Edinburgh beyond the Fringe

The Edinburgh festivals, and the city itself, remain well worth a visit, says Matthew Partridge

Two years ago there were mutterings that the Edinburgh Fringe and the other associated festivals had grown too large. Then last year’s Fringe was cancelled entirely. This year saw a drastically reduced number of shows due to the Scottish government’s continuing Covid-19-related restrictions. Still, despite the loss of spontaneity, the Fringe remained worth the trip and I got to see eight excellent shows in spite of the added hassle.

The much-reduced Fringe aside, Edinburgh remains a stunning city that has retained its distinctive character, with its blend of medieval, Georgian and modern architecture, all packed into an easily navigated package. The Museum of Scotland, the Scottish National Gallery and the Royal Yacht Britannia (moored in the Ocean Terminal) are all worth a visit; Edinburgh Castle is too, although currently you have to book well in advance. There is also a vibrant street-food scene – Pizza Posto on Nicolson Street serves the best pizza and bruschetta in town.

A magical photography tour

Budding photographers should also consider the Edinburgh Photography Tour. Former portrait and press photographer James Christie, who has snapped everyone from David Bowie to the Queen, combines a walking tour of the city with a masterclass on how to take professional-quality landscape photographs. Revealing hidden vantage points, he shows how taking your shot from just a slightly different angle can transform forgettable snaps into something magical (£100, jameschristiephotography.com).

By limiting the size of groups and giving tour leaders freedom to go their own way, Rabbie’s Tours has gained a reputation for going beyond the generic coach trip. Starting in Edinburgh, their one-day “west highlands, lochs and castles tour” takes you to ruined castles, picturesque lochs, charming villages and Inverary Castle, the home of the Duke of Argyll. During the trip, guide Graham Trotter talks you through the history and plays a carefully curated playlist of Scottish music (from £46, rabbies.com).

In nearby North Berwick, try the Scottish Seabird Centre for boat trips to the Isle of May. Famed for being the site of Scotland’s first lighthouse, the Isle of May, known as the “Jewel of the Forth”, is now a nature reserve teeming with wildlife, from guillemots, kittiwakes and shags to seals and puffins (although the puffins mostly leave in early August). The four-hour trip includes a detour to the Bass Rock (£50, seabird.org).

A perfect boutique hotel

For the last two nights of my stay I had the privilege of being a guest at the Dunstane Houses, consisting of two Victorian villas, Dunstane House and Hampton House, on opposite sides of the road. It is currently run by Shirley and Derek Mowat, who have transformed it from a beloved guest house into Edinburgh’s leading boutique hotel. It is ideally located for sports lovers and tourists as it is just a ten-minute walk to Scotland’s national stadium, Murrayfield, next to Edinburgh's Haymarket railway station, and just a short tram ride from Princes Street and the Royal Mile.

The hotel is designed around a traditional Scottish country-house theme and the owners’ Orkney roots are in evidence. Each of the 35 rooms has been personalised with a distinctive design and furnishings, giving them a unique character. All are comfortable and spacious and you can be assured of a sound and restful night’s sleep, and the staff are friendly, attentive and willing to go beyond the call of duty. The extensive menu will have something to sate every appetite, from light afternoon teas to a slap-up meal in the Ba’ Bar and restaurant. (Double rooms from £237.25 per night. See thedunstane.com or telephone 0131-337 6169.)

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