It might be the capital of Scotland, the home of vibrant festivals and the seat of Scottish power, but there’s something about the cold cobbles, the wind-battered stones, and the towering that make the hilly city of Edinburgh still feel like a haunted fortress atop an enchanted mountain.
Tourists duck and dive under towering bridges, they tumble down treacherously steep steps and feel the wind whip their noses and cheeks as if they were standing on the battlements.
Locals are fiercely protective of their city as if they were guarding some hidden treasure. But look hard enough, and you can find the city’s secrets, its boutique shops, its achingly hip restaurants, its enchanting walks, and coziest joints.
Perched on an extinct, Edinburgh Castle dominates the city’s skyline and the 16th-century building is Scotland’s most popular tourist site. You’ll have to book months in advance to see the famous, and extravaganza of fireworks, pipes, and dancing at the castle. But for a peek at the ordinary lives of citizens of Edinburgh, Real Mary King’s Close is a hidden treat, just off the Royal Mile. Venture underground to a secret warren of hidden 17th-century streets, led by a character from the period. See how residents suffered from the plague, wicked deals, and murderous plots that took place in the shadowy close. The museum is a treat for children, fascinating for adults, and a warm and welcome respite if the Scottish heavens have opened.
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Edinburgh’s hippest restaurants and bars are mostly in the New Town, close to Princes Street. But one exception is the swanky Ondine, an award-winning fish restaurant just a short skip from the Castle. The glass-fronted upstairs restaurant is perfect for people-watching while supping an Edinburgh Gin Daisy.
Fresh, local, and zingy fish dishes change regularly but might include Ondine salmon with homemade cucumber pickle, silky fish soup with gruyere croutons, or a moist and grilled sea bass.
In the heart of the Old Town, Edinburgh’s Grassmarket district has the city’s best independent merchants, designers, and artisans. Wind your way down the Castle Wynd or Upper Bow steps and spend an hour browsing the delis and boutiques. Highlights include Demijohn’s handmade dubbed by the owner as a “liquid Deli”, Armstrong’s Vintage clothes emporium for ’50’s ra-ra skirts, 60’s minis and 70’s prints, and the Old Town bookshop, for antique books, maps, and prints.