Enticing Edinburgh

Looking over Edinburgh from Calton Hill, with Arthur's Seat in the background
Looking over Edinburgh from Calton Hill, with Arthur's Seat in the background

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Luton, Bedford and Nuneaton pass by in a blur. As the Virgin service heads north, the train is so fast you’re spared from the unremarkable scenery whizzing past.

But after a quick change at Preston, the landscape soon emerges. First there’s the stunning Lake District to feast your eyes on, followed by the picturesque hills of southern Scotland, dotted here and there with sheep.

It’s a view you simply won’t get the pleasure of enjoying if you travel to Edinburgh by plane.

And with the high-speed service from London Euston getting you to the city’s heart in under five hours, it’s definitely a journey worth making.

Our four-day break to Edinburgh was a chance to explore all that this historic city could throw at us.

Scotland’s capital attracts millions of tourists each year and it’s not hard to see why. If you’re looking for a destination with a difference, Edinburgh has it all.

Nestled by hills and the sea, it’s a compact, cosy, city. But crucially, it’s also a place of great contrasts.

The cobbled Old Town has a character all of its own and the famous Royal Mile – with Edinburgh Castle at one end and Holyrood Palace at the other – is a great place to start.

A trip here would feel incomplete without a visit to the castle. This imposing fortress dominates the skyline. See Mons Meg – the famous medieval cannon – and the Royal Palace where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI, as well as the Scottish National War Memorial, a poignant reminder of all those Scottish servicemen and women who died in the Second World War or later conflicts.

Just a short distance from the castle sits another attraction that will be sure to thrill big kids as well as little ones.

The Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is crammed full of the weird and wonderful. Create a thermal image of your own body’s hot spots, brave the vortex tunnel (if you dare – I didn’t) and get lost in the mirror maze. Those fond of gentler pursuits should make their way to the rooftop and look out across the city’s chimney pots to spot the Forth Bridge.

Writer Robert Louis Stevenson described the hill known as Arthur’s Seat as ‘a mountain in virtue of its bold design’. And when you’re scrambling, breathless, to the top, it certainly feels like a mountain. But the effort is worth it because from up here it feels like the whole of Edinburgh is spread out at your feet.

And when you’re back at ground level, perhaps walking around the city’s bustling Princes Street shopping area, or visiting Leith Docks, Arthur’s Seat is always on show.

Of course, a lot of tourists have been eager to see Scotland’s newest arrivals at Edinburgh Zoo – two pandas called Yang Guang and Tian Tian.

But be warned: if panda-watching is the only thing you’re bothered about, get your act together and pre-book one of only a selected amount of daily tickets available to see the cute bears. On the day we went, advance tickets had sold out. But plenty of penguins, rhinos, big cats and monkeys meant we still had fun.

We stayed in a self-catering apartment just off the Royal Mile and it’s a good way to ensure you’ve got a central base from which to explore.

Plenty of good restaurants, free access to a number of galleries and museums and scenery so stunning that it would be impossible to get bored of looking at it all combine to make Edinburgh a truly remarkable city.