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Historic Edinburgh, capital of Scotland, has so much to offer that you can't possibly do it in a day. The city lies in a beautiful setting, sprawling over an extinct volcano, Arthur's Seat, dominated by the grey, brooding hulk of the medieval Edinburgh Castle -- now the tourist hub of the Royal Mile, a street exactly one Scots mile long. (A Scots mile, an outdated measurement, is equivalent to 1,807 meters, longer than the standard mile at about 1,609 meters.)
Old Town, as this area is known, has a wonderful labyrinth of alleyways and cobbled streets filled with historic castles, museums and cathedrals. After the 1707 Act of Union joined Scotland and England politically, many of Edinburgh's wealthier residents abandoned Edinburgh for London. The Georgian Terraces of New Town were built in an effort to attract them back. Both Old Town and New Town are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Tourism staples there include whisky (with opportunities to learn about, taste and buy this Scottish beverage) and golf at St. Andrew's Links, not too far away. The city is, perhaps, most well known for its annual Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world, taking over the city for three weeks every summer. In addition to a wide array of performances, the city's iconic Military Tattoo takes place at the same time, with the castle as its backdrop.
Alongside all this tradition, Edinburgh has an edgy, modern vibe, too. Galleries display cutting-edge art while chic restaurants, day spas and hotels peddle sophistication. A hip pub culture and a cool nightlife scene complete the picture. Meanwhile, on the doorstep is the Scottish countryside -- miles of rolling, heather-covered hills, craggy mountains and still-as-glass lochs.
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Cashmere and malt scotch are ideal. Try Elgin Cashmere, Ragamuffin or Ness Clothing Co. on the Royal Mile for the soft stuff. For the hard stuff, consider The Scotch Malt Whisky on Queen Street or Royal Mile Whiskies on High Street.
English, with a Scottish accent. This is very gentle in Edinburgh but much stronger in Glasgow, should you take a day-trip there.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Currency is the pound Sterling. Scotland has its own banknotes, but they're interchangeable with English notes and have the same monetary value. For current currency rates, see www.xe.com.
There are plenty of ATM machines and exchange bureaus at the port in Leith, in Old Town and New Town.
If you are visiting from outside the European Union, you can get back some of the 17.5 percent VAT (Value Added Tax) you pay on certain goods. Not all shops participate, and stores that do set a minimum purchase level. You will need to carry your passport with you and fill in a form at the time of purchase. Present the forms to Customs at the final departure from the European Union, but keep in mind the agents most likely will ask to see the goods. Visit www.globalrefund.com for more information.
Editor's Note: ATM's in Scotland require a PIN to be only four digits long, so plan ahead. Also, many display only numerals on the keypad. For pin codes that include letters, commit them to memory or jot down the translation to numbers.
Where You're Docked
Leith, a historic port, is a 10-minute bus or taxi ride or 30-minute walk from central Edinburgh.
The purpose-built cruise terminal offers tourist information, while the adjacent Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre has a taxi rank and ATM in addition to a variety of retailers, a large cinema, cafes and restaurants -- some with stunning views out across the Firth of Forth. The Royal Yacht Britannia, the Queen's retired floating palace, is moored on Leith's waterfront.
On Foot: You can walk anywhere. The Old and New towns are separated by the easily traversed Princes Street Gardens.
By Taxi: Taxis are plentiful. Central Taxis offers 24/7 service, but cabs also can be booked in advance (0131 229 2468). Another option is City Cabs (0131 228 1211). Edinburgh Taxi also accepts bookings for minibuses and chauffeur-driven cars (0131 610 1234).
By Bus: Buses are really easy to figure out, and they're trackable on smartphones. The port terminal is also a terminal point for several bus routes. For maps and timetables, see the Lothian Buses Web site.
By Car: Enterprise has a lot next to the port terminal (0131 557 0000). Other rental agencies include Thrifty (0131 337 1319) and Hertz (0843 309 3026). If you rent a car, remember that people drive on the left in Scotland.
Watch Out For
Rain. It rains a lot, which gives the city some of its allure -- the misty, cobbled alleyways, the gorgeous green gardens -- but you will also get wet. In July and August, especially out of town, Scotland is plagued by small biting insects called midges, so take plenty of insect repellent.
Dating back to Medieval times (12th century), Edinburgh's Old Town is where most of the major historic monuments and attractions are gathered, with most anchored on or just off the Royal Mile, the main roadway. The Royal Mile is the historic thoroughfare that's marked at the top by Edinburgh Castle (the number one attraction in Scotland) and at the bottom by the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence in Scotland of Her Majesty the Queen. Your best bet is to start your trip down the Royal Mile from the top (our listings run top to bottom); along the way, The Royal Mile has four different street names: Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street and Canongate. Here's a sprinkling of attractions and sights worth seeing:
At Edinburgh Castle, key attractions include St. Margaret's Chapel, the Stone of Destiny (where Scottish monarchs were crowned) and a display of the Scottish Crown Jewels. Listen for the 1 p.m. gun firing, a nearly daily event since 1861. Guided tours are available. (open daily 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
At the Scotch Whisky Experience, tastings are available after a fun tour, involving a ride through the displays in a whisky barrel. (354 Castlehill, open daily from 10 a.m.)
St. Giles Cathedral is the high "kirk" (church) of Scotland and dates back to the Middle Ages. Inside are numerous memorials, stained-glass windows and art masterpieces. (Lawnmarket, open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.)
The Palace of Holyroodhouse is the official Scottish residence of Her Majesty The Queen. There's a fabulous tour of the chambers of Mary Queen of Scots, historic apartments and state rooms. The palace gardens are gorgeous. (Open daily, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed 15 May to 1 June inclusive and 26 June to 7 July inclusive.)
Its moniker is misleading, but everything is relative; the New Town actually dates back to the 18th century. Its wide streets and beautiful Georgian houses in Charlotte Square are worth a stroll. Queen Street is home to The Scottish National Portrait Gallery, while George Street offers boutiques, bars and restaurants. Other attractions include The National Gallery of Scotland, the National Gallery of Modern Art and the Royal Scottish Academy.
The Scottish National Portrait Gallery is a five-minute walk from Princes Street. See the past and present Scotland face to face -- from Mary Queen of Scots to Sean Connery. Admission is free. (Queen Street, open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and until 7 p.m. on Thursday)
The National Gallery of Scotland holds Scotland's greatest collection of Old Masters. It's one of Europe's finest art collections with works from the Renaissance period to the 19th century, including pieces by Raphael, Titian, El Greco, Velazquez, Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne, Degas and Gauguin. Admission is free. (Princes Street and the Mound, Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. or until 7 p.m. on Thursday)
The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is set in parkland, about a 15-minute walk from Princes Street, and is home to the national collection of modern and contemporary art in two buildings, Modern One and Modern Two. Admission is free. (75 Belford Road, open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. or until 6 p.m. in August)
The Royal Scottish Academy plays host to Scotland's contemporary art scene via revolving exhibitions in William Henry Playfair's landmark building. (The Mound, open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.)
Been There, Done That
Bring a picnic, and climb the 800-foot-high Arthur's Seat (near Holyrood Palace), a one-time volcano with breathtaking views of Edinburgh and the sea. Footpaths to the summit start from Dunsapie Loch or the Palace of Holyrood, near St. Anthony's Chapel.
Put a fun spin on a city tour with a literary pub tour that follows in the footsteps of Burns, Scott and Stevenson or visits the city's 18th-century underground vaults. For more of a workout, tour Edinburgh, from distilleries to castles, by bicycle via 2 Wheel Tours. (daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Explore the Port of Leith. This one-time seedy port neighborhood has gotten spruced up and boasts a shopping mall (Ocean Terminal), hip restaurants and ye olde pubs. The biggest attraction is the Royal Yacht Britannia, a former private vessel to the royal family. You can walk to Britannia from the dock in five minutes; tours start in the Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre. (open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in April, May, June and October and 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. July, August and September).
Take the train to Glasgow, a 45-minute ride; for train schedules, consult ScotRail. Glasgow presents a more modern and cosmopolitan face of Scotland than historic Edinburgh. There, you'll find trendy bars, tons of shopping -- from high-end department stores to chic boutiques -- great art and Victorian architecture.
Another great trip-by-train is the seaside resort of North Berwick (24 miles east of Edinburgh and about an hour's ride), home of the Scottish Seabird Centre with its Big Brother-style cameras focused on the bird life activity on the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth.
Along the Royal Mile, fun pubs (that also serve bar food) include: The Bow Bar (80 West Bow, Victoria Street), Deacon Brodies (435 Lawnmarket), Clever Dicks (119 High Street) and The Jinglin' Geordie (22 Fleshmarket). For a sampling of restaurants and cafes, good choices include The Fruitmarket Cafe (45 Market Street, 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 4:30 p.m. Sunday) for casual fare in an art cafe attached to the Contemporary Scottish Art Gallery. Polo Fusion (503 Lawnmarket, noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday) offers international-style cuisine. And for fabulous medieval atmosphere and high-class, seasonal Scottish produce, try The Witchery at the Castle (352 Castlehill, noon to 4 p.m. daily).
In Leith, check out The Central Bar (7 Leith Walk), Leith Oyster Bar (10 Burgess Street) and Port O'Leith Bar (58 Constitution Street).
In New Town, cafes and bistros line Rose Street; beyond that, one favourite is Keepers (13B Dundas Street, noon to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday).
Staying in Touch
If you have your own device, there are many coffee houses, bars, restaurants and hotels that offer free Wi-Fi. If not, try an Internet cafe, such as Easy Internet Cafe (58 Rose Street, New Town) or West Bow Internet Cafe (98 West Bow, Grassmarket).
Best for First-Timers: The half-day "City of Edinburgh and Castle" tour is a terrific first visit. After scenic drives through Edinburgh's New and Old Towns, you can tour the medieval castle set upon its rocky perch at the top of the Royal Mile. See the Scottish Crown Jewels and the apartments of Mary Queen of Scots.
Best for History Buffs: On the half-day "Stirling Castle & Bannockburn Heritage Centre" tour, you'll start by visiting the Bannockburn Heritage Centre, located on the site where Robert the Bruce likely commanded his troops. After you take in the museum of Scottish history and the battlefields, you'll travel on to Stirling Castle, where Scottish kings and queens lived during the 15th and 16th centuries.
Best for Sports Aficionados: Take the half-day "St. Andrews" tour, and head out of town to the place where golf was invented. The tour includes time to explore the medieval town of St. Andrews, where Prince William went to university, and a chance to walk a portion of the legendary golf course. The classic movie, Chariots of Fire, was shot on the vast expanse of West Sands beach at St Andrews and a plaque commemorates the filming.
For More Information
Edinburgh Tourism: www.edinburgh.org
Edinburgh VisitScotland Information Centre: 3 Princes Street, 0845 225 5121 (U.K.) or +44 (0) 131 625 8625 (Outside U.K.), email@example.com
Critic Message Boards: Britain
The Independent Traveler: Scotland Exchange
--Updated by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor, and Jodi Thompson, Cruise Critic Contributor