Scotland is a nation steeped in history with few places more so than its capital city, Edinburgh. For centuries, Edinburgh has been the cultural and financial powerhouse of Scotland with a rich history of characters and achievements to boast. Tourists are attracted to Edinburgh from all over the world, from the Far East to North America and are drawn by a unique Scottish heritage and the often turbulent history of the Scottish nation. But apart from history, what does modern Edinburgh have to offer visitors?
Those who visit the city for the first time will be taken aback by the beauty and grandeur, qualities not always expected of a northern European city. City life is vibrant and a feeling of youthfulness sits well against an old world backdrop. Edinburgh oozes sophistication and culture and for those particularly interested in art, visits to the National Galleries of Scotland will form an essential part of any visit to the city. Devotees of fine art cannot fail to be impressed with the array of famous works on display. The National Galleries of Scotland’s three main galleries are the National Gallery of Scotland, The Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and are all within easy walking distance of one another. Across all three galleries a visitor will find works by a diverse collection of artists such as Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gaugin, Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol, Rubens, Boticelli, Titian, Pablo Picasso and Roy Lichtenstein. With rotating displays from collections much larger than can be displayed at any one time, every visit is sure to provide a new and exciting experience.
In cultural terms, the Edinburgh International Festival is probably the most famous arts, performance and cultural festival in the world. The Festival runs in August and September each year attracting acts from around the globe and visitors literally in their millions. Whether it’s music, performance art or comedy you’re after, a trip to Edinburgh during Festival time will undoubtedly give you what you’re looking for. Use the internet and plan ahead to book your seats for shows, as the most popular ones can sell out fast.
Probably the most famous piece of Edinburgh history is the iconic Edinburgh Castle. The castle dominates the city centre, perched on the crags of an ancient volcanic plug above Princes Street and its gardens. For many years it has been Scotland’s most visited tourist attraction and no trip to Edinburgh could be considered complete without a visit. The castle is the home of modern Scottish army regiments, a Scottish royal palace and the once lost Scottish crown jewels, or the Honours of Scotland as they are also known. Timing your visit to Edinburgh could see you taking in the world famous Military Tattoo from a grandstand seat on the Castle Esplanade. The tattoo usually takes place in the autumn and despite running almost every day for several weeks, tickets sell out well in advance and the event attracts visitors from around the world.
Those who like nightlife will be drawn to the Grassmarket where bars and restaurants abound catering for every taste. This is also a popular area with local Edinburgh people. Tourists are more commonly found on The Royal Mile, a long, picturesque, cobbled street filled with souvenir shops, bars and restaurants leading up to the Castle Esplanade. The Royal Mile is the historic route between the royal palace of Holyrood, near where the modern Scottish Parliament can be found today, and Edinburgh Castle. Grassmarket can be particularly busy when the Scotland rugby team plays its home games at Murrayfield stadium with supporters from both sides to be found mixing in the city’s bars.
For those seeking something a little different for an evening’s entertainment, there are many night time ghost and historical walking tours available across the city centre that will introduce you the turbulent and sometimes macabre history of some of Edinburgh’s well known buildings and streets. You can find these tours advertised along the Royal Mile where the guides will gather in the evening to entice you on to their tour of the weird and wonderful past. If this kind of history appeals to you, take a trip to Mary King’s Close. With building, expansion and rises in street levels over the centuries, some of Edinburgh’s oldest streets have become subterranean snapshots of the past. Mary King’s Close is one of these streets which has been re-opened to the public and provides a fascinating insight into old Edinburgh.
If shopping is your vice, Edinburgh will not disappoint. Princes Street and its parallel neighbour, George Street have a wealth of high quality shopping including the world famous Harvey Nichols store. More quaint and specialist shops can be found nearer the Royal Mile and the castle where you could easily spend a few hours just browsing.
Cities can often be family unfriendly with the hustle and bustle of life, busy traffic and bars, restaurants and clubs set up for grown ups. Edinburgh prides itself in being family friendly and attractions like Edinburgh Zoo, the Royal Botanical Gardens and Deep Sea World go a long way to ensuring that there’s plenty for families to do during their stay. So whatever you want from a city break, be it art and culture, history, nightlife, shopping or just a relaxing weekend away with the kids, Edinburgh can and does deliver. Alternatively, why not use Edinburgh as your base to explore everything that Scotland has to offer – you won’t be disappointed.