Edinburgh is exquisite. Everywhere you look in this hilly town, you’ll find incredible vistas and historic buildings dating back as far as the 1000s. It has all the medieval castles and winding cobblestone streets that inspired the Harry Potter universe. But this compact city -- Scotland’s capital and second-largest -- is also a modern playground with some of the best restaurants and cocktail bars in Europe.
With a metropolitan population of around 750,000, Edinburgh is similar in size to Bakersfield, California, or Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but far more exciting to visit. Built on a series of hills overlooking the North Sea, and laid out in a time well before cars, the city is easy to explore on foot. The entirety of the central Old Town and New Town neighborhoods (the “new” town was built in the 18th and 19th centuries) are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, thanks to their concentration of well-preserved architecture and historic sites. Edinburgh is also the home of several large universities (and their lively students), a world-famous arts scene, and trendy independent makers of just about everything.
“Edinburgh is known for having an amazing independent scene in every sense, from coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and clothing designers to Scottish producers generally,” says Sian Buchan, general manager of Panda & Sons, a cocktail palace that’s been named to several different world’s-best lists. A native of Scotland’s northern Highlands, Buchan got her start in hospitality more than a decade ago in Aberdeen and moved to Edinburgh in 2015. She helped point us to some of the best spots in the city to eat, drink, and play.