6 fab things to do in Auld Reekie beyond the Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe

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For three weeks every August, Scotland’s capital hosts the Edinburgh International Festival. The event has been taking place since 1947.

It’s one of the world’s leading gatherings of performing artists. Dancers, musicians and actors from around the planet showcase their talents to a broad audience.

In parallel, comedians and entertainers (plus a sprinkling of wannabes) entertain people as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. During the 2015 edition over 50,000 performances of more than 3,000 shows were performed across 313 venues. That means the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe can make claims to being the world’s biggest ever arts festival.

Upon this rock...Edinburgh Castle.
Upon this rock…Edinburgh Castle.

If you’re fortunate enough to get hold of accommodation during the Edinburgh International Festival you can take your pick of shows.

Between performances there are plenty of places you can spend time and money.

Board the Royal Yacht Britannia

Permanently moored at Leith, the Royal Yacht Britannia sailed more than a million miles while in service from 1953 to 1997.

Hop aboard and listed to the audio tour to learn about life aboard the vessel. You’ll hear how crew members were required to change uniform multiple times on days with formal engagements.

You can peek into the royal offices and bedrooms, then look inside the impeccably maintained engine room.

Elegant...the Royal Yacht Britannia at Leith docks.
Elegant…the Royal Yacht Britannia at Leith docks.

Take a look at Edinburgh’s underground

Did you know that Edinburgh’s New Town, which dates from the 18th century, was built on top of tenements, where people once lived in squalor?

Not all of the existing buildings were knocked down when the builders of the 1700s got to work. It’s possible to enter and tour streets that have not seen sunshine for centuries.

William Ewart Gladstone...what are you wearing there, me old China?
William Ewart Gladstone…what are you wearing there, me old China?

You can take a look around by booking onto one of the tours operated at the Real Mary King’s Close.

Various other operators—including Black Hart Entertainment (tel. 0131 2259044), which runs Underground City of the Dead tours—operate tours dealing with the city’s past and alleged hauntings.

A figure from the past on the Royal Mile...David Hume.
A figure from the past on the Royal Mile…David Hume.

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Free-to-visit, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery made history in 1889 by becoming the planet’s first purpose-built portrait museum.

Even if you’re not the world’s biggest art aficionado it’s worth stopping by to take a look inside of the Gothic-style Great Hall, which houses magnificent friezes.

No, not this place! Though the National Gallery of Scotland is also worth a visit.
No, not this place! Though the National Gallery of Scotland is also worth a visit.

In addition to displaying oil paintings of key figures in the history and culture of Scotland and Great Britain—such as Bonnie Prince Charlie and Sir Walter Scott—the gallery houses a collection of contemporary photographs and has an impressive library.

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, Scotland. The Gothic Revivalist style building was designed by Robert Rowand Anderson and opened in 1890.
This is the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Lots of faces. Some you’ll recognise. Some you won’t.

Tour the Edinburgh Gin Distillery

Gin has, once again, become a fashionable drink. You can learn about its history and how it is made, during a tour of the Edinburgh Gin Distillery.

If you’re feeling flush and have three hours to spare you can book the Gin Making Experience. It gives you the chance to make and bottle gin using a mini-still.

It's a great spot for sundowners or an afternoon tipple.
It’s a great spot for sundowners or an afternoon tipple.

The compact distillery is also the home of a bar and has seating in tiny rooms that have the feel of private booths. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to sample the cocktails…it’ll come as no surprise that most are gin-based.

What was that? You don’t go all the way to Scotland to drink gin? Then maybe you should try…

The Scotch Whisky Experience

Sample the national tipple during a visit to the Scotch Whisky Experience. If you’re a non-drinker you can, instead, try a glass of Scotland’s other golden juice, Irn Bru.

This attraction provides an overview of the distillation process plus information about the differing characteristics of Scotland’s whisky producing regions. Some people prefer the sweet tones of Highland whiskies to the peaty aromas of Islay malts.

Worth a walk for the views...Old Calton Burial Ground.
Worth a walk for the views…Old Calton Burial Ground.

Spend time viewing the vast Diageo Claive Vidiz Collection, featuring 3,384 bottles of Scotch whisky.

If you enjoy tasting single malts it’s worth factoring in time for a visit to the bar.

There's whisky here too...the Deacon Brodie, pub on the Royal Mile.
There’s whisky here too…the Deacon Brodie, pub on the Royal Mile.

A trip to the Edinburgh Zoo

Edinburgh Zoo is home to the only giant pandas in the United Kingdom. It doesn’t matter how old and grizzled you might be, pandas are cute. Book a time-slot then muscle past the kids and press your nose against the glass. Show the little ones how it’s done. It’ll prove a valuable life lesson.

After viewing Yang Guang, the male, and Tian Tian, the female (is she pregnant or not?) you can take a look at penguins, lions plus a pygmy hippo and many more creatures.

Poser! Yang Guang, the male giant panda in Edinburgh Zoo.
Poser! Yang Guang, the male giant panda in Edinburgh Zoo.

The Budongo Trail is a way of seeing chimpanzees up close without having to head into the forests of East Africa.

If you spot other attractions that make a positive impression while you’re in Edinburgh don’t be shy about dropping us here at MannedUp a comment about why you’ve found.

Watch it, mate...a sign for koalas at Edinburgh Zoo. How about some Aussie sunshine too?
Watch it, mate…a sign for koalas at Edinburgh Zoo. How about some Aussie sunshine too?

The 2016 Edinburgh International Festival (www.eif.co.uk; tel. 0131 4732000)  and Edinburgh Fringe Festival (www.edfringe.com; tel. 0131 2260000) take place from 5 to 29 August.

For further ideas about things to do and see in Edinburgh take a look the This is Edinburgh website.

Loads to explore...Edinburgh Castle stands on Castle Rock.
Loads to explore…Edinburgh Castle stands on Castle Rock.

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