Inspire me – Edinburgh

Trains from London to Edinburgh from just £29.50*

Befitting its status as Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh has an impressive range of attractions to visit, events to attend (including 10 major festivals every year – not for nothing is Edinburgh known as the ‘City of Festivals’) and places to stay.

Unmissable places to visit include the castle, dominating the skyline, and the Royal Mile that runs from the castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, past shops, bars, restaurants, museums and the Scottish Parliament. On the other side of the railway line from the Old Town lies the New Town, laid out in Georgian style, with its museums, bars and exclusive shopping.

Whatever time of the year you visit, there’s plenty to see and do in Edinburgh.

Things to do in Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s Old Town, the historic heart of Edinburgh, is only a few minutes’ walk from Edinburgh Waverley station, though it is steeply uphill – the station is in a valley between the Old and New Towns, with the Old Town on a hill next to the prominence of Edinburgh Castle.

Dominating Edinburgh Old Town is Edinburgh Castle. The castle is perched on the remains of an ancient volcano and houses Scotland’s Crown Jewels, the Scottish National War Memorial, the Scottish Military Museum, and St Margaret’s Chapel, to name a few. Six days a week (Monday to Saturday), the one o’clock gun is fired from the castle over the city to the north, so that mariners can set their timepieces. Though quite expensive, the castle is an essential visit on a tour of Edinburgh, as much for the views of the city as for what it contains. Stretching down from the castle for nearly a mile to the Palace of Holyroodhouse (and the Scottish Parliament) is the Royal Mile.

Edinburgh has over 20 fabulous museums and galleries to see and visit. The National Galleries of Scotland are housed in three separate galleries across the city centre: the main National Gallery Complex on Princes Street, only a few minutes’ walk from Edinburgh Waverley railway station, houses Scotland’s collection of fine art from the Renaissance to the 19th century. Art by Raphael, Rubens, Van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne, Degas and Gauguin, as well as paintings by leading Scottish artists including Ramsay, Raeburn and Wilkie is featured. Admission is free. The Scottish National Portrait Gallery and Modern Art Galleries – both just a few minutes away – are also part of the National Galleries of Scotland.

The National Museum of Scotland traces the development of Scotland from the Kingdom of the Scots, to Union with England, the Industrial Revolution and right up to the 20thcentury (including Jackie Stewart’s Formula 1 car!). Admission is free. Within Edinburgh Castle is the National War Museum, showcasing 400 years of military history; admission is included within the entry fee to Edinburgh Castle. And about 10 miles east of Edinburgh at a former second world war airfield is the excellent National Museum of Flight with Concorde and a wide display of historic aircraft. Other museums worth visiting include the Museum of Childhood, the Museum of Edinburgh, the Museum on the Mound(all about money!) and Dynamic Earth, showing how the world (and particularly the ancient, extinct, volcanoes on which Edinburgh is built) have been created by forces of nature. Admission to all of them is free.

A good way to get a feel for what Edinburgh has to offer is to go on an open top bus tour.Edinburgh Tour has three main routes (all start from Waverley Bridge, right next to the station and take just under an hour), as well as a vintage bus tour and a combined bus / ferry tour. All tours have multilingual audio guides, and also ‘Horrible Histories’ alternative audio guides – perfect for keeping the kids entertained!

There is a truly fantastic and varied selection of bars and restaurants to visit in Edinburgh – far too many to list anything other than a tiny selection here. Rose Street in the New Town is famous for its pubs, and Grassmarket and Victoria Street in the Old Town also have a good selection of bars and pubs. The Royal Mile (which turns into Canongate) has a wide selection of bars and pubs of course, but then you’ll find pretty much everywhere does.

Pubs worth visiting include the Halfway House (full of old railway signs), halfway up the steps of Fleshmarket close, the Last Drop, site of Edinburgh’s last hanging, and the White Hart Inn, Edinburgh’s oldest pub.

For fine dining, visit the Witchery, right next to the castle, Creelers (specialists in seafood) or The Grain Store.

A visit to Edinburgh really wouldn’t be complete without some whisky tasting with an expert, a visit to a distillery or, preferably, both! If you want to try the taste of a variety of whiskies with expert guidance, you should try the Jolly Toper Whisky Tastings at the Tolbooth Tavern in Canongate (generally every other Thursday, £17, booking essential). Sessions are led by an expert and usually feature unusual and rare whiskies in a small group of just 10 to 15 people. Cadenhead’s Whisky Shop, just opposite the Tolbooth Tavern, sells a fantastic range of whiskies and is well worth a visit for the expert advice on offer.

Bars with good whisky selections include the WHISKI bar and restaurant, the Bow Bar (with a collection of over 150 single malt whiskies) on Victoria Street, just below the castle, the Abbotsford on Rose Street and the Albanach, on the Royal Mile just below the castle. There are no distilleries within Edinburgh city that you can visit, but it’s well worth taking the short journey out to Edinburgh’s nearest distillery, at Glenkinchie (15 miles east); tours start from just £6.

Scotland is famous for its links golf courses, and Edinburgh is within an easy train ride of several of the most famous courses in the world, including St Andrews, the home of golf (take the train to Leuchars from where there is a connecting bus), Gleneagles, which will host the 2014 Ryder Cup (direct trains leave both Edinburgh Waverley and Haymarket every hour) and Muirfield (take the train to North Berwick). Further afield there’s easy access to Carnoustie (which has its own railway station) and courses near to Glasgow.  In Edinburgh itself, there are several easy to access courses within the city – try Duddingston, Braid Hills (with superb views over the city) or Prestonfield, though there are many more.

Edinburgh events

Sometimes it can seem that there is hardly a time of year when there isn’t a festival or major event taking place in Edinburgh. But that does mean that there’s almost always something for everyone – Edinburgh is, quite rightly, called the ‘City of Festivals’, with over 10 major festivals every year.

Amazingly, 2011 marks the 65th Edinburgh International Film Festival, which has taken place every summer since 1947. Films premiered at past Edinburgh International Film Festivals include Dr ZhivagoTaxi DriverBlade RunnerBack to the FuturePulp Fictionand The Hurt Locker. This is your chance to attend premieres, mix with stars at parties (in 2010 Sean Connery, Tilda Swinton and Seamus McGarvey were present) and see a wide range of British and world films.

The annual Jazz and Blues Festival is a celebration of all styles of jazz and blues, from the traditional to the contemporary. Taking place at a wide range of venues – from the small and cosy to the large and modern, as well as outdoors in parks – across the city, the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival is great value (most events are very reasonably priced, and some are free) and packed with variety and interest.

First staged in 1950, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo has been seen all over the world against the spectacular backdrop of Edinburgh Castle and fireworks by night. The Tattoo has not once been cancelled since 1950, and has hosted regiments from 40 countries all over the world over the years. Each year the contributing regiments differ; this year the massed bands of the Royal Marines, the Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland and, of course, the Massed Pipes and Drums are featured.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world, with over 2,000 different shows giving over 35,000 different performances all across Edinburgh. Whether you like comedy, theatre, music, dance, opera or want to entertain the children, you’ll find loads to see and do at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Featuring three weeks of international opera, theatre, music, dance and visual arts from Scotland and, for 2011, Asia, Edinburgh International Festival is the original Edinburgh festival, first held in 1947. The festival makes use of all six of Edinburgh’s main theatres and concert halls, as well as many smaller venues.

The world’s largest book festival is the Edinburgh International Book Festival, with hundreds of events, readings, competitions, awards and opportunities to meet authors. The festival includes a Children’s Programme, which showcases leading children’s writers and illustrators and includes book signings, workshops and storytelling.

Every New Year 100,000 people gather in the streets (and bars and pubs, of course!) of Edinburgh city centre to celebrate and usher in the New Year, at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay. The street party has a fantastic atmosphere with fireworks, entertainers, concerts and even a keilidh.

Travel and transport in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is served by two railway stations: the enormous Edinburgh Waverley, which is the main station and is perfectly situated for visiting all the major tourist attractions and shopping areas, situated as it is between the New Town and Old Town; and EdinburghHaymarket (sometimes just Haymarket), which is in the West End of Edinburgh.

All trains to Edinburgh call at Edinburgh Waverley, and the station is well-served by ScotRail, East Coast, Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry and TransPennine Express:

  • East Coast operate direct services from London to Edinburgh at least every hour (at peak times, every 30 minutes) calling at York and Newcastle, with many also stopping at Peterborough, Doncaster and Darlington. Some of these continue to Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness. All trains operated by East Coast to Edinburgh have WiFi on board
  • Avanti West Coast operate direct services from Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Crewe, Warrington, Wigan, Preston, Lancaster, the Lake District and Carlisle to Edinburgh every two hours. These trains also have WiFi on board
  • CrossCountry operate direct trains from Plymouth, Exeter, Taunton, Bristol, Cheltenham, Birmingham, Derby, Sheffield, Leeds, York, Darlington, Durham, Newcastle and Berwick-upon-Tweed every hour. A few of these continue to Glasgow, Dundee or Aberdeen, or even start in Penzance
  • TransPennine Express operate direct services from Manchester approximately every two hours, calling at Bolton, Preston, Lancaster, the Lake District (either Oxenholme or Penrith) and Carlisle
  • ScotRail operates all domestic services in Scotland, connecting Edinburgh with Glasgow every 15 minutes, as well as operating frequent services to Stirling, Perth, Inverness, Fife, Dundee and Aberdeen

All trains that head west out of Edinburgh Waverley call also at Edinburgh Haymarket, which is just 4 minutes by train (and about 1.5 miles away). That means almost all ScotRail services to the rest of Scotland, Avanti West Coast services to Birmingham, First TransPennine Express services to Manchester, and East Coast and CrossCountry services from England that continue on to other destinations in Scotland.

You can book train tickets online with MyTrainTicket, check train times and train fares for all UK train operating companies.

If you’re flying to Scotland, Edinburgh is easily accessible from the airport, located just 8 miles west of the city centre. With no train station at the airport, the Airlink 100 bus service regularly runs between the airport and Edinburgh Waverley and Haymarket stations. There are also many regular buses into the city but, if you’d like the freedom of your own transport, there are a number of car hire companies based at the airport.

Other information about Edinburgh

If the hustle and bustle of city life isn’t for you, then visit the Lothians – Edinburgh’s surrounding countryside and coastlines.

East Lothian is the ideal place to escape from city life. With peaceful and unspoil beaches, East Lothian is the perfect place to unwind. Take in over 40 miles of coastline, rolling hills, incredible cliffs and of course for the avid golfer, plenty of golf courses! If you’re visiting the Edinburgh area but don’t want to stay in the city, then East Lothian is a good base to explore from.

Less than 10 miles south of Edinburgh city centre, Midlothian is probably the best known, mainly as a movie backdrop for the Da Vinci Code. The Rosslyn Chapel, a medieval stone building with fantastic Gothic stone carvings has made Midlothian famous! However, the area has far more to offer; beautiful countryside, medieval castles or even just a stroll through the woodlands.

Finally, but by no means the lesser of the Lothian counties, West Lothian has a fantastic array of activities and adventures on offer. Visit Cairnpapple and Linlithgow Palaces, the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots – where history comes alive!

*Price based on cheapest available one way Standard Class Advance ticket,excluding £1.50 booking fee per transaction. Based on payment with a debit card and ticket collection from a self-service ticket machine at the station (free of charge).

* Savings not available on all routes. Savings only available on Advance fares.

† Fares sourced from www.MyTrainTicket.co.uk. Prices based on cheapest available one way Standard Class Advance ticket, excluding booking fees. Prices are based on payment with a debit card and ticket collection from the station. Saving calculated against cheapest fare available on the day.