Our essential guide to visiting the Scottish capital
Time Out staff
Spy on the city See the world turned upside down at the city’s first visitor attraction, the Camera Obscura & the World of Illusion, which was thrilling enough for Victorian visitors, although the CCTV generation might be more impressed by the collection of powerful telescopes on the roof. Castlehill, www.camera-obscura.co.uk (+44 131 226 3709).
Climb a volcano No other city has an extinct volcano in its limits, so climbing to Arthur’s Seat, the tallest of Edinburgh’s seven hills, is an essential activity for able-bodied visitors. As well as an aerobic workout, a jaunt up the hill, combined with a trip to Our Dynamic Earth, which has all the information on how the landmark was formed, can also be an enlightening geological education. Holyrood Road, www.dynamicearth.co.uk (+44 131 550 7800). Brace yourself for a 1pm wake-up call No-one should leave the city without wandering round lofty Edinburgh Castle. You could hardly forget to: the edifice can be seen from all over town. Lest you should forget to pay it due attention, however, the castle has a surprise for unsuspecting tourists behind its walls. At 1pm daily (except Sundays) a field gun lets rip with a burst of shellfire. Take a pew at the memorial bench commemorating the late Tam the Gun, who fired the piece for 27 years, if you think your eardrums can take it. Castlehill, West End & New Town, www.historic-scotland.gov.uk (+44 131 225 9846).
Creep around after dark Hilly, cobbly, twisty and windy: Edinburgh was built for walking, and after-dark spooky walks are a speciality. Tour companies devoted to putting the wind up their visitors include Mercat Walking Tours and City of the Dead Tours. Our favourite, and more historically accurate than paranormally hysterical, is the tour that shows you round Mary King’s Close, sealed during a plague outbreak in the 17th century. It’s dark, cold and many feet below the city’s modern throughfares. High Street, www.realmarykingsclose.com (+44 845 070 6244).
Go visit some architectural surprises Despite its World Heritage Site status, which inhibits such gestural architecture as London’s Gherkin and Glasgow’s Armadillo, Edinburgh has some modern gems to enjoy. Malcolm Fraser Architects took on the challenge of converting the old Netherbow Theatre into the modern Scottish Storytelling Centre, incorporating the adjacent, late 15th-century structure, John Knox House. The firm also completed the Scottish Poetry Library, a modern wooden and metal structure that won the Building of the Year competition, hosted by the UK’s Channel 4, in 2000. Scottish Storytelling Corner and John Knox House, 43-45 High Street, Old Town, www.scottishstorytellingcentre.co.uk (+44 131 556 9579); Scottish Poetry Library, 5 Crichton’s Close, Canongate (+44 131 557 2876).
Do the Chinese T’ing With its roots in the 17th century, the Royal Botanic Garden is a well established breathing space for tourists. Cold days make the hothouses a major attraction, but in spring a walk on the Chinese Hillside – dotted with the largest collection of wild specimens outside China, with a pause for thought in the T’ing (traditional pavilion) – is good for the soul. Inverleith Row, Stockbridge, www.rbge.org.uk (+44 131 552 7171).
Savour Scottish Haggis, venison and stovies turn up on the menu of many self-respecting restaurants in this town, but the posher ones like to season the basic Caledonian with some Gallic. Haldane’s is one such Franco-Scottish confection. For locally sourced, homely elements of the Scots kitchen look no further than little Dubh Prais on the Royal Mile, or Stac Polly. Haldane’s, 39a Albany Street, Calton Hill (+44 131 556 8407).
Join the clan It pays to know your tartans if you fancy yourself in a kilt. Watch and learn at the Edinburgh Old Town Weaving Co behind the extensive tartan-stacked shop, where the mill’s noisy working looms produce the stock in trade. Peruse the tartan guide, check out your clan history, then buy the garb. 555 Castlehill, Old Town, www.geoffreykilts.co.uk (+44 131 226 1555).
Dine at a Michelin-starred restaurant Edinburgh’s Michelin star tally currently sits at four, with local boy Dominic Jack’s Castle Terrace (www.castleterracerestaurant.com) the latest to get the nod. Talented executive chef Jeff Bland at Number One (www.thebalmoralhotel.com) delivers a heady menu, which might include crab millefeuille with brown crab pannacotta and wasabi mayo, or vegetarian pithivier of squash, chickpeas and spinach with red onion marmalade. Tom and Michaela Kitchin set up The Kitchin (www.thekitchin.com) in Leith in summer 2006, and had a Michelin star within the year. Since then, they’ve operated at the apex of the city’s restaurant scene. Located in the historical heart of Leith, Restaurant Martin Wishart (www.martin-wishart.co.uk) has retained a Michelin star since 2001. The food is sublime, and a meal might take in tarte fine of Cornish sardines, squab pigeon as a main and raspberry soufflé to finish.
Call the fuzz Both a working cop shop and a museum of Edinburgh policing, the Police Information Centre is home to what must surely be the most macabre exhibit ever – a business card holder made from the cured skin of infamous grave-robber William Burke. 188 High Street, Old Town, www.lbp.police.uk (+44 131 226 6966).
Spoil a good walk If toiling up to the Pentland Hills and Arthur’s Seat (the tallest of Edinburgh’s seven hills) to see the views and burn off the shortbread isn’t enough, try whacking a ball about. With Scotland being the home of golf you’d expect Edinburgh to have its fair share of fairways, and Braid Hills (www.braidhillsgolf.co.uk), a pair of tricky municipal courses, represent one of the city’s best golfing bargains as well as the requisite stunning views. Duddingston (www.duddingstongolfclub.co.uk), south east of Arthur’s Seat, is set in undulating parkland with a burn (stream) winding throughout to add to the challenge.
Take a breath of fresh art Green up a gallery trip by combining a visit to Scotland’s modern art collection with a bracing riverside walk. The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, its grounds dotted with sculptures by the likes of Henry Moore and Edinburgh’s own Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, is perfectly placed along the Water of Leith Walkway. The walk follows the river that rises in the Pentland Hills and pours into the Firth of Forth at Leith. Belford Road, Stockbridge, www.nationagalleries.org (+44 131 624 6200).
Eat offally well The souvenir shops might suggest that shortbread is the national dish, but big appetites demand haggis. Select yours from renowned manufacturer Macsween of Edinburgh (www.nationalgalleries.org), whose delicacies are also sold in other delis around the city. If you prefer your animal intestines shaped into sausages, the best bangers for your buck are created by Crombies of Edinburgh (www.sausages.co.uk). Vegetarians might be relieved to hear that meat-free haggis is also an option from Macsween’s.
Sleep steeped in history Some of Edinburgh’s grander hotels have an interesting back story and none more so than the Scotsman (rooms from Dhs300; www.thescotsmanhotel.co.uk), whose grand marble interiors were, for a century, the workplace of an ink-stained team of storytellers working for the national newspaper. The luxurious Witchery by the Castle (rooms from Dhs1,884; www.thewitchery.com) has a less-than-decadent beginning as part of the assembly hall of the Church of Scotland – the hotel takes its name from witches once burned at the stake around here. As well as the biggest bathrooms in the city and jaunty portholes in the corridors, the handsome Channings Hotel (rooms from Dhs811; www.theedinburghcollection.com/channings) has a polar explorer theme, inspired by the fact that Sir Ernest Shackleton lived in this building one hundred years ago.
Need to know
Getting there Emirates flies to Edinburgh via Manchester; return flights start at Dhs4,890, including taxes. www.emirates.com.
Dubai to Scotland
Flight time: Approximately eight hours, depending on transfers. Time difference: Three hours behind Dubai. Dhs1 = 0.17 British pounds.