Edinburgh travel tips: Where to go and what to see in 48 hours

Scotland's handsome capital is arguably at its finest in winter when Hogmanay beckons and fine dining is the order of the day

Click to follow
The Independent Travel

Travel essentials

Why go now?

The Scottish capital really goes to town with all things festive: take a spin on the big wheel and other funfair rides in the Christmas Gardens, shop at the Christmas markets and go ice skating. And on New Year's Eve catch Scottish band of the year Young Fathers, alongside north Lanarkshire rockers The Twilight Sad, at the Edinburgh Hogmanay Street Party (edinburghshogmanay.org).

The mood post-referendum is upbeat, and the graphite-sketch quality of the Georgian architecture really suits the depths of winter.

Touch down

The city has two main train stations – Haymarket (1) and Waverley (2). Trains from Carlisle and Glasgow call at both, and East Coast (03457 225 111; eastcoast.co.uk) services from London and York arrive at Waverley.

You can fly from a range of UK airports on British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com), easyJet (0843 104 500; easyjet.com), Flybe (0871 700 2000; flybe.com), Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) and Virgin Atlantic (0844 209 7777; virgin-atlantic.com).

The new tram takes you from the airport to York Place (3) in 35 minutes (£5). Apart from Leith, most areas are best seen on foot.

Get your bearings

This is a city of two halves: Old Town and New Town. Edinburgh Castle (4) is at the top of the Old Town, looming over the main artery of Princes Street, Princes Street Gardens and the New Town; the approach, Castlehill, runs in a straight line through to the tourist shops of the Royal Mile.

The New Town is dominated by the shopping of George Street, and the chic restaurants and cafés on the side streets running down to Queen Street. At the east end of the city centre you'll find the Omni Centre (5), Edinburgh Playhouse (6) and Leith Walk, which leads to Leith's waterfront.

The Visitor Information Centre (7) is at 3 Princes Street (visitscotland.com; 9am-5pm Mon-Sat, 10am-5pm Sun).

Check in

The Witchery (8) on Castlehill (0131 225 5613; thewitchery.com) is an over-the-top Gothic restaurant with rooms. It is Hogwarts, as imagined by Oscar Wilde. Doubles from £325, B&B.

If you've stayed at a Hotel du Vin (9) before, you'll know what to expect of the one at 11 Bristo Place (08447 364255; hotelduvin.com) – wine-themed rooms in Farrow & Ball palettes. There are poshed-up deep-fried Mars bar desserts in the excellent restaurant. Room only from £95.

At Motel One (10), 18-21 Market Street (0131 220 0730; motel-one.com) the small rooms are perfectly comfortable and stylish. The location is great. Room only from £59.

edinburgh map

Click here to see a bigger image of the map

Day one

Take a hike

See the city projected in primitive HD by the giant pinhole camera at historic Camera Obscura (11) at 549 Castlehill (0131 226 3709; cameraobscura.co.uk), and then again from the outside roof deck, with views out over the Firth of Forth. The swirling Vortex Tunnel downstairs is off-the-scale fun – don't go right after breakfast.

Walk along the Royal Mile and descend the coloured marble Scotsman Steps (12) – aka artist Martin Creed's Work No 1059 – and check out the Fruitmarket Gallery (13) at 45 Market Street (0131 225 2383; fruitmarket.co.uk) opposite, for world class contemporary art exhibitions. Stroll to Calton Hill, and the Nelson Monument (14), for the best views of the city.

Lunch on the run

Don't rush lunch at Timberyard (15) at 10 Lady Lawson Street (0131 221 1222; timberyard.co), the most forward-thinking, filament bulb and tattooed-waiter-filled restaurant in the city, with a brilliant menu of locally sourced, farmed and foraged ingredients.

Window shopping

Designer Howie Nicholsby is a Scottish style icon – never seen without his kilt. Visit his shop, 21st Century Kilts (16) at 48 Thistle Street (07774 757222; 21stcenturykilts.com) and have something custom made, perhaps in Yohji-style black, or bright Harris Tweed. He has a lengthy celebrity clientele list.

For similarly directional tweeds, try Corniche (17) at 2 Jeffrey Street (0131 556 3707; corniche .org.uk) which stocks cutting edge men's and womenswear by Rundholz, Nigel Cabourn and Comme des Garçons.

An aperitif

Edinburgh does craft beer better than it does cocktails. Work your way through the brews and sip a chocolate-rich Vanilla Mocha Shake Alpha State stout at the Hanging Bat (18) at 133 Lothian Road (0131 229 0759; the hangingbat.com), or try the IPAs and amber beers at The Vintage (19) at 60 Henderson Street (0131 563 5293; thevintageleith.co.uk), which also has an epic menu of mix-and-match charcuterie.

Dining with the locals

The Kitchin (20) at 78 Commercial Street (0131 555 1755; thekitchin.com), remains the best fine dining restaurant in the city and one of the best in the country. Tom Kitchin uses Scottish produce and classic French techniques to create innovative and generally exquisite food. Dress up and go for the game and seafood. The veal sweetbreads with Jerusalem artichoke and pearl barley risotto (£19) may be the most perfect dish you will ever taste.

It feels like a stark, typically cool pop-up, but The Gardener's Cottage (21) on Royal Terrace Gardens (entrance on London Road; 0131 558 1221; thegardenerscottage.co) is a full-time local favourite, its kitchen crammed with organic veg, sea bass, widgeon, locally sourced bacon et al.


Hubble bubble: a Witchery bathroom (Mark Rowley)

Day Two

A walk in the park

If you have no fear of heights, climb the Scott Monument (22) in Princes Street Gardens. The green space was originally a loch and an impassable defence for the Castle. Afterwards, walk through the New Town and explore Stockbridge, one of the city's most handsome neighbourhoods.

Out to brunch

Urban Angel (23) at 121 Hanover Street (0131 225 6215; urban-angel.co.uk) does the best flat whites, smoothies and eggs Benedict in town, so be prepared to queue for a while. During festival time, this is where you'll find many a big-name comedian nursing their hangover.

Or snack your way through the Farmers Market (24) (stockbridgemarket.com) and visit the Golden Hare Bookshop (25) at 68 St Stephen Street (0131 629 1396; goldenharebooks .com), which has a brilliant and stylish edit of books from classic fiction to contemporary design.

An early lunch at the Scran & Scallie gastropub (26) at 1 Comely Bank Road (0131 332 6281; scranandscallie.com) is always a lovely idea.

Cultural afternoon

Take a 20-minute walk from Stockbridge to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (27) at 75 Belford Road (0131 624 6200) with its lovely sculpture park and surrounding parklands. From here it is around 20 minutes again to walk back to the centre of town and the restored Scottish National Portrait Gallery (28) at 1 Queen Street (0131 624 6200; nationalgalleries.org), where you will get an overview of Edinburgh and its inhabitants over the centuries.

Icing on the cake

Make your own mother's ruin – choosing from myriad botanicals – at the Edinburgh Gin Distillery (29) at 1a Rutland Place (0131 656 2810; edinburghdistillery.co.uk). A three-hour experience costs £75. Alternatively, take a 45-minute (£10) tour and buy a bottle of rhubarb and ginger liqueur, one of the most delicious things you'll taste all year.

Click here to view UK Tours and Holidays, with Independent Holidays.