24 hours in Edinburgh: a local’s layover

“Any recommendations of where to stay or what to do, for four Italians going for a fortieth?” If I had a penny for every time someone asked what to do in Edinburgh…

From Calton Hill

When you live in a city, you’re really the last person to ask for good touristy recommendations. We rely on visiting relatives and friends from afar to visit our favourite spots. But almost every other week someone will ask for an idea of what to do in one of the world’s best cities. Here’s my perfect weekend as a tourist-not-a-tourist in Edinburgh. It’s updated every time I remember, or discover, something new, so whatever you do, don’t print it out.

Budget: max it out on good food, free museums and Uber, to save you time between larks. Time: 24 hours.

Start your day with sunrise and a 10 minute stroll up to Calton Hill, and get a fab view down to Princes St, over to the Castle and up to Arthur’s Seat.

Weekdays from 0800, weekends at 0900, Hanover Street’s Urban Angel is a lovely place for a special breakfast. Poached eggs and black pudding will get you off to a good start. From there, walk up towards the city centre, take in the view of the Castle as you walk up the Mound. At North Bank Street, take a right up the steps of Lady Stair’s Close, and enjoy the quiet of the small square where the Writers’ Museum stands.

ElementalPaul: https://www.flickr.com/photos/elementalpaul/2435423130/in/photolist-4HdbrY-4dkkV6

Emerge out onto the Royal Mile, and turn right, to head up to the Castle Esplanade. The view from here shows the two halves of the city: modern grid vs gnarly, green Marchmont and Southside.

Camera Obscura is a paid-for private museum just at the foot of the esplanade, but worth the entry.

If you’re hungry enough for lunch, then my friends the Continis have the wonderful Cannonball right opposite.

If you’re in the mood for a museum but don’t want to spend any dosh, head back down the hill and right onto the National Museum — a spectacular refurbished place to lose yourself for an hour or a day. Get yourself to the exhibit of the Arthur’s Seat Coffins, and then read The Falls.

If you’re feeling flush, the Tower Restaurant has a lunch that’s far more affordable than, but just as delicious as, its evening menu. If you’re less flush, walk 15 minutes through Bristo Square and the imposing Usher Hall, through George Square, and over the Meadows, pretending you’re a student at the uni, to end up at Victor Hugo Deli, for lunch and macarons.

If you walk in back towards the city you can stop off at another paid, but until recently almost secret museum: Surgeon’s Hall. It’s a house of medical horrors (the inevitable Burke and Hare story unfolds here, too) as well as being an inspiring insight into how Scots physicians really led the way on so many fronts.

Keep walking back towards the Royal Mile, maybe swinging left to have a quick peek inside St Giles Cathedral, or right to explore some closes (the little garden hidden away at the end of Dunbar’s Close is a gem if you want a seat). But otherwise take a slight right and explore the New Waverley quarter for a coffee — the best donuts in Edinburgh at Baba Budan are worth a detour, before 4pm when they nearly always seem to have sold out.

From there, head towards the bus stops of George Street. You’ll pass one of the best art bookstores in the city at the Fruitmarket Gallery — I always like to pop in there just to use the elevator, and the City Art Centre opposite for a (free!) look.

If it feels like time for a pint, grab an Uber (£9 at normal rates) or a bus (#22, 16 or 35) down to The Shore, Edinburgh’s cooler restaurant scene, away from too many tourist hordes. A pint at the street’s namesake bar, The Shore, is a must, maybe with dinner if you want a treat. There are plenty of great restaurants nearby if they’re full.

If you’re in the mood for arguably Scotland’s best fish and chips, walk 20 minutes over to Newhaven Harbour’s The Fishmarket (it’s my local, and a great sundowner spot if you can get your timing right. You’ll need a reservation, but it’s worth making for a table, gin fizz cocktails, superb wines and honest, perfectly cooked seafood). A post-prandial walk out to the Lighthouse will let you get sight of Edinburgh’s famous trio of bridges over to Fife, rain and fog notwithstanding.

There are plenty of places to eat. We tend to eat well when we head into the city centre, because we don’t get out that much. So our local is for fancy Scottish food and great wines with a view of the Castle and down to the sea at Harvey Nichols’ Forth Floor Restaurant — the bistro is good, but the restaurant is worth the extra bill. Olorosso, Six by Nico, or any of the places you’ll see in Tripadvisor’s top lists all need reservations some time beforehand.

The night should still be young — head back up town towards Sandy Bell’s for some traditional Scottish folk music and the drinks that go along with it, from about 9pm. When they turf you out, you’re in student land, and so you can feel older than your years in the nightclubs nearby.

Europe’s largest indoor climbing centre is amazingly good fun, for any age. They can take kids all the way up to experienced climbers looking for a challenge.

Go on a boat. Edinburgh is a sea-hugging city, but tourists rarely make it to the waterfront, let alone onto the sea itself. Charter a boat and head out to explore the ruins of Inchcolm Island.

If you want water, but also want to stay in the city centre, walk from the Dean Village down to Stockbridge or Canonmills along the banks of the Water of Leith. If you’ve got a bike on rental, cycle all the way down the cycle paths to Leith and the sea!

The New Town is stunning to walk around, and wonder who lives between the pricey lawyers’ offices. If you only visit one street in the New Town, visit Circus Lane.

Arthur’s Seat provides the world’s best inner-city walk, for free, taking you up and out of the city with amazing views for miles around. You can see Edinburgh, Fife, East, West and Midlothian on a clear day. As you come down from it, you can also pop into see the incredible debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament and use the toilets for free. That’s democracy for you.

Edinburgh viewed from Arthur’s Seat, September 2019

I help people find their place in a team to achieve something bigger than they are. NoTosh.com