Edinburgh may be one of Britain’s oldest cities, but it loves to do things differently. Whether it’s secret gardens or Star Wars-themed cocktail bars to underground walking tours, there’s more to discover beyond the ancient walls of Edinburgh Castle and the city’s Old Town. From yoga classes on a volcano, to rock-climbing in a church, here’s where to get a fresh perspective on Scotland’s vibrant capital.
With its maze of cobbled streets and historic houses, Edinburgh’s Old Town is always a joy to explore (and get lost in) – but did you know there is even more to see underground? Real Mary King’s Close is a labyrinth of 17th-century streets and houses found beneath the Royal Mile – a world packed with mystery, if the stories on this Edinburgh ghost tour are to be believed. Its character-led tours venture deep into the vaults for a spine-tingling history lesson, but look out for the one-off events too, such as Scottish whisky tasting in a haunted tenement.
But this isn’t Edinburgh’s only secret. At Alien Rock, you can learn to climb in a beautiful old vaulted church – while Adventure Yoga offers classes on the slopes of Arthur’s Seat, the long-extinct volcano overlooking the city. The Royal Yacht Britannia, the former floating palace of Queen Elizabeth II, is one of Edinburgh’s top attractions, but few people realise that its sister ship, the Fingal, is actually a hotel. Step aboard during Yotties’ Week (30 May–2 June), to meet the Royal Yachtsmen who served on Britannia and hear their tales of Her Majesty’s travels at sea.
For a truly different perspective of the city, hop on for a ride with Trike Tours Scotland, which cruises past the sights on a gleaming 1600cc machine. Arguably one of the most unique experiences Edinburgh has to offer, each trip is chauffeur-driven and entirely bespoke, with an expert guide at the wheel. For something more soothing, head to the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens or seek out Granton Castle Walled Garden: this leafy 450-year-old idyll opens for just a few hours each weekend. Meanwhile, forest-gallery Jupiter Artland will return in May fresh from a winter rest, and is packed with weird and wonderful sculptures, including one that transforms into a swimming pool in summer for a truly immersive experience.
Edible Edinburgh is a real treat too, whether you’re sipping cocktails on a Secret Gin Tour, snaffling scones and haggis on a Food Safari, or sampling the city’s best Bries and blues on a guided Cheese Crawl. If you love chocolate, don’t miss The Chocolatarium’s tasty tours and truffle-making classes. Alternatively, if you have a penchant for whisky, you can blend your own at the Scotch Whisky Experience, or join an expert-guided tasting in a candlelit cellar.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe (5-29 August) and the Edinburgh International Festival (6–28 August) celebrate their 75th birthdays this year, filling the city with live music, theatrics, and stand-up comedy. While they are headlined by famous names, you can scout exciting new talents in the smaller venues, pubs and parks. Also, don’t miss UNBOXED, a nationwide cultural celebration which will bring two immersive art installations to Edinburgh: PoliNations, a pop-up forest garden paying homage to Britain’s incredible wildlife (6–14 August), and Dreamachine, a psychedelic light show, created by pioneering scientists and Turner Prize-winning artists (spring-autumn 2022).
If you’re looking for decadence, drama and pure Gothic grandeur, The Witchery by the Castle is the place for you. The nine-suite bolthole is absolutely jaw-dropping – from its mahogany four-poster beds, to the roll-top bathtubs and rich velvet drapes, every inch is dark and luxurious. If the hotel is booked up, try its lavish afternoon tea instead.
Book a room at Angels Share and you’ll have its glitzy bar and restaurant on your doorstep – plus cocktail masterclasses and live music every weekend. Each suite is dedicated to a famous Scottish icon, from Sean Connery to Sir Alex Ferguson, with lots of luxe fabrics and arty black-and-white snaps. It’s name is inspired by Scotland’s national drink, as the ‘angel’s share’ is the whisky which evaporates from a barrel when it matures.
With its playful decor, budget prices and central location just 334 steps from the Royal Mile – they’ve counted – even the smallest ‘Snug Double’ rooms at The Grassmarket are full of character. With wallpaper made from vintage Dandy comics (which originated in Scotland), expect minimal single-use plastic and all the mod-cons you could need.
Is it a record store? A vegetarian café? A cocktail bar? Paradise Palms is all of those things and much more, being the self-confessed ‘party palace’ of Edinburgh. Whether you’re craving vegan chilli-cheese fries, a Buckfast daiquiri, or a rummage through some seriously cool vintage vinyls, you’re in the right place. Expect a warm welcome, and a very hip playlist.
You’ve got to admire The Cocktail Geeks’ dedication to their craft. In the Edinburgh Arches, this lively bar has a new theme every month, with a menu of artisan beverages to match. Star Wars, Game of Thrones and The Witcher have featured as themes previously – your favourite show could be next! Meanwhile, for a wizardly night out, the Magic Potions Tavern serves up an ‘elixir’ of alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails – which thirsty sorcerers (that’s you) must mix from the delicious potions provided. The fun doesn’t stop there, why not pit your wits against the escape room – an ideal experience for larger groups too?
Pizza, prosecco, and one hell of a party: that’s the vibe at Cold Town House, which even has its very own microbrewery. The rooftop bar is this venue’s star spot, with its front-row views of Edinburgh Castle, retro campervan bar and cosy gondola-style seating.
Edinburgh Airport is served by flights from 150 global destinations, including various British cities – but Scotland’s capital has excellent rail links, too. If you’re travelling from London, the journey time is around four hours and 20 minutes. A direct route from Manchester takes around an hour less, while the journey from Glasgow can take just 50 minutes.
The city itself is very walkable, though the bus and tram networks are extensive – and wheelchair accessibility is excellent. Or, hail a black cab (taxi): their tariffs vary according to the time and journey duration.
Some restrictions on travel to and around Britain may be in place due to Covid-19. You are encouraged to always check individual websites for the latest information, as details are subject to change.