Even without its impressive annual festival line-up, Edinburgh would be worth visiting for its civic splendour alone. The city's Old Town is an intriguing tangle of medieval alleyways while neighbouring New Town is all graceful crescents and elegant Georgian townhouses. It's a combination that has earned it UNESCO World Heritage status and made it one of the loveliest cities to explore on foot.
Throw in 12 world-class festivals, though, and the decision becomes more about when to visit than why. Half of them occur during August, a celebratory climax that sees 25,000 artists stage more than 1000 shows a day, but rest assured you'll find entertainment and merriment whenever you come.
Occupying a regal position on top of an extinct volcano, Edinburgh Castle (www.historic-scotland.gov.uk) is Scotland's number one visitor attraction. Parts of the castle date from the 16th century and highlights include St Margaret's Chapel (reputedly Edinburgh's oldest building), the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny – a sandstone block used during the coronation of Scottish monarchs. A more recent royal arrival is the Royal Yacht Britannia (www.royalyachtbritannia.co.uk). Now docked permanently in Leith, she sailed more than one million miles during her 40 years of service for the British royal family. Tours reveal a surprisingly modest interior with simple accommodation and a homely feel.
For a better understanding of Scotland's most famous export, visit the Scotch Whisky Experience (www.scotchwhiskyexperience.co.uk). Tours range from simple tastings to lavish three-course dinners, but all feature a viewing of the world's largest collection of Scotch whisky. Looking for an affordable, unpretentious Michelin-starred dining experience? Try Field (www.fieldrestaurant.co.uk), an intimate 22-seat eatery that specialises in using local, seasonal produce. For upmarket pub grub, Scran & Scallie (www.scranandscallie.com) offers contemporary pub classics and a wide range of Scottish ales.
The jury's still out on Edinburgh's best vantage point. Some recommend Arthur's Seat, a 251-metre-high volcano with sweeping views over the city and surrounding countryside. Others suggest Scott Monument (www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk), a striking 61-metre-high Gothic tower built as a tribute to Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott. The first requires a steady climb of around 30 minutes; the second involves scaling a thigh-burning, 287-step, spiral staircase. Either way, you'll have earned yourself a hearty dinner.
Delve into Edinburgh's intriguing past with a walking tour by Mercat Tours. Led by award-winning storytellers, the tours breathe new life into the city's most famous sights, including exclusive access to a network of underground vaults. See www.mercattours.com
Thanks to an extensive multi-million-dollar overhaul, the 16-room 24 Royal Terrace (www.24royalterrace.com) now offers stylish rooms with sweeping views over the Firth of Forth and an impressive contemporary art collection worth £500,000 ($996,190). Another elegant option is Nira Caledonia (www.niracaledonia.com), a luxury boutique hotel that tastefully blends period charm with contemporary comforts.
Visiting during a festival? Plan ahead. Accommodation and headline events such as the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo often sell out so book early. See www.edinburghfestivalcity.com.
The writer travelled as a guest of Visit Britain and British Airways. This article brought to you by Visit Britain.