Spending a Weekend in Edinburgh

The Dugald Stewart Monument & National Monument, Calton Hill, Edinburgh

The Dugald Stewart Monument & National Monument, Calton Hill, Edinburgh

by David Wheater

However long you're in Edinburgh for, you'll never be stuck for things to do in and around the city. Scotland's beautiful capital has everything you might want to do in your spare time and it's a city that's very easy to get around on foot or by public transport.

Edinburgh is a fantastic place to spend a few days. From the aesthetic delights of its architecture, to countryside just on your doorstep; from its vibrant nightlife to its cosmopolitan artistic culture, you're simply spoilt for choice for things to do. For three amazing weeks in the summer, the city famously hosts the largest arts extravaganza in the world: the Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Festival Fringe, making Edinburgh the only place to be in August.

So, how to spend a long weekend in Edinburgh? Here's a few suggestions...

A wander through the architectural heart of Edinburgh, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, will take you on a fascinating historical journey. There's an eclectic mix of architectures, from the medieval Old Town through to the Georgian New Town, with an amazing variety of modern architecture in between. Why not climb the volcanic plug Arthur’s Seat for a view of the dramatic new Scottish Parliament building? Or take your bike down one of the cycle paths along the Union Canal or Water of Leith for a coffee or some lunch at The Shore?

Or how about a walk at low tide out to Cramond Island in the Firth of Forth, or a promenade at beautiful South Queensferry or along Portobello Beach? Further afield, you can climb the Pentland Hills at Balerno, or take the ferry under the famous Forth Bridges and out to Inchcolm Island with its medieval abbey, puffins and seals. Or, if suitably qualified, hire a canoe and paddle yourself out into the Firth of Forth for a truly bracing view of the Forth bridges, including the stunning new Queensferry Crossing road bridge.

To feel really at home in Edinburgh, take a Sunday stroll around the world famous Royal Botanic Garden at Inverleith, or visit the stunning National Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street, which showcases tens of thousands of Scotland’s most precious artefacts. Alternatively, visit The Gallery of Modern Art, where you can explore sculptures by Hepworth, Paolozzi, Hamilton Finlay and Moore. The Gallery of Modern Art has a particularly beautiful landform sculpture to the front of the building by celebrated landscape designer Charles Jencks.

If you love contemporary art, you might also like to visit Jupiter Artland, located in Wilkieston just a few miles west of the city. They too have a superb Jencks landscape installation, plus lots of interesting sculptures in the estate grounds and a great cafe.

For a fantastic education in zoology and wildlife conservation visit Edinburgh Zoo at Corstorphine, one of the leading zoos for animal conservation and science in the world. Children and adults alike will love the daily 'Penguins Parade' and animal handling classes, which not only entertain, but educate in an exciting and fun way for the whole family.

No visit to Edinburgh would be truly complete, however, without a visit to Edinburgh Castle, with its fascinating, if not sobering, military museums. Scotland’s Crown Jewels are displayed here, which are well worth a look. Make sure you check out the views from the ramparts to truly see the city at its best. Just before 1pm, however, make sure you put your hands over your ears - it’ll make you jump (you’ll know what I mean when you hear it!). Alternatively, take a trip to the fringes of the city and visit the wonderful ruins of Craigmillar Castle, much loved by Mary, Queen of Scots.

Eating wise, Edinburgh has more restaurants per head of population than any other city outside London. If you're after a great breakfast, why not visit The Huxley in Rutland Street at the West End, or The Gardener's Cottage along London Road. For afternoon tea you can't beat Colonnades at the Signet Library on The Royal Mile, or Palm Court at The Balmoral Hotel on Princes Street. For an evening meal to remember, visit the truly magical Witchery by the Castle, or the fabulous Michelin-starred Kitchin in Leith - experiences you'll remember for many years to come.

In the evening, visit the Traverse Theatre for ground-breaking drama, the Usher Hall for classical music, or take a walk up to The Filmhouse on Lothian Road and join the thousands of people who adore this celebrated home of art-house film. For comedy, The Stand Comedy Club in York Place is sure to guarantee a few hours filled with laughter and fun. If music is your thing, why not hang out in the Jazz Bar in Chambers Street and listen to some mellow blues or heart-rending jazz? If your taste is more traditional, then visit Sandy Bell's or The Royal Oak in the Old Town and join a few fiddlers and a bodran player for the craic.

If you’re feeling particularly brave, why not have a few pints in The Banshee Labyrinth in Niddry Street - Scotland’s most haunted pub. Afterwards take a tour of the very spooky Niddry Street Vaults. I dare you to step inside the circle - you’ll know what I mean when you get there (personally I wouldn’t!). If you’re not freaked out yet, sign up for the Greyfriars Kirkyard tour and come face to face with the Mackenzie Poltergeist (I’m very much a sceptic, but personally find the area around his tomb unpleasant). Tours can be booked with www.auldreekietours.com .

If you're into gigs then check out the local website www.rippingrecords.com for all the latest gigs and tickets. And, as for nightclubs, the city is your oyster! If you're up for dancing the night away you can't beat Cabaret Voltaire in Blair Street. If you've a thing for cocktails, try the seriously cool Voodoo Rooms in West Register Street, or the elegant Juniper at 20 Princes Street. Both a fantastic way to finish off any evening.

Whatever your taste, Edinburgh, the cultural capital of Scotland, will have it. Seek and ye shall find!

If you’d like to uncover some of the city’s hidden gems, off the beaten track, why not take my private Edinburgh photography tour. The tour lasts three hours and we visit some of Edinburgh’s best kept secrets. Get your camera ready!