Got 24 hours in Edinburgh? Enjoy Harry Potter pit stops and ghost tours
Scotland’s cultural and historical big hitter, Edinburgh is more than just the home of the famous festival and annual New Year’s Eve celebrations
Scotland’s cultural and historical big hitter, Edinburgh is more than just the home of the famous festival and annual New Year’s Eve celebrations. This is the city of literature, philosophy and medicine from Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes) to Alexander Graham Bell (inventor of the telephone) to JK Rowling and Sean Connery - the city’s medieval streets and Georgian squares are awash with cultural heritage.
Start in the middle, between the old town and the new at Princes Street Gardens. Handily these are right opposite Waverley Station and impossible to miss thanks to the huge ferris wheel. On top of the station is the Edinburgh Waverley hotel, where JK Rowling holed up to write some of the final Harry Potter book. Take in the pretty paths and check out the castle in the distance, perched high on its rock. (At Christmas the whole of Princes Street Gardens is covered in a German style festive market selling arts and crafts).
While you’re here, walk past (or climb 287 steps to the top if you’re feeling fit) the Scott Memorial, this neo-Gothic tower is the largest memorial to a writer (Sir Walter Scott) anywhere in the world. Edinburgh is primarily a walking city, but there are some serious hills and plenty of cobbles so make sure you pack flat shoes.
Head up what’s known as the Mound from the back of the gardens up the hill towards the castle and the Royal Mile shopping street. There’s been a castle here since the 12th century but amazingly archaeologists can trace occupation back to the Iron Age. The castle has seen a huge number of wars and sieges over the last 900 years, but today it houses a military museum.
After you’ve finished exploring the city’s fortress, it’s time to refuel. Skip past the touristy pubs and naff tartan shops and aim for Timberyard on Lady Lawson Street down the other side of the castle’s rock. This hip industrial restaurant serves up modern seasonal Scottish fare without the kitsch.
Walk off lunch with a stroll through hilly Old Town to the National Museum of Scotland. This modern museum whisks you through the highs and lows of Scottish history over the last 2,000 years. There are also travelling exhibitions and until February 2017 you can catch the Wildlife Photographer of the Year here as well as an exhibition on Nordic design.
History done and dusted, you're now in prime festival land, the streets around you are chock full of theatres and performance spaces. Either pop down Drummond Street to the Pleasance Courtyard, one of the city’s most famous independent theatres and see if there’s a matinee or push on to the hill that guards the city, Arthur’s Seat. Part of Holyrood Park, this noble peak is the best place to get a panoramic view of the historic city. Don’t worry it doesn’t take too long to get up there with locals often heading up after work in summer.
Whatever you do for dinner, you can’t miss one of the city’s ghost tours once it gets dark. Meet other ghost hunters outside St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile for a City of the Dead tour that gets under the skin and into the horrible histories that surround the city’s Old Town. The actors are a bit over the top, the stories are gruesome but that’s all part of the fun (and it’s really not that scary).