Weekend breaks in Edinburgh

Take yourself away for a weekend in Edinburgh and find the meeting place of history, culture and everything that makes Scotland so great.

Auld Reekie, The Athens of the North… Edinburgh has many names and many guises and all of them are completely enthralling. This city of remarkable variety can be a medieval time capsule, a case study in Georgian elegance, a buzzing, youthful live wire, all while remaining indelibly Edinburgh. It’s impossible to think of anyone who wouldn’t find something to fall madly in love with about this gorgeous city. Here are a few tips to get your weekend romance with Edinburgh started.

When to go
This information is probably more vital for Edinburgh breaks than anywhere else in the UK. In August, it will feel as if every actor, comedian, thespian and performance artist in the world has descended on the city and the streets, hotels, bars and restaurants will be overflowing. It’s all one immensely fun party, but not conducive to a weekend spent strolling through medieval streets at your own pace. Likewise, the city erupts around New Year. If you’re coming for a party, Hogmanay and Fringe will do the trick nicely.
Where to stay
Edinburgh city centre is remarkably compact, so it’s difficult to stay in the wrong part. The Royal Mile, the stretch that runs from Edinburgh Castle to the Scottish Parliament, is a perfect place for sightseers to set up camp. It’s also a merrymaker’s dream around festival time. If shopping is more your thing, head for the Georgian New Town – where you’ll find retail heaven on St Andrew’s Square and Thistle Street – or the slightly artier Stockbridge. For something a bit livelier and hipsterfied, Leith or Grassmarket have excellent nightlife and an assortment of independent shops, restaurants and cafes.
Where to drink
There’s a rumour that’s been doing the rounds for a while now about people with Celtic blood being partial to a wee dram or two. Turns out, this isn’t vicious slander, the Scots know a thing or two about whisky, much like their Irish brethren have a way with the whiskey (that ‘e’ is crucial). If you’re a fan yourself and want a tutorial in the best Scotland has to offer, there’s only one place to go: Whiski (because we needed another spelling just to confuse matters further). Three hundred different types of the stuff line the back bar and the staff have an impressive knowledge of them all. If cocktails are more your thing, Panda & Sons’ barbershop-themed cocktail bar will wet your whistle in no uncertain style. While, for that traditional Scottish knees up in an old boozer with reels, jigs and a warm welcome, there is none finer than the Royal Oak. Read our list of the coolest bars in Edinburgh for more great drinking establishments.
What to see
Sightseeing in Edinburgh is a different proposition to most cities. With such a compact city centre, it’s much easier to get about on foot, lending a greater sense of adventure to your weekend as you explore the winding side streets of the Old Town.

At the top of every visitor’s to-do list is Edinburgh Castle. It’s impossible to miss, a gigantic monument to Edinburgh’s history that overlooks the city from its vantage point on Castle Rock. For four years in a row, the castle has been voted the UK’s number one heritage attraction, and it’s not hard to see why. You could easily spend a whole day wandering through its many rooms and halls, so to fine-tune your visit, either join a guided tour or book an audio guide. To avoid the crowds, buy your tickets and audio guide online in advance and plan your visit for the morning.

Of course, Edinburgh Castle isn’t the only impressive historical building in Edinburgh. The Palace of Holyroodhouse is the Queen’s official residence in Scotland and has been the home of Scotland’s monarchs since the 16th century. The palace is open to the public all year, except for one week at the start of every summer when the Queen is in residence. Its courtyard café is a great spot to sit out and enjoy the surroundings when the weather’s fine.

One of Edinburgh’s main attractions each August is the Edinburgh International Festival, one of the most important celebrations of theatre, opera and classical music in the world. Its unofficial spin-off, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, has maybe even surpassed it in popularity. Imagine, if you will, a world where Joey was more popular than Friends. Comedy is its strongest suit, with the Perrier award for best comedian being one of the highlights and an impressive list of big-name talents on the bill each year. 

Read more about the city’s festivals with our guide to the best year-round events in Edinburgh.
We recommend

A guide to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
History, culture and drinking: The best of Edinburgh
The best coffee shops in Edinburgh
Kings, armies and bloodshed: A day in Edinburgh Castle

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