Cover photo full
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrThe capital city of Scotland and one of the United Kingdom’s most beautiful cities, Edinburgh is situated on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth in Lothian . Home to around 500,000 people, it is a city rich in history that swells dramatically in size each August when artists, comedians, musicians, and actors come to perform at the Edinburgh Festivals.
HistoryEvidence of human habitation in the area dates back to 8,500 BC with Celtic tribes recorded before control of Lothian was passed over to the Angles. The Royal Burgh was founded in the early 12th century by King David I, and the first mention of it as the capital city of Scotland was made in the 14th century by French chronicler, Jean Froissart.
In the early 17th century, King James VI of Scotland took the English throne and united the crowns of Scotland and England into the Union of the Crowns. Throughout this period, the city’s population grew significantly and as the boundaries of Edinburgh were defined by the defensively protective town walls, buildings grew skywards, although many of these ‘skyscrapers’ were later replaced by the Victorian buildings seen today.
The Kingdoms of England and Scotland were united into the Kingdom of Great Britain in the early 18th century, a union opposed by many Scots.
The city prospered, particularly as a banking center, but it was noted as an overcrowded and unsanitary town where a lack of segregation meant that the different social classes were forced to live along side one another. The Town Council, keen to improve city conditions and enable expansion, re-affirmed its belief in the Union and named many of the ‘New Town’ streets after the royal family – George Street, Queen Street, and Frederick Street, for example. Gradually, the professional and business classes abandoned the Old Town for the elegant houses of the New Town, creating a social segregation whose absence had formerly unified the city.
The second half of the 18th century saw the city blossom as a major center for intellectual thinking and it was nicknamed the ‘Athens of the North’. Neo-classical buildings and minds such as James Hutton and David Hume were familiar faces on Edinburgh’s streets.
In the 19th century, Glasgow overtook Edinburgh as Scotland’s largest city and housed most of the country’s industries, although Edinburgh did continue its traditional industries of printing, brewing, and distilling. The Old Town became increasingly overcrowded and unsanitary, and it wasn't until the 1860s that Lord Provost William Chambers began making improvements to the dilapidated infrastructure and transformed the area with the Victorian architecture seen today.
After some prosperity, the two World Wars saw high levels of unemployment and an economic downturn that returned the Old City to a major slum that was cleared, yet again, in the 1960s and 1970s.
The development of a ‘financial district’ and ‘Edinburgh Park’, a business and technology initiative, has boosted the city’s economy since the late 1980s with financial services now accounting for a third of all commercial office space in the city.
GeographyBuilt on seven hills – Calton Hill, Corstorphine Hill; Craiglockhart Hill, Braid Hill; Blackford Hill, Arthur’s Seat and the Castle Rock – Edinburgh lies on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth. The land is dotted with basalt volcanic plugs, a result of volcanic activity between 350 and 400 million years ago, and further eroded by intense periods of glaciation. The exposed rocky crags that have resulted were perfect natural settings upon which Edinburgh Castle was built.
The city is encircled by a green belt that was designated in 1957, stretching from Dalmeny to Prestongrange, and with an average width of 3.2 kilometers. Its purpose is to contain urban sprawl and development, although expansions have crept into this district.
Princes Street Gardens divide Edinburgh’s historic center in two – to the north lies Princes Street and the ‘New Town’, while the Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile, and the ‘Old Town’ dominate the south. The Old and New Towns were both listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1995 for their architectural and historical significance and more than 4,500 buildings are individually listed.
Many of the outer suburbs have retained the character of their original settlements, prior to being absorbed into the sprawling city during the 19th century
What to See and DoThe Edinburgh Pass allows entry to 27 of the city’s top attractions, a guidebook, free public transport around the city, and discounts to a number of restaurants and retailers. A one-day pass costs £ £29 ($44), a two-days would be £ £39 ($59), and three-days would cost £ £49 ($74). Tickets can be purchased online or at Tourist Information Centers throughout the city.
Royal MileThe Royal Mile is a beautiful, wide pedestrian street to meander down, flanked by Victorian architecture. Notable historic landmarks worth visiting include Edinburgh Castle, the royal fortress that dominates the city skyline, St Giles' Cathedral that sits majestically within the Old Town, and (supposedly) haunted Mary King’s Close .
Greyfriars KirkyardGreyfriars Kirkyard is a beautiful old graveyard within the Old Town, southwest of George IV Bridge, while the Scottish Parliament, at the eastern of the Royal Mile, is a unique building where you can observe the parliament in session (advanced tickets (free) required).
GrassmarketGrassmarket is a lively area near the Royal Mile, home to cafés, restaurants, bars, and art shops and was once the location of Edinburgh’s horse and cattle market.
Scott MonumentFor views across the city, climb the Gothic spire of the Scott Monument (entry fee is £ £4 ($6.08)), built in 1846 to commemorate the life of Sir Walter Scott.
The National Gallery of Scotland exhibits both permanent and temporary exhibitions of some of Scotland’s finest artwork. The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art focuses on modern work from both Scotland and around the world.
The Museum of Scotland features artifacts from throughout Scotland’s history and a Millennium Clock that chimes on the hour. It is open 7 days a week and is free to enter.
Arthur's SeatArthur's Seat is a great short walk up the extinct volcano to the East of the city that offers panoramic views back over Edinburgh. It is an easy hike although strong winds are not uncommon at the top so bring warm clothes.
FestivalsEdinburgh is home to a fantastic live music, theater and arts scene but it is during August that this ‘festival city’ really comes to life. The Edinburgh International Festival, Fringe Festival, and Military Tattoo all coincide over this period and it is a vibrant and lively atmosphere that continues 24 hours a day!
ClimateEdinburgh has a temperate, maritime climate with summer maximums around 22 °C (22 °C) and rarely dropping below freezing during winter days. Its proximity to the sea reduces the extremes in climate that affect other cities at similar latitudes, such as Moscow and Newfoundland.
Edinburgh is referred to as ‘the windy city’, as a result of its location between the coast and the hills, with south westerlies associated with the North Atlantic Current often bringing strong wind and rainfall. Precipitation is fairly even throughout the year, although European windstorms often impact the city between October and May.
EconomyAfter London, Edinburgh has the strongest economy in the United Kingdom and is the most competitive large city. It has a comparatively low level of unemployment and 43% of the population holds degree-level or professional qualifications.
While the economy was originally built on brewing, distilling, banking, printing and publishing, it is now based primarily on financial services, scientific research, higher education, and tourism. After London, it is the second most visited city in the UK with visitors coming to marvel at its World Heritage Listed historic sites. In August, the Edinburgh Festivals attract 4.4 million visitors, resulting in more than 100 million pounds for the local economy.
Getting There and AroundThe Edinburgh International Airport, 16 kilometers west of the center, links the city with major European and International cities. The Edinburgh Tramway and Airlink Express buses both transport visitors from the airport into the city center throughout the day and night.
The Waverley Railway Station, opened in 1846, lies between the Old and New Towns. It is the major hub for the Scottish rail network that has services every 15 minutes to Glasgow (from £ £5 ($7.60)) and hourly to Dundee and Aberdeen and also services to and from London that are operated by East Coast. Trains leave hourly and the time is around 4 ½ hours with tickets costing between £ £16 ($24) - £ £90 ($137).
Driving within the city is difficult and, often, expensive. There is limited parking available and dozens of one-way streets, along with its medieval layout make navigation difficult. The bus system, however, is extensive and can easily be used to get around the city. Single journey tickets cost £ £2 ($2.28) or all day tickets are available for £ £4 ($5.32). There are also four companies that operate sight-seeing buses departing from Waverley Bridge that transport visitors around the major sites.
The city is extremely compact and walkable and the stunning architecture and parks make it a pleasant way to visit the city. The website walkit.com allows visitors to pre-plan their walking route and is a useful option.
AccommodationEdinburgh has accommodation to suit all budgets, from hostels starting at around £ £10 ($15) to luxury 5 star hotels. There are guesthouses and small hotels dotted throughout the city, while the Southside has a high density of ‘bed and breakfast’ accommodation. It is around a 15-20 minute walk from the city center but bus services make transport easy during most hours of the day and night. You can easily find such guesthouses by the ‘vacancy’ signs that are hung out front.
It is worth noting that accommodation prices increase dramatically during the August festival period and rooms can be difficult to find – book well ahead! If you are struggling to find accommodation within Edinburgh, remember that Glasgow is only a short train or bus ride away and often offers cheaper accommodation options. It is also an interesting city to explore in itself.
Dining:Edinburgh has a diverse range of restaurants to suit all budgets. With a multi-cultural population there are cuisines from around the world on offer scattered throughout all areas of the city.
Most pubs also serve meals and good pub fare is available on the pedestrian area of Rose Street that runs parallel to Princes Street.
The Scots are famous for deep frying almost anything - pizzas, hamburgers, chocolate bars - and you won't find a shortage of places serving black pudding and haggis if you want to try something typically Scottish.
Shopping:The Royal Mile is overflowing in tourist oriented shops where you can purchase a vast range of Scottish souvenirs. Victoria street is home to an interesting mix of boutique shops or the high-end labels can be found in New Town on Multrees Walk.
Princes Street is the main shopping precinct that runs right through the city with lots of chain and department stores.
Do you see any omissions, errors or want to add information to this page? Sign up.
Author: Pip23. Last updated: Feb 02, 2015