The joy of Edinburgh is that you never need an excuse to visit. There is always something going on, something different to experience, something new to catch your eye.
If you only think about the city at festival time or Hogmanay, boy, are you missing out. You can get high just gazing at the architecture, from the craggy castle to the mysteries of the Old Town's medieval closes, from the Georgian splendour of the New Town to the contemporary tang of Leith.
Then there’s the clutch of galleries – all nicely do-able in size – and fanfare of museums and attractions, offering a tantalising choice for even the pickiest family. Here are some of the best attractions to explore.
Looming craggily over the city atop an extinct volcano, this is both a fortress and a royal palace. Highlights include the Scottish Crown Jewels, the Stone of Destiny, tiny St Margaret’s Chapel and the Great Hall’s hammerbeam roof. Don’t forget the ear-splitting firing of the one o’clock gun (not Sundays).
A welcoming gallery where you can get up close and personal to the greats, including ravishing Titians, a Rembrandt self-portrait, luminous Raphaels, a serene Botticelli, a sweep of Impressionists and the eternally delightful Skating Minister by Sir Henry Raeburn.
The nation’s story, from earliest man to the 21st Century, in a building that is part grand Victorian, part boldly modern. Check out Lizzie, the oldest-known fossil reptile, 12th Century ivory chessmen, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s silver canteen, Sir Jackie Stewart’s Formula One racing car and Dolly the (cloned) sheep.
Circumnavigate the globe from Chinese hillside to Himalayan rhododendrons, from Scottish heathers to Mediterranean Alps. In the glasshouses, which include the UK’s tallest Palm House, wander from tropical rainforest to arid desert, marvelling at Bermuda fan palms, strawberry guavas and the dizzying scent of orchids.
Surprisingly unglamorous, the fascination lies in the spick-and-span detail: G-Plan furnishings and the Queen’s single bed, the cramped crew’s quarters and the 1950s operating theatre. Learn about the minutiae of life on board – decks scrubbed before 8am to avoid disturbing Royal sunbathers – and the five tonnes of luggage.
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Play a Victorian 'spook', spying on the city’s comings and goings with the camera obscura, a rooftop periscope and Edinburgh’s first purpose-built tourist attraction. Elsewhere, lose yourself in a crazy world of illusions, whether holograms, optical puzzles, giant kaleidoscopes or vortex tunnel.
An alternative viewing point to Arthur’s Seat or the Scott Monument. Commemorating the Admiral’s Trafalgar victory (and death) in 1805, and shaped like a telescope, it gives fine views over the city, the Pentland Hills and the Firth of Forth. A 'time ball', added in 1852, is lowered daily (except Sunday) at 1pm, originally to help sailors set their chronometers.
Go underground to explore the closes (streets) and tenements of 16th and 17th Century Edinburgh. When the City Chambers were developed in 1753, they built over the lower floors of the existing tenements, thus preserving the close as a 'lost city'. Costumed actors recreate the highs and lows of everyday life, from the merchant to the gravedigger.
A leading centre of conservation, this is an 'open zoo', with ditches and moats rather than bars and cages. Rare and endangered species include the orange-bibbed Malayan sun bear and Sumatran tiger, while other must-sees include the UK’s only koala bears, a huge chimpanzee playground and the daily (2.15pm) penguin parade, an enchanting waddle around the penguin lawn.
If you’ve had your fill of pomp, you might skip the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the bottom of the Royal Mile for the upstart opposite. A bold, wave-like mass of granite, steel and oak, the building, opened in 2004, is as stunning as its cost: £400 million ($A860 million). Designed by Spaniard Enric Miralles, highlights include the debating chamber – its 30-metre-span ceiling without vertical supports – and the Garden Lobby with its glass-panelled roof.
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This article was written by Helen Pickles from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.