A weekend in Edinburgh: Where to stay, where to eat and what to do

Ellie Ross
Contributor
The picturesque Circus Lane taken at sunrise in Edinburgh, Scotland. [Photo: Getty]

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Ah, Edinburgh. Scotland’s capital is beautiful, lively and packed with history. It’s a city that begs to be explored, from its ancient castle (which sits on an extinct volcano) to its most-famous street, the Royal Mile (which is actually one mile and 107 yards long).

Built on seven hills overlooking the sea, Edinburgh is closely linked to its landscape, with buildings and monuments couched in cliffs and perched atop crags. Gaze up at the turreted skyline punctuated by Castle Rock, stroll through the Old Town’s jumble of medieval architecture and explore the Greek temples of Calton Hill.

See the streets that come alive each summer with the Festival Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival, and dip into the dining scene, which ranges from Michelin-starred fare to cheap and cheerful, locally-sourced burgers.

Edinburgh: Fun facts

  • Edinburgh was the first city in the world to have its own fire service, founded in 1824 after the Great Fire of Edinburgh destroyed much of the old town.

  • J.K. Rowling wrote some of Harry Potter in an Edinburgh café (The Elephant House) and hotel (the Balmoral Hotel) and some of the movies were filmed here.

  • It’s the UK’s greenest city, with more trees per head of population than any other city.

Looking down on West Bow Edinburgh. [Photo: Getty]

Here’s our guide to the best places to stay and eat, and what to do while you’re in Edinburgh – no matter your budget.

Where to stay

If you’re on a budget

Book a room at the recently-opened Malmaison, a boutique-style, budget-friendly hotel located on Leith’s lively waterfront. The 100 rooms and suites are decorated in stylish monochrome tones, with colourful cushions to pep things up. The hotel has its own cocktail bar with a waterfront terrace and restaurant offering everything from wine tastings to three-course dinner (with vegan options available). Doubles from £79, room-only.

Book the hotel here

Malmaison on The Shore in Leith [Photo: Visit Scotland]

If you’re looking for luxury

Overlooking Edinburgh Castle and Waverley Station, the 4-star Scotsman is one of the city’s finest hotels. Built in 1905, the building once served as the HQ for The Scotsman newspaper. Today, you’ll find original baroque features, such as floor to ceiling wood panelled rooms, marble staircase and ornate stained glass windows. Bedrooms are light, spacious and tastefully furnished and guests receive luxurious touches, from White Company toiletries in the bathrooms to a wee nip of Whisky on arrival. Doubles from £130, room-only.

Book the hotel here

The interior of a room at the Scotsman. [Photo: The Scotsma]

Where to eat

If you’re on a budget

Budget-savvy travellers with a taste for good food are in for a treat in Edinburgh. Try Cold Town House, a hip restaurant with a relaxed rooftop bar overlooking the castle. Pizzas, prosecco and craft beer are the order of the day (pizzas from £7, beer from £4.60 a pint), but there are also plenty of bar snacks to stave off hunger. For a proper burger, head to Lioness of Leith. They use beef from local butcher, Findlay’s of Portobello, free-range, herb-fed chicken, and local artisan buns. Veggies and vegans are also well catered for with mushroom, halloumi and bean burger alternatives. Mains from £6.95.

The stunning views surrounding the Cold Town House. [Photo: Cold Town House]
A delicious burger at Lioness of Leith. [Photo: The Lioness of Leith]

If you’re looking for luxury

For perhaps the most atmospheric dining experience in Edinburgh, book a table at The Witchery. James Thomson’s restaurant is low-lit, with candles aflicker, red leather seats, tapestries hanging from oak-panelled walls and rich baroque surroundings. Another great option for fine dining is Kitchin, which was awarded a Michelin star in 2007. Focusing on cooking seasonal produce “from nature to plate”, highlights from the menu include hand-dived Orkney scallops and terrine of Highland venison. Three courses from £80.

The ambience at the Witchery. [Photo: The Witchery]
The Michelin star rated food at Kitchin [Photo: Kitchin]

What to do

If you’re on a budget

You don’t need to splash out to explore Edinburgh. Explore the Royal Botanic Garden, which dates back 300 years and features ten magnificent glasshouses (entry to the garden is free). Or, hike up Calton Hill for panoramic views of the city, including Edinburgh Castle, Arthur’s Seat and Holyrood Park, the home of the Scottish parliament. Get up-close to its Athenian acropolis, which pokes above the skyline. This replica of the Parthenon in Athens is actually an unfinished monument – it was started in 1816 as a memorial to those who had died in the Napoleonic Wars, but funds soon ran dry and it was never completed.

The autumnal sights at the Royal Botanic Gardens. [Photo: Visit Scotland]

If you’re looking for luxury

You can’t beat a bit of Scotch whisky tasting. The Scotch Whisky Experience offers tours and tastings where you can sample and learn about the traditional tipple. A 50-minute tour promises to make you a “one-hour-whisky-expert” as guides impart their expertise. The experience culminates in a tasting inside the impressive whisky collection. Tickets are available on the day from the box office. From £16.

The Scotch Whisky Experience is a must for any Scotch enthusiast. [Photo: The Scotch Whisky Experience]

How to get there

The main rail terminus in Edinburgh is Waverley train station, located in the city centre. Check National Rail Enquiries for updates services and prices. An affordable way to travel is by Megabus, with various cheap buses to Edinburgh from London and the rest of the UK. Edinburgh is also well connected to other parts of Scotland and the UK, Ireland and mainland Europe by air, with an airport located eight miles west of the city centre.

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