From the brooding castle and Robert Louis Stevenson-eque skyline to the peaceful pockets of village life, Edinburgh is the perfect place to dawdle, dream and mooch.
Edinburgh Festival Fever
For much of the year Edinburgh is a sleepy beauty. This picture-perfect cobblestone creation sometimes feels more provincial plodder than cutting-edge capital. Yet the elegant Georgian terraces of the New Town and the higgledy piggledy medieval Old Town have historic film set looks. However, in the summer it’s as if the capital wakes up, stretches and flings open the wardrobe looking for its party frock. The city sizzles, there’s dancing in the street – literally. The Royal Mile becomes a rippling river of ticket touts, impromptu street performers, jugglers, drummers and mime acts, the air filled with clapping, whooping and cheering. The crowds are crazy, the excitement infectious. This is Edinburgh’s festival season...
From the bizarre to the bonkers, top tips this year for the Edinburgh Fringe include hot new comedy sketch acts Totally Tom and Zeus' Pamphlet. Ten Plagues written by Mark Ravenhill and starring Marc Almond at the Traverse is a sought-after ticket, as is Julian Sands in a Celebration of Harold Pinter at the Pleasance directed by John Malkovich. Free Run at the Underbelly, an amazing acrobatics show is also one to watch. Tickets from the Fringe Box Office in person, online or by phone (180 High Street; 0131 226 0000; edfringe.com).
Where to Stay in Edinburgh:
Forget boutique hotels – in Edinburgh you can stay in a boutique hostel or ‘poshtel’ as it’s been dubbed, complete with a butler (a male model to boot) to bring you breakfast in bed. The Art Roch Hostel (2 West Port, Grassmarket: 0131 228 9981; artrochhostel.com) is an eclectic mix of squishy sofas, giant gilt mirrors, old piano, scuffed tiled floor and industrial-style bar. In August a bunk in an 18-bed dorm costs £25 (in September it goes back down to £11) or £50 pp in an executive room. A decanter of whisky and a jar of Scottish shortbread welcome you to the City Bothy (07971 811653; from £300-£600 per week; citybothy.com) a bijou bolthole in the heart of the New Town. Think Scandinavian-style retro chic, with wooden floors, a cool cream palette and antlers on the wall.
Where to Eat in Edinburgh:
The hottest table in town this summer is Michelin-starred Martin Wishart’s new brasserie, The Honours (58A North Castle Street; 0131 220 3523); think frothy wild mushroom bouillon followed by rabbit a la moutarde: a Scottish take on French classics. The Edinburgh chef’s Leith-based eatery is one of three with Michelin stars in the scrubbed-up-nicely docklands. (This vibrant patch also has a batch of boutique hotels and gastro-pubs.) In town, check out David Ramsden’s wallet-friendly, doggy empire. First there was The Dogs (110 Hanover Street; 0131 220 1208), tongue-in-cheek, shabby chic, with gastro-pub grub (haggis and turnip hash with fried duck egg, £5.85, and lemon, whisky and chocolate posset with an oat and ginger biscuit, £3.65). Then Italian relative Amore Dogs, moved in next door, quickly followed by Underdogs, the quirky basement bar decked out with comfy old sofas. In 2010 Seadogs (43 Rose Street; 0131 225 8028) joined the pack.
For more of the goats’ cheese cheesecake with quail’s egg and beetroot ilk head to The Saint (44 St. Stephen Street; 0131 225 9009) in a contemporary Stockbridge basement. Or how about elderflower cider pork meatballs with mustard mash, salad and lingonberry jam? Joseph Pearce (23 Elm Row; 0131 556 4140) is a Swedish-run gastro-pub on Leith Walk from the crew who brought Edinburgh eclectic little Boda Bar just down the street.
Where to Go Out in Edinburgh:
Edinburgh’s not short on funky drinking dens, but for glamour you can’t beat the Missoni Hotel on George IV Bridge: Prosecco on tap – you’ve got to love that – and doormen in Missoni kilts. Other cocktail hour hotspots: for people-watching, Dragonfly’s balcony in the Grassmarket (52 West Port; 0131 228 4543); for music (DJs on Fridays and Saturdays), lounging on beds in the tiny nooks and crannies and margaritas in teacups, hip basement dive Bramble (16A Queen Street, 0131 226 6343). In late-night hideaway, The Raconteur (50 Dean Street, Stockbridge; 0131 343 3221), sexy barmen chip ice from huge blocks retro-style as you recline on plush velvet. For more bling, hit Georgian George Street and the Opal Lounge’s dance floor (51A George St; 0131 226 2275).
Where to Shop in Edinburgh:
The usual high street suspects line Princes Street and George Street (Anthropologie has just made it north of the border). For designer gear teeter along to Harvey Nicks on St Andrews Square; Multrees Walk, the alleyway down one side is home to Emporio Armani, Mulberry, Replay and G-Star. For indie boutiques, homespun Scottish labels and vintage chic head to the Grassmarket. Totty Rocks is the place for frocks and girly glamour (40 Victoria St; 0131 226 3232) designed in the studio upstairs by two fashion grads from Edinburgh’s College of Art.
Check out the trimly tailored macs with lovely linings. Godiva (9 West Port, Grassmarket; 0131 221 9212) mixes vintage with a made-to-measure service. Dress designs range from 50s-style Rose to a 70s-inspired pussy bow necktie frock. With its red shop front and gold columns strung with bunting, Armstrongs (Grassmarket; 0131 220 5557) is Edinburgh’s largest vintage clothing emporium, an Aladdin’s cave stretching back through rails of kilts, wedding dresses, cowboy boots and tutus. While in leafy Bruntsfield you’ve got Fifi Wilson (181 Bruntsfield Place; 0131 228 2929) for Bella Freud, Marc by Marc Jacobs and Odd Molly.
What to Wear in Edinburgh:
A kilt, of course. Everyone wears tartan in Scotland. Honest. And a ginger wigged Tam O’Shanter. Seriously, flats – you could break an ankle on those cobbles. Pack a mac and a little cardie and you’re good to go.
Don’t Leave Without:
Tucking into a pot of porridge. Forget burger vans, the mobile Stoats Porridge Bar at Edinburgh Farmers Market (Castle Terrace) below the castle each Saturday always has a hungry queue.
Beauty SOS – Where to Go for Pampering in Edinburgh:
Flip flop over to One Spa on top of the Sheraton Hotel (1 Festival Square; 0131 221 7777) for a hedonistic splurge. As well as lush spa treatments there’s a rooftop hydropool with body-pummelling water jets and indulgent thermal suite complete with hammam, gently heated laconium, sauna, rainforest showers, aroma grotto and Cleopatra baths to wallow in). Heaven…