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From comedy and culture to food and film, historic Edinburgh offers an amazing break away


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Beautiful view of the city of Edinburgh

Beautiful view of the city of Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland, from Princes Street Gardens, with the Ross Fountain in the foreground

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland, from Princes Street Gardens, with the Ross Fountain in the foreground

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Aoife Raleigh (an engineer) and Maria Corcoran (a chemist) perform a fire act during the launch of Strong Women Science at the Pleasance, Edinburgh Science Festival

Aoife Raleigh (an engineer) and Maria Corcoran (a chemist) perform a fire act during the launch of Strong Women Science at the Pleasance, Edinburgh Science Festival

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The city's beer tour

The city's beer tour

Edinburgh Festiva

Edinburgh Festiva

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Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Beautiful view of the city of Edinburgh

When you think of cities across the world that have great festivals, Edinburgh is right at the top of that list.

Everyone knows the Fringe, but it is just one of 11 major festivals staged in the Scottish capital every year, catering for everything from the military tattoo to film, books, art and storytelling. They all turn the city's streets into a vibrant stage for entertainment, debate and the performing arts.

From the medieval buildings of the Old Town to the elegance and grace of the Georgian New Town, Edinburgh is one of the most fascinating and beautiful cities in the world.

I visited for Edinburgh Science Festival. When it was launched, it was the world's first public celebration of science, which is apt for a city linked to the discovery of penicillin and the creation of Dolly the sheep, the world's first cloned animal.

A number of the festival's 270 events marked the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing and explored the themes of frontiers and how we push the limits of our knowledge about ourselves, the world around us and the universe beyond.

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Aoife Raleigh (an engineer) and Maria Corcoran (a chemist) perform a fire act during the launch of Strong Women Science at the Pleasance, Edinburgh Science Festival

Aoife Raleigh (an engineer) and Maria Corcoran (a chemist) perform a fire act during the launch of Strong Women Science at the Pleasance, Edinburgh Science Festival

Getty Images

Aoife Raleigh (an engineer) and Maria Corcoran (a chemist) perform a fire act during the launch of Strong Women Science at the Pleasance, Edinburgh Science Festival

Among the most interesting events was An Evening with the Moon, hosted by comedian Susan Morrison, at which we enjoyed cocktails while listening to experts in anthropology and popular culture, including science writer Philip Ball and cultural astronomer Daniel Brown.

Another highlight was the Robots Exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland. From early mechanised human forms to today's cutting-edge technology, it revealed our 500-year quest to make machines human and featured more than 100 objects. It also had the most significant collection of humanoid robots ever assembled.

A festival is the ideal occasion to visit the city because it truly comes alive with so much to see and do.

The ancient centre is the Old Town, around the spine of the Royal Mile. The south side is a mix of grand institutions and student haunts, and to the north is the 18th century New Town.

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Edinburgh Castle, Scotland, from Princes Street Gardens, with the Ross Fountain in the foreground

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland, from Princes Street Gardens, with the Ross Fountain in the foreground

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland, from Princes Street Gardens, with the Ross Fountain in the foreground

The famous Royal Mile is actually the collective name for several streets leading west up to the city's castle, which stands proud on a vast mound overlooking the city.

As you walk around the impressive structure and its grounds, you will feel as if you are on the set of Game of Thrones and may find yourself wondering what the castle was like in the time of Robert the Bruce, who burnt it down before it was rebuilt years later.

On your way there or back, check out Camera Obscura & World of Illusions, found next to the castle. Housed in the Old Outlook Tower, this Aladdin's cave features a mirror maze, five holograms and a vortex tunnel. It's great fun for all the family and has easily the best rooftop views of the city.

If you enjoy gardening, you simply have to see the world-famous Royal Botanic Gardens. Opened in 1670 and set in over 70 acres of beautiful landscape, the gardens have more than 13,000 species of plant and more than three million herbs.

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Edinburgh Festiva

Edinburgh Festiva

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Edinburgh Festiva

There are no shortage of attractions I could write about, but others worth checking out include a free tour of the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum and a walk up to the Scott Monument, a Gothic tribute to Scottish author Sir Walter Scott. Climb the 287 steps to the top and take in the view of the Edinburgh skyline and beyond to the surrounding countryside.

Harry Potter fans should make a beeline for The Elephant House on George IV Bridge, the self-proclaimed birthplace of the character. In the 1990s, when JK Rowling was starting to write, she frequented Edinburgh's cafes and The Elephant House has proof she was there in the form of photographs of, and quotes from, the author.

If shopping is your thing, you could do a lot worse than paying a visit to Princes Street, which has stores to suit all tastes and budgets. On Victoria Street, meanwhile, you will find independent shops and a cluster of galleries and boutiques.

We decided to take a Ghosts & Ghouls walking tour that brought us into the underground vaults underneath the South bridge. It was fun and interesting, although admittedly not the most terrifying experience.

Accompanied by a cloaked guide, you will hear grisly tales of witchcraft, torture and restless spirits. You will also be told about the city's body snatchers, who were paid to illegally remove freshly buried corpses from their graves.

Edinburgh's most infamous, William Burke and William Hare - two Ulstermen incidentally - took it a step further by murdering at least 17 people and selling their remains to the medical school. It was an unusual evening, but we enjoyed ourselves, particularly when we moved to a cellar bar to enjoy a pint and a wee dram.

The Scottish capital isn't just a food destination (with four Michelin-starred restaurants). With so many bars and breweries around, it's also something of a beer heaven.

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The city's beer tour

The city's beer tour

The city's beer tour

For the sake of our readers, I took on the challenge of seeing just how good it does beer.

The Edinburgh Beer Tour starts in the Old Town and makes its way across the city, with various stops on the way.

It gives the chance to discover the history of the city through beer from the 1100s up to today's thriving scene.

Expect to visit three or four unique venues and sample up to eight different beers, each of which will have its own story.

It is as good as it sounds and some of the beers were excellent. In fact, after the tour ended I ordered some more for myself. I like to think I know quite a bit about beer, but I gleaned lots of new information from this tour - and thankfully I can still remember it.

From immense history to hundreds of activities, culinary delights to spooky tours and fantastic festivals, this city truly has everything.

Travel factfile

Edinburgh Science Festival, from April 4-16

The festival has family-friendly and adult events in venues across the city. Book at www.sciencefestival.co.uk

  • Edinburgh’s City Art Centre will host a family zone with five floors of child-friendly science. It includes workshops and intergenerational drop-in fun, including: ER where you perform surgery, Wild Vets where you learn about at-risk species, Mini Mechanics where you learn about and build engines.
  • Gastrofest, a mini festival of food, drink and science — this year it is heavily inspired by Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters. The event Coasts and Cocktails explores our relationship with water through music, poetry and cocktails — and attendees can experiment with their own Scottish-themed coastal cocktails. Similarly, the whisky event will focus on the industry’s symbiotic relationship with Scottish Water.
  • At the National Museum of Scotland, the Pale Blue Dot exhibition is a multi-sensory exploration of everything marine. This thrilling exhibition will explore what the oceans mean to us and how we can protect one of the most precious habitats on Earth.

You can find out all about Edinburgh’s major festivals at www.edinburghfestivalcity.com

I stayed at the Ibis Hotel South Bridge, 77 South Bridge, EH1 1HN. Visit www.accorhotels.com

Edinburgh Castle - edinburghcastle.gov.uk

Evening of Ghosts & Ghouls tour. To book a tour visit www.mercattours.com

Edinburgh Beer Tour (£35 per person) - www.scot.beer/edinburgh.html#oldtown

For the city's festivals check out www.edinburghfestivalcity.com

Flybe and easyJet fly to Edinburgh from Belfast. Check out www.easyjet.com or www.flybe.com

Where to eat:

Civerinos, 5 Hunter Square, EH1 1QW

Original, modern Italian street food taken back to its source, stripped back to pure, Italian flavour. Big pizzas to share, delicious pasta dishes and cocktails make this a popular spot. The pizzas we had were superb. Check out www.civerinos.com

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