Located in the South East region of Scotland, one of the jewels in the United Kingdom’s crown is the majestic Edinburgh, the Scottish capital city since 1437. As it is such a historical city, Edinburgh is home to a variety of Medieval and Georgian architecture, with almost 5,000 listed buildings at its core. Because of this, its numerous stone tenements and the surrounding landscape, it is often referred to as one of the most stunning and picturesque locations in Europe. Indeed this is why the city has received the acclaim of being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.
Aside from the beautiful architecture, Edinburgh is perhaps even more famed for its cultural worth. During the Enlightenment era, Edinburgh was one of the major centres of the movement and the University of Edinburgh’s contribution to new principles of thought led the city to be nicknamed the ‘Athens of the North’ by many scholars. Today it has been awarded the title of a City of Literature by UNESCO for its inhabitants’ contributions to writing. On a more fundamental level, although the city is undoubtedly steeped in history, Edinburgh is also an up and coming city with modern architecture, pulsing nightlife, fantastic cuisine and globally renowned festivals unequalled by any other European city.
On New Year’s Eve, Hogmanay kicks off the Scottish calendar year as they mean to go along with massive firework displays and fantastic street parties. Although technically only on New Years Eve, the period between Christmas and New Years is always incredibly eventful in Edinburgh. Another event in Edinburgh is the Edinburgh Military Tattoo which is an iconic image of the city with kilted pipers and military bands performing in front of the spectacular Edinburgh Castle. However, the real festival season is from the start of August to mid-September and encompasses many arts sub-festivals including the Edinburgh Fringe (a festival focusing on comedy and avant-garde performances), The Art Festival, Jazz Festival, Book Festival and the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Although the atmosphere in Edinburgh comes alive during the festival seasons, the city is a fantastic holiday destination at any time of the year, as there are numerous sights to see and things to experience in the Scottish capital.
Being such a small city, it’s hard to believe that there are so many things to do in Edinburgh. The main attraction is Edinburgh Castle which is magnificently located atop a large hill and provides a stunning and regal backdrop to the whole city. Despite being 1000 years old, the castle has been in continuous use and is still in fantastic condition. Another regal landmark is the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which is also in great condition and is also home to a stunning collection of art. There are also a number of gorgeous old churches and abbeys which encompass over a century of architecture and the Royal Botanical Gardens are very impressive with a large collection of plants and facilities. Edinburgh is also home to fantastic museums with a variety of themes and interests, with the National Gallery of Scotland being the most notable. As well as art and architecture, Edinburgh is renowned for the wide variety of cuisines it has to offer, but also the high quality of the traditional fayre. Dishes such as fowl, black pudding, haggis and other hearty meals are often on the menu. For the braver visitor, deep fried Mars Bars are definitely something to be tried, just for the experience!
Younger visitors may also enjoy Edinburgh Zoo which has hundreds of different species to look at and enjoy. It is probably most renowned for the famous Penguin Parade; a definite must-see. They may also enjoy the Camera Obscura atop Castle Hill which focuses light onto a large dish in a room below, allowing for a 360 degree view of Edinburgh.
When to visit
In the Summer months, the weather tends to be slightly warmer and at points incredibly sunny. During days such as this, you can enjoy the fantastic parks and open spaces in the city. Having said that no matter which season, like the rest of the UK, one should expect the onset of showers at any time. Winter can be bitterly cold, but as outlined above, the city is host to a lot of indoor attractions and even the festivals are predominantly held inside marquees. Nevertheless, the recommended times to visit Edinburgh are either over the Christmas period or between May – September. However, it is important to bear in mind that visiting during August and early September could mean higher accommodation prices.
Accommodation in Edinburgh is generally of a high standard with many 5 star hotels and luxury penthouses, but there are also lots of smaller B&Bs, and cheap hostels and hotels for those on a budget. In terms of accommodation location, the Old Town runs from the Castle to the Palace and is both convenient and atmospheric as you are staying right in the heart of the city. However, the prices often match the location. The New Town district is equally stunning, with Georgian architecture, and is the commercial heart of the city. There are many hotels in this area too but slightly more affordable than those of the Old Town. If watching your pennies, the Cowgate area is home to many of the hostels and B&Bs and is not too far from the lower Royal Mile and its side streets. Whether booking a hotel or hostel, often it is best to check prices online in advance to get the best value for money.
Public transport is also fairly reasonable in the Scottish capital, and they have a secure infrastructure of buses and trains to surrounding Scottish cities. They are also hoping to open a new tram network at some point in 2014. However, Edinburgh is a fairly compact city and best enjoyed and navigated by foot as although there are some hills, the views are definitely worth the leg work. Check out our Edinburgh Transport guide for more information.