Edinburgh is one of our favourite British city breaks – with its famous arts and music scene, its tangible sense of history, and a growing foodie reputation too. We spoke to Shirley and Derek Mowat, owners of the fabulous The Dunstane Houses, about how to best get under the skin of their home town.
It’s hard to choose just 10 favourites, but this selection – which ranges from from art to whisky, and from A-list to X-factor – should give an authentic and varied insight into Edinburgh.
Autumn is one of our favourite seasons to explore Edinburgh, and this year is no exception. The leaves are turning golden, there is a slight chill in the air and a welcome fire is roaring in pubs and lounges across the city.
Advance booking to the majority of our suggestions is highly recommended, given current number restrictions.
1. Edinburgh Castle
Atop a hill overlooking the city below, Edinburgh’s 12th-century castle dominates the skyline. One of the oldest fortified places in Europe, the castle has a storied history as a royal residence, military garrison, prison and fortress. A gentle stroll from The Dunstane Houses, the castle is the perfect starting point to learn about Edinburgh’s beginnings. Tickets can be purchased here.
2. Fire Folklore at Samhuinn Fire Festival
Signifying the transition from summer to winter, the Samhuinn Fire Festival is Edinburgh’s annual Halloween celebration hosted by the Beltane Fire Society. This immersive festival – which typically takes place on Carlton Hill – allows you to wander through other-wordly creatures and witness a spectacular display of storytelling and firey folklore. Given the current situation, we’d recommend keeping an eye on the Beltane website here for updates on tickets for this year’s festival.
3. Meet the residents of Mary King’s close
Delve deep into Edinburgh’s neoclassical old town and experience over 400 years of history. From myths and legends to the deadly plague, there are a myriad of tales to be told during your hour-long tour. Mary King’s Close is open seven days a week & tickets can be booked here.
4. Walks in the botanical gardens
Loved by visitors and locals alike, the Royal Botanic Garden is over 350 years old and a world-leading plant science, conservation and education centre. Comprising over 70 acres, the gardens are within walking distance of the The Dunstane Houses and offer an unrivalled view of the city’s skyline. Autumn colours are especially impressive. Tickets can be purchased here.
5. Ghostly-inspired walking tours
Fancy stretching your legs and exploring Edinburgh on foot? Our friends at Mercat Tours have just the ticket. Their history walks unveil treasures of the old town and secrets of the city’s Royal Mile whilst their ghost tours are a short, sharp shock into the city’s unsavoury past. Some are family-friendly while others are strictly adults only. Find out which tour takes your fancy via this link, here.
6. A whisky-stop tour of Scotland
After a day exploring, return to our very own Ba’ Bar to learn more about Scotland’s varying whisky regions, their styles and variances. Guided by our resident whisky expert, we offer a number of different experiences including pairing Single Malts with Cheese and our Highland Park Premium Select Whisky Tasting experience, exclusive to the The Dunstane Houses. You can book your whisky experience here.
7. From bean to bar – Edinburgh’s Chocolatarium
It’s Edinburgh’s version of Willy Wonka’s iconic chocolate factory. Find out where cocoa beans are grown and transformed from the bitter seed of a jungle tree to the smooth, velvety treat we all love. Make your own chocolate, try your hand at different flavours and taste up to 30 chocolates from more than 15 Scottish and international chocolate makers, absolutely great for kids. Yum! Tickets can be purchased here.
The interactive #Edinburgh101 Objects tour brings you the opportunity to learn more about our fair capital and its fascinating history, exactly where it happened. The do-it-yourself walking tour features a downloadable map and a checklist of over 100 monuments which can be sourced here.
9. Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
From The Dunstane Houses, it’s a scenic walk along the Water of Leith to The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, home to the country’s foremost collection of modern and contemporary art. There are regular displays of Surrealism, Dada and Cubism, alongside changing features on Modern Cinema or Scottish Abstracts (in 2021-22), and lovely grounds with sculptures to admire. Housed in two adjacent and equally impressive neoclassical buildings, you can purchase tickets for both here.
10. The Scottish International Storytelling Festival
Taking place in the second half of October, the Scottish International Storytelling Festival takes you on a voyage exploring Scotland’s coasts and waters through music and storytelling. This year’s festival – which is one of the largest of its kind – will take place in small-scale live settings. More information can be found here.