Edinburgh for groups

Date Posted: 16/07/2015

Edinburgh Castle

Pictured: Edinburgh Castle.

Robin McKelvie reveals what's new for groups in the Scottish capital.

What’s new?

Last year finally saw the opening of the much delayed new tram network, which offers a scenic route for groups to travel into town together from the airport. Its arrival has seen the rejuvenation of parts of the city, most strikingly Haymarket, which has a new transport hub, hotels, bars and restaurants.

Next up for a major makeover is the St James Centre area, with work starting this year on a massive £850m re-development. This large city centre project will include a five star hotel with panoramic city views, luxury apartments, 30 restaurants and a multi-screen cinema.

Leith, which the tram network is slated to soon be extended to, is also having a facelift. Leith Walk has recently been widened to make it more appealing to pedestrians with a flurry of new cafés now spilling on to its pavements. At Leith Walk’s foot, The Shore has already been spruced up with landscaping along the Water of Leith and a rich bounty of seafood restaurants. The Royal Yacht Britannia is moored in Leith too.

Where to stay

The Balmoral is the city’s most impressive five star hotel and not one that is snooty about groups. It boasts a Michelin star restaurant, many bedrooms with castle views and an award-winning whisky bar, all of which come wrapped in its famously slick service.

Serviced apartments are currently en vogue in Edinburgh. Local company Fountain Court has half a dozen good value apartment complexes dotted across the city centre, some with views of the skyline.

Budget conscious groups can check into the Edinburgh Central Youth Hostel. This is not ‘youth’ hostelling as some people think of it. Everyone is welcome at this five star budget accommodation that has en suite rooms with TVs and drinks trays.

Edinburgh's National Gallery of Modern Art

Pictured: Edinburgh's National Gallery of Modern Art.

Essential sights

National Museum of Scotland: Scotland’s most visited museum - itself a striking marriage of a Victorian building and a more modern sibling - sheds light both on the capital, but also Scotland. Exhibits range from the Nobel Prize of Alexander Fleming through to the cloned sheep Dolly. The museum’s exhibition space is currently being expanded with a rolling expansion programme and group tours are available.

Holyrood Park: Behind the Queen’s palatial Edinburgh residence at Holyrood lies the eponymous park that is the city’s favourite green lung. Adventurous groups can hike up to the top of 251m high Arthur’s Seat for the best views in town or just amble around by picturesque St Margaret’s Loch, with its swans and romantic ruined chapel.

National Galleries: This trio of galleries – the National Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art and Portrait Gallery – are amongst the UK’s finest temples of art. Handily, a free bus connects the galleries (the Modern Art Gallery lies out in the West End) with a suggested donation of £1 per passenger. All are free to enter too.

Best for groups

Scotland’s most visited tourist attraction, Edinburgh Castle, offers myriad points of interest, from the Scottish Crown Jewels and military museums, through to live entertainment and Champagne afternoon teas. The views are unbeatable. Private group arrangements can be made at the castle, from guided tours through to lavish banquets.

The Forth Belle runs buses from central Edinburgh to the waterfront suburb of South Queensferry where you can board its boat for a public or private cruise. All trips take in the epic (soon to be three) Forth Bridges, with trips possible out to Incholm, an island home to puffins in the summer, that boasts panoramic views of Edinburgh.

Edinburgh today is a culinary capital with a quintet of Michelin starred restaurants. TV chef Tom Kitchin re-opened his impressively expanded eponymous restaurant earlier this year. As well as sublime cuisine using the best of Scotland’s bountiful culinary larder The Kitchin now has a private dining room that seats 20.

Take a tour

Free Walking Tour: Walking tours are a great way to get under the skin of Edinburgh. Sandemans runs daily ‘free’ tours with the option of tipping the guide at the end if you’re impressed with their service. Parties of ten or more must book ahead.

Vintage Bus Tour: Edinburgh’s choice of bus tours can be bewildering. Mac Tours offers sightseeing tours with live commentary on a characterful vintage open-topped double decker bus. Discounts are available for pre-booked groups of ten or more.

 For more information visit www.visitscotland.com.

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