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When a city’s New Town is roughly 300 years old, you know there’s a lot of history to absorb; it’s the perfect spot to find great new takes on haggis or a cozy café where you can curl up with a book. The annual Fringe Festival—when the city’s population swells with jugglers, comedians, actors, and oddballs—brings in culture vultures, but Edinburgh has something for just about any visitor, any time of year. After traipsing the Royal Mile, from its imposing castle on a volcanic mountain to the Queen’s Holyrood Palace, be sure to wander through Haymarket’s bohemian thrift shops and pop into a pub. With all those bare men’s legs peeking from below their kilts, Scotland’s capital never disappoints.
Located just outside the city center in a quaint neighborhood, the lushly decorated former Lord Provost’s home (erected in 1687) is awash in crushed red velvet and gilded detail. The crimson aesthetic spills into the suites, giving it the feel of a chic, baroque bordello. The lavish breakfast spread will make you feel as pampered as past guests Grace of Monaco and Elton John. A framed portrait of Charles II hangs alone in an alcove since he’s reported to have wanted a room to himself. Who can blame him? Prestonfield.com
Royal Botanic Garden
Let us count the reasons to make time for Edinburgh’s beautiful garden (founded in 1670). First: The elemental slate cone by environmental sculptor Andy Goldsworthy sits in perfect equilibrium with the surrounding lawns and trees. Second: the Victorian Temperate Palm House, which—at 72 feet—is the tallest glasshouse in Britain. Then, sniff the New Reekie—the Scots’ nomenclature for the titan arum, one of the world’s largest and smelliest flowers. We also love Inverleith House, the 18th-century mansion at the center of the estate, one of Britain’s loveliest galleries of contemporary art. And finally: It’s free. RBGE.org.uk
Named after the beloved Beaches character (played by Bette Midler), CC Blooms remains Edinburgh’s foremost gay meeting point. It’s in fact so iconic that “Do I know you from CC’s?” is local code for “Are you gay?” Less of a dive than a glittery gay beacon, it’s the anchor for the city’s gay scene. CCBlooms Edinburgh
A 10-minute walk from Edinburgh’s Royal Mile is Rose Street, or the “amber mile”—a stretch of pedestrian-only alleyways between the larger Princes Street and George Street in Georgian-era New Town. What was once a lineup of servants’ quarters and entrances—and, for a time, the red-light district—is now chockablock with restaurants, shops, and pubs (hence “amber”). We liked the Element pub and restaurant (ElementEdinburgh.co.uk) for its seafood and bite-sized haggis balls (complete with neeps and tatties), and there were indeed more pubs than you could sample in a month. Try the student-popular completist pub-crawl at your own risk.