Travel Guide: 24 hours in Edinburgh

It might be the capital of Scotland, the home of vibrant festivals and the seat of Scottish power, but there’s something about the cold cobbles, the wind-battered stones and the towering castle that make the hilly city of Edinburgh still feel like a haunted fortress atop an enchanted mountain.

Tourists duck and dive under towering bridges, they tumble down treacherously steep steps and feel the wind whip their noses and cheeks as if they were standing on the battlements.

Locals are fiercely protective of their city as if they were guarding some hidden treasure. But look hard enough, and you can find the city’s secrets, its boutique shops, it’s achingly hip, its enchanting walks and cosiest whiskey joints.

Perched on an extinct volcano, Edinburgh Castle dominates the city’s skyline and the 16th century building is Scotland’s most popular tourist site. You’ll have to book months in advance to see the famous Scottish Military Tattoo, and extravaganza, pipes and dancing at the castle. But for a peek at the ordinary lives of citizens of Edinburgh, Real Mary King’s Close is a hidden treat, just off the Royal Mile. Venture underground to a secret warren of hidden 17th century streets, led by a character from the period. See how residents suffered from the plague, wicked deals and murderous plots that took place in the shadowy close. The museum is a treat for children, fascinating, and a warm and welcome respite if the Scottish heavens have opened.

Must Be Seen At

Edinburgh’s hippest and bars are mostly in the New Town, close to Princes Street. But one exception is the swanky Ondine, an award-winning fish just a short skip from the Castle. The glass-fronted upstairs is perfect for people watching, while supping an Edinburgh Gin Daisy.

Fresh, local and zingy fish dishes change regularly, but might include Ondine salmon with homemade cucumber pickle, silky fish soup with gruyere croutons, or a moist and smoky grilled sea-bass. Begin or end the evening next door at the fashionista-dominated G&V Royal Mile Hotel (formerly Hotel Missoni) for their signature drought Prosecco.

Must Drink

Every bartender is an expert in Scotch. If you fancy being one yourself, take the tour at The Scotch Experience, beginning with a virtual tour inside a barrel, showing you have to amber liquid is distilled and matured. Later, you’re given a sniff of the different flavours of the Scottish producing regions, to help you decide whether to sample Lowland, Highland, Speyside or Islay dram. The museum also includes a fascinating display of the world’s largest collection.

Must Shop

In the heart of the Old Town, Edinburgh’s Grass market district has the city’s best independent merchants, designers and artisans. Wind your way down the Castle Wynd or Upper Bow steps and spend an hour browsing the delis and boutiques. Highlights include Demijohn’s handmade spirits and liquors dubbed by the owner as a “liquid Deli”, Armstrong’s Vintage clothes emporium for ’50’s ra-ra skirts, 60’s minis and 70’s prints, and the Old Town bookshop, for antique books, maps and prints.

Must Eat

The Witchery by the Castle, with a fine on the Royal Mile right by the castle offers. Dine in pretty surroundings for a romantic and if you decide to stay, you’ll sleep in lush rooms with lots of velvet, tapestry walls and four poster beds.

Or try The Dome located in New Town. It’s both a bar and, and it’s an established hub for cocktails or coffee – so expect a buzz. Food-wise, there’s a grill with its lovely domed ceiling, the club room – plush with wood-paneled walls, mirrors and crystal chandeliers, and you can even have afternoon tea here.