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Edinburgh’s skyline, with its iconic castle and monuments piling up dramatically across a series of mounts and cliffs, is just one of its many enchantments. This is a city of contrasts, from the Georgian neoclassical formality of its New Town, and the open elegance of its many squares and parks, to the dark magic of its medieval streets and wynds. You can lose yourself in the Old Town’s shadowy cobbled lanes that have been walked for more than 800 years, only to emerge upon the windswept wilderness of Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano at the heart of Holyrood Park.
The commercial centre of George Street and Princes Street mixes designer and high street shopping with historic and literary monuments; while the city’s steep hills give way suddenly to a coastline that combines a port, a beach, and a number of golfing links. With an academic institution dating back four and a half centuries and one of the world’s most famous festivals, Edinburgh’s cultural legacy is unmatched. Make sure to check out the city’s culinary offerings, too, with plenty of excellent restaurants and pubs to choose from.
Edinburgh’s busy international airport (EDI) is only eight miles outside the city. There’s a tram service that departs from the terminal to the centre every 15 minutes — the journey takes 30 minutes. Edinburgh Waverley train station is one of the United Kingdom’s major rail hubs, connecting everywhere from the suburbs to the north of Scotland; a fast train to London takes 4.5 hours. It’s much more pleasant to explore Edinburgh on foot than it is to sit and battle through traffic; the Old and New Towns are only a 15-minute walk apart. But the city is hilly, and when you need a rest there are plenty of buses to take you where you need to go (as well as a 15-stop tram service). Taxis can be hailed in the street, and rideshares are also available.
Edinburgh is a great destination any time of year, but is perhaps best known for the summer festivals that fill its streets, theatres, and concert halls for the entire month of August. The International Festival celebrating music and dance is complemented by the even more colourful Edinburgh Fringe, which commandeers every available space, from pubs to parks, for performances. If you want a quieter experience, try coming in the spring or autumn, when the city’s leafy parks are looking resplendent and there’s always plenty to see in the museums and galleries if the weather turns cold or rainy. Edinburgh looks magical lit up in Christmas decorations each December, while New Year is celebrated in extravagant Scottish style with an annual Hogmanay street party.
Arthur’s Seat is where locals go to get some space, but if you want a view of the Seat itself (and much more besides), head to Calton Hill. It offers an incredible panorama of the city and boasts some monuments of its own, including one inspired by the Parthenon. And on April 30 each year it becomes the focal point for the incandescent celebrations of the Beltane Fire Festival.
These 18th-century docks were once Scotland’s chief trading port. Today their industrial and maritime heritage is transformed into a quirky neighbourhood full of flats, cool cafes, and award-winning restaurants. It’s also home to the Royal Yacht Britannia, while the Water of Leith walkway is a peaceful riverside walk that winds back into the city.
West of the city, this architectural gem has magnificent views across the Firth of Forth. The house combines its 16th-century tower with a 19th-century manor house and Edwardian interiors. You can admire its exterior for free; its welcoming wooded grounds are open to the public year round.