Insider Edinburgh: What to see and do, where to eat and shop

Edinburgh’s beauty will knock you sideways. Explore its historic, warren-like streets. Reimagine ancient battles at its atmospheric castle, perched high upon brooding rock. Party in the streets at one of the world’s biggest arts festivals. And the shopping’s pretty good too. 

Lonely Planet readers voted Edinburgh the fourth most beautiful city in the world – ahead of Athens and Sydney. Here are some of our favourite spots for eating, sightseeing and shopping.   

Need inspiration? What to see

Edinburgh is all about the castleIt looks over the city like a guardian angel – all mean, moody and magnificent.

Perched on the black crags of Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle offers views of the city so good they’d make a grown man cry.

Hugely important to Scottish history, the castle has been home to kings and queens as well as being a site for major battles.

Pose for selfies with statues of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace (of Braveheart fame).

How many cities have their own dormant volcano? Clamber your way back along the winding paths to the top of Arthur’s Seat, which reigns supreme over Holyrood Park. The payoff for your hard work? Life-affirming views across the whole glorious city. You don’t need to be an Olympian either, as there are trails ranging from super-easy to super-hard.

Imagine being on holiday with the Queen as you step aboard the Royal Yacht BritanniaIt carried royals including Elizabeth II across the high seas from the 1950s. You’ll now find it docked at the Ocean Terminal in the port of Leith after it was decommissioned in 1997. Swoon at its 1950s fixtures and fittings, and find out how many royal staff the Queen travelled with. It even bagged the number-one UK attraction title in the 2014 TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards. 

Gasp in amazement, go folky, laugh, and cry (with more laughter) at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. For 3 weeks in August Edinburgh is transformed into one huge party. Comedians tell jokes, musicians pluck guitars and sing Scottish songs, dance performers leave folk spellbound. And there’s loads more too. Magicians, poets. You name it. 

Feeling hungry? Where to eat

An intimate dinner: Your date will swoon at the oysters and bubbly on offer at Ship on the Shore. It’s one of the best restaurants in Leith, with the emphasis firmly on fresh seafood. Grab a table outside and watch the moored boats bob up and down in the moonlit water as you devour a paella.

A light lunch: Go al-fresco with posh butties and delectable cakes at The Manna House Bakery and CaféSandwiches and pastries stuffed with home-comfort ingredients will leave you feeling like everything’s going to be OK, no matter how much you’ve spent in the shops. The bacon and cheese croissants are heavenly.

International: Get your meze on with little plates of sumptuous Middle Eastern grub. The atmosphere at Meze Meze in downtown Edinburgh is lively, the décor is simple but stylish and, more importantly, the food is very, very tasty.

Street food: Slap your senses into gear and give yourself a health boost to boot with a tangy, fresh fruit smoothie or an ultra-healthy juiceTupiniquim is a green former police box located at the top of Meadow Walk. 

Retail therapy - where to shop

High street heaven

You’ll find all your faves on Edinburgh’s main shopping drag, Princes Street. There’s M&S, Gap and Waterstones and also a bit of a retail landmark in the shape of Jenners department store.

Vintage, independents and homewares

Prefer kooky little shops to big high-street chains? Get yourself to the Old Town’s Grassmarket area – where 9 in 10 shops are independent. Vintage clothes, Shetland tweed, retro sweets, or artisan cheese. This place has the lot. The old cobbled streets will set you swooning too.  1 shop to check out:

  • IJ Mellis Cheesemonger: A cheese lover’s paradise. Whether your bag is a humble cheddar or something more pungent. Locally produced cheeses such as Lanark Blue are really something. Wallace would be pretty happy.

Label lovers – designer shopping

Multrees Walk: Designer dream. Wish-list or splurge on Burberry, Hugo Boss and Mulberry in Edinburgh’s most exclusive shopping district.

Harvey Nichols: A byword for exclusivity, Harvey Nichols is loved by the fashion pack. And you’ll find Scotland’s only branch on Multrees Walk. Gucci, Victoria Beckham and Marc Jacobs will try to separate you from your cash. 

Pride Edinburgh

Pride Edinburgh will be turning 20 with a bang this year, with a jam-packed day of events on 20 June. Kick off the festivities by donning your boldest, brightest rainbow colours for the traditional march from Holyrood and then head straight to the Pride Arena to party the afternoon away at the Pride Festival. This year’s headliner is dance diva Tina Cousins who’ll be getting you up on your feet with classics like Mysterious Times and Pray, while Michelle McManus and the fabulous Miss DG will also be taking turns on stage.

Hidden Edinburgh

The Archivist’s Garden: Escape the hustle and bustle of the city and lose yourself to Scottish folklore at this amazing secret garden. Tucked away behind HM Register House on Princes Street is the Archivist’s Garden, which is bursting with colour in spring.

Portobello Beach: Sand and ice cream hands. Edinburgh is close to the sea, and this charming seaside town is a great place to feel Scotland’s rugged coastline. Get the deckchairs out, roll up your trousers and chillax.

Enjoy your trip to Edinburgh.