July is the ideal month to enjoy the long summer days in the Scottish capital. Make the most of the city's natural good looks and formidable heritage before the crowds converge for the Fringe (2 to 26 August; www.edfringe.com) and Royal Tattoo (2 to 24 August; www.edintattoo.co.uk); hotel rates are still reasonable and places to eat and drink are refreshingly accessible.
Edinburgh's Waverley station is served by East Coast Trains, taking around four hours 20 minutes from London King's Cross via Peterborough, York and Newcastle.
Take a view
Camera Obscura at 549 Castlehill offers an optical feast: the city and its skyline projected on to a concave dish, on which you can pick out pedestrians along the Royal Mile. There's also a mirror maze (camera-obscura.co.uk; 9.30am to 9pm; £11.95).
Dining with the locals
Either stay on at the Elephant House for haggis, neeps and tatties, or head across to the New Town. The Dome at 14 George Street (thedomeedinburgh.com) was formerly the Commercial Bank of Scotland. Starters include haggis in filo pastry (£7.50).
The signature main is an 8oz Scottish fillet steak (£29.50). "The birthplace of Harry Potter" is how the Elephant House at 21 George IV Bridge (elephanthouse.biz) bills itself: J K Rowling began her writing career in the big, bright back room of this rambling café.
Edinburgh sustains plenty of independent shops, with a cluster of galleries and boutiques along Victoria Street. On Leith Walk, Valvona & Crolla at 19 Elm Row (valvonacrolla.co.uk) is a divine delicatessen offering all kinds of Mediterranean aromas and flavours – including a dozen varieties of olive oil.
Out to brunch
Valvona & Crolla also has a restaurant at the rear; open 10.30am to 3.30pm Sundays, longer hours other days. Sip strong coffee and feast on Italian home cooking.
Icing on the cake
Finish at the high and mighty Castle. The stronghold of Scotland has served as royal residence and military headquarters, and is now the UK's leading paid-for attraction (edinburghcastle.gov.uk; 9.30am to 6pm; £16). From the battlements, you can appreciate the spectacular contours and architecture of this multi-faceted city.
Simon Calder/The Independent