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, known as Arthur's Seat, and dominated by the grey, brooding hulk of the Medieval Edinburgh Castle -- the tourist hub of the Royal Mile, a street exactly one Scots mile long. (The outdated measurement is equivalent to 1,807 meters, longer than the standard 1,609-meter mile.)
Old Town, as this area is known, features a wonderful labyrinth of alleyways and cobbled streets filled with castles, museums and churches. After the 1707 Act of Union joined Scotland and England politically, many of Edinburgh's wealthier residents abandoned Edinburgh for London. The Georgian terraces -- individual terraces found on the front of Georgian-style row homes -- of nearby New Town were built in an effort to attract them back. Both Old Town and New Town are part of the city's UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Tourism staples include Scotch whisky (with opportunities to learn taste and buy) and golf at St. Andrew's Links, not too far from the city. Edinburgh 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 Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo takes place at the same time, with the castle as its backdrop.
Alongside 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 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 (one has a resident monster you might have heard of).
Smaller ships (less than 700 feet) usually dock in Leith, while large ships stop at Rosyth or South Queensferry.
Leith is a historic port that's a 30-minute bus ride, a 15-minute taxi ride or one-hour walk from central Edinburgh. This is the closest and most convenient place to dock for sightseeing in Edinburgh.
Rosyth is on the other side of the Firth of Forth estuary, and has no direct public transportation, aside from taxis. For most ships, the port operates a free hop-on, hop-off service, which takes you to Dunfermline and North Queensferry. Or, you can opt to take a taxi to central Edinburgh (30 minutes). There's also a train from Dunfermline (35 minutes) or a bus (five-minute taxi ride to the stop; 40 minutes to central Edinburgh).
South Queensferry is a tender port, with good transportation connections. You'll be anchored with great views of the Forth Bridge. Once ashore at Hawes Pier, you can take a private shuttle service directly from the pier to the city center (30 minutes), or opt for a public bus (40 minutes), train (10-minute walk to the station before a 20-minute train ride) or taxi (30 minutes).
Rain. It rains a lot, which gives the city some of its allure -- the misty, cobbled alleyways, the gorgeous green gardens -- but you will get wet.
Speaking of cobblestones, you'll encounter plenty of them in Old Town, so good walking shoes are a must.
Be careful when crossing streets because the Scottish drive on the left-hand side of the road. It's easy to forget that you need to look in the opposite direction for oncoming traffic. Same goes for mass transit. You need to board on the opposite side of the street from what you may be used to.
Many streets change names from block to block, so don't let this mix you up.
In July and August, especially out of town, Scotland is plagued by small biting insects called midges, so take plenty of insect repellent.
Currency is the pound Sterling. Scotland has its own bank notes, but they're interchangeable with English notes and have the same monetary value. For currency-conversion rates, check www.xe.com or www.oanda.com.
Old Town, New Town and the port area in Leith all contain plenty of ATMs.
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 there's a minimum purchase level. You need to have your passport and fill in a form at the time of purchase. Present the forms to customs officials at the final departure from the European Union, but keep in mind the agents probably will ask to see the goods. Visit www.globalrefund.com for more information.
Editor's Note: ATMs in Scotland require a PIN to be no more than 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.
English is spoken -- with a Scottish accent. This is fairly gentle in Edinburgh but much stronger in Glasgow, should you choose to take a daytrip there.
Cashmere and malt Scotch are ideal. Try Jenners on Princes Street, Ragamuffin on the Royal Mile, or Halibut and Herring on Bruntsfield Place for the soft stuff. For the hard stuff, consider Royal Mile Whiskies on High Street in Old Town. Serious Scotch connoisseurs might visit the Scotch Malt Whisky Society on Queen Street in New Town, where an entry fee lets you in to taste and buy upwards of 100 single-barrel malts that can't be found in stores.
You're in the land of Scotch whisky, so skip the umbrella-topped cocktails and order up a wee dram. Ask for something "peaty" if you favor a smoky Scotch, or chat up a bartender to discover many brands that never make it to the U.S.