A Black Death mausoleum and ghoulish snapshot of everyday life in the capital during the 17th Century, the Real Mary King’s Close is a spooky, subterranean labyrinth underneath the 18th Century City Chambers, which were built over the sealed-off remains of the medieval Old Town alley. Costumed characters lead visitors on a scripted tour through a 16th Century townhouse and the plague-stricken home of a 17th Century gravedigger. As you follow, breathing in the perfectly preserved and perfectly eerie airs of this 250-year-old underground graveyard, you’ll be regaled with ghost stories and gruesome tableaux, including an unsettling bedroom decorated with tiny dolls and teddy bears left by awestruck tourists. For those craving an additional fix of the supernatural, there are also a litany of walking ghost tours available along the Royal Mile.
Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday: 10am – 9pm
Watch out for: The obviously sub-par ventilation quality; asthmatics beware of dust
Real Mary King’s Close, 2 High St, Edinburgh, Scotland, +44 845 070 6244
For a change of pace after trudging the inclines of the narrow alleys and the Royal Mile, head towards the University of Edinburgh buildings of George Square and Teviot Row to sprawl out in the Meadows, Edinburgh’s largest green space. During Fringe season every August, the park is chock-a-block with students, escaped office workers on extended lunch breaks, hungover comedians, dog-walkers, and those simply seeking to lap up the sun. More active Edinburghers can make use of the Meadows’ tennis courts, cricket pitches, children’s playgrounds and football courses. Certain spots on the map will even allow you to throw a barbecue!
Opening Hours: N/A
Watch out for: Regular sports fixtures on the public greens
In 2006, the interconnected Museum of Scotland and Royal Museum were combined into one entity under the banner name of the National Museum of Scotland, offering guests a splendid all-in-one package for all ages. Entering through a street level vault, visitors will initially emerge into the old Museum, a breathtaking Victorian building dating back to 1866 with a grand glass greenhouse design, adjoined by balcony levels at each of the Museum’s three floors. The Museum houses an truly eclectic collection, ranging across natural history, archaeology, scientific and industrial technology, and the decorative arts of ancient Egypt, Islam, China, Japan, Korea and the West. What’s more, any preconceptions of a stuffy adults-only establishment are upended by the Museum’s extensive catering to younger visitors. There is a large, all-ages play area to the rear of the first floor, and a more educational play space for older children on the top level. The highlight is undoubtedly the Natural World gallery, a three-level space filled with hung and standing stuffed and model animals from around the world, and a recreated Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton. Foodies will also be enamoured of the haute-cuisine and panoramic views offered by the Tower Restaurant in the former Royal Museum. Regular entry is free, but some limited exhibitions do carry a charge.
Price: Free, some touring exhibitions may charge
Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday: 10am – 5pm
Watch out for: Dolly the Sheep!
National Museum of Scotland, Chambers St, Edinburgh, Scotland, +44 300 123 6789
Step through the front door of this George IV Bridge cocktail mecca, and you may think you’ve crossed through a space-time rift to hip Soho in London. With its striking exposed stone, black leather and neon design aesthetic, this trendy cosmopolitan watering hole is a unique, contemporary standout in Edinburgh’s somewhat staid bar scene. Still wearing a coat of white paint from its previous iteration as the dour, gothic Bar Kohl, Sligh House is not only a bar but an homage to the father of modern geology and kingpin of the Scottish Enlightenment, James Hutton. Hutton was born in Edinburgh on 3 June 1726, and by the 1750s he’d inherited and moved to his family’s farm Slighhouses in Berwickshire, where he grew much of his own food on the farm. While it might stretch the imagination to see any causal links between Hutton and their cocktail practitioning, Sligh House’s twists on classics and after-dinner libations are all infused with a strong focus on seasonality, accompanied by a humourous and quirky presentation style. Highlights include the pea-infused Beefeater gin and tonic, as well as their bourbons, tap pilsners and IPAs. A Hutton-esque spirit of geometric design can be detected in the artfully arranged British and North American small plates and bar snacks, such as the crisp, paprika-peppered pig’s ears served in a bag like crisps, and cubed pork belly served skewered with confit figs.
Opening Hours: Monday to Saturday: 12pm – 1am
Watch out for: The Pea&T cocktail and the pig’s ears
Sligh House, 54 George IV Bridge, Old Town, Edinburgh, Scotland, +44131 225 6936
Edinburgh’s basements, cellars and bridge archways are dotted with various nightlife hotspots, and few can rival the atmosphere conjured by Cabaret Voltaire. Across two arched dance floors, one large and one small, Cab Vol’s state of the art sound systems play a forward-thinking blend of house, techno and bass seven nights a week. Cab Vol has also features big name DJ guests midweek to please the student set, and the Hector’s House and Fly Club residencies (every Tuesday and Friday, respectively) are two of the capital’s most well-attended nights out. Local live acts are more likely to headline here than mid-size touring bands, so there’s also a healthy dose of hometown pride in this hopping enterprise. While the downstairs rooms are where the late night action happens, the ground-level Café Voltaire is a popular hangout earlier in the day, offering 2-for-1 pizzas and cocktails in fashionably distressed surroundings.
Opening Hours: Monday to Thursday: 5pm – 3am; Friday to Sunday: 12pm – 3am
Watch out for: The Hector’s House and Fly Club residencies
Cabaret Voltaire, 36-38 Blair St, Edinburgh, Scotland, +44 131 247 4704
It would be impossible to visit the Old Town without crossing the Royal Mile, a cobbled road stretching from Castle Rock to the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the Scottish Parliament Building. This is the main artery of Edinburgh, and the scourge of locals every August, when you can’t move for the crowds of festival flyerers, street performers and tourists bustling everywhere. Braving the hubbub or visiting in calmer months, this is where you’ll find some of the city’s most exclusive restaurants, shops and authentic pubs serving traditional Scottish grub. The Reformation-era ‘wynds’ that lead away from the Royal Mile also house several points of local historic interest. One example is the Mercat Cross by St Giles Cathedral, a 19th-century copy of the 1365 original, a fixture in the community where merchants and traders met to transact business and royal proclamations were read. There’s also the famous Heart of Midlothian, set into the cobblestone paving to mark the site of the Tolbooth. Built in the 15th century and demolished in the early 19th century, the Tolbooth served variously as a meeting place for parliament, the town council, and the General Assembly of the Reformed Kirk, before becoming law courts and, finally, a notorious prison and place of execution. Passers-by traditionally spit on the heart for luck!
Opening Hours: N/A
Watch out for: The hordes of tourists and occasional rogue lorry