Sick Boy bemoans the festival crowds in Irvine Walsh’s Trainspotting. James Hogg’s anti-hero descends into madness in The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Edinburgh novels may be awash with despair, but an undercurrent of wry humour runs throughout the darkness – much like the city itself.
It could be argued that the city’s performers and artists are transfixed by this heady mix. Take one of the standout jokes from this year’s Fringe festival, from comedian Adele Cliff: “I have a fear of loneliness. I can’t be the only one” – and you start to get a sense of how the city views itself.
For tourists, this combination guarantees an unforgettable visit. Whether checking out any of the numerous performances on offer around the city – there are a vast array of literary salons and open mic nights to satisfy tastes for standup, theatre and poetry – browsing in the many independent boutiques, or ticking off medieval landmarks such as Edinburgh Castle or the Royal Mile, this is a city that appeals to every kind of traveller.
Outside the capital, stop at Glencoe to learn the history of the Clan Macdonald massacre in 1692, before journeying onward through the town of Fort William, and to the ultimate Scottish experience of Loch Ness.
Tucked away behind what looks like a garage, Timberyard’s cuisine is as innovative as its exterior. As much as possible is grown onsite, from herbs to vegetables or edible flowers, with the team also foraging for ingredients – seen in outstanding British cuisine served in up to eight courses.
The Witchery by the Castle
Traditional Scottish fare from haggis to venison is on offer in this dramatic setting on the Royal Mile. A flamboyantly gothic interior is scattered with antique candlesticks and crimson velvet as far as the eye can see. For those staying in one of the rooms, try the candlelit breakfast.
Palm Court at The Balmoral
The Scottish high tea to end all high teas can be found at this
Edinburgh institution that relaxes you as soon as you enter the glass-domed dining room. Sip vintage champagne and sample warm scones to the gentle strums of a harpist, perched in the heavens of the salon.
Just off the main marketplace of Grassmarket is West Port, where a plethora of secondhand bookshops are ripe for browsing. For live performances, head to Inky Fingers at the Forest Café, Elvis Shakespeare or the literary salon at The Wash, to watch fledgling writers and poets nervously take to the stage.
The Royal Botanic Gardens
Home to the Catacol whitebeam, known as the “giant panda” of the tree world, these 17th-century gardens, originally intended to grow medicinal plants, are a must-see. Wander around 72 acres of charming scenery, from Victorian glasshouses to a pagoda-strewn Chinese hillside.
Mary King’s Close
Experience what it was like to live in one of the worst times in history with a guided tour through Mary King’s Close, the site devastated by the Black Death in 17th-century Scotland. Long rumoured to be haunted, the narrow winding streets – ghostly or not – are strangely affecting.
With only four bedrooms, 21212 hotel brings new meaning to the word boutique. Offering views over the gardens to the rear, the city to the front, the location – just behind Carlton Hill – is ideal. As is the dining, with Dishoom just around the corner and a Michelin-starred restaurant downstairs.
The Pavilion at Lamb’s House
A six-sleeper lies tucked away just off Leith waterfront, promising maximum privacy in the ultimate foodie’s paradise. Part of the restoration of Lamb House, the space has meticulous period detail, a Renaissance garden and a Michelin-starred restaurant just yards away.
Old Town Chambers
The ultimate tourist location, these city apartments lie in the nexus of Edinburgh Castle, Greyfriars graveyard, the Scottish National Gallery and a host of historic monuments. Interiors range from 15th-century inspired suites, to high-spec contemporary, and all are pet-friendly.