Edinburgh - a City with Royal connections
Edinburgh is a delightful city to visit at any time of year; it is small and intimate enough to allow visitors to roam through its streets absorbing its architecture and ambience. Though if time is short, or the terrain too challenging, a great way of getting an overview of the City is to take a bus tour - several companies offer these - and it is possible to buy a day ticket which allows you to hop on and off at will. Visitor numbers reach their peak in August during the Edinburgh Festival and only the unwary arrive in the city at this time of year without having booked accommodation well in advance.
For sightseeing purposes the city is divided into two main areas. The Old Town with its mediaeval origins is a magnet for tourists, offering a wide range of attractions. The hub of the Old Town is The Royal Mile which runs from Edinburgh Castle at one end down to Holyrood Palace at the bottom. Many of Edinburgh's major tourist sights are to be found in this vicinity though half the charm of this vibrant part of town is to explore the City's ancient mediaeval closes which lead off the main thoroughfare. This area with its mediaeval origins also extends to the Grassmarket and Victoria Street which have an array of enticing shops, bars and restaurants.
Edinburgh Castle looms over the city from its pinnacle atop a volcanic rock and offers the visitor remarkable panoramic views over the city. Home to Edinburgh's famous Tattoo and the Stone of Destiny the Castle complex offers a fascinating insight into the way in which the city developed from being first and foremost a military stronghold. Walking down the Royal Mile towards Holyrood one passes The Camera Obscura which was installed in the Outlook Tower in the 1850's and offers breath-taking Cityscape views from the deck at the top. The observation deck provides powerful telescopes enabling visitors to zoom in on the sights that interest them. The building also has an exhibition of photographic equipment and holograms.
The Royal Mile area is home to a number of museums including John Knox's House which is one of Edinburgh's oldest houses. Originally built in the 15th century the property has changed little since the mid-16th century and now houses a museum dedicated to the life and work of John Knox. Should this prove too much for younger tourists The Museum of Childhood entrances all generations as does the National Museum on nearby Chamber’s Street and both provide an excellent refuge from the unpredictable Scottish weather. The Museum of Edinburgh is located on the Royal Mile in Huntly House, which dates from the 16th century, and houses a collection of Edinburgh related items throughout the ages.
The mediaeval origins of the city are evident throughout this area of town. Mary King's Close was one of several streets that were blocked up during an outbreak of the Plague in 1645 in an attempt to spread the halt of this dreadful disease. According to myth the victims were left to die in situ and this close is reputedly one of the most haunted spots in Edinburgh. There are tours of this gruesome spot throughout the day. By contrast, Gladstone's Land, with its wood panelling and painted ceilings, gives the Visitor a realistic insight into the way the Old Town was lived in during the seventeenth century. Buildings were inhabited by all social classes. The rich tended to live on the first floor and the poor lived either at the top of the house or at basement level. Gladstone's Land has been furnished with reference to the well to do merchant family that owned and lived in part of the building.
The religious history of Edinburgh is everywhere apparent. Holyrood Palace was founded as an Augustinian monastery by David 1st of Scotland. By the 15th century it was the official residence of the Kings of Scotland and remains the Queen's official residence in Scotland. Opening times vary, particularly in the summer. The Queens Gallery – part of the Holyrood complex – is a lovely small gallery that hosts some really excellent exhibitions from the Royal Collection.
Holyrood Abbey lies just next to the Palace. Sadly this building is now ruined after the collapse of the roof in 1758. Many Scottish kings were crowned here and the visitor can see the remains of the Royal burial vaults. The Canongate Kirk was built in 1688 to replace Holyrood Abbey as the local parish church. Many Edinburgh notables are buried in the churchyard and the interior has a simple elegant style. St Giles Cathedral is not only one of Edinburgh's historic landmarks but is also renowned for its Sunday evening and lunchtime concerts. The Tron Kirk is now deconsecrated and acts as a Tourist information centre but it is well worth popping inside to view the remains of Marlin's Wynd – an ancient Edinburgh Street.
Modern Edinburgh is represented by The Scottish Parliament building, located at the bottom of the Royal Mile, which has been controversial since its inception. However, it draws visitors from all corners of the globe and has had the effect of regenerating this end of the Royal Mile.
As Edinburgh's Old Town became ever more crowded and squalid plans evolved to build a New Town in the eighteenth century. Originally this area was conceived as a suburb for the rich. Public buildings such as The Assembly Rooms and West Register House were soon being designed and The National Gallery of Scotland and The Royal Scottish Academy were built at the foot of the Mound on Princes Street. Visitors seeking respite from pounding Edinburgh's pavements would be well advised to visit either of these galleries. Both house wonderful collections and have visiting temporary exhibitions.
Today the importance of the New Town is reflected by its status as a World Heritage Site. Visitors enjoy strolling along these elegant streets where houses were often built around leafy communal gardens which are beloved by today's residents. The New Town has been jealously guarded over the centuries and remains largely unspoilt being one of the most extensive examples of Georgian Architecture in the world. The Georgian House is to be found in Charlotte Square and gives the visitor an excellent example of how these grand town houses were originally inhabited.
Princes Street is Edinburgh's main shopping street and has wonderful views of the Castle. Although it is Georgian in origin the plethora of shop fronts rather obscure this fact. Princes Street Gardens are a pleasant place to relax with their floral displays including the famous floral clock. George Street and Thistle Street have an excellent selection of designer shops and are a magnet for shopaholics and there are plenty of attractive cafes and restaurants in this locality should refreshment become a necessity.
Calton Hill bejewelled with its collection of classical monuments is well worth the climb. The energetic are rewarded with stunning views over the City. Nelson's Monument is open to visitors and group visits can be arranged in advance to the City Observatory. A walk along Regent, Calton and Royal Terraces to admire these classical facades makes a very pleasant stroll.
As befits Scotland’s capital city facilities for tourists are excellent both in the Old and New Towns and also in Edinburgh’s Port of Leith with a great array of accommodation, cafes, bars and restaurants. Public transport is excellent and as the city is not particularly car friendly visitors are well advised not to bring a car unless they have specifically organised accommodation with parking.