Great Scot! OutUK's Adrian Gillan takes the high road for a queer cultural treat in the Scottish capital to update Edinburgh lad Cameron Banks' guide to his hometown. From medieval Old Town with Castle, Vaults and Royal Mile, to Georgian New Town with its stucco squares, this "Athens of the North" blends historic heritage with living culture and even boasts its very own well-nigh "inner-city mountain" - extinct volcano, Arthur’s Seat!

Calton Hill Edinburgh from Calton Hill. Photo courtesy: VisitScotland

SIGHTS

To get an impression of this city, upon arrival, head up Calton Hill, found at the EastEnd of Princes Street. (Handy Hint: It is PRINCES STREET not PRINCESS STREET. Locals are very particular about this. ) It isn't hard to spot seeing as how it has half a pillared building built on top of it. (This isn't a ruin, Edinburgh just ran out of money whilst it was being built and since has been known as Edinburgh's folly.) The climb isn't a climb as such, more a stroll and then you can look upon the vista of fair Edinburgh.

Over on your left (or South) is the Old Town, a fantastic jumble of turreted old houses piled atop each other. When Edinburgh was first built, it had a huge marsh next to it (now Princes Street Gardens) and nobody could figure out how to build across it so they had to accommodate the population by building upwards, and what you have today are windy cobbled streets and narrow alleys leading to the nicest selection of shops and cafes. In complete contrast, straight ahead is the New Town, planned and laid out in grand Georgian style with wide streets and imposing, perfectly proportioned buildings.

If you're thinking of shopping Princes Street is the main thoroughfare, but really is best avoided. Go a couple of streets parallel and you'll find George Street, calmer and a touch classier. Further over again and you'll hit Stockbridge which has a nice selection of cafés and boutique-esque type things.

TOURIST FUN

Check out the world’s largest collection of Scotch whisky, at the Old Town Scotch Whisky Experience, near ancient St. Giles’ Cathedral, the eye-teasing Camera Obscura and Writers’ Museum. For art, visit the Scottish National Gallery, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and Scottish National Portrait Gallery. For history, try the National Museum of Scotland, Museum of Edinburgh, People’s Story, Museum of Childhood, quirky well-nigh gory Surgeons’ Hall Museum – or any of a host of informative, oft-spooky, walking tours out touting for trade!
Relax in leafy Princes Street Garden – seemingly a million miles away from all the shops just up on the road – in which park, if you muster the energy, you can also climb the Scott Monument for fab views. Tour the old Palace of Holyroodhouse and new Scottish Parliament nearby; plus check out the vibrant Dynamic Earth exhibition whilst down that way! Edinburgh Castle Edinburgh Castle. Photo courtesy: VisitScotland
Take a leafy stroll along the banks of the narrow Water of Leith - stopping off at the picturesque Stockbridge district, plus the splendid Royal Botanic Garden with its mighty trees, hedges and glasshouses - to quaint old Leith itself, home to the majestically moored Royal Yacht Britannia.

You’ll doubtless enjoy Pride Scotia. But Edinburgh does, of course, host another fairly well known Festival – in reality, a clutch of fests (most notably Edinburgh International Festival; Edinburgh Fringe) - every summer! This may be the world’s largest cultural event - the number of tickets sold exceeded only by Olympics and World Cup. See below for more on the Festival.

But you can see a show all year round at one of Edinburgh’s main venues – like the Festival Theatre, Playhouse, Traverse, Usher Hall or Royal Lyceum. If you enjoy dance, check out the Scottish Ballet - or maybe even the magnificent Northern Ballet who regular tour Scotland and the rest of the UK.

SCENE

Edinburgh's scene is best described as small and compact, all contained at the top end of Leith Walk, but it is a lot of fun. Most of the gay action happens in the Broughton locale around folly-filled Calton Hill (with its Nelson Monument vantage) – up which great views abound, and men oft take airs; and, at the foot of which, pubs and bars keep pumping tunes and booze into the wee small hours.

The Blue Moon Café (1 Barony Street; T: 0131 556 2788) boasts healthy, filling fodder and attitude-free staff serving all a boy could need. Ditto nearby Café Nom de Plume (60 Broughton Street; T: 0131 478 1372), adjoining the excellent LGBT Centre. New Town Bar (26B Dublin Street; T: 0131 538 7775) gets pretty busy, not least in its basement disco and ‘intimate area’! The Street (2 Picardy Place; 0131 556 4272) sprawls out onto just that all summer long! Stylish Planet (6 Baxter’s Place; T: 0131 556 5551) is a bit of an institution that goes head-to-head with buzzing-to-the-rafters Habana (22 Greenside Place; T: 0131 558 1270) a few doors down.

Away from the main bustle, try Elbow (133-135 East Claremont Street; T: 0131 556 5662) or The Regent (2 Montrose Terrace; T: 0131 661 8198).

So, you've had a few and so at last it seems a good idea to head up to CC Blooms on Greenside Place (for you will end up there. No matter how convinced you are that you won't, you will. Get used to the fact, embrace it and enjoy it). It will be packed and very mixed, both in gender and age, which is only a good thing.

Upstairs it is slightly quieter, but as this is only in comparison to the packedness of downstairs, don't be envisioning anything too quiet! The drinks are cheap, the music is cheesy and everyone seems to know everyone else. Give yourself a couple of nights and you'll look like a seasoned local too. Finally, nip down stairs. Now, I was there during the Edinburgh Festival and I appreciate that it is a bit busier in those days but really, how many people can you cram into that tiny space? You sweat like you have never sweated before but you have a brilliant laugh. And that really is what CC's is about in essence. It is not a 'credible' club but it is a place to go and get wasted and have a big smile on your face whilst doing so. And some of the boys are rather tasty too.

Still restless? We doubt if any of the world’s great cruising grounds can boast a classier name than the Royal Terrace Gardens – a long stretch of landscaped slope, brimming with lolling men. And few can claim the 360-degree panoramic, aforementioned manly vantage just behind it, up Calton Hill, with stars above and the Scottish capital’s own twinkling lamps flickering away beneath. Alternatively, Steamworks (5 Broughton Market, T: 0131 477 3567) is one of several busy saunas in town, just around the corner from aforementioned Blue Moon caf. Ditto Number 18 (18 Albert Place, Leith Walk; T: 0131 553 3222).

STAY

Stay at Motel One Edinburgh-Royal (18-21 Market Street; T: 0131 220 0730), a spanking new design hotel, slap-bang in the city centre, between rail station and Old Town - a short stroll from all scene and sights. All 208 modern, stylish rooms feature an en suite bathroom with shower and a flat-screen TV. With a comfortable style bar, 24-hour front-desk and free WiFi throughout all public areas, it’s a snip - from as little as £69 per room per night! Delicious breakfast buffet for just £7.50 per head too!
You can reach Edinburgh from London in around 4½ hours by East Coast trains, for as little as £17 one-way. You can always upgrade to first class for extra comfort and East Coast’s celebrated at-your-seat service? For times and fares, plus bookings, visit a staffed station or call 08457 225225. Motel One Edinburgh-Royal
Motel One Edinburgh-Royal, Edinburgh.
Photo courtesy: Motel One
To find out more about great accommodation offers, booking your city break to Edinburgh, or things to see and do in the city, visit www.visitscotland.com See more and save more with the www.edinburghpass.com Edinburgh Pass – the must-have sightseeing pass for visitors to Edinburgh - providing free entry to over 30 top attractions in Edinburgh & the Lothians; free airport transfer; and great special offers on sightseeing, shopping, eating out and entertainment.

FESTIVAL FROLICS

Best time to go is definitely during the Fringe Festival (late July-end Aug), but plan well ahead because accomodation can be tricky and very expensive during this time. With a few thousand shows to choose from, where to start? Assembly puts on a great selection of shows and you'd do worse to start with their fine selection of comedy, theatre and music. Just think, spend your days watching shows and then hit the pubs in the evening for a small boozy beverage. Surely heaven on earth? And then grab yourself a deep fried Mars Bar to share with your new friend. Barry! (No, your new friend does not need to be called Barry, it is just an old Edinburgh phrase meaning 'excellent'. No really, it does.) Go! Enjoy!

Updated May 2013.

 

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