Most Brits flock south for their holidays in search of sun and warm weather. But for those brave enough to venture further north or those tourists who really want a taste of the UK in full, Edinburgh is the place to go.
After London, it is the most beautiful city in the UK. It is smaller but it has everything you could want out of a city. Pack good walking shoes though, the hills can be excruciating. Much of the city is dominated by the same old stone buildings and Edinburgh Castle which sits atop Castle Rock overseeing both sides of the city. The city is divided into the old town and the new town which are separated by a small valley and linked by the North Bridge. The valley, which used to be Nor Loch before the water was drained in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, now houses the city’s central train station as well as a large park below the castle. The view coming out of Edinburgh Waverley station is, as you can imagine, pretty fantastic. To get a full view of the city in all of its glory, visit Arthur’s Seat. It is about a three-mile walk, or hike, depending on your point of view, but I have never heard anyone regret making the journey. I myself have never done it so I am not judging when I say Calton Hill is a shorter and easier alternative for slightly lazier visitors. Home to several monuments, I can attest it also offers a beautiful view over the city.
The new town is only ‘new’ in a very relative sense. To a European ‘new’ is probably a pretty accurate description. But an American might be surprised to find that the new town is still around two hundred years old. Construction began even before the United States was an independent country. Subsequently, the new town is just as beautiful as the old town. There are wide streets lined with beautiful shops and cafes as well as smaller alleys full of small restaurants. Princes Street is the main street in the new town and it runs along the valley opposite the old town. It is above all a shopping street and shoppers can peruse window displays while admiring the beautiful view of the castle and the gardens below. The Royal Botanical Gardens promises a beautiful outing, though I would recommend going in summer, and there is a picturesque walk along the Water of Leith. This is one city where the new town should definitely not be written off.
The old town is what makes Edinburgh truly a treasure. One of the main draws is the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile begins at Holyrood Place, the Queen’s official residence in Scotland, and stretches all the way up to Edinburgh Castle. The road is full of shops, pubs, and cafes, most of which now cater to tourists. There are a seemingly endless number of shops selling tartan scarves and kilts and multiple jewellery stores specialising in Celtic style jewellery. But the road is really a beautiful walk if you can get past all of the touristy souvenir shops. St Giles Cathedral, which dates back to the fourteenth century, is not to be missed and sits near the castle on the Royal Mile. The view from the castle esplanade is itself worth the walk up the Royal Mile. Going deeper into the old town the beauty only grows. Edinburgh University’s buildings are peppered throughout and are some of the most beautiful in the old town. There are also hoards of pubs, restaurants and cafes that are less touristy than those found on the Royal Mile. There is even a pub entitled Greyfriars Bobby for those who are fans of the story of the loyal terrier who guarded his master’s grave for fourteen years. You can also hunt for The Elephant House café where J.K. Rowling wrote much of Harry Potter.
If you only ever get to visit one place in Scotland, Edinburgh should be it. I have been lucky enough to visit the city five times and each time I discover new beauties. The city itself as well as the surrounding landscape, much of which was shaped by volcanic activity millions of years ago, is spectacular. There are not many cities that I enjoy visiting over and over again, but Edinburgh will forever be one of them. And don’t forget to try haggis! Just don’t ask how it is made.
Top: View of Edinburgh New Town from Castle Esplanade
Photography by Savannah Hayes