Explore Edinburgh, Scotland
Explore Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland located in the Central Belt region of the country. With a population of approximately 450,000 (1 million in the city region), Edinburgh manages to combine both ancient and modern in a uniquely Scottish atmosphere. Watched over by the imposing castle, the symbol of the city, Edinburgh combines medieval relics, Georgian grandeur and a powerful layer of modern life with contemporary avant-garde. In Edinburgh, medieval palaces rub shoulders with the best of modern architecture, Gothic churches with amazing museums and galleries. Scotland’s throbbing night-life centre, Edinburgh, “the Athens of the North”, is also a feast for the mind and the senses, playing host to great restaurants, shops and an unequaled program of city festivals throughout the year. Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year, kicks off the festivities, which culminate in the high summer with the Tattoo, the International and the Fringe, amongst many others.
The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh were listed as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1995. In 2004, Edinburgh became the first member of the UNESCO Creative Cities initiative when it was designated a City of Literature.
- Edinburgh’s medieval heart along the Royal Mile, which runs from the Castle to Holyrood Palace. Most of the really famous sites are in this area.
- The other half of the city centre is the Georgian (late 18th century) New Town. The commercial heart of the city, this is what shopaholics make a beeline for.
Stockbridge and Canonmills
- Exclusive neighborhood to the north of the New Town, some interesting independent shopping plus the most relaxing spot in the city – the Royal Botanic Garden.
- Edinburgh’s independent-minded port area is a destination in its own right.
- The beach district of Portobello and the historic village of Duddingston both lie in the east of the city.
- A popular part of town for students, so there are plenty of interesting places to eat and drink. Further out is Edinburgh’s Outdoor Playground of the Pentland Hills, and the intriguing Roslin Chapel.
- Edinburgh’s excellent zoo is here, plus the temple of sport that is Murrayfield rugby stadium.
Railbridge on the Firth of Forth, an engineering marvel constructed in 1890
Edinburgh is on the west coast of Scotland’s east Lowlands, situated on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth. Edinburgh’s landscape is the product of ancient volcanism (both the Castle crag and Arthur’s Seat are the eroded plugs of volcanoes) and more recent glaciation (carving out valleys south of the castle and the old Nor’Loch, presently the site of the Princes Street Gardens).
Edinburgh’s historic centre is bisected by Princes Street Gardens, a broad swathe of parkland in the heart of the city. Southwards of the gardens is the castle, perched on top of an extinct volcanic crag, and flanked by the medieval streets of the Old Town following the Royal Mile along the ridge to the east. To the north of Princes Street Gardens lies Princes Street itself – Edinburgh’s main shopping boulevard – and the Georgian period New Town, built after 1766 on a regular grid plan.
Evidence suggests that humans have inhabited Edinburgh for millennia. Archeological findings indicate that humans lived in the area as early as 8500 BC, approximately 5,000 years before the Bronze Age. In the 600s, one of the first forts was erected. In the seventh century, the English invaded and named it “Eiden’s Burgh.” “Burgh” being a word for fort. A few centuries later, the Scots reclaimed their land and a castle was built. A small town sprang up, and by the 12th century, Edinburgh had become a thriving community.
English is spoken almost exclusively. That being said, many travellers find it difficult to understand those who speak quickly and with a strong Scottish accent. On a rare occasion, it is possible to find an individual who also speaks Scots or Gaelic.
Edinburgh has a temperate (meaning mild or moderate) climate. During the course of a year, temperatures can range from a high of 22°C to a low of 1°C. Weather, of course, has a mind of its own. While September tends to be the wettest month and April the driest, Edinburgh has no true dry season. Travelers are almost guaranteed that, no matter what time of year they visit, it’s going to rain at some point.
When to go
Travellers should note that Edinburgh becomes overwhelmingly crowded (accommodation-wise) during the main festival periods of high summer (August to early September) and Hogmanay (around New Year’s Day / 1 January). Visitors at these times should plan well ahead (even more than a year in advance!) for booking central accommodation and event tickets at these times.
Edinburgh is a beautiful city that’s full of history. There is no better way to see it than to walk.
What to buy
While travellers will find expected items (e.g. kilts or whisky, Scotland’s national drink), Edinburgh also features a large number of independent retailers offering everything from joke supplies to fine art.
Princes Street in New Town offers shopping with a view. All shops here are relegated to one side of the street, giving shoppers an uninterrupted view of the Old Town. Visitors will find large department stores like Jenners (Scotland’s oldest independent department store until it’s acquisition in 2005), Debenhams and Marks and Spencer (commonly referred to as “M&S”). There is also an Apple Store and several health and beauty shops.
Multrees Walk in New Town, on the east side of Saint Andrew Square caters to the luxury shopper. This is the place to find Louis Vuitton, luxury fashion retailer Harvey Nichols, Swarovski, fine art galleries and plenty other shops selling high-end jewelry and watches.
Shoppers with a taste for the eclectic, and those who prefer browsing smaller, independent stores should head to Grassmarket in the Old Town. Shops here feature a little bit of everything, from vintage clothing to sixteenth-century prints and maps.
Harry Potter fans need to take a stroll down Victoria Street in Old Town. This street is said to have been the inspiration for “Diagon Alley.” Souvenir hunters will find bookstores, a joke shop, and jewelry and clothing stores. They may even spot a witch or wizard stocking up on supplies at The Cadies & Witchery Tours. Also, if you are interested in Harry Potter, it is worth a visit to the Elephant House on George IV Bridge. The Elephant House is the cafe where author J.K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books over coffee and cake, and is even signposted in the window to display the fact.
The Royal Mile in Old Town boasts the highest number of “traditional” souvenir shops. Bookended by Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood House, The Royal Mile is home to a number of interesting museums and historical sites. Almost every site has its own souvenir gift shop. This is also the place to come to find “made-in-Scotland” garments, “traditional” Scottish wear (i.e. kilts in every tartan pattern known and then some), Harris Tweed and whisky. Some shops, like The Scotch Whisky Experience that offers virtual whisky-making tours, also offer tasting sessions.
The port town of Leith is best known for its indoor shopping centre Ocean Terminal. Ocean Terminal houses big brand name stores including: Gap, Game, a Vue Cinema, Holland and Barrett and The Perfume Shop. The more unique shops, however, are found outside of Ocean Terminal. Independent stores here offer books, second-hand furniture, eco-friendly gifts, and antiques.
What to eat
According to Scottish tourism officials, Edinburgh has more restaurants per person than any other town in the UK. Travelers will find everything from Michelin-rated fine-dining establishments to small pubs. And within that array, places offering traditional Scottish fare, seafood dishes, and some specializing in Indian, Mediterranean or Chinese cuisine. If you crave it, there’s a restaurant in Edinburgh that makes it.
A full Scottish breakfast normally consists of eggs, black pudding, tattie scones, Lorne sausage, baked beans, toast, fried mushrooms and grilled tomatoes, not to mention sides of yogurt, cereal, and fresh fruit. And all washed down with tea or coffee. Of course, no Scottish breakfast would be complete without a steaming bowl of porridge.
Porridge is made by combining oats, water and a dash of salt. The mix is then heated and stirred with a wooden spurtle (Scottish cooking tool dating from the 15th century) to prevent the porridge from congealing. Eat it alone or add nuts, sugar, berries and milk.
Scotland’s lush lands and gentle slopes have helped produce some of the top beef breeds in the world. As a result, beef and lamb are commonly used in traditional fare.
Haggis is Scotland’s national dish. Haggis makers take onions, oatmeal, suet (beef or mutton fat) and spices and mix them together with the offal (organ meat) of a sheep, pig or cow. Traditionally, this mixture was boiled in the stomach of the slaughtered animal. Today, most Haggis preparers use a synthetic casing.
Black Pudding, unlike Haggis, is heavy on the carbs and light on the offal. It’s a mix of suet, oats, barley, spices and blood stuffed into a protein casing and served like a sausage. Traditionally a breakfast food served predominantly at B&Bs, it is finding its way more and more onto the menus of five-star restaurants.
Scotch Pie and Bridie are two types of meat pies commonly eaten by locals. Scotch Pie has a hard crust pastry shell and is filled with minced meat. Scotch Pie full ingredient lists are a closely guarded secret. Bridie is a meat pie with a shortcrust pastry. Its filling consists of minced beef, onions and seasoning.
Scottish desserts showcase Scotland’s produce growers, dairy farmers, and whisky makers.
Cranachan is a light dessert made of raspberries, whipped cream, honey and toasted oats. A small amount of whisky is sometimes added.
Tablet is the Scottish version of fudge. It’s made from sugar, condensed milk, and butter.
Shortbread is a cookie that is basically a lot of butter mixed with a little flour and sugar. Properly prepared, shortbread is rich, crumbly and a delicious staple of Scottish teas.
Clootie dumpling is a classic Scottish dessert. It’s a sweet pudding made with dried fruit, suet, sugar, flour, breadcrumbs, a little milk and sometimes some golden syrup. A popular way to eat it is to top it with cream and whisky.
What to drink
There are establishments to suit all tastes scattered throughout every pocket of the city. Be careful, some of the more local pubs can be a little rough around the edges, especially in Leith.
For a non-alcoholic beverage give Scotland’s second national drink a try – Irn-Bru . It’s a great cure for hangover.
As for Scotland’s first drink, you will find The Scotch Whisky Experience at the top of The Royal Mile, which offers an interactive “tour” of the history and practice of Whisky distilling, complete with a rather sedate barrel ride. This is a good place to go if you want to sample whisky, as they have a very large selection (200+) at a fairly reasonable price. Older whiskeys tend to cost more and the rarest on offer. The atmosphere is less pub-like than some might like as it tends to be fairly quiet – if you don’t fancy the interactive tour and just want to try some whiskies then check the listings for some good whisky pubs but in any event, the majority of Edinburgh pubs tend to have a reasonable array of Scotch whiskies on offer. The food at the Centre is reasonably priced and fairly good.
Lots of traditional pubs are all around the city.
Many famous traditional pubs on the Grassmarket, Old Town. These pubs are tourist traps and tend to be very popular with visiting stag and hen parties, so locals tend to keep clear.
Lots of modern clubs are around Cowgate and Lothian road. George Street in the New Town hosts many of Edinburgh’s trendier bars.
Where to sleep
Edinburgh has been established as a tourist destination for centuries, and so there is a huge choice of accommodation available for travellers. Note however that the average cost of hotel accommodation in Edinburgh is higher than anywhere else in Scotland, and if you’re planning a visit during festival time (Aug), around Christmas and New Year, or on the weekend of a Scotland home game in the 6-nations Rugby (Mar/Apr, 2 or 3 matches per year), then you will find that all types of accommodation get booked up well in advance, and hefty premiums may be applied to the room-rate. It’s not impossible to get somewhere to stay at short notice at these times, but you won’t be able to be fussy and it will probably be expensive.
Multiple internet cafés and hotspot venues exist throughout Edinburgh .
Many of the municipal libraries throughout the city have PCs with free internet access.
The tap water is safe to drink, like it is anywhere in Scotland. Visitors can eat the food without constant fear of becoming home to a nefarious parasite.
Almost all cash machines in Edinburgh will dispense Scottish bank notes, but there are a few that usually have Bank of England notes, which may be convenient if you are leaving Scotland,
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