Things to do in Edinburgh

While Edinburgh has a number of sights to see much of the appeal of the city is simply soaking up the atmosphere of the Old Town, with its shadowy alleyways that make it possible to imagine what life was like in medieval Scotland, and the New Town, with its orderly Georgian elegance. Travelers in search of Scottish goods—tartan scarves, ties, and, of course, kilts and skirts; wool sweaters; smoked salmon—will find the country's best selection here. Princes Street and George Street will satisfy most shoppers. Don't forget to leave time to soak up the atmosphere at a local pub in the evening. Some sights not to be missed:

National Museum of Scotland. Eclectic exhibitions range from woolly mammoths to the lives of Scottish Enlightenment figures.

Scottish Parliament. One-hour tours are free but should be booked in advance.

Princes' Street. Come here for shopping and the views of Edinburgh Castle.

Scottish National Portrait Gallery. 30,000 works include Scottish icons like Mary, Queen of Scots and Robert Burns, as well as 6,000 photographs of contemporary figures.

Calton Hill. Climb to its peak to take in the 19th-century monuments and city views.

Salty locals haunt this no-frills establishment with long literary traditions; it's favored by writers and is featured in native Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus novels.

Just west of the Princes Street Gardens, the Lyceum is an impressive Victorian theatre dating back to 1883. Over the centuries, the theatre hosted some of Scotland’s most noteworthy theatrical events, including performances by Henry Irving and Ellen Terry.

Formerly the reception room of the Scotsman, one of the country's national newspapers, this galleried, oak-paneled space is now a civilized hotel bar. Order a French martini with Hendrick's gin beneath the two-story marble pillars.

This Edinburgh neighborhood is dominated by Georgian architecture and lined with cafés and boutiques.

Edinburgh's most glamorous set congregates at the city's buzziest club under the Tigerlily Hotel. The black-and-rose wallpaper is embedded with Swarovski crystals, and top mixologists shake, muddle, and stir while DJ's spin a mix of Latin and techno.

A 10-day celebration of film, theater, and food that takes place along the Edinburgh harbor.

In a funky chandeliered lounge known for the Adidas sneaker collection displayed above the bar, sip an Ape Expectations (local Monkey Shoulder Whiskey, maple syrup, and fresh mandarin orange juice).

Browse bolts of house-woven tartans or pick up one of the leather pouches that adorn traditional men's dress. Downstairs at 21st Century Kilts, the owner's son turns out black leather versions favored by U.K. rockers like Robbie Williams.

For incredible couture hats and contemporary hairpieces, style mavens and royals turn to Jelfs. The milliner's studio—a centuries-old feather-, felt-, and flower-filled beamed farmhouse—fittingly lies on Palace grounds. Hours are quirky, so call ahead.

Tour this warren of recently opened underground alleyways for a fascinating account of the city's past (victims of the 1644 plague died here) and a firsthand look into restored 17th-century town houses.

The glass cases in this boutique are stocked with notable estate pieces like vintage square-cut emerald necklaces and antique gentlemen's pocketknives; the shimmering tourmalines, black opals, and mother-of-pearl items range from astronomical to within reach.

Established in 1842, this bottler deals in fine aged single-cask whiskey from distilleries like Banff, Glenlivet Minmore, and Royal Brackla; the naturally caramel-colored, concentrated liquors are of a rare quality.