Arthur's Seat, a huge hill rising up past the end of the Royal Mile, is a popular spot for a hike with great views of the city, but the surrounds were once a hotbed of Iron Age activity. They also bore witness to the Romans' arrival two millennia ago, as well as fighting among local tribes, with ruins of fortifications found on the summit.
Edinburgh's Old Town and New Town, making up much of the city's center, are jointly considered a UNESCO World Heritage site, which makes exploring them on foot a joy. The Old Town is honored (be sure to check out the closes along the Royal Mile), while the latter is notable as an example of Georgian city planning. Both are still strikingly intact and form a living example of how urban planning developed throughout the centuries in Europe.
If you're lucky enough to find a ceilidh, this exuberant Scottish folk dancing party, guaranteed to get Scots of every age on their feet, isn't to be missed. Against a lively background of violin, accordion, and the caller's instructions, curious visitors are welcomed with open arms-and a mischievous lift of the eyebrow from locals—before being flung giddily around for a breathless Strip the Willow.
Best Day Trip
Those wanting to see some Scottish countryside—and sample its bounty—should head up the coast, where around 50 Speyside distilleries produce the whisky Scotland is known for. Big names like Glenlivet can be found here, but sample the smaller ones, too: Aberlour offers great tours, while the architecture of Strathisla's distillery is stunningly unique.
Most Iconic Place
The Royal Mile, built along a steep hill running from Holyrood Palace up to the clifftop castle, is where to go to get a sense of medieval Edinburgh. There are Gothic churches, historic pubs, and dozens of closes: small, courtyard-like spaces and passageways set off from the main road that offer unexpected discoveries—including seemingly secret stairways connecting the town's different levels.
Off the Beaten Path
Skip the tour of Edinburgh's castle and head to the Scottish Parliament instead for a guided tour. Not only is the architecture fascinating, but you'll gain an inside understanding of Scottish politics—especially helpful as Brexit approaches and calls for Scottish independence revive once again.
Surprisingly, for a city that loves its pubs so much, they shut relatively early here, with last call acting as a warning for their 1 a.m. close. But don't let that stop you from sampling whiskies at Morningside's The Canny Man or the excellent cocktails at Heads & Tales Gin Bar, next to the Edinburgh Gin distillery in the West End.
While the entire city is arguably a historic site, Calton Hill is where to go for some historical quirk. The hill features an eclectic jumble of graves and monuments, including one to "political martyrs," a 19th-century national monument based on the Parthenon and never finished; and a telescope-like monument to Admiral Nelson once used to signal the time to ships heading into Leith.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Neighborhood to Explore
The beautiful adjoining neighborhoods of Morningside and Bruntsfield are where to go to browse vintage shops, have a pint in charming neighborhood pubs, and get a mid-afternoon caffeine boost from Artisan Roast. For those seeking a little more edge, there's Leith, which splinters off from the center's Princes Street and is turning into a hip 'hood with a character all its own.
There's no better place to spend a sunny day and people-watch than the Meadows, a stretch of park south of the Old Town near the gorgeous neighborhoods of Bruntsfield and Marchmont. This is where the city comes alive after months of winter hibernation—bring along a picnic and some fizz for a true Scottish summer day.