Edinburgh is one of the neatest capital cities of Europe, and one of my personal favorite places. As the capital of Scotland for nearly six hundred years, with a long tradition prior to this, the city has a vibrant historic district. But, like Prague, Edinburgh has kept up with the times leaving the city a beautiful mix of new and old. The city has undergone many periods of cultural advancement, and during the Enlightenment of the 18th century the city experienced an unprecedented wave of intellectual, scientific, and architectural accomplishments which bestowed upon the city the nickname of 'Athens of the North.'
Edinburgh is truly a city rich in culture. The city hosts the worlds biggest performing arts festival every year, seeing rising stars from all over the world with millions in attendence. The international festival, or Fringe Festival, is held for 25 days annually beginning in August with hundreds of venues scattered throughout the city hosting shows ranging from stand-up comedy to Shakespeare. Not only are there literally hundreds of things to choose from each day, but there are nonstop streets shows and the city just comes alive with lively frivolity. If you are able to make it to Edinbrugh during the festival, even if just for a day, you won't regret it. Definitely the best time to visit the city. But, if you find yourself there any other 11 months out of the year fear not because there is always something to do in Edinburgh, whether its live music, theater, historic sights, pubs and nightclubs, or even climbing a mountain! How many major cities can boast a mountain within reach of the downtown? The city's beautiful natural setting is one of the qualities that sets it apart from all others. With the North Sea hugging the city's north side, and straddled by hills and mountains to the south, the bustling city gives the impression of desolate countryside, despite it's more than half a million inhabitants.
Edinburgh Castle- A royal castle from the 12th century until the Union of the Crowns in 1603. A gigantic castle grounds that could easily take you a day to roam and gaze upon it all. There are wide ranging periods of construction and reconstruction making up the castle, with a 12th century chapel marking it's earliest known period. The castle houses several museums and galleries, as well as the Scottish Crown jewels. Absolutely must see when visiting Edinburgh, spend at least a couple of hours roaming the complex.
Palace of the Holyrood House- Official royal residence of her majesty the Queen in Scotland, and royal residence for Scottish monarchs for generations. Mary Queen of Scots is the most famous visitor to the Palace during the mid-sixteen century. The palace, gardens, and adjacent ruined abbey are beautiful and an importance piece of Scottish history.
St. Giles Cathedral- The center of the Church of Scotland, this cathedral is a unique piece of Scottish architecture and definitely worth peeking inside for it's intricate wood and stone carvings and colorful banners lining the old nave.
Arthur's Seat- The main peak of hills in the center of the city formed from an ancient volcano. The peak's name apparently has links to legends pertaining to King Arthur, and serves as one of Edinburgh's most iconic and traversed sights. From the top you have excellent panoramic views of Edinburgh, as well as the sea and surrounding countryside. If you have more than a day or two this is a must do. If you're even relatively fit you should be able to be up and down in less than two hours. The best way to get up the hill is from the base near the Palace of Holyrood House (you'll always see people walking up the path from there, if not just ask).
Calton Hill- Another large hill in the center of the city, giving one another great persepctive of the city, particularly the castle and old town. The hill also houses some of Edinburgh's iconic monuments such as the National Monument, Nelson Monument, Robbie Burns Monument, and the City Observatory. Well worth a visit.
Scott Monument- Dedicated to Sir Walter Scott this is a really neat Victorian gothic structure adding to the already rich city scape. The monument is right on princess st in the middle of town, which offers more great views from the top.
There are so many other great things to see in Edinburgh, but depending on how much time you have, even this short list will keep you busy. My favorite thing to do in Edinburgh is just cruise the streets and stumble onto local corner pubs or side streets I've never seen before. It's a great city to wander.
Edinburgh has a wide selection of accommodation from the ritzy Balmoral to the high st Hostel. I've never stayed in a dirty or unsafe place in Edinburgh. I usually stay in the hostels but last time I was lucky enough to stay in Ramsay; 18th century private apartments adjacent to the castle overlooking the entire city. If you ever get the opportunity to have a couple nights here you'll never want to stay anywhere else. So a list of suggestions and info for places to stay.
Ramsay Gardens- beautiful 18th century apartments next to the castle, pricey but great stay.
Brodie's high st Hostel- cheap, clean, and well staffed hostel located right on the royal Mile.
BudgetBackpackers- Great value for your money. Clean, cheap, and great location. More of a younger person hostel, usually lots of partiers and a good deal of noise at night for its location on Grassmarket. But if you want to have a fun time it's a great hostel.
Hostelbookers.com- much better site than Hostelworld. No fee's and no BS.
AirBnB.com -great website to find quality cheap rooms
Like I said I've never stayed in any shady place in Edinburgh EXCEPT for one, a crazy little place called the Art House on 20 Gilmore Place. The landlord, secretary, cleaning lady, and security guard named only JonJo is a crazy Scotsman with a loaded gun. Not sure if he is on medication or what but he's seriously a nut job and you'll wish you never stayed here.
As I already tried to impress upon you earlier this city has plentyy of opporunity for entertainment. I've already discussed a few spots worth hitting but I'll make a short list here of places I would recommend going for varied scenes of entertainment.
WHISKI bar- My favorite bar in Edinburgh. Live celtic folk music every night and a menu full of premium whiskey's
Grassmarket and Cowgate St- Always full of bars and clubs with different kinds of music so just have a mozy about these streets if you feel like seeing what's out there.
Doctor's Pub- A great pub for a chill drink or a more lively scene on the weekends.
City- As one of Edinburgh's largest clubs it's a good spot to hit if you're in that sort of clubbing mood.
Departure Lounge- A subterranean venue that brings something unique to the music scene with some 70's funk, world grooves, and left field electronica.
Black Bull Tavern- little corner pub with a healthy local crowd.