Edinburgh, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is famous for its dramatic downtown castle, winding cobblestone streets, and, in recent years, has become a sacred site for Harry Potter fans. But this compact, walkable city is also a cultural hotspot with a range of both indoor and outdoor attractions to delight any visitor.
Camera Obscura & World of Illusions is located in a 17th-century tenement that’s been converted into a five-floor tower at the western end of busy Royal Mile. Tour Edinburgh’s Old Town and New Town through the Camera Obscura (read here how it works) then navigate a mirror maze, dash across a swirling vortex of light and look into a kaleidoscope of mind-bending visual displays. Don’t miss the panoramic views from the museum’s rooftop terrace.
At the world’s largest arts festival, you might discover a standup-comedian-turned-card-throwing-ninja, or a one-man play about poetry, or a spellbindingly beautiful circus act. Edinburgh Festival Fringe takes over the city each August (August 3 to 27 in 2018) with more than 3,000 shows at nearly 300 venues. See indie theatre performances, listen to eclectic musical acts, watch buskers and meet locals at the beer gardens. And this isn’t the city’s only arts festival. Visit edinburghfestivalcity.com for a lineup of year-round festivals that run the gamut from books and storytelling to film, jazz and blues, and more.
For a break from the bustle, walk 15 minutes southwest from the medieval heart of Edinburgh to Lochrin Basin, located in the neighbourhood of Foundainbridge. You’ll find a collection of laid-back cafés, restaurants and bars clustered around the Union Canal. Grab an Americano and a freshly baked brownie at The Counter on the Canal — a takeaway window in a restored canal boat — then settle into a deck chair on the waterside promenade. Or, at the Swedish resto-bar Akva, find a table on the patio where craft beer and cocktails pair nicely with Scandinavian sharing plates (smoked trout, salmon, cheddar) or Swedish meatballs.
A short stroll east from downtown and a steep hike through Holyrood Park will take you to Arthur’s Seat, a 250-metre-high perch atop an ancient volcano. It offers an unparalleled view of the city and the blue-green waters of the Firth of Forth estuary. There’s also a well-preserved 2,000-year-old hill fort to explore and several rocky crags for kids who love scrambling. For those a bit winded from the climb that includes switchbacks past sheer cliffs, or dizzy from all those busy nights in the city below, take a seat on the Seat and cool off in the peaceful breeze.