Travel Black Book: Ambassadors Series

Edinburgh: Royal city of arts and culture

The best of home: Ambassadors to Singapore provide an insider's guide to their favourite destinations

Who: Mr Scott Wightman, 56, British High Comissioner to Singapore

Favourite destination: Edinburgh, Scotland, my hometown. The combination of its many parks and gardens, its location - built on seven hills from where, on a summer's day, there are unbeatable views - and mix of mediaeval and Georgian architecture makes it the most beautiful city in Britain and one of the most beautiful in the world.


The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh ( has stunning rockery and a vast diversity of plants - from an alpine garden to a Himalayan enclave. There are also waterfalls, small Chinese pagodas, beautiful ponds and big greenhouses packed with colourful plants. It is a lovely place to wander around and is the first place I visit when I return home.

Edinburgh Castle ( has a dramatic location atop castle rock and is a great place to get 360-degree views of the city and the surrounding landscape. It contains displays of historic palace quarters, historic costumes, the Scottish crown jewels and a military museum.

Beneath the castle on Princes Street, the Scottish National Gallery ( has a distinguished collection of paintings, which range from mediaeval and early Renaissance masters to the Impressionists, as well as a fine collection of Scottish artists, particularly Raeburn and Ramsay. It is one of the best collections of fine art in the world.

The Royal Mile, which runs from the castle down the spine of the city to the Palace of Holyroodhouse (, which is the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II when she is in Scotland, is a fascinating street.

It is like a cross-section of Edinburgh's history and also the location of the John Knox House - a historic building said to have been owned and lived in by the Protestant reformer who introduced Calvinism and thereby shaped Scottish character in the 16th century.

The street is lined with statues of influential people, as well as boutiques, cafes and pubs which go back centuries.


You can eat incredibly well in Edinburgh. One of the nicest places to do so is The Witchery (www.the on the Royal Mile, which is old-world on the inside, with beautiful Scottish food for about $60 a head.

Then there is Restaurant Mark Greenway (, known for Scottish food with a modern twist. For breakfast, try Mimi's Bake House (mimisbake, which serves amazing French toast, bacon rolls, scrambled eggs with toast and cupcakes.

The Elephant House ( is a gourmet tea and coffee shop which is a known favourite of local writers, including J.K. Rowling, who sat here and wrote much of Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone.

On Princes Street, there is a shop called Romanes & Paterson ( It is a Scottish gift shop where you can have a kilt or tartan skirt made. There is a simple restaurant upstairs where you can have a light lunch and enjoy a lovely view of the castle.

Classical traditional Scottish food is haggis - sheep's stomach filled with everything that is left over from the sheep, including the lungs, heart and all things you would not really want to eat if you knew about it. They shove it all into the sheep's stomach with oats and seasoning. Then it is boiled or baked in the oven. It is actually really delicious.

Scots eat haggis all year round, but especially on Jan 25, the birthday of Scotland's national poet Robert Burns.


  • From Singapore, travellers have a number of flight options to Edinburgh: via London with British Airways; via Doha with Qatar; via Paris with Air France; and via Amsterdam with KLM. These routes are the shortest, at about 16 hours.


    •A week in Edinburgh is ideal to do it justice.

    •The Edinburgh Festival season in August is a great time to go and you can stay for three weeks and not run out of things to do.

    •High summer months, particularly June and July, have long days when there is still light at 10pm.

    •If you are going to the highlands, go in late spring to early autumn. It is  stunning around late August when the  heather is in bloom and the hillsides are  covered in purple hues.

    •The New Year period is also a great time to go, when everything might look  magical covered in snow.

    • Be prepared for the unpredictable weather all year round. Have an  umbrella or waterproof poncho with  you. There are loads of things to do even  if it is raining.

    • Edinburgh is a walkable city, but it also has an excellent local bus service.

    • Like any other city in Britain, it is basically safe and people look out for  one another. But as with anywhere else,  it is always sensible to be aware of your  surroundings and take care of your  personal possessions.

    •Singaporean travellers might find the accents of some Edinburgh residents a  bit difficult to understand, but they are  friendly people.

Scottish shortbread is another traditional food. Look for one made with quite a lot of butter, such as Walkers Shortbread.

There is also a long tradition and history of whisky in Scotland. The locations of the distilleries are often beautiful. A fun thing to do is to tour the distilleries and taste their whiskies. Some lowland distilleries are located not far from Edinburgh, such as Glenkinchie Distillery ( and Tullibardine Distillery (

But if you were to go on a two- or three-day tour of the highlands, you can visit distilleries there. Speyside - 260km north of Edinburgh, close to fertile grain-growing areas and known for the purity of its water from the River Spey - is full of them.


Edinburgh International Festival (, the world's largest arts festival, has been running since 1947 and takes place every August.

People travel from all over the world to perform in and attend it. Theatre, dance, music, comedy, opera performances, talks and workshops take place in galleries, churches and the tiniest little spaces across the city. There is also the Edinburgh Festival Fringe ( to attend.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival ( also takes place in August. People come to give lectures about current affairs, food and books.

For a short trip outside the city, North Berwick (, 40km east of Edinburgh, is a traditional fishing town with a relaxed vibe and great beaches for walking. Its Lobster Shack (, a simple stand by the harbour where fresh seafood, lobster, fish and chips are sold, has become quite famous locally. The town is a great place to get smoked salmon, mackerel, trout and haddock.

It is also near a number of classic golf courses, including the exclusive Muirfield ( and some stunning public courses.

The Scottish Seabird Centre ( is also found here, with a kid-friendly Discovery Centre. The surrounding rocks, beaches and islands are home to large colonies of puffins, gannets and kittiwakes (a type of seagull). You can watch the colonies by operating the remote-control cameras the centre has set up there. You can also join a guided boat tour to see the colonies up close.

Pittenweem is another beautiful fishing village, about a 11/2-hour drive north of Edinburgh, on the way to St Andrews.

There is a two-week visual arts festival in Pittenweem ( during which people open up their homes to artists, craftsmen and jewellery- makers to use as exhibition spaces. So you get to see works of art, explore houses and get to know local people.


Princes Street is the main shopping area in Edinburgh. Jenners is a lovely, old-fashioned department store there.

Victoria Street is a quaint shopping street, a crescent which runs down to the Grassmarket district. You can find boutiques, a tea shop, craft shops and candle-makers.

Souvenirs that I usually get are tartan ties or scarves; shortbread; Scottish tablet, which is a type of fudge and costs less than £5 (S$9); and heather honey. The honey has a floral yet earthy flavour. It is fantastic as an ice-cream flavour or served with scones.


The Balmoral ( is a landmark five-star hotel right in the city centre with great views of Arthur's Seat, Princes Street and Edinburgh Castle.

There are lots of boutique hotels such as The Raeburn ( in Stockbridge. And one of Edinburgh's Michelin-starred restaurants, 21212 (, located in a historic Georgian townhouse in the Royal Terrace area, also has bedrooms upstairs.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 06, 2017, with the headline 'Royal city of arts and culture'. Print Edition | Subscribe