Knock back a wee dram to ensure you stay warm as you step out to explore the chilly but welcoming streets of the Scottish capital, says Lizzie Frainier
Why go? For a city brimming over with history and tradition, Edinburgh is achingly modern when it comes to food and hotels. What to do Edinburgh is home to not one but two dormant volcanoes. Start your day with an easy 30-minute climb to the top of the first, Arthur’s Seat, and you’ll be rewarded with incredible views. Legend has it that it’s the original site of King Arthur’s Camelot. Your next volcano houses the 12th-century Edinburgh Castle +44 131 225 9846, edinburghcastle.gov.uk which lords over the city’s horizon wherever you go. Explore the dungeons and admire the oldest crown jewels in the British Isles before heading outside for the One O’Clock Gun. Summer is prime time for comedy and theatre at the world-renowned Edinburgh Festival Fringe but in winter you can still laugh along at iconic comedy club The Stand +44 131 558 7272, thestand.co.uk. Many of the best comedians have started out here so take a punt on an unknown name. Over at The National Museum nms.ac.uk all bases are covered, whether you’re looking for nature, art, science or history. The 3,000 objects include a life-sized tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton and the stuffed body of Dolly, the world’s first cloned sheep.
Where to stay? Edinburgh takes the meaning of boutique literally, boasting plenty of tiny yet super-stylish hotels. With just three rooms, Millers 64 +44 131 454 3666, millers64.com may be small but its breakfast packs a punch to rival any larger establishment. We’re big fans of The Glasshouse Hotel +44 131 525 8200, theglasshousehotel.co.uk and the dram of malt that comes with every suite. If you want to combine your break with a bit of countryside, a short drive away is Prestonfield House +44 131 225 7800, prestonfield.com and its sprawling grounds. Rooms here are better described as boudoirs, given their four-poster beds, velvet armchairs and matching flocked wallpaper. The Hotel du Vin +44 131 285 1479, hotelduvin.com has bags of character too. The building was once a poorhouse, an asylum and a science lab, before becoming the chic and central hotel it is today
Where to eat and drink? If there’s one thing eating out in Edinburgh will teach you, it’s that the Scottish have an incredible natural larder. There’s no shortage of upmarket restaurants serving local, seasonal dishes. Wedgwood The Restaurant +44 131 558 8737, wedgwoodtherestaurant.co.uk didn’t win Food and Travel’s Outside London Restaurant of the Year for nothing. Go for the wood pigeon served with haggis, neeps and tattie scones and see how this classic is lifted to new heights. Owner Paul Wedgwood is also known for foraging interesting wild herbs which he includes on the menu. Deep in the Old Town, Grain Store +44 131 225 7635, grainstore-restaurant.co.uk has a more intimate atmosphere with candle-lit tables and stone walls. There’s plenty here to sink your teeth into on a cold winter’s night. Try moreish truffle gnocchi with chanterelle mushrooms and parmesan foam or a rich saddle of roe deer served with cavolo nero and beetroot. At Bon Vivant +44 131 225 3275, bonvivantedinburgh.co.uk soak up the lovely grape on offer with Scottish-style tapas such as bourbon-glazed meat with celeriac remoulade. For lunch, the more casual Bia Bistrot +44 131 452 8453, biabistrot.co.uk serves up great dishes that celebrate the owners’ Scottish, Irish, Spanish and French heritage. Three courses are just $13.50. Wherever you go, round off your evening at Sandy Bells +44 131 225 2751, sandybellsedinburgh.co.uk an authentic bar with live folk music every night.
Time running out? Where better to learn about Scotland than a grain tasting. Whiski Rooms has several classes to choose from. +44 131 225 1532, whiskirooms.co.uk
Trip tip The Royal Botanic Gardens are worth a visit in January. Winter-flowering rhododendrons dot the grounds, plus you’ll soon warm up in the hothouse among the tropical palms. rbge.org.uk
Currency is the pound. Time is GMT. Flight time is approximately 9.6 hours from Dubai. The cost to carbon-offset is $14.41. For more details visit climatecare.org
Qatar Airways fly directly to Edinburgh from Doha daily qatarairways.com
British Airways fly to Edinburgh via London from Dubai daily BA.com
Visit Scotland has handy maps for getting around and information on upcoming events. visitscotland.com
A Good Hanging (Orion, $8.50) follows Ian Rankin’s celebrated Detective Inspector John Rebus as he seeks out clues to various crimes in Edinburgh’s alleyways.