Edinburgh is where old meets new. The storybook Old Town, which has seen generations of monarchs gain and lose power from the perch of one of Europe’s most impressive castles, intersects with New Town, where a new guard of writers, chefs and distillers are writing fresh chapters on Scotland’s history. Here you can explore the National Galleries in the morning, and the world-renowned Edinburgh Fringe in the afternoon.
In the heart of hip New Town, with a view of that dazzling castle, the Kimpton Charlotte Square Hotel allows you to write your own story—with a little bit of modern-day magic. With 184 rooms and 15 suites in seven interconnecting Georgian townhouses—including No. 33, a hotel within the hotel if you require more privacy—you can experience Edinburgh’s historical charm while enjoying Kimpton’s modern amenities. Within blocks of the must-see sights, as well as many under-the-radar treasures, it’s the ideal home base to choose your own adventure in Edinburgh.
Walk in the Royals’ Shoes
Walk in the footsteps of centuries of monarchs along the Royal Mile between the domineering 12th century Edinburgh Castle and Palace of Holyrood House, the Queen’s official Edinburgh residence. Tour the castle to see the Crown Jewels worn by Mary Queen of Scots and the ancient Stone of Destiny, which is still used in coronations. Continue downhill through Old Town toward the palace, which is open to the public when not being used by the royal family. Nearby, hike Arthur’s Seat, the highest point on a 251-meter extinct volcano, for breathtaking views; there are several levels of hikes from the palace and Parliament.
When in Scotland, royalty—both real and golf royalty—play at St. Andrews, less than two hours by car or train from Edinburgh, but locals head just 10 minutes south of the city center to Bruntsfield Links, which is open to the public.
For a different perspective far from the royal splendor, go underground. When South Bridge was completed in 1788, the vaults under the bridge’s 19 arches were used as storage for businesses above ground. As the city grew, conditions deteriorated, making them ground zero for the usual red-light district activities as well as disease and even murders. To explore this hidden history, take a history tour or ghost tour of the vaults. Other less-expected places include:
- Bannerman’s, a gritty bar in the vaults loved by locals for live rock and whisky
- The Jazz Bar, an intimate basement venue for Scottish and international jazz, blues, soul and funk
- Panda & Sons for speakeasy cocktails
Scotland’s Literary Capital
J.K. Rowling may be Edinburgh’s most financially successful author, but she was by no means the first. The moment you see Scott Monument, the towering memorial to Sir Walter Scott (Ivanhoe), you know Edinburgh reveres its authors. Harry Potter fans must have a coffee at The Elephant House, where Rowling dreamed up her magical world, but all readers can get lost in Edinburgh’s many bookshops, like McNaughtan’s, Scotland’s oldest second-hand bookshop with many rare books, or Lighthouse, which calls itself a “radical” bookstore specializing in left-wing politics and activism. Aspiring Rowlings shouldn’t miss the free Writers’ Museum, dedicated to Scott, Robert Burns, and Robert Louis Stevenson, or the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which brings literary icons from around the world to Charlotte Square Gardens every August.
Edinburgh’s culinary scene is so much more than haggis and whisky—especially in New Town. (Though you can find those Scottish essentials, too.) And Edinburgh’s top tables—cozy bistros and imaginative tasting menus alike—feature local, seasonal seafood, meat and produce. In addition to BABA for Mediterranean mezze, notables within blocks of Charlotte Square include:
- Café St. Honore, a local favorite for classic French fare
- The Table, billed as an “interactive fine-dining experience” at one 10-seater table
- SIX by NICO, showcasing a new tasting menu every six weeks inspired by locations (“Middle East” or “Paris”) or themes (“The 70s” or “Childhood 2.0”)
After dinner, New Town has noteworthy nightlife, too. Visit whisky cocktail paradise The Devil’s Advocate or The Oxford Bar, which avoids being a tourist trap despite being made famous by crime novelist Ian Rankin.
Away from the tourist drag, those in-the-know urge a trip to Morningside for the quintessential pub experience at The Canny Man’s. The circa 1871 pub has 250 whiskies and, if you’re feeling fancy, every size champagne bottle in the world. For seafood by the water, it’s worth the 20 minute taxi ride to Leith for Michelin-starred Martin Wishart, foodie gem The Little Chartroom, and classic chippies.