Novelist Alexander McCall-Smith once wrote of Edinburgh: ‘This is a city of shifting light, of changing skies, of sudden vistas. A city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again.’

Having spent a weekend stopping open-mouthed in wonder at one stunning view, one beautiful street, one magnificent building after another, I know what he means.

We spent little more than 24 hours in Scotland’s capital but it was enough to know we want to return, and soon.

Of course our judgement may have been coloured by the ease of getting there thanks to a comfortable flight from Southampton with Flybe or the even more luxurious stay at our hotel, The Bonham in the stately West End of the city, but there was enough culture, history and friendliness to guarantee that anyway.

The Bonham is formed of three handsome town houses in Drumsheugh Gardens, part of the city’s New Town. Locals joke it is so-called because it is only 300 years old.

Anyone who has been to Bath or Bristol’s court area will recognise the wide, cobbled streets, pristine pavements and manicured gardens as a sign of a wealthy, confident city.

The town houses, built in 1872, became a maternity clinic in 1951 and was the place hundreds of Scots took their first breath. Now it welcomes guests instead of babies.

It was refurbished last year and, with its high ceilings, wood panelling and views over the city it makes an ideal base.

It is also a wonderful home from home to return to after a day’s sightseeing with its friendly bar and excellent dining room.

Princes Street, the sprawling parade of shops leading up past the Edinburgh Castle is just a few minutes’ walk from the hotel. The walk past the castle as the street climbs up a steep hill has to be halted by regular stops to look back at the spires and monuments that punctuate the skyline.

The Oxford Times:

The Bonham Hotel

Among them are the jagged lines of the monument to poet and local hero Sir Walter Scott, the ornate spire of St Cuthbert’s parish church, the imposing Royal Scots Greys Monument and the statue of missionary and explorer Sir David Livingstone.

Just a few yards from there is a far more obscure, but no less enchanting statue of Wojtek, the soldier bear. The story goes that the brown bear accompanied a Polish unit fighting alongside the British in Italy during the Second World War.

Regulations forbade pets so the bear was enlisted into the battalion as a private and served with distinction, carrying ammunition and shells. He returned to Britain after the war and ended his days at Edinburgh Zoo.

The castle is the city’s best known monument, dominating the skyline from most points, but the best views of Edinburgh are to be had from Calton Hill, the home of the Scottish Parliament and several more stunning edifices that look out over the capital.

We were blessed with blue skies and sunshine as we gazed over rooftops and alleyways of the medieval Old Town. Atop the hill is a monument to Nelson, the National Monument to fallen soldiers and sailors in the Napoleonic wars and based on the Parthenon in Athens.

Climbing hills is hot work and fortunately the inhabitants are skilled at tackling a thirst in some of the most beautiful and lively pubs you’ll find outside of Dublin or London.

The Oxford Times:

The Bonham Hotel

One such is the wondrous Café Royal, a splendid Victorian shrine to whisky and seafood on the edge of the Old Town.

Built in 1861 to replace a pub of the same name opened in 1826, plasterwork and tiled friezes depicting great inventors provide a sumptuous backdrop for a refreshing dram and a plate of smoked salmon.

Just a few yards away is the Guildford Arms, another Edinburgh institution boasting another gloriously baroque interior and a pedigree that stretches back to 1896, since when it has been owned by the same family.

If these two places are uplifting ‘Peoples’ Palaces’, The Halfway House in the midst of the Old Town is a quirky curiosity not to be missed.

The smallest pub in Edinburgh is nestled halfway up a steep staircase and if you don’t know anyone when you enter, you certainly will by the time you leave because in every square inch of space you stand you are cheek to jowl with your fellow drinker.

But that’s Edinburgh all over – compact, friendly, up for a good time and always ready to welcome you back.

The facts

STAY: Gary stayed at The Bonham Hotel in Drumsheugh Gardens (thebonham.com 0131 2266050). All rooms have Hypnos beds, mini fridges with complimentary water, welcome trays with tea and coffee and free Wi-Fi.

GET THERE: Flybe operates up to five flights a day to Edinburgh from Southampton with prices from £45.99 inc taxes and charges. (flybe.com).