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Guide to Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

When the Scottish author, Robert Louis Stevenson, wrote “Edinburgh is what Paris ought to be” It is hard to know whether he was referring to the cities stunning location, amazing architecture or vibrant creative, literary and academic community.

Edinburgh the jewel in Scotland’s crown and its capital city is visited by 13 million people every year. And for good reason, as it is considered one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

Whether you have a day, a week, a month or a year to spend in Edinburgh there is always something to learn, see and do in this city.

10 facts about Edinburgh

  1. Edinburgh replaced Scone as the capital of Scotland in 1437
  2. The city is nicknamed Ault Reekie (old smoky) because of the smoke once emitted by the coal and wood burnt in the city’s buildings and homes
  3. The Encyclopaedia Britannica was first produced in Edinburgh. It caused controversy when first published due to the anatomy section
  4. Edinburgh has more listed buildings than anywhere in the world
  5. Edinburgh Castle is built on an extinct volcano which last erupted 350 million years ago
  6. There is a statute on the corner of Edinburgh's Candlemaker Row and George IV Bridge, commemorating a loyal dog, called Greyfriars Bobby, who stayed at his owners grave for 14 years
  7. Edinburgh has more trees per head of population than any other city in the UK
  8. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes, based his character on Professor Joseph Bell, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh
  9. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest and longest running arts festival in the world
  10. JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book in Edinburgh’s coffee shop, Nicolson’s, now the Spoon restaurant on Nicolson Street

Places to visit

There is no shortage of places to visit and things to do in Edinburgh and the city is well known around the world for hosting some exciting festivals, including the Fringe Festival, the Jazz and Blues Festival and the International Film Festival.

Amongst the must-do’s is to visit Edinburgh Castle, arguably one of the most popular and famous landmarks in the city. The castle, which sits of an extinct volcano, has been home to royalty for hundreds of years including Queen Margaret, Mary Queen of Scots and James VI.

The castle is now home to Crown Jewels of Scotland – which were first used for the coronation of Mary Queen of Scots in 1543 but then hidden from the British until 1818. The castle is open everyday (except on Sunday) and crowds gather at 1pm for the shooting of the One O'clock Gun, a tradition dating back to 1861 that was originally meant to signal that it was precisely one a clock.

Crown Jewels of Scotland

Another must is The National Museum of Scotland, which is one of the Top 10 UK attractions and in the Top 20 of the most visited galleries and museums in the world.

For those of you that have a romantic streak visiting the statute of Greyfriars Bobby, is a must. The story has been made famous by numerous books and a Disney film of a skye terrier dog that faithfully guarded over his owners grave for 14 years.

If you’re looking for laughs then try and get tickets for one of the UK’s most iconic comedy clubs – The Stand. All the top jokers, many who have gone to become TV celebrities, have stood behind the microphone here.

What and where to eat

A stay in Scotland wouldn’t be complete without trying haggis, oatcakes, a wee drop of whisky and having some great beef and seafood.

Edinburgh is a foodies paradise with great eateries littered all around the city, especially if you want to tick off with some classics.

Haggis – The list of ingredients may not sound that appealing but haggis is delicious. For the best place in Edinburgh for haggis head to Hadrian’s Brasserie at the Balmoral Hotel – there you will be able to enjoy this very Scottish meal which is served with neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes).

The National Dish of Scotland - Haggis

Equally good is a pork belly and haggis roll from Oinkswhich is legendary amongst visitors, students and residents for being the tastiest sand cheapest sandwich you will find in Edinburgh

Whisky tasting – Technically it was the Irish that invented whisky but there is little doubt that whisky is the national drink of Scotland and it is not surprising that Edinburgh is well served by Whisky Bars. The Amber restaurant and whisky bar is the places to head. The staff are extremely knowledgeable and can recommend something you are bound to love from the selection of 380+ whiskies.

Seafood – Eating good seafood isn’t hard to do in Edinburgh and the best way to eat it is the world famous fish and chips. The poshest fish and chips eatery in Edinburgh has to be Tailend. Here you’ll find a choice of fish from haddock, Finnan haddie and Arbroath smokies, oh and the chips are cooked in beef dripping to make them extra indulgent.

Oatcakes – Different regions throughout the UK have their own version of oatcakes and Scotland has its version, which is actually a biscuit that was traditionally eaten with each meal as the main substitute to break. Today Naim’s and Perthshire Oatcakes are popular brands in Scotland – and have variations, such as oatcakes with chocolate.

The Royal Mile is also abundant with restaurants and cafes serving traditional Scottish food.

Things to do in Edinburgh

If there are two things you should experience in Edinburgh they are the Hogmanay and Burns Night

Hogmanay is the extended New Year’s celebrations that starts on 30 Dec and goes through to 2 Jan.

Traditionally Hogmanay has been more important than Christmas to Scots, partly because until 1958 Christmas Day wasn’t a public holiday. This is because the Protestant Reformation banned Christmas for 400 years, claiming the celebration had been born out of Paganism and had its roots in the Catholic Church.

The second is Burns Night which is when Scots around the world commemorate the life of the poet Robert Burns and his contribution to Scottish culture. 

Burns Night is traditionally celebrated with a supper at which haggis along with mashed turnips and potatoes are served.

Traditionally a Burns supper starts with the grand entrance of the haggis on a platter to the sound of a piper playing bagpipes. When the haggis is on the table, the host reads the "Address to a Haggis" – which is a poem that Robert Burns wrote to the Scottish dish. At the end of the reading, the haggis is ceremonially sliced into two pieces and the meal begins.

You can also visit the Writers’ Museum where you can see Burns’ portraits, rare books and personal objects including letters and his writing desk.

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