Edinburgh City Breaks: Why travel to Scotland's Capital in 2021?
Discover staggering architecture and inspirational attractions at one of the UK's best locations!
Edinburgh is world-famous for its breathtaking beauty and with an abundance of history, exciting attractions, mesmerising architecture, UNESCO heritage and bustling night-life, it's one of the best destinations for a city break in the UK. The Medieval Old Town and elegant Georgian New Town sit side by side in Scotland's capital and are waiting to be explored. Whether you're after a weekend break in Edinburgh or planning on a longer stay, with world-class festivals, a variety of unique boutiques and mouth-watering dining for a romantic getaway as a couple it's hard not to see why Edinburgh ticks all the boxes for the perfect city break. At Holiday Extras lets share with you what you can expect from this incredible short break destination so that you can book your next staycation of 2021 with less hassle and only holiday in mind!
Top 10 Things To Do on an Edinburgh City Break
Visit Edinburgh Castle
- Situated at the top of Castle Rock on top of an extinct volcano, Edinburgh's renowned medieval castle dominates the buildings of the Royal Mile. The most iconic building in Edinburgh, this magnificent Castle and its Esplanade offers some of the best views across the city. With parts dating right back to the 11th century, when it was a royal palace, discover the Castle's history and explore its many unique exhibitions and museums, including the fascinating Prisons of War exhibition. See the magnificent Grand Hall in all its splendour and admire Scotland's Crown Jewels (including the famous Stone of Destiny). Browse for a souvenir in the Crown Gift Shop or Whiskey and Finest Food Shop, and top it all off with a bite to eat at the Queen Anne Tea Room.
Tour the Real Mary King's Close
- Voted Scotland's Best Heritage Tourism Experience, this extraordinary one hour character-guided tour is an excellent way of learning about the captivating real stories of Edinburgh's past residents. Discover over 400 years of history with a myriad of tales waiting to be told about Scotland's intriguing Capital. Take a trip through time and uncover why the Close, once open air and bustling with trade, came to be underground. Experience a unique look at Edinburgh's layered past and walk through the city's uniquely preserved streets under the Royal Mile. It's advisable you pre-book tickets in advance via the website.
Explore Edinburgh Zoo
- If you're spending your city break staying in a countryside cottage nearby, you may already feel a little closer to nature but the experience doesn't have to stop there. Just a short bus ride from Edinburgh's city centre, Edinburgh Zoo is home to over 1000 amazing and exotic animals, including the UK's only giant pandas. An ideal family break destination, children will love the fabulous flamingos and mischievous monkeys. Watch the world famous penguin parade where some of the many Rockhopper, Gentoo and even King Penguins leave their enclosure to enjoy a waddle about during lunchtime. Also, grab a snack at the Jungle Food Court, Grasslands Restaurant or Penguins Café, and there is even a Zoo Gift Shop to discover.
Appreciate Art in Edinburgh
- With several art galleries to visit on your Edinburgh city break, including the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art (which is housed in two impressive neoclassical buildings) immerse yourself in the city's culture. This Gallery includes an expansive car park full of modern sculptures and is a must-see for any contemporary art enthusiast. The Scottish Gallery of Modern Art can be found in the heart of Edinburgh and boasts some of the world's finest paintings including Rembrant, Monet and Raphael. The Scottish National Portrait Gallery, set in a beautiful red sandstone building, can be found in the New Town and is home to over 3,000 portraits of men, women and children from Scotland and beyond. Great if you're keen to save money on a cheap city break, these galleries are all FREE admission!
Marvel over Sir Walter Scott
- Take a trip to the largest commemorative monument to a writer in the world. Celebrating the Scottish Novelist Sir Walter Scott, and built in the 19th Century, this is one of Edinburgh's most exciting landmarks. Part of the challenge comes from the ascent up the 287 steps to the top enabling you to enjoy unprecedented views across the stunning city of Edinburgh and its breath-taking surrounding countryside. Guided Tours are available.
Learn how the Scottish Government works
- Potty about politics? Housed in a contemporary building in Edinburgh's Old Town, the modern Scottish Parliament Building is a great destination to visit on your Edinburgh short break. Open Monday-Saturday you can take a free Tour of the Debating Chamber, the Garden Lobby and the private office of a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP). View proceedings from the public gallery, in the debating chamber when Parliament is in session and discover its history, work and modern architecture. There's even a Gift Shop where you can purchase a keepsake to remember your trip.
Buy yourself a treat
- Whether you fancy Tartan or Whiskey to take home after your short break, delight in Edinburgh's interesting and unusual shops that run along Princes Street. Similarly, stroll along Edinburgh's famous Royal Mile that leads up to the Castle and be welcomed by an eclectic range of souvenir shops, selling anything and everything a tourist would want. There's also an abundance of cafés, bars and award-winning restaurants to enjoy.
Relive your Childhood
- Visit the Museum of Childhood and release your inner child. Take a short break from adult life with a joyous wander down memory lane. An ideal attraction for a family break, children can learn about the children of the past and discover a terrific range of toys and even play the games of the past; including hands-on activities like puppet theatre and dressing up.
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
- This needs no introduction. Take respite from the everyday hustle and bustle of city life to leisurely walk through outstanding botanical gardens and discover the warmth of exotic plants within the Glasshouses. Located just a short 20 minutes' walk from Edinburgh's city centre, encounter an enchanting collection of approximately 100,000 plants and explore 72 acres of glorious green space. Learn about the garden's flourishing and diverse history, dating back an amazing 350 years, in this haven of relaxation. Enjoy a bite to eat at the Gateway Restaurant, Terrace Café or the East Gate Coffee Bar and spoil yourself in the Botanics Gift Shop and Garden Shop. Witness the changing sights, sounds and scents throughout Edinburgh's varied seasons and take the opportunity to appreciate this awe-inspiring location at any time of the year.
Take a selfie at the Greyfriars Bobby Statue
- Edinburgh is certainly a dog-friendly city and an ideal place to enjoy a holiday with your pooch. This monument will melt the heart strings of any pet lover, especially if you're accompanied by your four-legged friend. Potentially the most photographed Landmark in Edinburgh, discover the famous Statue in Greyfriars Kirkyard. This is the heartwarming story from the late 19th Century, still admired in Scotland and shared through many books and films around the world, of a little Skye terrier called Bobby. The tale is that he kept a graveside vigil of 15 years when his police officer owner died - he truly was his man's best friend. It's recommended you book a tour in advance to not be disappointed. This excursion is ideal for couples, families, groups or solo travellers (with or without a canine companion).
What to Eat and Drink in Edinburgh
Traditional Scottish food on your short break is far more important than just finding something to eat. Each dish you savour is steeped in the country's culture and history, so give a few of these dishes a wee try and learn more about Edinburgh than you expected by dining out in Edinburgh - the Scottish way!
- Haggis - The most popular and adventurous dish to try in Edinburgh is haggis. A meaty dish containing a combination of the heart, lungs and liver of a sheep or lamb. This is traditionally mixed with fat or suet, and some oats and onions. Seasoned, the mixture is then stuffed into a casing, similarly to a sausage and steamed or baked. You could enjoy this with a dram of Scotch for good measure - which leads us on to our next choice for you...
- Scotch Whiskey - Whether you call this scotch whiskey or simply scotch, Edinburgh is the ideal location for you to sample a dram or two of this aged alcohol on your city break. A true scotch has one shared characteristic - that it has been aged for at least 3 years or more in an oak barrel. There are also single or double malt to choose, blended grain varieties or a combination of the two. This world-renowned peaty delight is a heady brew with a minimum of at least 40% alcohol by volume, as dictated by the Scotch Whisky Regulations.
- Neeps and Tatties - These mouth-watering two side dishes are traditional food in Scotland and are often served accompanying haggis. A neep, similar to a turnip, in Edinburgh is boiled and mashed. Tatties are simply boiled potatoes and are a scrumptious familiar comfort food. When you indulge in a plate of haggis with neeps and tatties this is often referred to as a Burns supper (dedicated to the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns).
- Cullen Skink - This hearty Scottish dish hails from the northeastern part of the country and is a popular dish in Edinburgh too. The silky and creamy smoked fish soup will suit anyone that's a fan of clam chowder, as cream and potatoes are added to smoked haddock to make this indulgent dish.
- Cock-a-leekie Soup - Following on from Cullen Skink, is another delicious soup that will be comforting as the cool coastal weather sweeps in. Composed of chicken stock, leeks and onions this is the perfect classic soup when on a short break away to cure you of all troubles that ail you. This appetizing meal originated way back in the 16th century and is famous for being Scotland's National Soup.
- Cranachan - Now something for your sweet tooth. This luscious dessert is a great way of completing your journey through delicious traditional Scottish food. Scotch whiskey is combined with raspberries and toasted oats (that have been soaked overnight in a dram of whiskey). This dish is topped off with honey and freshly whipped cream to make the perfect sumptuous sweet treat. The fun part is when you order a cranachan you are served all the ingredients separately for you to compile. This means you can layer together each ingredient in the quantity you desire and savour the memory of creating your own delectable Scottish dish. If you're enjoying a romantic weekend away as a couple then this is a great way to end your evening meal.
Edinburgh City Breaks FAQs
How many days do you need in Edinburgh?A weekend break is the perfect way of exploring Edinburgh. Taking 2 or 3 days allows enough time to see the main sites and tour the popular attractions. Whether you fancy climbing to Arthur's Seat or taking a Whiskey Tour, there's plenty to cram in on a short break to Scotland's capital.
How long do you need to spend at Edinburgh Castle?It's advisable to allow at least 2 hours to explore Edinburgh Castle and see the Castle's fantastic highlights.
Is it better to stay in Edinburgh's Old Town or New Town?Edinburgh's Old Town and the Royal Mile is the perfect area to stay if you're keen on sight-seeing. Alternatively, the New Town is an excellent location for shopping and dining out, with numerous quaint boutiques and award-winning restaurants.
What is Edinburgh's Fringe Festival?The Edinburgh Fringe is the world's largest arts festival. It takes place annually in August and has become a world-leading celebration of arts and culture. Known worldwide for its amazing theatrical shows including comedy, dance, circus, cabaret, musicals and opera performances.
If you're heading to Edinburgh for a city break in August you'll feel the bustling atmosphere that surrounds this fantastic event. It's worth booking tickets to the events in advance via the Festival Fringe Society Box Office. They also publish the programme online so you can check out what to go and see.
What is the best time of the year to visit Edinburgh?Edinburgh is an all year round destination but there are certain months of the year which may be more appealing depending on what activities you have planned for your trip.
- Best time of year for sightseeing - Edinburgh is great for sightseeing all year round whether you choose the months of May through to September, as the days are longer and the temperatures are warmer, or are keen to experience Edinburgh's dramatic winters for a Christmas and New Year's break.
Holiday Extras Tip - Starting your break earlier or later than the peak summer or winter seasons could save you time, with shorter waiting lines and fewer tourists eager to see each attraction.
- Best time of the year for warm weather - The warmest weather in Edinburgh tends to be in July and August, though rain can be expected at any time. However, if you're excited by the prospect of snow then pack your thickest Harris Tweed and head to the Scottish Capital during the winter months and revel in the awe-inspiring snow-capped views across this spectacular city.
What is the best way to get to Edinburgh?There are several ways to consider when travelling to Edinburgh for your city break:
- Plane - Travelling to Edinburgh from elsewhere in the UK has never been easier. Several British cities offer direct flights to Edinburgh's main airport; these include British Airways, EasyJet and Ryanair.
- Train - Depending on which city you're travelling from, the easiest and most comfortable way to get to Edinburgh could be by train. Especially if you're travelling from nearby cities like Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester or Newcastle. If you're travelling from further afield you'll probably find that flying is your fastest and cheapest option though.
- Bus - Numerous coach companies travel between Britain's cities to Edinburgh - these include National Express and Citylink. Shop around for the best price so that you don't lose out.
- Car - If you're keen to not let the train or other forms of transport take the strain, then consider taking a road trip to Edinburgh. Why not hire a classic car for that perfect tour and romantic getaway. Remember less hassle, more holiday!
What is the best way of travelling around Edinburgh?
- By Bus - One of the best ways of travelling around Edinburgh is by jumping on and off the hop-on hop-off bus tour of the city. With multiple routes to choose from and dozens of stops it's an easy way to travel about and visit several attractions. You can buy tickets for up to 24-hour periods, and they are unlimited during that time. The city of Edinburgh also has a super efficient public bus service that operates 24 hours a day, perfect if you end up needing to get somewhere a little further afield that isn't available on a bus tour.
- By Foot - Edinburgh's perfect for travelling around on foot too. A great way of getting a real feel for the city, enjoy walking and exploring the cobbled lanes and traversing the length of the Royal Mile.
- By Tram - If you're flying to your city break on a plane, then Edinburgh has a tram service which has one route connecting the airport to New Town, which is handy for getting into the heart of the city. Once you're there though the best way of getting around would be using the buses.
On the subject of bus tours, enjoy a theatrical sightseeing tour and book a spooky 75 minute Ghost Bus Tour. Travel around on a vintage double decker bus and learn from the creepy conductor about the city's grave robbers, plague victims and the ghosts that reside in the most haunted city in Europe.
For the latest travel advice for your Edinburgh city break in 2021, please visit our Edinburgh Travel Guide for further information.
"On that trip I learnt something very important. Escape through travel works. Almost from the moment I boarded my flight, life in England became meaningless. Seat-belt signs lit up, problems switched off. Broken armrests took precedence over broken hearts. By the time the plane was airborne I’d forgotten England even existed."Alex Garland, The Beach