WELCOME TO EDINBURGH
Welcome to Edinburgh, Scotland’s exciting capital city.
Consistently voted one of the world’s top destinations, Edinburgh welcomes millions of visitors each year to explore its chiselled scenery and the inspirational attractions, monuments, structures and buildings that continue to spawn and jostle for space across these volcanic foundations.
‘Auld Reekie’ was Edinburgh’s nickname during the smoky days of the Industrial Revolution, but today it’s a different story. From the various natural and man-made peaks throughout Edinburgh, there are some simply staggering views of the architecturally chaotic Old Town and beyond. Whether you choose to climb Arthur’s Seat and The Crags, the rocket-like Scott Monument in Princes Street Gardens, Castlehill and up to the castle battlements, or to the viewing deck of Nelson’s Monument on Calton Hill, the medieval and modern patchwork of the city can be admired in all its glory.
Crowning the city, the looming black rock and breathtaking castle that dominate the skyline have played pivotal roles in the feudal history of Scotland, but today they stand as an unmistakable landmark of not only Edinburgh’s Old Town but one of the top visitor destinations in the world. The Castle features the National War Memorial and Museum, Mons Meg – an enormous Belgian siege gun, and the famous 1 o’clock gun, which – you guessed it – fires at 1 o’clock every day, except Sunday. The gun partners up with the “timeball” atop Nelson’s Monument on Calton Hill, which rises in tandem with the BANG! from the Castle’s battlements. The ball was installed in the mid-1800’s and was used as a visual time indicator to ships on the Firth of Forth so their chronometers could be set accurately. The gun followed a few years later due to the problem of fog (otherwise known as the infamous Edinburgh ‘haar’) obscuring the ball.
Edinburgh Castle also plays host to the world renowned Royal Military Tattoo, which runs nightly during the festival month of August. Military and civilian performers from across the globe flock to Edinburgh to contribute in an extravaganza for the senses which sells out every single year. The show takes place on the Castle Esplanade, under the watchful eyes of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce.
The Royal Mile is Edinburgh’s main artery. Used by nobility and townsfolk alike for hundreds of years, this ancient cobbled thoroughfare, and the streets, closes, wynds and alleys that span from it, are the very heart of the atmospheric Old Town. The Mile is comprised of different sections: Castlehill, The Lawnmarket, The High Street, The Canongate and right at the very foot, next to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Abbey Strand.
Many of the city’s most visited attractions are scattered along, or situated very near to, the Royal Mile. Up top you’ll find The Castle, The Scotch Whisky Experience, The Camera Obscura, The Hub; at the Lawnmarket you’ll come across Gladstone’s Land, The Writers’ Museum (you’ll have to peek into Wardrop’s Court) and the Museum on the Mound (take the stairs to the Mound from the Writers’ Museum); at the High Street there’s the majestic St Giles’ Cathedral, the Mercat Cross, The Scottish Storytelling Centre / John Knox House, The Museum of Childhood and many of the meeting points for the city’s brilliant walking tours; at The Canongate you’ll pass The People’s Story and the Museum of Edinburgh, not to mention the truly historic Canongate Kirk (Royal Zara Phillips wed here) and the beginnings of the architecturally unique Scottish Parliament, designed by Catalan Enric Miralles; and at the very bottom of the Royal Mile, Abbey Strand – The final footsteps before reaching the gates to the magnificent Palace of Holyroodhouse, one of the Queen’s royal residences in Scotland… And that’s just one street! There are numerous other magnificent things to see and do such as the National Museum of Scotland, Greyfriars Bobby and Greyfriars Tollbooth and Kirkyard, the National Galleries of Scotland, the Water of Leith Walkway… the list goes on and on.
Taking a walk from Castlehill at the top of the Mile to the Parliament and Palace at the foot, and the story of Edinburgh’s past will unfold as you go. It’s near impossible to walk through this historic part of Scotland’s capital without being transported back in time (*a tip: If you hear the medieval cry of “gardyloo!” from above, hug the wall or get your umbrella up pronto), as many parts of the Mile are unchanged. You’re bound to get a little peckish or perhaps a touch parched along your way, but don’t you worry about preparing a packed lunch! The Royal Mile has some of Edinburgh’s most popular pubs, cafes, takeaways and restaurants peppered along the stretch. Inside you’ll find many serving some of the freshest local produce and that includes some of our delicious national dish – Haggis, neeps and tatties! You’re seriously missing out if you don’t order up a plate! You can wash it down with a pint of flavourful locally brewed ale, which you’ll find a selection of in many of the pubs serving great food. To fight off that full-bellied sleepiness and get you ready to hit the busy streets again, perk yourself up with a wee dram of Scotland’s liquid love… A single malt, with or without a peaty smooch. Ask your bartender for a recommendation or, if you want to really learn your stuff you can head up to the Scotch Whisky Experience for one of their educational tastings. While you’re there you can gawp at the staggering number of whiskies on display; the world’s largest collection no less. Just think of it as a Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for adults.
The year 1707 brought Scotland and England together as the United Kingdom, with power heading south of the border to London’s Westminster. However, in 1997 a referendum led to the return of a parliament to Scotland, but this time as a devolved government. The Scottish Parliament’s unique architecture integrates into the surrounding landscape, a parkland dominated by Arthur’s Seat and the Crags, yet another bold reminder of Edinburgh’s volcanic roots. Arthur’s Seat and the reddened Crags provide some unrivalled 360 degree views of Edinburgh and East Lothian. Our favourite spot requires a little leg work but it’s unbelievably worth it. Get your flask of Nambarrie tea and hoof it up to the very crest of the Crags, where the spectacular madness of the Old Town planning will be presented in its entirety before your very eyes. Buildings of all different sizes, shapes, styles and eras, squeeze and elbow for space on the densely packed volcanic rock. It’s a jaw-dropping view so ensure you bring the camera and then post the pics to Facebook so your friends can be overcome with jealousy (that’s what Facebook’s for, right?).
Toward the end of the 18th century Edinburgh’s Old Town tenements were a recognisable trademark, with the poor occupying lower floors and the wealthy the upper. The population would grow so much that eventually a grand New Town was proposed and developed to accommodate those who could afford it. It’s wide Georgian thoroughfares and roomy town houses became the neighbourhood of the rich and refined, and to this day it remains a highly desirable area to live. In the New Town there are a number of art galleries and antiques shops, plus a great selection of stylish places to eat and drink. Venturing a little further north and just past Canonmills you’ll find one of the several gates to the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh. The Botanics are a globally respected centre for plant science and education with a stunning and expansive garden, open to the public. Be sure to pop in to the exotic Victorian and 1960’s-era glasshouses as you explore; particularly nice on a chilly day!
The New Town is a beautiful part of the city but there are so many others, each with their own personality and individual quirks. Some areas especially popular with visitors and locals alike are Stockbridge, Southside, Marchmont, Bruntsfield, Morningside and Leith. The Port of Leith, an international shipping and trading post for many hundreds of years, has undergone a major rejuvenation in recent years, the product of which is a cosmopolitan docklands area. Many of the former whisky bonds and warehouses have been converted into attractive apartments and swish spots to wine and dine in. Leith is also home to the Queen’s decommissioned Royal Yacht Britannia. The original 1950’s super-yacht is permanently moored to the rear of the Ocean Terminal complex and is an extremely popular attraction.
Edinburgh has been a centre for education and innovation for centuries, and continues to this day. It became a particular focal point of the European Enlightenment and was named the Athens of the North, thanks to the grand architecture of the New Town and the prominence of Scotland’s intellectual elite, mostly centred around the University of Edinburgh. Some famous folks to have wandered the corridors of the university over the years include: J.M.Barrie (creator of Peter Pan), Alexander Graham Bell (inventor of the first practical telephone), Charles Darwin (Naturalist and author of On the Origin of Species), the actor Robbie Coltrane (‘Hagrid’ in the Harry Potter film series, among many other roles!), and former Prime minister of Britain Gordon Brown.
If there’s one thing a student doesn’t like to be far from it’s a good pint, and Edinburgh is certainly the place to be to get one of those. The city’s pub, bar, club and live music scene is world class and, as long as you’re over 18, there’s certain to be a place that will suit you down to the ground. If you’re into your real ales, scotch, wine, spirits, or just the plain old deliciousness of Coca-Cola, you’ll be catered for. And whether you’re a pop, rock, folk, classical, jazz, hip hop, dubstep, techno, house, or metal fan there’s a tavern, back room, concert hall, arena, or cavernous club that will be playing the music you like, almost every day of the week.
August and December are two of the most popular months to visit, with August hosting a series of world-renowned festivals, including the famous Edinburgh Fringe and International Festivals that clash and overlap to form the largest annual arts and cultural festival anywhere in the world. December takes that Christmas feeling to new levels with a brilliant month long winter funfair and market that occupies the square at the foot of the Mound and most of the eastern wing of Princes Street Gardens. The year finally draws to a close with one of the most famous get-togethers in the world – Edinburgh’s Hogmanay – A New Years extravaganza that has to be seen to be believed. A whole calendar of events including the magical Torchlight Procession culminate in an incredible street party and jaw-dropping fireworks display on Princes Street, attended by tens of thousands of people and fuelled by some of the biggest entertainment acts in the industry.
Edinburgh truly has culture, creativity and celebration at its core with 11 major festivals taking place throughout the year. Outside of August and December the Science Festival, Film Festival, and the Jazz & Blues Festival are just a few of the brilliant selection that take place annually.
Getting to and from the city is easy: The Airlink service runs buses from Waverley Bridge in the heart of the city to Edinburgh Airport, and vice versa, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. Grabbing a taxi is also an option and it should take around 20-30 minutes, depending on traffic.
If traveling by train Waverley Station, situated behind the iconic Balmoral Hotel, has regular and efficient rail links to the north, south and west. If you’re travelling up from London, you can expect a 4.5 to 5 hour journey up the East Coast line. If you’re flying up it takes approximately 1 hour, and there are several airlines that run frequent flights to and from both capitals.
There’s never a wrong time to come to Edinburgh. The capital buzzes 365 days a year, and regardless of when you choose to visit you’ll be given a warm welcome by some of the friendliest people in the world.