Edinburgh is at the heart of the Scottish motorway network, so is easily accessible. It's roughly six and a half hours from London - beyond Newcastle, the route is particularly picturesque.
Edinburgh International Airport (www.edinburghairport.com) receives countless daily flights from London, as well as UK regional hubs and more than 40 European airports. The 30-minute taxi ride into town costs from about £20. The 24-hour Lothian Buses Airlink service takes 45 minutes and costs £3; an open return costs £5 (www.flybybus.com).
The main station is Waverly, in the city centre; the other is Haymarket, about a mile away. GNER has fast, frequent trains linking London King's Cross with the East Midlands, Yorkshire, the North East of England and Scotland on the East Cost Main Line (0845 722 5225; www.gner.co.uk). ScotRail's overnight sleeper service departs from London Euston seven nights a week (www.firstgroup.com/scotrail).
Country code for the UK: 44. Edinburgh: 0131.
Aside from the obligatory volume of Robert Burns poetry, try Glue by Irvine Welsh. Ian Rankin's heavy-drinking Inspector Rebus tackles crime in 15 novels set mostly in Auld Reekie, and Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street is a witty chronicle of the modern life in a local boarding house. But the classic Edinburgh novel remains Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - it's simply the 'crème de la crème'.
Do go / Don't Go
How do you cope among huddled masses? The city's at its liveliest in August, when festival-goers double the population to more than a million. Anyone who doesn't care for crowds, street performers and pushy flyer-mongers should wait till September, when it'll be less packed and still sunny. Intermittently.
You can hail a black cab from anywhere on the street, or pre-book a minicab through your hotel. Central Radio Taxis (+44 (0)131 229 2468) is the city's largest operator.
Tipping is not expected, but in restaurants, 12.5 per cent is considered fair. Cab drivers don't expect a tip, but 10 per cent will get a smile.
The weather is reliably unreliable, so carry a sweater, even in the height of summer. A book of Robbie Burns poems offers good poseur value in cafés. Invest in an Edinburgh Pass, which gets you into more than 30 attractions and allows free bus rides in the city centre, as well as return transfers to the airport. A one-day pass costs £24; for details, go to www.edinburgh.org/pass. Get information on anything arty and cultural in fortnightly events guide The List (www.list.co.uk).
The National Gallery of Scotland (www.nationalgalleries.org) has treasures for all tastes, from Titian to Monet; the Modern Art Galleries and National Portrait Gallery (www.nationalgalleries.org) show artists from Barbara Hepworth to Rachel Whiteread. For contemporary theatre, the Traverse has a great reputation (www.traverse.co.uk). The City Art Centre houses about 3,500 works of Scottish art, from watercolours to tapestries. All aboard - take a tour of the Royal Yacht Britannia and you'll get a peek at the Queen's bedroom, as well as her on-board Rolls-Royce (www.royalyachtbritannia.co.uk).
Leith, the city docks, is an up-and-coming part of town, with some great fish restaurants. The Secret Bunker is a nuclear shelter hidden under a farm for years (www.secretbunker.co.uk).
For luxury labels, head for Multrees Walk on St Andrew's Square (www.the-walk.co.uk), home to Harvey Nichols, Louis Vuitton, Giorgio Armani et al. For vintage finds, second-hand emporium WM Armstrong and Sons on the Grassmarket (+44 (0)131 220 5557) does a neat line in kilts and cashmere. For iconic wee gifties, cruise the Old Town's specialist shops for Highland dress and bags of deliciously crumbly Edinburgh rock. For whisky, visit Royal Mile Whiskies on the High Street.
Head up Calton Hill on the steep staircase from Waterloo Place (it will take about five minutes, or you can drive up and park) and watch the sun setting behind the Castle. Or, for a somewhat wilder vantage point, climb the haunches of Arthur's Seat, an extinct volcano resembling a crouching lion in Holyrood Park, to the east of the castle.
Edinburgh's Royal Botanical Gardens is one of the best in the world, and contains over six per cent of all known species of plant (www.rbge.org.uk). Doors Open Day, every September, offers entry into historic buildings (www.cockburnassociation.org.uk). The city has almost two dozen golf courses, but Bruntsfield Links on Melville Drive is the only 36 short-hole public course that's free to play on, provided you bring your own clubs. If you haven't packed yours, hire them from the bar at the nearby Golf Tavern (www.thegolftavern.co.uk).
25 January Burns Night, when the populace tucks into haggis, neeps and tatties, toasting the Scottish Bard (www.rabbie-burns.com). March Ceilidh Culture Festival honours Scottish music and song (www.ceilidhculture.co.uk). April Science Festival disguises learning with lots of 'ah-haa' moments (www.sciencefestival.co.uk). On April 30, Beltane Fire is the all-night festival on Calton Hill. June Leith Festival, for open houses, concerts and exhibitions (www.leithfestival.com). July Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival (www.edinburghjazzfestival.co.uk). August The Edinburgh Festival colonises the town, along with the Fringe (comedy, plays aplenty), Book and International Film Festivals (www.edinburgh-festivals.com). 31 August-1 September Edinburgh Mela: Asian festival in Pilrig Park. 29 December-1 January Edinburgh's legendary four-day New Year's celebrations, better known as Hogmanay (www.edinburghshogmanay.org).