David Whitley shares his tips on the best of Scotland's capital.
The hot secret for cheap accommodation in summer is to rent out unused student accommodation. Edinburgh First (city-wide; 651 2189, www.edinburghfirst.com) offers self-catering flats from £260 a week. Otherwise, if you can book in advance, rooms at the chainy but surprisingly good-quality Premier Inn (82 Lauriston Place, 0871 527 8366*, www.premierinn.com) can be nabbed from £29 a night. Dorm beds at the new and swanky Edinburgh Central Youth Hostel (9 Haddington Place, 524 2090, www.syha.org.uk) are priced from £22 a night.
The Macdonald Holyrood Hotel (81 Holyrood Road, 0844 879 028*, www.macdonaldhotels.co.uk) has a great location in the heart of the Old Town. Facilities — including the gym and swimming pool — are impressive. Rooms are from £81 for a double. Also in the mid-range category, if you take advantage of the online £99-a-night deals, is the stylish Hotel Du Vin (11 Bristo Place, 247 4900, www.hotelduvin.com). The plasma screens, Egyptian cotton sheets and monsoon showers belong in a higher price bracket. The Malmaison (1 Tower Place, 468 5000, www.malmaison-edinburgh.com) in Leith is much cooler than most similarly priced alternatives and doubles are available from £95.
Tigerlily (125 George Street, 225 5005, www.tigerlilyedinburgh.co.uk) is the spot for fashionistas, with individually designed contemporary rooms and plenty of be-seen attitude. Rooms start at £135 a night. Le Monde (16 George Street, 270 3900, www.lemondehotel.co.uk) combines classic Georgian architecture and suites with unique design touches. There's a genuine boutique feel and an extremely cool bar downstairs. Rooms start at £125, while a junior suite will set you back £185. In a prime Old Town location, the Apex City Hotel (61 Grassmarket, 441 0440, www.apexhotels.co.uk) is more business-oriented but it gets the rooms right. The downstairs seafood restaurant is highly regarded. Superior doubles start at £108.
Just off the Royal Mile, lavishly decked-out suites with Villeroy and Boch bathrooms, iPod docking stations and kitchenettes are available from £339 a night at Fraser Suites (12-26 St Giles Street, 221 7200, edinburgh.frasershospitality.com) but you can get as much as 40 per cent off by booking online. Hotel Missoni (1 George IV Bridge, 220 6666, www.hotelmissoni.com) is the first venture into accommodation by the Italian fashion house (pictured). As you'd expect, it's all about the design, fine textiles and pampered vibe. Room packages start at £180. For something completely different, it has to be Witchery by the Castle (Castlehill, 225 5613, www.thewitchery.com). The dark, gothic-style rooms are celeb haunts and have a sinful theatricality about them. Avoid if you don't like velvet; otherwise, it's from £295 a night.
SHOP & PLAY
Despite many streets having the word "market" in their name, Edinburgh is no longer a great market city. However, stalls tend to spring up in the main tourist areas during the August festival season, while at Christmas (www.edinburghschristmas .com), an Ethical Trading Fair appears on Castle Street and a German-style Christmas market takes up residence near the Mound Precinct. For the best in locally produced foods — from smoked salmon and venison to eggs and cheese — the Edinburgh Farmers Market (Castle Terrace, www.edinburghfarmersmarket.co.uk) takes place every Saturday from 9am-2pm.
Multrees Walk (www.the-walk.co.uk) is the place to max out the credit card — the Edinburgh branch of Harvey Nichols and designer brands such as Armani and Louis Vuitton live here, next to the rather more downmarket St James Shopping Centre., meanwhile, has its fair share of quirky independent shops and vintage outlets. Fabhatrix (13 Cowgatehead, 225 9222, www.fabhatrix.com) does inventive millinery and Howie Nicholsby of 21st Century Kilts (48 Thistle Street, 220 9450, www.21stcenturykilts.com) has kitted out tartan-loving celebs ranging from Samuel L. Jackson to Robbie Williams. Of course, if you want ginger wigs, shortbread and postcards of highland cows, you'll be bombarded with them on the Royal Mile.
Picture House (31 Lothian Road, 221 2280, www.mamagroup.co.uk/picturehouse) is the best place for mid-range touring bands, although the out-of-centre Corn Exchange (11 Newmarket Road, 477 3500, ece.uk.com) nabs most of the slightly bigger names before they can fill stadiums. The Voodoo Rooms (19A West Register Street, 556 7060, www.thevoodoorooms.com) is a little too cool for its own good but hosts up-and-coming artists from across the world — and genres, for that matter. For something a little more bearded, the Edinburgh Folk Club in the Pleasance Cabaret Bar (60 Pleasance, 650 2458, www.edinburghfolkclub.co.uk) hosts weekly sessions outside festival season.
Cabaret Voltaire (36 Blair Street, 220 6176, www.thecabaretvoltaire.com) is arguably the coolest place for serious musos — there are two rooms and an almost greedy array of nights spanning the range of dance sub-genres. Opal Lounge (51a George Street, 226 2275, www.opallounge.co.uk) is a style-over-substance favourite of the moneyed types, including previous visitors Justin Timberlake and Prince William. Meanwhile, The Citrus Club (40-42 Grindlay Street, 622 7086, www.citrusclub.co.uk) is infinitely less classy but more fun. Expect indie or retro classics, bad dancing and a student crowd with beers in hand.
SEE & DO
Edinburgh Castle (£14, Castlehill, 225 9846, www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk) is the focal point, and there's plenty to keep you occupied while there — including the Scottish Crown Jewels, the Stone of Destiny, the National War Museum of Scotland and some rather big guns. Nearby is the Scotch Whisky Experience (£11.50, 354 Castlehill, 220 0441, www.whisky-heritage.co.uk), a somewhat cheesy ride through the distilling history of whisky with samples at the end. The tours of the Royal Yacht Britannia (£10.50, Ocean Terminal, 555 5566, www.royalyachtbritannia.co.uk) are an excellent insight into the whole circus surrounding the British Royal family.
In August, Edinburgh is the world's cultural hotbed, with the Festivals (edinburghfestivals.co.uk) ensuring hundreds of events run concurrently across the city. But the city isn't a vacuum for the rest of the year. The National Theatre of Scotland (0141 221 0970*, www.nationaltheatrescotland.com) puts on big productions in venues across the city (and, indeed country). For art lovers, the National Gallery of Scotland (The Mound, 624 6200, www.nationalgalleries.org) should be the first port of call, while the superb Stand Comedy Club (5 York Place, 558 7272, www.thestand.co.uk) flies the funny flag.
The walk that just about every visitor takes on is the Royal Mile. Running from Holyrood Abbey to Edinburgh Castle, it showcases many of the city's grandest buildings, plus plenty of cafes and restaurants. Alas, it also showcases lots of jugglers and bagpipers. The Water of Leith Walkway from the docks at Leith takes you up-river through peaceful urban greenery. And, as long as it's not raining, the trudge through Holyrood Park to the top of Arthur's Seat is pretty much mandatory.
Follow the leader
Ghost tours are big business in Edinburgh; numerous operators will walk you around the spooky spots. Among them are The Cadies and Witchery Tours (£7.50, 225 6745, www.witcherytours.com), which are led by an in-character guide. More jobbing actors await at The Real Mary King's Close (£11, 2 Warriston's Close, 0845 070 6244*, www.realmarykingsclose.com). It's a trip through the plague-ridden back alleys of 17th-century Edinburgh with historical detail that grips. For a walk with a bookish tinge, try The Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour (£9.50, 0800 169 7410*, www.edinburghliterarypubtour.co.uk).
EAT & DRINK
The Old Town has almost as many cafes as it does souvenir shops selling tartan. The Elephant House (21 George IV Bridge, 220 5355, www.elephanthouse.biz) is the most famous, as it was where J. K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book. Expect to have to fight through the camera-wielding Hogwarts obsessives, however. Spoon (6A Nicholson Street, 557 4567, www.spooncafe.co.uk) does fresh food with the odd innovative twist in a modern setting — it's a good, healthy option. For a more old-school approach, Clarinda's (69 Canongate, 557 1888) is a classic tearoom. Grandma will approve.
If it's high-quality fish and chips you're after, then the Tailend Fish Bar (14-15 Albert Place, Leith Walk, 555 3577) is the one that tends to have the locals licking their lips. For deli-style sustenance, Valvona & Crolla (19 Elm Row, Leith Walk, 556 6066, www.valvonacrolla.co.uk) does some seriously good home-baked breads and speciality cheeses. There's also a cafe-bar at the back of the shop if you don't want to eat on the go. Then there's Falko Konditorei (185 Bruntsfield Place, 656 0763, www.falko.co.uk) — a super German-style bakery. Anyone sticking to the breads and leaving the ultra-tempting cakes should be congratulated on their iron willpower.
Top of the town
The formerly rough portside area of Leith is Scotland's surprise new fine-dining hot spot. Restaurant Martin Wishart (54 The Shore, 553 3557, www.martin-wishart.co.uk) blazed the trail and has plenty of top-drawer vegetarian options, while the modern European menu at Kitchin (78 Commercial Quay, 555 1755, www.thekitchin.com) has joined it in the Michelin-star club. In town, the new blue-eyed boy is 21212 (3 Royal Terrace, 523 1030, www.21212restaurant.co.uk). The blow-out five-course dinners cost £65 ($110) before the cork pops.
By the glass
Dragonfly (52 West Port, 228 4543, www.dragonflycocktailbar.com) is the place to see beautiful people, absurd hairstyles, retro-cool decor and experimental cocktails. For something more grounded, hunt in the alleyways between Waverley station and Princes Street for charming old-man pubs. The Halfway House (24 Fleshmarket Close, 225 7101, www.halfwayhouse-edinburgh.com) is a textbook example. It's a real ale pub, so beer lovers should be in their element. Whisky connoisseurs, meanwhile, should decamp to the Bow Bar (80 West Bow, 226 7667) and pray to be snowed in. The bar features most of the best drams from across the country.
If going for the Edinburgh festivals, don't try to cram too many shows into one day. It quickly becomes both exhausting and costly. It's also worth visiting the Half Price Hut on the pavement level above the Princes Mall to see which shows haven't sold out and are offering 50 per cent discounts on tickets. Festival-goers should be aware that it's wise to book August accommodation well in advance — hotel rooms become scarce and prices ramp up.
Emirates flies via Dubai to Glasgow — a short train ride away — while the likes of Qantas and British Airways can offer connecting flights to Edinburgh from London Heathrow. Expect to pay at least $2200 return.
Visas and currency
Unless staying for more than six months, no visas are required to visit Britain. The currency in Britain is the pound — although be aware that Scottish banknotes can be hard to exchange when you get back home. Or in England, for that matter. £1 = $1.70.
The country code is +44, and the Edinburgh city code is 0131. To call Edinburgh from abroad, add +44131 to all seven-digit numbers here. For those numbers marked with an asterisk, add +44 and drop the zero.