Edinburgh is one of the best places in the UK for a winter city break, providing frosty scenes, festive entertainment and cosy boltholes to embrace the season.
Why go now?
Summer may be the most favoured time of year for tourists to visit, when the population of Scotland's capital doubles, but they're missing a trick as immersing yourself in the sights and sounds of the magical winter allows you to see the city at its best.
Where to stay
Edinburgh is wonderfully walkable and you won't have to think too hard about getting around but you can stay in the thick of it all at the luxurious Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa, where some of the contemporary Club Rooms are afforded with a spectacular view of Edinburgh Castle. The five-star hotel is warm and cosy from the moment you step through its doors, with an inviting fireplace and comfortable seating welcoming guests into the grand lobby. The stylish hotel features walnut furnishings and superb Scottish touches throughout, from its modern tartan rugs and Scottish granite floors to the artworks by Scottish artist Lynne Macpherson. Highlights of the Sheraton Grand include the renowned restaurant, the trendy bar serving more than 70 varieties of gin and an impressive spa.
Get into the festive spirit
If you're visiting in the run-up to Christmas you can make the most of the fabulous festivities that take place around Edinburgh. The European Christmas Market (19 November to 7 January 2017) returns to East Princes St Gardens in the heart of the city, bringing beautiful crafts, delicious food and unique gifts. Pick up delightful treats like gingerbread, Christmas tree decorations, cashmere scarves and vibrant lanterns. For a stunning show that will get anyone into the Christmas spirit, head for the west end of George Street to the Street of Light (21 November to 24 December 2016), a magnificent display of over 60,000 colourful bulbs of light alongside synchronised music by local choirs and musicians.
Where to relax
Whether you're planning a day holed up at the hotel or an afternoon of true R&R, there's nowhere better for a heavenly spa experience in Edinburgh than the Sheraton Grand's One Spa. Located in its own separate building which guests can access via a glass walkway, the sprawling spa has everything you could imagine: a 19-metre infinity edge pool, a hammam, saunas, a state-of-the-art gym and an indoor-outdoor Hydropool. It's easy to while away the hours soaking up the serenity here and the spa is open until 10pm for those who like to fit in some relaxation after a day of sightseeing. This season, One Spa has collaborated with Olympic silver medallist and open-water swimmer Keri-anne Payne to offer three spa packages so you can get the best out of your visit to the spa and allow your body to recover, recharge or relax during your short break. The Recharge package is for tired bodies and will leave you feeling calm and rejuvenated. It combines swimming pool exercises to encourage blood flow, before some rest and breathing exercises in the Thermal Suite and finally a soothing Face & Back Facial, which deeply relaxes your back, neck and shoulders, with an intensive facial and scalp massage leaving your skin rehydrated and both your body and mind revived.
Best way to keep warm
With 80 per cent of the UK's gin produced in Scotland, the drink of the moment can be enjoyed in more than a few decent places in Edinburgh, whether you're a purist or prefer it with a twist - it's also the perfect winter warmer. At Pickering's' Summerhall Distillery, housed in an old animal hospital and probably the only place where you'll find the spirit stored in animal cages, you can discover how gin is distilled and the botanicals used on an interesting tour. For a sophisticated setting to sip on a gin and tonic or a gin cocktail, the Sheraton Grand's colourful One Square Bar is a lovely, laid-back drinking spot you won't want to miss. There are dozens of gins on offer, including One Square Gin, created with the distillers at Pickering's and featuring Mediterranean liquorice, fragrant Scottish heather and notes of lime. If it's all things gin that takes your fancy, there are also gin tastings and gin afternoon tea to be had at the One Square Bar.
Where to feast
Eating out in Edinburgh is a terrific experience during the winter months, when the restaurants are scented with cinnamon, decorated with Christmas lights and fireplaces are lit. At Ghillie Dhu, just a short walk from the Sheraton Grand, you can enjoy a traditional Scottish atmosphere with cosy snugs and live entertainment every night as you dine on hearty dishes, ranging from roast parsnip soup to baked rainbow trout on a bed of risotto. The Sheraton Grand's own restaurant, One Square, is a destination in its own right and a chic space, serving inventive British dishes and delicious classics, such as a selection of 28-day dry-aged steaks from Scotland, slow-cooked lamb shoulder and organic salmon. In the heart of Edinburgh's old town, close to Edinburgh Castle, the Cannonball Restaurant & Bar offers exciting dishes, such as the smoked salmon plate with pickled ginger and homemade lemon vinaigrette in a brasserie-style setting featuring dark wood, tartan cushions and leather chairs.
Things to see
A stroll through town in winter is fantastic when the city is sparkling with frost. Start by taking in the beauty of Charlotte Square, one of the most magnificent Georgian squares in the UK where you can spot some fantastic historic features including the railings of the townhouses with their iron boot scrapers, the steps to the pavement which once allowed women to descend from carriages without landing in the mud and the blocked-up windows from when the window tax was introduced from 1748. Then, take in the views from Edinburgh and get a closer look at the city's many monuments on a walk up to Calton Hill, where the iconic Dugald Stewart Monument and National Monument of Scotland stand. Edinburgh Castle and a peek at the crown jewels should not be missed: be sure to visit in time for the firing of the One o'clock Gun - it's a unique sight. And the likes of George Street, Princes Street and the Royal Mile are beautiful spots for soaking up the city's marvellous architecture. The picturesque areas of Stockbridge, Grassmarket and the West End Village are also worth visiting.
Details: Sheraton Club Rooms start from £235 per night and include access to One Spa and the Club Lounge. The Recharge spa package at One Spa costs £115 for one hour and 20 minutes.