Edinburgh is a city that doesn’t do anything by halves. Its skylines are some of the most magical you’ll see in any city, and it’s brimming with fascinating heritage. There are enough surprises to keep you amused for days – and it’s certainly worth a longer trip when you have the time – but if you’re only in town for a couple of hours, there’s a few essential experiences to tick off your travel list. Whether you’re waiting on a connection, killing time after a conference, or planning a whirlwind day-trip, here’s the lowdown on this buzzing city.
1 hour: Pay a visit to Jenners
Department store Jenners is just a short stroll away from Edinburgh Waverly – the city’s main station. Walk past the east side of Prince Street Gardens (take in the 200m sandstone monument, dedicated to author Sit Walter Scott, en route) and then up St David Street. The huge, handsome edifice on the corner taking up prime real estate is Jenners. House of Fraser bought this once independent store out in 2005, but don’t let that put you off. It’s packed with upmarket retailers (they don’t call it the ‘Harrods of the North’ for nothing) – at least if your visit is quick you won’t be tempted to ruin your bank balance! If you just fancy a browse, the stunning vaulted ceiling in the main hall is worth viewing.
1 hour: Pet the Greyfriars Bobby’s Statue
This characterful monument is a point of pilgrimage for many visitors to Edinburgh. Legend has it that this devoted Skye Terrier couldn’t bear to be apart from his master; when the man died in Victorian Edinburgh in 1858, Bobby guarded his grave for 14 years till he himself passed away in 1872. Prominent Edinburgh residents were moved by the story, and asked the City Council to put up a memorial to the loyal pup. The commemorative statue is at the corner of George IV Bridge and Candlemaker Row, an easy walk south from the station. It’s right next to the peaceful churchyard where the dog and his master are buried, and in front of a pub bearing his name, should you have time for a drink.
2 hours: Explore old Edinburgh Castle
The castle is the hardest thing to miss in Edinburgh. No matter where you are in the city you can make it out, whether it’s perching on the horizon or towering above you. Despite its position – in the centre of the city, and high on Castle Rock – it’s not a long walk from the station. There’s no shortage of fascinating history either: royalty have lived here since the 1100s, while there’s evidence of human settlement as far back as 900BC. The castle itself hosts plenty of exhibits which inform you about both the fortress and the city it overlooks. Buy a ticket online to skip the queue, and consider spending an extra £3.50 to pick up an informative audio tour.
2 hours: Stop for refreshments at The Dome
A bar, a grill, a tea room… The Dome effortlessly moves between different modes of relaxation in a number of different rooms, all of which share the same kind of elegance that makes this place so charming. The external façade is Greco-Roman, with a columned porch, while indoors the décor feels like a royal palace. Have high tea in the Georgian Tea Rooms, or sip snifters of whisky in the splendid Front Bar. The cocktails here have a well-deserved reputation too, so it’s worth trying a drink or three while you take in the decadent surroundings – try the Edinburgh Southside martini, made with lime juice, mint, sugar, orange bitters and locally-produced gin.
3 hours: Trek up to Arthur’s Seat
Bring some sturdy shoes and a bottle of water: Edinburgh’s most famous hike is easily accessible from the city centre. Arthur’s Seat is a brisk 45-minute excursion from the train station, so take it easy and leave yourself plenty of time to enjoy the view once you get up there. The walk takes you through the 640-acre Holyrood Park and up to 251m above sea level. Arthur’s Seat is the park’s highest point, an extinct volcano with sweeping views of the city. On clear days, you get unparalleled views of Edinburgh, letting you take in the castle, the Scott monument, and undulating hills. Explore the remains of a historical fort, which has sat atop the hill for at least a millennium: some even believe it was the site of Camelot in the Arthurian legends.
3 hours: Enjoy The Tower Restaurant’s nouveau cuisine
Head to Edinburgh’s first rooftop restaurant, sitting atop the Museum of Scotland, and settle in for some of Britain’s finest food. At The Tower you’ll find grand views of the Edinburgh skyline, locally-sourced ingredients, innovative dishes and chic décor. Get a three-course meal for a contemporary take on Scottish cuisine: ham hock terrine, creamy broccoli risotto with smoked Applewood and almonds, and classic rhubarb crumble a la mode.