Founded in 1670, the Royal Botanic Garden is made up of Victorian glasshouses and impressive landscaped grounds. The Royal Mile in Old Town, which stretches from the Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse is another must. Strolling down this atmospheric road, travellers will encounter many people advertising themed tours of the city including a number of thrilling historical and ghostly routes, which are a great way to get some insight into this mysterious Gothic city.
The historic city of St Andrews is home to one of the most famous golf clubs in the world, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. Often referred to as 'the home of golf', St Andrews and the British Golf Museum will be enjoyable for any enthusiasts of the sport. With 500 years of golfing history, the museum will take visitors on an exciting journey through the sport's heritage and provide an introduction to the world's golfing legends.
Golf aside, St Andrews is an attractive, historic city and is also home to the prestigious University of St Andrews, the oldest university in Scotland and the third oldest in the English-speaking world. Students make up a third of the population during the academic term, giving the old city a youthful energy and fun nightlife. Once the ecclesiastical capital of Scotland, the city's famous and ancient cathedral was destroyed during the Scottish Reformation and now lies in ruins. However, many other historic buildings remain intact and St Andrews prevails to be an atmospheric city with a rich cultural life as well as some of the world's best golfing opportunities.
Known as the 'Queen of the South' and birthplace of both world-famous poet Robert Burns and James Barrie, author of Peter Pan, the quaint and picturesque town of Dumfries may not be as large as some of its neighbours, but it is warm, welcoming and beautiful. In 1997 Dumfries was voted the best place to live in the UK, and is still considered by many to be just that, due to its mild climate, lovely setting and the exuberant charm of the locals.
Most of the buildings in Dumfries are built with local red sandstone, which comes from Locharbriggs, giving them a unique character and the city a distinctive look and feel. Around town, visitors with an interest in Dumfries' most famous resident, Robert Burns, can visit no end of sites associated with the poet, including Burns' House, Burns' Museum, Burns Street, Burns' Mausoleum and even his regular corner pub, the old Globe Inn.
Other attractions include the Bridge House Museum, the magnificent triangular Caerlaverock Castle and its nature reserve, New Abbey and the Solway Coast. Scotland's seventh largest river, the River Nith, which runs through the centre of Dumfries, creates a picturesque setting and offers fabulous fishing opportunities right on the town's doorstep. Hit the links and enjoy a round of 18 holes on one of 30 of Scotland's finest golf courses, including Thornhill and Stranraer. Alternatively, put those hand-tied flies to good use when casting for brown trout in the nearby Lochmaben, which has a couple of good fishing lochs; or try for salmon, sea trout and trout from the banks of the River Nith. Just out of town, take a walk along the nearby coastline or high above on the cliff tops where waves crash below and the cool North Atlantic sea breeze invigorates you.
One of the most impressive castles in Scotland, Stirling Castle has a famous history of clashes between British troops and Scottish revolutionaries. Its bridge is the site of one of William Wallace's major victories, and the field of Bannockburn was the venue for the triumph of Robert the Bruce. Stirling Castle was also home to generations of Scottish monarchs, including Mary Queen of Scots. The views of the surrounding countryside, including the famous Wallace Monument, are spectacular.
Free guided tours run throughout the day and there is an excellent audio guide available in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Japanese for a small extra cost. The fascinating history of the castle makes it worthwhile to hire an audio guide, or at least do some research beforehand, as past events bring the sprawling castle and surrounding area magnificently to life. Even without the audio guide, there are exhibitions and displays offering some information about the castle and the important battles fought there. Although some of the castle is in ruin, other areas have been carefully restored to give visitors a sense of how it must have looked during its glory days.
The Falkirk Wheel, a rotating boat-lift located near the town of Falkirk in central Scotland, is an unlikely but extremely popular Scottish tourist attraction. The Wheel, which was built as part of an initiative to rejuvenate Scotland's canals and waterways, is a tremendous feat of engineering. Visually spectacular, the Falkirk Wheel has an overall diameter of 115 feet (35m), and features two 45-foot (15m) mechanical arms, shaped like double-headed Celtic axes. A landmark in Scottish engineering, the Falkirk Wheel features on the obverse of the country's £50 note.
An increasingly popular day excursion from Edinburgh, visitors to the Falkirk Wheel can enjoy 50-minute boat rides on the Union Canal that feature an exciting 'lift' on the Falkirk Wheel. Kids will also love the Waterwalkerz Activity Zone found at the site, and the whole family can enjoy the four miles (7km) of woodland walking trails that surround the area. Bicycles can also be hired. The Falkirk Wheel hosts some special events, including some deals for Christmas and similar occasions. A fun and educational day out with the kids, a trip to the Falkirk Wheel is highly recommended for family vacationers in Scotland.