When to go
This is an August like no other in the Scottish capital. The summer’s frenzy of festivals should be in full swing. Instead “cancelled” is virtually scrawled across the season’s events. On the plus side, you can explore this gorgeous city without the crowds. Wander the wynds, duck down dark alleys, or laze away the days in its leafy parks. Or take advantage of attractions now tentatively re-opening. You need to book a time slot, as numbers are reduced. Before you go, check advice from Visit Scotland and the Government.
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Where to stay
Boutique hotels and hip hostels are scattered throughout Edinburgh’s Georgian New Town and medieval Old Town and there are some great offers right now. The rise of the aparthotel is one of the most recent accommodation trends – handy for social distancing. Launched at the start of the year, Abbey Strand Apartments at Holyrood (1) (chevalcollection.com/edinburgh/) is right on the palace’s doorstep (you won’t be asking the neighbours for sugar). The nine contemporary one- and two-bed apartments are in a 16th-century building, once home to Mary Queen of Scots’ courtiers, and look out on to the Scottish Parliament at the bottom of the Royal Mile. From £224 room only.
Dunstane Houses (2) (thedunstane.com) is a family-run boutique hotel. Orkney-born owners, Shirley and Derek Mowat converted a Victorian William Playfair-designed mansion (and the house across the road) into a luxurious but homely small hotel. There’s a smattering of tweed, the odd copper bathtub and a cosy bar, Ba’Bar named after the Orcadian street football game. Doubles from £122 during August.
Cool, contemporary and central (on George Street in Edinburgh’s New Town), Eden Locke’s (3) (lockeliving.com/eden-locke) 72 hip studios come with a cheery colour scheme; yellow doors and mint green sofas and kitchens stocked with organic teas and coffee. This boutique aparthotel in a listed Georgian building is a world away from a staid serviced apartment. Along with contactless check-in and check-out, they’re offering grocery deliveries to your door – but the café downstairs (with a smattering of pavement tables too) is open. Studios from £75.
How to get around
Pound the pavements. One of the joys of the Scottish capital is that it’s so compact and easy to explore on foot. It might be hilly, but from the top of each rise you are rewarded with wide-angled views over the Firth of Forth and Kingdom of Fife or towards the Pentland Hills. If you start to lag, a one-day travel card lets you use the city’s Lothian buses (lothianbuses.com) and trams for £4.50 from the m-ticket app.
It’s roughly nine miles from the airport to the city centre. You can hop on a tram (£6.50, edinburghtrams.com) or Airlink 100 bus (£4.50) both take around half an hour. A taxi takes about 20 minutes and costs around £20. The main train station, Edinburgh Waverley (4) is just off Princes Street in between the Old Town and New Town. Face coverings are mandatory on public transport.
Start the day
Edinburgh Farmers Market (5) in the shadow of the castle is open again – with social distancing measures and producers trading from vans instead of the jaunty blue-and-white-striped stalls that traditionally lined Castle Terrace –every Saturday from 9am-2pm. Or swing by the West End branch of Bross Bagels (6) launched by Canadian comedian and Fringe regular Laura Bross for a Hungry Vegan: smashed avocado, tomatoes, chilli oil and rock salt on a multiseed bagel.
City attractions are open again. Book a time slot for a crowd- and stress-free visit to Edinburgh Castle (7) (edinburghcastle.scot), adult £15.50, child £9.30). The Palace of Holyroodhouse (8) at the bottom of the Royal Mile is also open (with timed tickets, rct.uk).
Hit the shops
Don’t waste your time on the tartan tat along the Royal Mile; do swing down the colourful curve of Victoria Street towards the Grassmarket for Walker Slater’s (9) tasteful tweeds. For high street shops and Edinburgh’s stately department store Jenners (10) head to Princes Street and George Street – but Edinburgh is all about its neighbourhood “villages”. Stockbridge (11) to the north of the New Town is a pretty little enclave of delis and bars, bakeries and cheesemongers – and the award-winning independent Golden Hare Books and lifestyle store and city sanctuary The Method, which sells its own heavenly unguents, incense sticks and Alpacca bed socks.
Time for a drink
Shaking up the Stockbridge scene, Smith and Gertrude is a retro-chic cheese and wine bar with a great selection of natural and organic wines and smattering of pavement tables. Edinburgh also has no shortage of good beer gardens such as the New Town’s Cumberland Bar (12), its tables shaded by a giant willow tree.
Edinburgh is Scotland’s culinary capital and a highlight is The Lookout (13), a lung-busting schlep up Calton Hill – created by the team behind field-to-fork favourite the Gardener’s Cottage at the bottom. From the eye-catching, cantilevered glass box you can gaze out over the city’s skyline to the Firth of Forth while tucking into a six-plate seasonal menu – mussels, mackerel, saffron along with tomato, curds and nasturtium. Pre-payment is required to limit contact, with the number of tables reduced and discreet screening introduced.
Go for a stroll
Meander along the Water of Leith to the revitalised docklands. The small river tumbles down from the Pentland Hills and flows, almost unnoticed, through the city to the sea. You can join the 12-mile riverside path at various points. Stockbridge to Leith is around three-and-a-half miles. The waterfront is peppered with restaurants and bars including two of the city’s four Michelin-starred eateries, The Kitchin (14) and Restaurant Martin Wishart (15).
Also on Leith’s waterfront, Toast (16) is a bare-brick brunch spot and jazz-infused wine café with huge picture windows and tables spilling out on to the pavement. Tuck into French toast, the sourdough dipped in egg, vanilla and cinnamon and pan-fried in butter with crispy praline bacon, hazelnut and maple syrup. Many of the 100 or so wines are organic, biodynamic or natural.
Time to relax
Meander back along the river to The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (17) (rbge.org.uk) a tranquil, 70-acre site. Visits are free but you need to book a time slot online and numbers are limited to 2,000 a day. The Glasshouses remain shut.
Have a treat
Hit the beach. Leith Walk’s Little Chartroom has launched a pop-up on Portobello Prom (18), just a pebble’s throw from the city centre, during August and September. The street food pod is dishing up gourmet barbecue takeaways that make a delightful beach picnic.
Ask a Local
Gunnar Groves-Raines, architect and co-founder of Scottish Design Studio GRAS
“We often drive out to the village of East Linton to pick up a coffee and some pastries at the Bostock Bakery. Ross and Lindsay Baxter have converted an old glass-fronted car garage into an incredible bakery and café. Then we’ll head down to the river for a walk or along the beach at Tyninghame.”