Edinburgh rises out of Scotland’s historic Lothian countryside, an imposing city built atop a series of extinct volcanoes and rocky crags. Its dramatic castle, which dates back to the 12th century, defines its skyline; walk the castle’s ramparts and you can see the city spread out before you. Medieval lanes giving way to the elegant terraces of the 18th century Newtown and, beyond all that, modern Edinburgh. There’s plenty to do in this dynamic capital, whether exploring its historic old lanes that make you feel as though you’re traveling back in time or hurtling yourself into the Edinburgh Festival, which is actually not one but several simultaneous arts and cultural festivals held each August.

Edinburgh attracts 1 million overseas visitors a year, making it the second-most-visited tourist destination in the United Kingdom, after London. Start with a tour of the castle for an overview of the city today as well as an understanding of Scotland’s past. Then, wander the labyrinthine streets of Old Town along Edinburgh’s historic, mile-long shopping street, the Royal Mile.

Edinburgh has preserved its architectural heritage, but it lives fully in the present, first introducing the Edinburgh Festival and then the Fringe Festival. Both attract the world’s leading artists and performers.

Its bars, restaurants and clubs are cutting edge, but with a distinct Scottish twist. Edinburgh is proud of its beer-brewing heritage, and it’s a place to sample beers and ales along with fine malt whiskies. Let your taste buds do the exploring by sampling that quintessentially Scottish dish, haggis. Edinburgh’s restaurants serve Scottish specialties -- seafood, game, beef and lamb -- as well European and Chinese cuisines.

Indulge yourself shopping -- the center of Edinburgh is home to stores selling international designers. Princes Street is a place to shop and sight-see, with major brands lining one side of the street and views of the castle from the other. You’ll find more idiosyncratic shopping in quirky neighborhoods such as The West End, Stockbridge and Bruntsfield are all within walking distance or a short bus ride from the city center and provide an ideal hunting ground for more unique items. The West End, only a few minutes walk from Princes Street, offers two streets packed with remarkable shops -- Stafford Street and William Street.

Getting around Edinburgh is simple. There are direct rail links to Edinburgh from throughout the U.K. and there are numerous scheduled flights to Edinburgh from the U.K. and abroad. It’s a compact city made for walking, and you can also take buses. A tram network is scheduled to start running in 2011.