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City Guide: Edinburgh
City guide: Edinburgh
Almost unanimously loved, Edinburgh is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, combining stunning architecture, sophisticated culture and super-friendly locals. Whether you plan your trip around Hogmanay, the world famous Festival or any old time, simply to explore the city, it’s bound to be memorable. It’s for good reason that Edinburgh is the most visited tourist destination in the UK after London.
What to do
The station is a good place to start, especially if you arrive there. Wander the Royal Mile, perched at the top of which is Edinburgh Castle. It dominates the city from every angle and is a great place to learn about Scotland’s history and take in views of the Scottish capital.
The castle has been a royal residence since the 12th century and is the city’s most iconic edifice.
Try to time your visit for around 1pm, when a field gun inside the castle walls blasts a round of shellfire to mark the hour (every day except Sunday). A memorial bench to commemorate Tam the Gun, a sergeant who fired the ‘One O’Clock Gun’ for 27 years before he died of cancer, is the best place to sit for an eardrum-splitting.
King James IV spied on subjects gathered in the castle’s Great Hall through a specially designed barred window above the fireplace. When the Soviet president and political reformer Mikhail Gorbachev was set to visit the castle back in 1984, the KGB asked that the window be bricked up for security purposes.
It’s also worth heading up to Arthur’s Seat, a little bump on a range of hills in Holyrood Park, which provides another stunning bird’s eye view of Edinburgh’s gothic architecture.
Actually, it’s a craggy peak that was formed when a glacier eroded an extinct volcano about 350 million years ago. At 823ft high, it doesn’t pose too tough a climb so doesn’t really deserve to be known by the less fortunate name of ‘Pratt’s Hill’. It’s called that because in 1840, Mormon apostle Orson Pratt travelled to Edinburgh and found only eight members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So he climbed the hill and asked the Lord to give him 200 souls to convert. Apparently it worked out.
The dead have haunted Edinburgh’s cobbled streets and buildings since medieval times, and what better way to get spooked than to go on a ghost walk. Visit the vaults beneath the South Bridge and discover the story behind the city’s body snatchers.
Mary King’s Close, an underground warren in Edinburgh’s Old Town is said to be haunted by plague victims who were walled up in the close in the 1600s and left to die. People have reported scratching noises coming from inside a chimney on Mary King’s Close, where a child chimney sweep is said to have died.
Edinburgh is, without a doubt, most celebrated for its summer arts Festival and for seeing in the New Year – Hogmanay.
In August, the city plays host to the Edinburgh Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the biggest arts festival in the world. Hundreds of thousands of revellers flock to the city for three fun-filled weeks of comedy, music, drama and dance.
Visit Edinburgh on New Year’s Eve for Hogmanay and you’ll get involved in the massive street party takes place. The Scots like to do New Year properly so more than 80,000 people take to the streets for street parties, firework displays, an atmospheric ‘torchlight procession’ and live bands.
And there’s the Loony Dook; a tradition that sees more than 1000 ‘loonies’ jump into the freezing waters of the Forth Estuary in an attempt to numb their New Year’s Day hangovers.
Eating and drinking
To start your day, we suggest you grab breakfast at Edinburgh’s Saturday Farmers’ Market in the centre of the city.
Later, nip into a cosy pub on the Royal Mile or Grassmarket and sit down to a steaming plate of Scotland’s most famous dish - haggis (sheep’s intestine combined with onion, oatmeal, spices and salt). It is traditionally boiled in the sheep’s stomach but today many other casings are used. While it sounds horrible, it tastes incredible when served with 'neeps and tatties' (otherwise known as turnips and potatoes).
The volunteer-run Mosque Kitchen, originally set up to serve its congregation, offers amazing home-cooked The volunteer-run Mosque Kitchen, originally set up to serve its congregation, offers amazing home-cooked curries. Another secret worth knowing is the excellent tapas diner El Bar. The food is seriously tasty and the portions are large and good value. It fills up quickly at weekends, so book ahead.
To wash it all down? A dram of whisky of course.
As a nation of whisky drinkers, Scotland’s national drop is always at hand. But be warned, the locals wouldn’t dream of contaminating their aged whisky with any perceived impurities such as a mixer (a little water is not only allowed, but often recommended though).
The Scots love a drink so there are plenty of pubs from which to choose in Edinburgh. One is The Last Drop where, legend has it, convicted criminals were taken for their final meal and a glass of whisky before being walked across the road to be hung in the market square.
New and cutting-edge bars have cropped up in Leith. But at the Port O’ Leith bar, nothing much has changed for 30 years, which is why the pub is still loved by seafarers and locals alike. Irvine Welsh, of Trainspotting fame, was once a regular here. The scruffy, but charming, tavern oozes character, draws an interesting mix of people and has cheap beer. We guarantee that you will never be lonely here – nor will you be sober when you leave.
Where to party
Plan your evening around the lively bars of Rose Street. Try The Abbotsford, a popular bar that has managed to retain its Edwardian splendour. Afterwards, head to nearby Queen Street to dance the night away at Jools Holland’s Jam House.
Where to stay
May we suggest the Industrial-chic boutique hostel Art Roch, which has a laidback, arty vibe or the stylish Smart City Hostel.
A 15 minute walk from the centre, the cobbled streets of Stockbridge are lined with independent shops selling everything from gramophones to handbags, as well as tempting delis, quirky cafés and a great assortment of charity stores. Every Sunday, there’s also a market offering delicious foods, crafts, vintage clothes and more.
Or, a 20-minute bus ride from Edinburgh’s city centre (No. 41 Lothian bus) is Cramond. It still retains the feel of a sleepy fishing village, complete with a quaint row of pretty, whitewashed houses facing the sailboats moored at the river mouth. A promenade, popular among cyclists, walkers and rollerbladers, follows the wide sandy beach for miles.
The splendid views of the Firth of Forth and the hills of Fife also make it an ideal spot for a picnic. At low tide, you can cross the causeway to Cramond Island, but keep an eye on the tides, as the sea comes in fast and people occasionally get stuck.