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On a tight schedule? Here’s where to start in the Scottish capital. Trust us, you’ll want to return. Words: Laura Chubb

Edinburgh is an almost unanimously loved city, one of Europe’s most beautiful and – luckily for us – easy to access. The most visited tourist destination in the UK after London, it’s as historically and culturally rich as the Big Smoke we call home, and – dare we say it – perhaps more picturesque. If you’ve only got a couple of days to explore, these are our top five must-dos. You’ll be back for more, guaranteed.

Arthur’s Seat

What: Think of Edinburgh and what might not immediately spring to mind is a volcano. Presiding over Edinburgh’s skyline, this craggy peak was formed when a glacier eroded an extinct lava-spewer about 350 million years ago. 
Why: At 823ft high, Arthur’s Seat doesn’t pose too tough a climb, but it does afford an incredible view of the city below.
Fact: Arthur’s Seat is also known by the less fortunate name of ‘Pratt’s Hill’. This is because in 1840, Mormon apostle Orson Pratt travelled to Edinburgh and found only eight members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So he climbed the hill and asked the Lord to give him 200 souls to convert. Apparently it worked out.
See: edinburgh.org 

Mary King’s Close

What: An underground warren in Edinburgh’s Old Town said to be haunted by plague victims who were walled up in the close in the 1600s and left to die. 
Why: A tour of Mary King’s Close gives a fascinating insight into life in the city between the 16th and 19th centuries. Walking the dark, spooky passages with a costumed guide is a nerve-jangling experience, and you’ll be told more than your fair share of ghost stories and urban legends, too. Tours end October 31 until August.
Fact: People have reported scratching noises coming from inside a chimney on Mary King’s Close, where a child chimney sweep is said to have died. The Close has even featured on TV’s Most Haunted.
See:realmarykingsclose.com

Hogmanay

What: The Scots like to do New Year properly – and that means a three-day party called Hogmanay, starting on New Year’s Eve and soldiering on into January 2.
Why: Huge street parties, fireworks displays, an atmospheric ‘torchlight procession’ and live bands all feature. This year, Primal Scream are performing an open-air gig, during which they will play their 1991 album Screamadelica in its entirety to mark its 20th anniversary.
Fact: The Loony Dook is a tradition that sees more than 1000 ‘loonies’ jump into the freezing waters of the Forth Estuary in an attempt to numb their New Year’s Day hangovers.
See: edinburghshogmanay.org

Edinburgh Castle

What: OK, we had to mention it. Set atop the volcanic Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle has been a royal residence since the 12th century. It’s the city’s most iconic edifice.
Why: Try to time your visit for around 1pm, when a field gun inside the castle walls blasts a round of shellfire to mark the hour (every day except Sunday). A memorial bench to commemorate Tam the Gun, a sergeant who fired the ‘One O’Clock Gun’ for 27 years before he died of cancer, is the best place to sit for an eardrum-splitting.
Fact: King James IV spied on subjects gathered in the castle’s Great Hall through a specially designed barred window above the fireplace. When Mikhail Gorbachev was set to visit the castle in 1984, the KGB asked that the window be bricked up for security purposes. Hmmm.
See: edinburghcastle.gov.uk

The Scotch Whisky Experience

What: Riding a whisky barrel through a replica distillery is just one of many highlights over the course of this tour. You’ll be taken on a sensory journey of discovery, appreciating the sights, sounds and smells of whisky production. It ends with a peek at the world’s largest collection of Scotch Malt Whisky and includes a free dram.
Why: Really? You need more convincing?
Fact: When whisky is distilled, it is completely colourless. The colour comes from the casks in which it matures.
See: scotchwhiskyexperience.co.uk

Where to eat 

Fishers Bistro has three outlets around town, all serving up great seafood for a range of budgets. Mains start from less than £10. (fisherbistros.co.uk)

Mum’s does a foolproof line in comfort staples such as sausage and mash and Scottish venison pie. Even better, it uses fresh local produce. Mains barely creep above a tenner. (monstermashcafe.co.uk)

Where to drink

A unique pub made up of tiny, crooked rooms brimming with antique bric-a-brac, the Canny Man’s should be a tourist attraction in itself. (237 Morningside Rd)

The backpacker bar of choice, Last Drop is an enjoyably rowdy spot to get sociable. (74 Grassmarket)

Where to sleep

High Street Hostel’s central location, pretty 16th-century building and unfailingly clean rooms all get the thumbs up. There are communal pub crawls on Thursday nights. Dorm beds start about £12 a night. (highstreethostel.com)

Just a 10-minute stroll from Leith’s waterfront in the northeast of town, The Sandaig is a cosy guesthouse in a Victorian terrace. Double rooms from £65pn. (sandaigguesthouse.co.uk)

Getting there

Trains from London King’s Cross to Edinburgh start around £114.60 for a return ticket (eastcoast.co.uk). Direct return flights start around £54 with easyJet (easyjet.co.uk).


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