x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Edinburgh: City of celebration

A weekend guide to... The Scottish capital is famous for its annual set pieces. At these times, the city is crammed with people and things to do, accommodation is near to bursting and the atmosphere is ebullient.

The views of Princes Street and the castle can be best enjoyed from the top of Calton Hill.
The views of Princes Street and the castle can be best enjoyed from the top of Calton Hill.

The Scottish capital is famous for its annual set pieces. From Aug 14 to Sept 6 this year, a cornucopia of arts and cultural festivals will take place under the umbrella title of the Edinburgh Festival, while on Dec 31 more than 100,000 people from around the world take to the streets for Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year celebration. At these times, the city is crammed with people and things to do, accommodation is near to bursting and the atmosphere is ebullient.

These events are very different. The summer festivals are a cultural binge of theatre, comedy and music - from the headline-grabbing ballet and classical music at the international festival to the unpredictability of the Fringe - packed into seemingly endless days where the sun sets late in the evening and events continue around the clock. Hogmanay is a vibrant street party, where music, theatre and fireworks jostle for attention with kilts, bagpipes, traditional céilidh dances and renditions of Auld Lang Syne.

The rest of the year Edinburgh's more subtle joys emerge. Few cities have such wild places so near to their centre. Arthur's Seat, an extinct volcano, towers on the horizon, a huge slab of Highland rock just 30 minutes' walk out of town. From its dramatic and craggy peaks, the panorama encompasses some of the city's most distinctive landmarks: from the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen's official residence in Scotland, the 12th-century castle and, in the distance, the Firth of Forth and the hazy outline of the Ochil Hills.

From the top of Calton Hill, a monument-strewn outcrop above the city, the view of the castle and Princes Street is atmospheric and illuminating. The city is built on a series of deep gorges and hills. From this vantage point, the higgledy-piggledy ups and downs that its builders have had to overcome and the gradients that walkers and cyclists face every day become dramatically apparent. The many changes in height have led to a series of steep staircases being built around the city. If you are feeling energetic, try scaling Jacob's Ladder from Carlton Road or Playfair Steps from Princes Street.

Ann Street is one of the finest of the city's many elegant Georgian streets. Stroll down this cobbled thoroughfare lined with trees and expensive cars and you will see why it has a reputation as Edinburgh's "golden postcode". Built at an estimated cost of US$684m (Dh2.5bn), the Scottish Parliament is to some a remarkable building and to others an incredible waste of money. The architect Enric Miralles took a wide range of cues from the designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh to the worn hulls of upturned fishing boats, to create a unique and interesting building.

The Dean Gallery has an excellent collection of Dada and Surrealist art, featuring works by Dalí, Miró and Picasso. The reconstruction of the studio of the Scottish sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi, a Pop Art pioneer, is a treat, littered as it is with models, magazines, plans and sculptures. Rosslyn Chapel, 11km from the city centre, had its popularity boosted a few years ago after being featured in the worldwide bestseller The Da Vinci Code. The intricate carvings in its 15th-century chapel are lovely.

Budget The Travelodge chain provides clean and basic rooms which, if you book early enough, can be as cheap as $15 (Dh55) but cost on average $80 (Dh300) per night, including taxes. Of the eight locations in and around the city, the Haymarket hotel is one of the best. It is part of a Georgian terrace about 1.5km from the city centre and has huge rooms with high ceilings. Travelodge Edinburgh Haymarket, 24 Eglington Crescent (www.travelodge.co.uk; 0044 871 984 6365)

Mid-range Located in Newington, Kildonan Lodge Hotel is a friendly bed and breakfast with excellent facilities. Rooms in this elegant Victorian building come with wireless internet access and DVD players. The city centre is about 25 minutes by foot or a short bus or taxi ride away. Double rooms cost from $110 (Dh400) per night, including taxes. Kildonan Lodge Hotel, 27 Craigmillar Park, Newington (www.kildonanlodgehotel.co.uk; 0044 131 667 2793)

Luxury Over the last 15 years, the port of Leith has reversed a seemingly terminal decline to become a hip area peppered with hotels and restaurants. Malmaison, an elegant hotel in a former Seaman's mission, was at the heart of this transformation. It has 100 beautifully decorated rooms with four-poster beds, flat-screen televisions and iPod docks. Although it is three kilometres from the city centre, a wide range of excellent restaurants are located nearby on the Shore. Double rooms cost from $265 (Dh970) per night, including taxes. Malmaison, 1 Tower Place, Leith (www.malmaison-edinburgh.com; 0044 131 468 5000)

Breakfast Valvona and Crolla is an Edinburgh institution. Its delicatessen has a royal warrant to supply cheese to the Queen. VinCaffè opened nearby in 2004 and has managed to maintain the same high standards with great coffee, pastries and cakes served from 8am daily (11am Sundays). VinCaffè (www.valvonacrolla.co.uk; 0044 131 557 0088)

Lunch David Bann is a reasonably priced vegetarian restaurant which offers inventive dishes with surprising combinations of ingredients. Main dishes cost about $17 (Dh60). David Bann (www.davidbann.com; 0044 131 556 5888) Dinner The shores of the Water of Leith are now home to no less than three Michelin-starred restaurants. One of them is Martin Wishart, a suavely understated establishment serving traditional and modern French cuisine made with local ingredients. With the six-course menu, you can sample a range of delights, including foie gras, apple and scallop with caviar sauce and a lobster brew with artichoke, girolles and lentils - all for $110 (Dh395). Martin Wishart (www.martin-wishart.co.uk; 0044 131 553 3557)

Return flights on Etihad Airways (www.etihadairways.com) from Abu Dhabi to Edinburgh via London Heathrow cost from $950 (Dh3,490), including tax. Further info from www.visitscotland.com.

Ian Rankin's series of detective novels featuring Inspector Rebus run the gamut of Edinburgh's contrasts.