Edinburgh Castle

‘A city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again’ wrote novelist Alexander McCall Smith, whose characters’ lives intertwine on Edinburgh’s cobbled streets and courtyards. Closer to theatre stage than bustling capital city, Edinburgh’s unique mix of mysterious, old world charm and contemporary pizzazz makes it a must-see destination for foreign visitors and increasingly popular with local weekenders. Whether you visit for the August Festival Fringe or to see its unique historical sites – among them a craggy castle atop an extinct volcano – you’re sure to discover a new hidden gem each time. Where else could you attend a school that sits in the grounds of a castle destroyed by Oliver Cromwell? Civic society, cultural capital and creative showcase, the city with the strongest local economy in the UK after London has much to recommend it. Local Edinburgh gal, Sarah Levitz, explains its appeal.

You should visit Edinburgh because… it’s a beautifully picturesque city, positioned between undulating hills and a magnificent coastline. It also has a fascinating history, great places to go out and the best cultural festivals around. Edinburgh is best explored by foot so take your time to walk around and explore the city’s historic churches, medieval alleyways and well-preserved architecture.

The best thing about Edinburgh is…you can walk everywhere, people are welcoming and it’s a very young city with a vibrant music scene.

The worst thing about Edinburgh is… the bagpipes on Princes Street. If you live there and have to endure them daily, the novelty wears off.

Edinburghians are…proud of their heritage and not that hard to understand!

My favourite district is… Old Town, the oldest and most authentic part of Scotland’s capital. The contrast between New Town and Old Town is what makes the city so distinctive. New Town was the city’s project of the late 18th to mid-19th century, but the Old Town preserves buildings dating from the 16th century.

My favourite shops are…The Old Children’s Bookshelf, a curious second-hand and antiquarian bookshop which has all your childhood favourites and Crombie’s butcher on Broughton Street, started in 1955 and three generations old. Hanah Zakari on Candlemaker Row stocks original handmade products by British and international indie designers with an emphasis on quirky and unusual designs.

When you’re in Edinburgh be sure to try… deep fried mars bar petit fours at the Hotel du Vin – and Irn-Bru. For the more adventurous, sample some traditional haggis, served with ‘neeps and tatties’ (the Scottish version of swede and potato!)

Calton Hill

My favourite place to eat is… Under the Stairs, which is ensconced under the George IV Bridge and great for dinner in style thanks to its shabby chic, eclectic interiors.

Start your night out at…. Bramble cocktail bar where Edinburgh’s fashionable crowd cosy up in its cubbyholes and the Queen’s Arms on Frederick Street, which has an extensive whisky selection and a library room at the back.

The best parties take place at… Cabaret Voltaire, or ‘Cab Vol’ where you can rave in a cave to a stellar range of funky bands and Opal Lounge to experience Edinburgh’s late night clubbing scene.

Edinburgh’s fashion scene is… exactly as you would imagine. Young, hipster university students wearing Barbour and Jack Wills and kilts and sporrans – even if you aren’t Scottish! For fabulous vintage shopping, head to the Grassmarket in Old Town with its independent merchants, designers and artisans.

The most overrated sight in the city is… Edinburgh Castle but you definitely shouldn’t miss climbing Arthur’s Seat – one of Edinburgh’s seven hills – visiting The Royal Botanical Gardens, and walking up Calton Hill, a UNESCO World Heritage site to see the half-built Athenian-style Pantheon.

To experience the city like a local…wander through its cobbled streets at 2am on a Saturday when all the locals suddenly appear.

Something you won’t find anywhere else is…Grave robbing – Greyfriars Kirk graveyard has mort safes on top of graves which prevented body snatching before the Anatomy Act of 1832. You can see their death masks and other artifacts at the Surgeon’s Hall Museum.

Edinburgh Tattoo

Take home… A tartan trinket and a bag of fudge from The Edinburgh Fudge Kitchen on the Royal Mile which sells every flavour possible.

Flights to Edinburgh start at £81 return with British Airways. See ba.com for more information and to book. For more on Edinburgh, see edinburgh.org or visitscotland.com.