A weekend in Edinburgh

Few cities make such a strong impression as Edinburgh. Scotland’s ancient capital is undeniably one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, with a grandeur to match Paris or Prague, Rome or Vienna. Fittingly, such a setting provides the stage for the Edinburgh Festival, the biggest arts event on the planet. But Edinburgh is more than just the sum of its arts. Its Hogmanay party is the largest celebration in the northern hemisphere and the arrival of the new Scottish Parliament has brought confidence and vitality to a city that was always thought of as being rather straightlaced. Edinburgh’s famous pursed lip has gone, replaced by a broad smile. The city is learning how to have fun, how to be stylish and, heaven forfend, how to be just a wee bit ostentatious.

If you are spending a weekend in this fascinating city, be sure to check a few of our top sights, taken straight from our highly acclaimed European City Breaks guide

Edinburgh Castle

The city skyline is dominated by the castle, sitting atop an extinct volcano and protected on three sides by steep cliffs. Until the 11th century the castle was Edinburgh, but with the development of the royal palace from the early 16th century, it slipped into relative obscurity. Though mobbed for much of the year, and expensive, the castle is worth a visit. It encapsulates the history of a nation, and the views from the battlements are spectacular. The highlight is the Crown Room, where the ‘Honours of Scotland’ are displayed, along with the Stone of Destiny, the seat on which the ancient kings of Scotland were crowned.

The Royal Mile

Running down the spine of the Old Town, from the castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, is the Royal Mile. The 1984 regal yards comprise four separate streets: Castlehill, Lawnmarket, the High Street and the Canongate. Along its route is a succession of tourist attractions – some more worthy of the description than others – as well as many bars, restaurants, cafés and shops selling everything from kilts to Havana cigars. This is the focus of the city’s tourist activity, especially during the festival when it becomes a mêlée of street performers, enthralled onlookers and alfresco diners and drinkers. One of the main points of interest is the medieval High Kirk of St Giles, conspicuously placed on the High Street. 

Holyrood Park

Edinburgh is blessed with many magnificent open spaces but Holyrood Park tops them all. The main feature is the 237-m-high Arthur’s Seat, the igneous core of an extinct volcano. It is a genuine bit of wilderness right in the centre of Scotland’s capital and well worth the climb for the stupendous views. Another dominant feature on the skyline are the precipitous Salisbury Crags, directly opposite the south gates of Holyrood Palace.

Museum of Scotland and Royal Museum of Scotland

The Museum of Scotland is a treasure trove of intriguing and important artefacts, displayed chronologically from the basement up to the sixth floor. Though coverage is at times patchy and incomplete, the museum does help to take the mystery out of Scottish history and makes for a pleasurable few hours. Its elderly neighbour, the Royal Museum, holds an extensive and eclectic range of artefacts, from
Classical Greek sculptures to stuffed elephants and  Native North American totem poles, all housed in a wonderful Victorian building.

Calton Hill

Calton Hill, at the east end of Princes Street, is  another of Edinburgh’s extinct volcanoes and well worth climbing for some of the best views in the city as well as for the monuments at the top. These
form the four corners of a precinct and make for a strange collection. The most famous is the National Monument, built to commemorate the Scots who died in the Napoleonic Wars.
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