Scotland's capital is a city of two halves. From the medieval tenements and narrow wynds of the Old Town to the sweeping grandeur of the Georgian New Town, Edinburgh deserves its reputation as one of Europe's most fascinating destinations. Pegged as the United Kingdom's most walkable city, you'll discover historic landmarks, secret gardens, breathtaking architecture and some of the continent's most vibrant restaurants, bars and nightlife. If you're planning a visit to Edinburgh, here are the key components to building the perfect itinerary.
Edinburgh Airportis located approximately 7.5 miles west or 25 minutes by taxi or car from the city. To be within easy walking distance of most attractions, book your hotel in the Old Town, New Town or the West End.
When to visit
When it comes to tourists, Edinburgh is the most quiet (and coldest) in January and February. The city becomes busier from March onward with July, August and the holiday season (Christmas and New Year's) being the peak months. If you're heading for Edinburgh's Fringe Festival (August 3-27), you should expect long lines and plan to book your accommodation as far in advance as possible — the city's hotel rooms fill up fast.
Where to stay
Edinburgh is home to numerous hotels, guesthouses and apartments with options to suit all tastes and budgets. The following are just three of the many good options available and each are within minutes of the city center's main attractions. The Balmoral is a landmark luxury hotel close to Waverley train station that boasts a luxury spa and whisky bar.A handsome Georgian hotel, The Principal Edinburgh Charlotte Square, overlooks a pretty private garden square and is only two minutes from shoppers' paradise, Princes Street. Another short hop from Princes Street sits Code Hostel, a hipster hostel, offering comfy beds for those on a tighter budget.
What to see
It can be hard to squeeze all there is to see into just two days, so make sure to choose your adventure carefully. We'd suggest you start your visit by walking up the Royal Mile — the collective name for the tangle of streets leading west up to Edinburgh Castle. With good reason, the Castle's historic halls, royal chambers, and dungeons are the city's busiest attraction. Perched on a volcanic rock formation, you'll also have breathtaking views of the city.
For another elevated vantage point, head to Holyrood Park, located near the bottom of the Royal Mile. From there you can clamber up Arthur's Seat, a dormant volcano that allows you to look down on both the city and across to the Kingdom of Fife. Back at ground level, explore the fascinating Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen's official residence in Edinburgh and the home of Scottish royal history.
A short walk away from Holyroodhouse, you'll find three key buildings, the Scottish Parliament Building, the Museum of Edinburgh and the National Museum of Scotland. The last is home to a world-class collection of displays that cover Scotland's history, design, and innovation, but all three are worthy of your time. For artistic inspiration, visit one or all of the city's three main galleries. The Neoclassical Scottish National Gallery is the most central, and for a small donation the Gallery Bus will take you on to the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art and the Scottish Portrait Gallery.
Next up is the beautiful Charlotte Square in the heart of New Town, home to the National Trust's Georgian House, a magnificently restored property from the era of enlightenment. Explore its rooms before heading on to Stockbridge, an architectural hot spot full of quaint shops and pretty postcard streets. If you only seek out one of the city's numerous cafes, make it Elephant House – also known as 'The birthplace of Harry Potter'. It was here that J.K. Rowling began her writing career, penning the story of a boy wizard in the back room of this rambling cafe. Refueled on caffeine or something stronger, head underground to Real Mary King's Close and you'll discover a collection of subterranean streets that run beneath the city and tell the stories of the people who lived there more than 400 years ago.
Where to eat & drink
Edinburgh is a culinary wonderland just waiting to be explored. Michelin-starred fare awaits, in addition to restaurants and cafes that won't break the bank. For breakfast, consider Edinburgh Larder or The King's Wark. For lunch, try Hendersons or The Manna House. And for afternoon tea, head for Principal Edinburgh Charlotte Square, The Dome or The Palace of Holyroodhouse. And as day becomes night, try to get a table at Aizle, Outsider or The Kitchin, just three of the city's best restaurants showcasing Scotland's local produce.
You'll quickly discover that Edinburgh's bar scene extends far beyond whisky and ancient public houses, but if those two boxes need to be ticked, add The Bow Bar (with 300+ single malts available) and The Sheep Heid Inn (dating back to 1360) to your itinerary. For cocktails, head for The Voodoo Rooms and Panda & Sons, the latter a New Town speakeasy disguised as a barbershop that also serves excellent food.
If you go
United flies year-round, nonstop routes between Edinburgh and Newark International Airport. For more information and to book your next adventure to the capital of Scotland, visit United.com or download the United app.