Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Whether you’re drawn in by the tartan heritage of the cobbled Royal Mile, the New Town’s graciously elegant Georgian façades or the ever-visible Castle, from whichever angle you look at it, Edinburgh is a knockout. But while it may have the highest concentration of listed buildings in the world, this northern capital is not just for looking at: with an international arts calendar and more booksellers per capita than any other British city, its reputation for refinement and culture is richly deserved. Whether you lose yourself in the Old Town wynds – narrow, crooked paths between houses – linger over a wee dram in the cosy pubs of Cockburn Street or tuck into the catch of the day at one of up-and-coming Leith’s waterfront restaurants, you’ll find satisfaction. Guaranteed.

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When to go

How do you cope among huddled masses? The city’s at its liveliest in August, when festival-goers double the population to more than a million. Anyone who doesn’t care for crowds, street performers and pushy flyer-mongers should wait till September, when it’ll be less packed and still sunny. Intermittently.

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Getting there

  • Planes

    Edinburgh International Airport (www.edinburghairport.com) receives countless daily flights from London as well as UK regional hubs and more than 40 European airports and New York. The 30-minute taxi ride into town costs from about £20. The 24-hour Lothian Buses Airlink service takes 45 minutes and costs £3.50; an open return costs £6 (www.flybybus.com).
  • Trains

    The main station is Waverley, in the city centre; the other is Haymarket, about a mile away. East Coast Trains has fast, frequent trains linking London King’s Cross with the East Midlands, Yorkshire, the North East of England and Scotland on the East Cost Main Line (0845 722 5225; www.eastcoast.co.uk). ScotRail’s overnight sleeper service departs from London Euston seven nights a week (www.firstgroup.com/scotrail).
  • Automobiles

    Edinburgh is at the heart of the Scottish motorway network so is easily accessible. It’s roughly six and a half hours from London – beyond Newcastle the route is particularly picturesque.
  • Taxis

    You can hail a black cab from anywhere on the street, or pre-book a minicab through your hotel. Central Radio Taxis (+44 (0)131 229 2468) is the city’s largest operator.

A capital stay

A capital stay

Edinburgh, that Georgian grande dame, is a picturesque starting point for Scottish capers. Explore the Old Town’s narrow wynds and old-world pubs from G&V Royal Mile Hotel, a heart-of-the-action stay kitted out with monochrome patterns and flashes of neon. Take in the bustle of the Royal Mile, an atmospheric 17th-century cobbled street leading up from the Palace of Holyroodhouse to the imposing ramparts of Edinburgh Castle.

A stone’s throw from Princes Street’s bustling shops (and just above the gleaming copper stills of the Edinburgh Gin Distillery), the Rutland Hotel puts a contemporary twist on Scottish design. Boutique B&Bs Millers64 and Ardmor House are a short stroll from the Water of Leith, a tranquil stream flowing from the Gallery of Modern Art to a buzzing strip of waterfront restaurants and the Royal Yacht Britannia

Head to Waverley station for more of the country’s fabulous city breaks: Glasgow’s merchant streets and charming hidden lanes are less than an hour away by train.

Water of life

Water of life

From the Highlands’ honey and heather notes to the briny, peaty malts of the Isles, there’s a taste of Scotland in every nip of whisky. Winding through the lush valley of the River Spey, the Malt Whisky Trail takes in behind-the scenes tours, a historic distillery and hands-on barrel-crafting sessions. 

Out on Islay, a small west-coast island, rugged bays and sheltered inlets house eight distilleries. One of the oldest in Scotland, Bowmore smokes its malt in peat-fired kilns, infusing them with flavours of smoke, salt and seaweed. 

But you needn’t travel that far from the city: Glenkinchie Distillery runs daily shuttles from Edinburgh, and Glengoyne and Auchentoshan are both an easy drive from Glasgow. Or if it’s a dreich, drizzly night, cosy up in old-school whisky pubs The Pot Still (Glasgow) or The Bow Bar (Edinburgh) for a soul-warming dram.

Thirsty for more? Check out this handy distillery guide.

Colourful wildlife

Colourful wildlife

Flamboyant Highland cows and tiny ponies may be Scotland's most iconic wildlife, but the country is also home to majestic birds of prey and thriving marine life. Time a visit for the red deer’s autumnal ruts: ranger-led trips in Wester Ross are the best way to witness the dramatic roaring and clashing of antlers. 

Stay at the Pool House, an exotically decorated loch-facing retreat where guests can watch seals from the sitting room. More easily accessible from Edinburgh, Perthshire offers deer-spotting and owl encounters with kilted rangers on 4x4 off-road safaris

From high crags to moors, the unspoilt Highlands provide a range of habitats and sanctuaries: look out for golden eagles, otters and wildcats. During the breeding season, Cape Wrath is home to a colony of puffins. Charter a boat for a chance to spot dolphins and minke, orca and sperm whales. Still looking for the elusive haggis? Kelvingrove Museum has a fairly convincing taxidermied specimen.