There's more to Edinburgh than a festival - whatever time of year you visit you'll find plenty of entertaining ways to spend your time, including some you might not have thought of before...
There can’t be many places you can go to pick up people in the palm of your hand, swap noses, paddle in a virtual fish tank or shake hands with yourself - but there is no doubt that Edinburgh does ‘different’ rather well. Besides trying out all of the above at the fun-for-all-ages Camera Obscura and World of Illusions (where you can also swap your head instead of just your nose), brave souls can also prepare to be scared in Edinburgh Dungeon’s chilling Haunted Labyrinth. Rumour has it that a drummer boy disappeared in these very catacombs over a century ago and occasionally, if you listen very carefully, you may just hear a distant drum beat as his spirit tries to find a way back...
For those who prefer rather less pants-scaring stuff, the tropical rainforest at Butterfly and Insect World is ideal. Thousands of colourful free-flying butterflies live here alongside iguanas who roam among the jungle flora while hummingbirds dart in and out of the flowers. There are twice daily ‘meet the beasties’ handling sessions and a Scottish honey bee display. In the Nocturnal Zone insects can be seen going about their night-time activities – don’t miss the glow-in-the-dark scorpions!
When it’s time for something to eat, you can wallow in generous helpings of food and nostalgia at the 60s-style cafe Monster Mash on Forrest Road. Try classic dishes like alluringly heart-warming shepherd’s pie, haggis, neeps and tatties (vegetarian version available) or the ultimate comfort food, sausage and mash. As for desserts, how about deep-fried ice cream?
The Sizzling Scot Steakhouse on Dalry Road is an informal, contemporary Scottish restaurant where, if you are seriously hungry, you might go for the Braveheart Grill. This is a showstopping platter of Aberdeen Angus steak, pork chop, haggis, sausages, bacon, black pudding, tomato, mushrooms, two tattie scones, crispy fried onion rings and ‘croque jock’ (egg and bread). Not bad for £18.95.
It’s probably time to burn off some of those calories now by climbing rugged Calton Hill at the east end of Princes Street. Its impressive setting ensures you’ll be rewarded by fabulous king-of-the-world views from the top. Every year on the eve of 30th April it is the scene of the annual Beltane Fire Festival, when around 12,000 people come to join in or watch the spectacular procession. The event has become a much-loved feature of Edinburgh’s calendar since it started in the mid 1980s.
If that sounds like too much hard work, take a stroll down Edinburgh's Royal Mile instead. This is one of the city’s oldest streets, running from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Successive kings and queens, including Mary Queen of Scots, made the palace the premier royal residence in Scotland and it remains our present queen's official Scottish residence.
After dark, nightbirds may enjoy visiting the classy Opal Lounge in George Street, one of Edinburgh’s hottest late-night venues and a favourite of Prince William during his St Andrews University years. Go to eat, drink, dance and play spot-the-celebrity.
Jamie’s Scottish Evening in Leith Street is the longest running show of its kind. Eat a four-course Scottish banquet and be prepared to enjoy plenty of laughter, songs, dance and music, performed by some of Scotland’s most accomplished artists.
Swarowski crystals are embedded in the walls at Lulu, an elegant night club in George Street. No chance of missing it - the whole property is bathed in an ostentatious pink glow. Go on, spoil yourself!
And of course, you can’t visit Scotland’s capital without visiting Edinburgh Castle, the country’s number one visitor attraction, perched on an extinct volcano at the top of the Royal Mile. See the Scottish Crown Jewels, known as the ‘Honours of Scotland', the Stone of Destiny on which Scottish monarchs were crowned, plus mighty Mons Meg, a 15th-century siege cannon.
It’s worthwhile buying an Edinburgh Pass because it provides you with free entry to 30 attractions, 25 exclusive offers from some of the city’s retailers, restaurants and leisure providers, and free public transport (including to and from Edinburgh Airport). A two-day pass costs £36 for adults, £24 for children. See www.edinburghpass.org.
Where to Stay: The comfortable and friendly Hilton Edinburgh Grosvenor is ideally located close to all the best attractions the city has to offer. Breakfast is an extravagant buffet served in the informal Town House restaurant. Have a drink or snack in the hotel's contemporary Bar 521 and if you're a whisky lover, you'll be in your element with over 60 malt whiskies to choose from!