10 Reasons to visit Edinburgh

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10 reasons to visit Edinburgh

Edinburgh Main 4625

View from Calton Hill

A dramatic castle and a royal palace, an award-winning environmental attraction and a world-class literary heritage – if you're renting a cottage in the Scottish lowlands, make sure you visit Edinburgh, says Gillian Thornton

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh castle

1) A right Royal city

If you get lost in Edinburgh, simply look for the castle. Perched on a craggy promontory above Princes Street Gardens, it’s visible from all over the city. The views over the rooftops to the Firth of Forth are stupendous, and there are exhibitions in its precincts, including the Scottish Crown Jewels (www.edinburghcastle.biz).

The Royal Mile leads from the castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse (www.royal.gov.uk), Scottish home of the British monarch. You can buy a combined ticket to the latest exhibition at the adjacent Queen’s Gallery. Complete the royal trail by visiting the Royal Yacht Britannia (www.royalyachtbritannia.co.uk) at Leith Docks, two miles from the city centre.

2) The Old Town

Before the building of the upper class New Town in the mid-18th century, rich people lived in close proximity to the poor in the mediaeval Old Town’s narrow, steep streets and overcrowded tenements (www.edinburgholdtown.org.uk). See both sides of the story at Gladstone’s Land, a restored merchant’s house belonging to the National Trust for Scotland (www.nts.org.uk), and at The Real Mary King’s Close (www.realmarykingsclose.com), a unique collection of hidden closes and rooms sealed off since the 18th century when the area above was redeveloped.

Robert Burns 24026 220

Bust of Robert Burns

3) The New Town

When a young architect called James Craig won the competition to design the street plan for the New Town, rich people flocked to live in his broad, straight streets, elegant squares and crescents. You can sample their lives at The Georgian House (www.nts.org.uk) in fashionable Charlotte Square. Then stroll along Queen Street and round the elegant Royal Circus and take afternoon tea at The Howard hotel (www.thehoward.com) in Great King Street.

4) A unique literary heritage

So rich is the city’s literary heritage that, in 2004, Edinburgh was honoured by UNESCO as the world’s first City of Literature. The Writers’ Museum (www.cac.org.uk), just off the Royal Mile, is dedicated to the lives and works of Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, as well as featuring other Scottish writers through a series of temporary exhibitions.

Whisky Glasses

The water of life – whisky

5) The water of life

You can’t come to Edinburgh without finding out about whisky. The Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre (www.whisky-heritage.co.uk), near the castle entrance on Castlehill, is a well-thought out attraction which both informs and entertains. Start with a tipple, then hear all about the history of Scotch whisky making ‐ and you can buy a huge range of blends and malts in the shop afterwards.

6) Retail therapy

Edinburgh’s main thoroughfare, Princes Street, is lined with shops on one side and by public gardens on the other. Drop into Jenners (www.jenners.com) to admire its elegant galleries and glass dome. George Street, which runs parallel to Princes St, is home to stylish outlets such as Harvey Nichols. For quirky individual shops, try the coloured façades of Victoria Street, south of Castlehill. And for all kinds of authentic Scottish products, there’s the James Pringle Shopping Warehouse at Leith Mills, near Leith Docks.

National Gallery RSCOT 220

National Gallery of Scotland

7) Art for all

Edinburgh boasts not one but five national galleries, all linked by one free bus. The National Gallery of Scotland (admission free) on Princes Street, houses an international collection. The adjacent Royal Scottish Academy Building is Scotland’s top exhibition venue. You can also visit the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

and the Dean Gallery (www.nationalgalleries.org). To buy pictures, browse the art galleries of Dundas Street, in the New Town.

8) Family attractions

Head up the Royal Mile and you soon come to Camera Obscura (www.camera-obscura.co.uk), an enthralling ‘eye in the sky’ which had Victorian ladies fainting at the sight of ‘live’ moving pictures. There are panoramic views from the top of the five-storey tower and some great optical illusions to try on the floors below. The Museum of Childhood (www.cac.org.uk) houses a fascinating collection of children’s toys across the decades gathered in five themed galleries.

At the end of the Royal Mile, next to the new Scottish Parliament building, stands Dynamic Earth (www.dynamicearth.co.uk), where you can experience the extremes of the planet, from the polar ice caps to the tropical rainforest. If you’ve any energy left, try the Edinburgh Dungeon (www.thedungeons.com), near Waverley Station, which promises all ‘history’s horrible bits’, or the much gentler Edinburgh Zoo (www.edinburghzoo.org.uk).

9) Wide open spaces

Princes Street Gardens, in the shadow of the castle crag, provide

a swath of green in the heart of the city where you can watch the world go by. Don’t miss the Royal Botanic Garden between the city centre and the Firth of Forth (www.rbge.org.uk). Entrance is free but it’s well worth paying the small charge to enter the tropical Palm House and the themed greenhouses of orchids and giant water lilies, desert plants and rainforest riches. A mini Eden Project without the crowds.

10) Weird & wonderful buildings

Edinburgh has some unique buildings ‐ and I’m not just talking about the Scottish Parliament with its bamboo-covered windows. Dynamic Earth, just across the street, is housed in a cross between the Millennium Dome and a Bedouin tent, set against the dramatic backdrop of Arthur’s Seat.

Calton Hill at the end of Princes Street is topped by an unfinished ‘Parthenon’, designed as a monument to the casualties of the Napoleonic Wars, as well as two observatories and a monument to Nelson in the shape of an upturned telescope.

But the prize for the most over-the-top building must go to the monument to Sir Walter Scott on Princes Street. Not for nothing is this 200ft edifice known locally as The Rocket. Don’t miss it… well actually, you can’t!

• For further information on Edinburgh, log on to www.edinburghguide.com

The author

• Gillian Thornton, e-mail gillian.thorntons@btinternet.com