If you can tear yourself away from the magnetic charms of Princes St and get off the train a stop earlier at Haymarket in the capital’s West End, you might have made a decision you won't regret
The average tourist itinerary of the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle, Arthur’s Seat and the palace and parliament at Holyrood are certainly not to be missed, but south-west Edinburgh offers so much more besides.
What to do
Get a taste for "village Edinburgh" by immersing yourself in the varied scenery and quirky architecture to be found along the Waters of Leith (www.waterofleith.org.uk/walkway). Just a few minutes’ walk from Haymarket, there are 13 miles of leafy riverside paths running through picturesque areas such as Dean Village and Stockbridge. The negative ions, smiling passers-by and sounds of birdsong are worlds away from city life: ideal for recharging your batteries on a Sunday stroll or cycle (hire bikes from Leith Cycle Co - www.leithcycleco.com).
For sporting types, Murrayfield Rugby Stadium and Tynecastle (home of Hearts FC) are a matter of minutes by foot from Haymarket.
Families can spend an hour supporting a fantastic local community initiative at Gorgie City Farm (www.gorgiecityfarm.org.uk/home), where there are plenty of activities for kids, you can buy fresh produce and enjoy a delicious spot of lunch at cosy Jemima’s Pantry. Kids will also love the Penguin Parade every afternoon at Edinburgh Zoo (www.edinburghzoo.org.uk - five minutes by Lothian bus numbers 12, 26 and 31 from Haymarket). Culture vultures can get their fix of the arts at Dean Gallery and the Scottish National Museum of Modern Art (www.nationalgalleries.org), and you can enjoy regular, good-value ceilidhs, gigs and plays at St Bride’s Centre (10 Orwell Terrace).
For a spot of independent shopping, there are hundreds of gems scattered around this area of Edinburgh. Favourites include Studio One – an aladdin’s cave of stylish homeware, jewellery and bath products (10 Stafford Street), Halibut & Herring for gorgeous gifts in Bruntsfield (www.halibutandherring.co.uk; 108 Bruntsfield Place) and for the ethical shopper, the beautiful One World Shop (www.oneworldshop.co.uk; on the terrace of St John’s Church in the West End).
If after all this you still have a desperate urge to take photographs of the castle, it is only ten minutes’ walk from Haymarket. Alternatively, the Lothian bus numbers 3, 33, 4, 44 and 25 will take you straight to the city centre in just a few minutes. It is worth remembering that tickets are cheaper if purchased from the red machines at the stop instead of on the bus itself (£1.10 single, £3.00 day-pass). Try www.lothianbuses.com to check for diversions due to the tramworks.
Where to stay
The West End caters for all budgets, with the moody indigo wallpaper and gilded fittings of the basement garden room at the Haymarket Hotel Edinburgh giving this boutique mid-range B&B a glamorous edge. Situated on Coates Gardens, a cobbled street of reasonably-priced guesthouses just around the corner from the train station, it is barely ten minutes’ walk to the city centre.
Those with less well-lined pockets could give the funky and spotless West End Hostel (Caledonian Backpackers (www.caledonianbackpackers.net), which is where to head if a rock-bottom budget and 24-hour party scene are more your style.
Those with more expensive tastes should head for the achingly glitzy razzle-dazzle of Tigerlily or the more elegant Hilton Edinburgh Grosvenor. If you’d like to follow in the illustrious footsteps of the likes of Sir Sean Connery, try its well-heeled sister, The Caledonian Hilton Hotel (chandeliers glittering and doormen resplendent in top hats and tails), nestled in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle.
Where to eat and drink
Hidden behind the trendy liveliness of Indigo Yard (2 for 1 on mains, the burgers are to die for - www.indigoyardedinburgh.co.uk; 7 Charlotte Lane), only a hot pink square suspended above the cobbles would alert you to the presence of Sygn (www.sygn.co.uk; 15 Charlotte Lane), one of Edinburgh’s best-kept secrets. Sip delicious cocktails with the cool crowd in the decadent violet bar, or be whisked into a candlelit and cushion-strewn booth in the back for a mouth-watering meal.
For a posh Sunday-morning brunch with the papers, nowhere beats the chocolate leather sofas of Montpellier’s in Bruntsfield (www.montpeliersedinburgh.co.uk; 159-161 Bruntsfield Place), only ten or fifteen minutes walk from Haymarket. If you fancy grabbing a quick bite to eat at lunchtime, try La Baguette (75 Lothian Road) or grab a pint outside in the sun and choose from the impressive gourmet burger menu at the Links Hotel (www.festival-inns.co.uk/linkshotel.html; 4 Alvanley Terrace), a student-friendly pub overlooking the park in Bruntsfield.
For dessert, head down the road to S. Luca (www.s-luca.co.uk; 16 Morningside Road), famous for its artisan chocolates and home-made Scottish ice creams. For fresh local organic (and ethical) produce, try The Iglu (www.theiglu.com; 2b Jamaica Street) and head to the Farmer’s Market (www.edinburghfarmersmarket.com) held, complete with hog roast and plenty of free samples, every Saturday morning on Castle Terrace.
For a bargain romantic evening, the unpretentious, earthy charm of Le Marche Francais (9a West Maitland St) never fails to hit the spot.
For drinks in the Haymarket area, try AU Bar (101 Shandwick Place) for an impressive wine list in a relaxed pub atmosphere, or the hidden-away Caley Sample Room (www.thecaleysampleroom.co.uk; 42 – 58 Angle Park Terrace), where rustic wooden floors combine with candlelight and leather sofas to create an intimate and trendy gastro-pub interior (local, seasonal produce and real ales on tap) behind an unassuming exterior.