There’s plenty to love about Scotland’s ancient capital, from swish cocktail bars in historical landmarks and quirky museums to volcano climbing and secret caves. Here’s how to spend 24 hours in Edinburgh.
Valvona and Crolla
Hailed a Scottish icon, alongside Irn Bru and Walkers’ Shortbread, this 80-year-old Italian deli on Elm Row is the only place to start your day. Stacked floor-to-ceiling with Italian deliciousness, it also has a café serving classic Scottish brekkie and Panettone in Carozza: deep-fried panettone dipped in egg, dusted in cinnamon and served with cream. What’s not to like about that? Tank up on super-strength Italian espresso and la dolce vita.
Climb: St Arthur’s Seat
You know what’s coming – a panettone-stuffed climb to St Arthur’s Seat. And the kids in One Day made it look so easy. While 822ft sounds daunting, it’s worth it for the panoramic views that stretch out for miles. Legend has it that Edinburgh’s only volcano is a sleeping dragon and that washing your face in its dew makes you more beautiful. Can’t promise that, but will see plenty of wildlife, heather during summer months and beautiful volcanic geology.
Eat: Scran and Scallie
One of the best restaurants in Edinburgh and the love-child of superstar chefs Tom Kitchin and Dominic Jack, this is high-end restaurant food in low-key pub surroundings. Meaning ‘Food and Scallywag’, the pub offers all the greats: ham and eggs, cauliflower cheese, Cullen Skink using smoked haddock and mussels, cottage pie and chips. Leave room for dessert. There’s sticky toffee pudding to try, and it’s not like the one you had at school.
Marvel: National Museum Scotland
Remember Dolly the Sheep? She was the first creature to be cloned in a test tube. She now resides at the National Museum of Scotland, albeit stuffed and in a display case, poor lamb. Visit her and check out the other vast collections too, including a T-Rex skeleton and inventions from throughout the ages. Ride the lift to the seventh floor and find one of the best central vantage points in the city.
Wince: Surgeons Hall Museum
As you approach, you’ll see a sinewy hand rising from the ground, clutching a saw. Heed: (not Scottish for head) it’s not for the faint-hearted. The museum, one of the best things to do in Edinburgh, is a warts-and-all display of surgery and the human body, with organs floating in jars, skeletons and archaic surgical instruments. The attached dentists’ museum is no less eye-watering. The museum is fascinating, and you’ll be grateful for Scotland’s immense contribution to the field.
Percolate: Brew Lab
You’ll need a strong brew after that, and Brew Lab has perfected the art. Taking a scientific approach to coffee, it produces the perfect cup from its shiny, Seattle-built machines. Each uses its own appropriate bean and grind types, and the filter coffee even has its own special filter paper to ‘balance the brew’. If you’re smitten, pop into their training lab to polish up your barista skills.
Boggle: Camera Obscura and World of Illusions
Sitting pretty near Edinburgh Castle, nobody would suspect the psychedelia waiting inside. Make yourself look like a baby, turn into a giant or become part of a roast dinner with some clever optical illusions. There’s also a mind-altering time tunnel and the camera obscura itself, which projects the entire skyline from a huge Victorian dome to a viewing board. No wizardry, just mirrors. Clever, eh?
Scare: The Real Mary King close
As darkness falls, explore the city’s secret streets. Mary King’s Close was once a bustling part of Edinburgh’s Old Town but was sealed off 400 years ago. Rumour has it that plague victims were bricked-up inside their own houses, bringing tales of rampant ghostly activity, whether you believe that or not it’s still a truly fascinating place. Poignant, frozen in time and with actors bringing real residents to life.
Slurp: The White Horse Oyster Bar
Go for a bivalve blowout on the site of Edinburgh’s oldest inn. The 17th-century White Horse Inn on the Royal Mile is now a freshly shucked oyster bar serving premium seafood and shellfish. There’s a swanky new green marble bar from which to slurp oysters and an impressive menu of handcrafted cocktails too.
Drink: The Devil's Advocate
Wend your way down Advocate Close to this former Victorian pump house. It serves more than 200 different types of whiskey, plus a massive selection of beers and cocktails within it vast, stone walls. The best way to taste local liquor without tourist prices, plus it’s usually buzzing with locals in the know. A good sign.
Flail: The Ghillie Dhu
It’s probably something you’ll only ever do in Scotland, but Ceilidh (kay-lee) dances are a gift to the uncoordinated. Essentially you fling yourself around a room, linking arms with other people and making yourself dizzy. The later it is, and the more mal-coordinated you are, the better. The gorgeous Ghillie Dhu pub has resurrected the tradition, served with excellent beer.
Sleep: G and V Hotel
Head back to the dazzling G and V Hotel in the old town for a snooze. You’ll be bowled over by this colourful masterpiece, designed by Missoni. The patterns and colours, from the doorman’s kilts to placemats in the restaurant, are stunning. And the walk-in rain showers, Nespresso machines and iPads in each room aren’t too bad either. Proper Scottish brekkie and Italian coffee await in the morning.
Good to know
Edinburgh’s a great starting point for day trips, from dry ski slopes to Cramond Ghost Island. Gilmerton Cove is easy to reach - a network of seven chambers and passages underneath the Edinburgh suburb of Gilmerton. Nobody knows whey they are there or what they are for. A place for quiet drinking? A smugglers’ lair? You decide.