Scotland’s elegant capital is bursting with fabulous sights, tastes and adventures
Known as Athens of the North, Edinburgh is steeped in history. From the exquisite architecture of the new town to the dark alleyways of the older part of the city, there’s something to discover around every corner. It’s the perfect location for a weekend getaway.
History and royalty
As there’s so much to see, it’s worth carefully planning a weekend trip. A must-visit attraction is Edinburgh Castle, which is built on the site of a 700-year-old extinct volcano. There’s lots to explore inside, including the old prisons, The Great Hall, and the Royal Palace, where you’ll see the Scottish Crown Jewels and Stone of Destiny. There are hourly tours by experienced guides who will tell you all about the history of the castle that hasn’t be penetrated by an enemy since it was built. The stunning views of the city aren’t to be missed, either, especially in the spring or summer months. As the castle is the city’s busiest site, make sure you book your tickets in advance. We’d also recommend going early to beat the crowds.
At the end of Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile streets, you’ll find Holyrood park, with beautiful sites like Samson’s Ribs, St Margaret’s Loch and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The palace is the Queen’s official residence in Scotland, and you can take a tour of 14 of the historic state apartments and the romantic ruins of the 12th-century Holyrood Abbey.
While you’re in Holyrood Park, take the opportunity to walk up Arthur’s Seat, another extinct volcano with the most amazing view of the city. It’s popular with hikers, but is also pretty easy to climb, so don’t be put off.
For a great family day out, head to Edinburgh Zoo. It’s well known as home to the UK’s only giant pandas, Tián Tián (Sweetie) and Yang Guang (Sunshine), which are a real draw, as you can watch them play and tuck into fresh bamboo. Head to Penguins Rock to watch the birds through the large underwater viewing windows – and don’t miss the famous penguin parade towards the end of the day!
You can also observe the monkeys, lemurs and wallabies in their walkthrough habitats or at daily handling sessions. We loved the Tiger Tracks, where you can watch a Sumatran tiger walk right over your head from the glass viewing tunnel. It’s a great day out with over 1,000 rare and endangered animals to witness.
For something quirky, take your kids to Camera Obscura. Weave your way through a world of illusions, including a mirror maze and swirling vortex light tunnel. Enjoy the famous Camera Obscura itself – a live, moving image periscope – in its rooftop chamber to see Edinburgh as you’ve never seen it before.
If you want to head out of the city centre, take a picnic and let the kids run off some energy along the Water of Leith trail (Waterofleith.org.uk). The river winds through the city from the Pentland Hills to Leith. You can go for a walk or cycle (there’s also access for wheelchairs and horses), and keep an eye out for birds and wildlife. There are many access points from the walkway that lead to lovely pubs and restaurants, which is perfect in the summer.
Food and festivals
Prepare to enjoy some of the local food, including haggis, which is available from eateries all over the city, and each has its own take on the famous dish. Look out for the Edinburgh Gin Distillery, and you can’t visit the city without sampling a dram or two of whisky!
Major festivals happen all year round, but most of them occur in August, including the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which is bursting with Scottish tradition, the Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Festival Fringe. So, visitors and locals alike are well and truly spoilt for choice, whether you’re after music, theatre, comedy, opera, dance, cabaret, musicals, spoken word or children’s shows.
Where to stay
We stayed at the Village Hotel Edinburgh, just outside the city centre and close to the Royal Botanic Gardens. It’s only a short ride from the train station, or a bus journey to town. Offering modern-styled rooms, a swimming pool and luxury spa, it’s a great place to chill out after a fun-filled day. The hotel has a great restaurant and bar with delicious family-friendly menus and Sunday roasts. There’s also an on-site Starbucks if you’re in need of a caffeine fix.
Need to know
· Plan your journey with National Rail from London to Edinburgh Waverley using a Friends & Family Railcard, offering 1/3 off adult fares and 60 per cent off child fares for £30. Using the card, we saved over £187 on our journey for two adults and two children. Price without would have been £433.20. Book at Railcard.co.uk
· Rates at the Village Hotel Edinburgh are from £70 for bed and breakfast from October to March, and £120 from April to September. Book at Village-hotels.co.uk
· Tickets for Camera Obscura are £16 for adults, £12 for a child under 15, and under fives go free. Book at Camera-obscura.co.uk or call 0131 226 3709
· Edinburgh Zoo is located on a hillside, so wear comfortable shoes. Prices are from £9.95 for a child to £19.95 for an adult. Book at Edinburghzoo.org.uk
· Edinburgh Castle tickets are £17.50 for an adult, £14 for a child, and under fives go free. Book at Edinburghcastle.scot