x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Edinburgh is a capital of culture

There are many more reasons to visit the Scottish capital than the famous Edinburgh Festivals.

An audience watches a performance at the Edinburgh Festival beneath the historic Edinburgh Castle. Getty Images
An audience watches a performance at the Edinburgh Festival beneath the historic Edinburgh Castle. Getty Images

Why Edinburgh?

There's arguably no more exciting place to be than the Scottish capital during August. The Edinburgh Festivals - which cover the gamut from military pageantry and high-grade theatre to stand-up comedy and the inevitable plague of jugglers - transform the city into a hotbed of artistic mayhem. It's a rowdiness that doesn't match Edinburgh's usual character. This is a city that plays on a royal history that spans centuries and a literary heritage that goes from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to JK Rowling via Irvine Welsh. But Edinburgh hits that magic formula of having lots to do while being wonderfully atmospheric to just hang out in. That applies to both the touristy bagpiper-lined streets of the Old Town and the quieter, handsomely Georgian New Town.

A comfortable bed

The Hotel Missoni (www.hotelmissoni.com; 0044 131 220 6666) is nothing if not bold, taking the Italian designer label's garish knitwear philosophy to hotel decor. Free, non-alcoholic minibars and complimentary movies come as standard, but it's the unbeatable location on the Old Town's Royal Mile that's the real winner. Doubles from £125 (Dh706).

Should more space be required, the one-bedroom apartments at the nearby Fraser Suites (edinburgh.frasershospitality.com; 0044 131 221 7200) are a great bet. They're unflashily luxurious, with separate living areas, full kitchens and dining tables - ideal for a slightly longer stay. From £148.50 (Dh839).

A few steps from Waverley Station, Motel One (www.motel-one.com; 0044 131 220 0730) offers a surprisingly smart take on a budget hotel - rooms are bright, perky and come with the free Wi-Fi, air conditioning and flat-screen TVs that you'd perhaps expect to be absent. Doubles from £84 (Dh472).

Find your feet

Kick off at Edinburgh Castle (www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk; 0044 131 225 9846; £16 [Dh90]) - the Honours of Scotland crown jewels and descriptively named Great Hall are the highlights - before strolling down towards the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the other end of the Royal Mile.

It's worth making mild detours for the Writers' Museum (www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk; 00 44 131 529 4901; free), which explores the life and work of Scottish literary legends Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, and Real Mary King's Close (www.realmarykingsclose.com; 0044 845 070 6244). The latter is part of a long-built-over underground labyrinth of 16th and 17th century alleys. Tours tell ghost stories, but it's the tales of plague and grim living conditions that are truly fascinating.

Handsome old buildings line the traditional processional route, but at the bottom, the Scottish Parliament Building is Edinburgh's finest piece of modern architecture. It's jarringly angular, strikingly unstately and all the more interesting as a result.

Gather your breath for a final hike up to the top of Arthur's Seat, the 251-metre high remnants of an extinct volcano. There, you'll find imperious views of the city, and probably a few festival performers taking a sanity-recovering escape.

Meet the locals

Edinburgh's cultural scene can seem a little boom and bust - feast in August and relative famine for the rest of the year. But while many venues are festival-only, The Stand (www.thestand.co.uk; 0044 131 558 7272) offers good quality live comedy year round. It's open every night, and a big favourite with the local creative set. Most tickets are under £10 (Dh56), with some free.

Book a table

It's down an unpromising New Town side alley, but the hugely convivial, California-themed Calistoga (www.calistoga.co.uk; 0044 131 225 1233) is Edinburgh's best affordable find. Mains such as seared cod with vegetable Niçoise and salsa verde for £16 (Dh90) are full of flavour.

For fine dining, the Castle Terrace (www.castleterracerestaurant.com; 0044 131 229 1222) is the best bet in the Old Town. Seven-course tasting menus cost £75 (Dh424), while seafood paella on organic spelt (£34 [Dh191]) is a speciality.

Shopper's paradise

The Royal Mile is a minefield of dodgy tartan and shortbread shops - pick wisely. For something considerably classier, Multrees Walk (www.the-walk.co.uk) is the city's premier designer shopping centre - the Harvey Nichols store is the flagship, though Castle Fine Art is the best bet for art and pricey home decoration.

Candlemaker Row is a good hunting ground for indie shops with a little flair. Hannah Zakari (www.hannahzakari.co.uk; 0044 131 226 5433) offers a fab range of bags, jewellery, stationery and giftware trinkets to rifle through.

What to avoid

If you're going for the Festivals, it's tempting to try to make the most of it by cramming in as many shows as possible. This quickly gets very exhausting and expensive - and much of the joy comes from just being there while so much is going on. Pick judiciously - and book well in advance for popular shows, as they usually sell out.

Don't miss

For over 44 years, the Royal Yacht Britannia (www.royalyachtbritannia.co.uk; 0044 131 555 5566) carried Queen Elizabeth II and her family around the world - it clocked up 696 foreign visits. It's now moored at Leith, Edinburgh's port, and is open to the public as a museum. The real fascination comes from the Queen's relatively simple tastes - there really is nothing overly opulent on board - and understanding how it was the one place in the world where somebody so relentlessly in the public eye could properly relax. Tickets cost £12 (Dh68).

Getting there

Emirates (www.emirates.com; 600 555555) flies from Dubai to Glasgow in seven hours from Dh4,835. Citylink (www.citylink.co.uk; 0044 871 266 3333) runs direct buses from Glasgow Airport to Edinburgh, costing from £13.20 (Dh74). The journey lasts just over two hours.

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