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Festival capital with year-round aqppeal

Costa Rica

Edinburgh is one of Britain’s finest city destinations, given additional affectionate promotion by Alexander McCall Smith in his Scotland St series. Proud history and elegant architecture are set against the commanding backdrop of the Castle Rock and Arthur’s Seat. And the world’s biggest arts festival every August. I was swept off my feet by Auld Reekie’s bagpipe blast of things to do. Picture - Fireworks over Edinburgh Castle. Courtesy of www.scottishviewpoint.info/

Men in Black.

Men in black don’t come any jollier. Raeburn’s 1784 painting of the skating vicar - the supreme study of how to have fun in monochrome (Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Lochabout 1795) - is the marketing icon for the National Gallery of Scotland, now with a classy new extension. It is one of 15 works by Raeburn. Among the most famous historical portraits at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery are Mary, Queen of Scots, Allan Ramsay’s portrait of the philosopher David Hume, Alexander Nasmyth’s portrait of Robert Burns and Sir Henry Raeburn’s Sir Walter Scott.

Chic shopping

Prince’s Street is the city's principal way. Parallel George Street includes Harvey Nichols. Then on to that National Trust gem in Charlotte Square, the Georgian House. Pure 200 year old grace, with a
helpful guide on hand in each room. Then up the Royal Mile for the Whisky Heritage Tour. How to concoct a busy, barrel ride of an hour from the mystery of transforming the simplest ingredients into a unique amber sensation. And they give you a free whisky glass. I recommend it.

Be ready to scream

In the candlelit vaults under South Bridge, abandoned for 200 years, but an active underground city in its day, we found ‘possibly’ Britain’s most haunted place. Our guide worked a miracle in subterranean picture painting, without props. The Edinburgh Pass gives you free entrance to all the above attractions, and more, plus go-anywhere bus travel.

A feast of festivals

Spot the next comic sensation at the Edinburgh Fringe (part of the festival, every August). Jude Law, Rowan Atkinson, and Little Britain stars Lucas and Walliams are among the many of today’s comedy stars to have played at this rambling, joyous riot of all-day performing. The official festival opens a little later, around the middle of August. The book festival is on at the same time (www.edbookfest.co.uk). Try a creative writing workshop. And every street corner has its crazy, brilliant busker. Nothing quite like it anywhere on earth.
The film festival is the world’s longest running cine extravaganza: trunks in late June. £15.

Watch the birdies

My pick for a battery-recharging short trip out of town is Bass Rock,
swirling with gannets just out in the Forth. Take the train to North Berwick (30 minutes from Waverley station), and a short walk. They offer a live ‘feather-cam’ link to the Scottish Seabird Centre. Or, staying in Edinburgh, take the bus to the Botanic Gardens - free to go in. Wander from the Amazonian rainforest to the Australian cloud forest. Then browse that big architectural shock, the Scottish Parliament: guided tours. Finish with a stroll up to Arthur’s Seat.

Cuisine scales the heights

They tempt you into the Tower Restaurant, with an aperitif of celebrity-watching. But there are splendid views, too, of the Castle from this lively place on top of the Museum of Scotland. My tomato and mozzarella gallette with basil pesto, followed by rack of blackface borders lamb with nicoise vegetables, seemed a good trade-off for not spotting J.K.Rowling and Jeremy Paxman. My companion praised the marinated tuna, warm lentil and ming bean salad, and teriyaki beef stir fry. I finished with the almond amaretto cheesecake and brandy soaked prunes.

Another hot table, this time at ground level, is Fishers in the City. My Stornaway black pudding, smoked salmon and scrambled egg on toast was a hefty starter, masquerading as a main. In the spirit of enquiry I tried, and was pleasantly surprised by roast fillet of barracuda on spiced lentil dahl, drizzled with almond and nori seaweed pesto. It offset the
oily fish well.

Another night we enjoyed jam-packed Sweet Melidnda’s, hung with old family photos. On a Tuesday evening you pay what you think the meal is worth. Daring, but I doubt they lost money.

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