Edinburgh is Scotland's capital, and possibly its most beautiful city. Nicknamed the Athens of the north for its hilly topography, the city centre is dominated by the famous castle sitting atop the plug of a dormant volcano.
The historic Royal Mile leads down from the castle, with Holyrood House and the Scottish Parliament - a more recent, and controversial, addition - at the bottom. To the south of the castle is the Old Town, full of winding streets, dark alleys ("closes") and welcoming pubs. To the north is the New Town; built in the 18th century but in an open and airy grid design.
Many visitors come to the city in August, when the Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe make the city an enormous, vibrant and - some say - overcrowded artistic hub. But Edinburgh has always had life all year round; with three universities, increasingly elaborate New Year (Hogmanay) celebrations and good transport links it represents a popular destination even in the winter, and a good jumping-off point for exploring the rest of Scotland.
The arrival of the Scottish Parliament - and its expense account powered politicians, civil servants and journalists - also means the city is quickly shedding its 20th century reputation as something of a culinary desert, with a number of excellent restaurants and trendy bars opening in recent years.