EDINBURGH

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Edinburgh CastleSet on a series of dramatically diverse landscape, Edinburgh is a truly beautiful city on so many levels.    Within its boundaries are extinct volcanoes, rocky crags, the shore of the Firth of Forth to the north, and the Lothians, a sprawling countryside dotted with historical ruins among country villages. 

Divided neatly into two districts by the Princes Street Garden, which is situated right under the grand Edinburgh Castle, Sir Walter Scott’s “own romantic town” has sights whichever way you turn.  To the north, you will find the eighteenth century New Town, which saw the expansion of the city, and the Old Town, labyrinthine and a fuel to the imagination, occupies the other side of the city.  Both districts are UNESCO World Heritage sites.  Being the second most visited city in the UK, next only to London, Edinburgh invites us to wander around its landscape, the symmetrical layout of the New Town, and the maze-like narrow alleyways of the Old Town, and in between, snatches of greenery here and there. 

Edinburgh is a genuinely cultural city, being the site of many intellectual and artistic movements for so many years.  It has also played host to the Edinburgh International Festival for many decades, and has cemented its position at the forefront of English literature, being a UNESCO World City of Literature as well.  It is also quite a dynamic city,  with a great nightlife, and an equally great crowd.  It is a city that begs to be discovered, and just when you think you’ve seen the best of the city, you need only wander off your usual track and discover something new about this city.  Romantic town indeed.

History
Edinburgh weatherBecause of its position, Edinburgh started out as a defensive fort for the southern part of Scotland, and in the Dark Ages, had the name Din Eidyn (or fort of Eidyn).  It was during the reign of Malcolm Canmore that the fort became the seat of the court.  It then grew in importance when King David held court at the castle and founded the Holyrood Abbey at the foot of the slope.  What followed was the building of a town wall enclosing what is now the Old Town and the Grassmarket, which subsequently became so densely populated people had to build tenements multiple-floors high.

Under King James IV, the city underwent its own Renaissance period, however short-lived.  The defeat of the Scotland against England in the 1513 Battle of Flodden suddenly put a halt on the city’s golden period.  Another change came to the city when its people were won over by John Knox’s Reformation. 

In 1582, James VI founded the University of Edinburgh, which looked like it could be another chance for the city to move forward, but when the king moved to London after the Union of Crowns a few years later, Edinburgh’s importance diminished. 

However, while the city’s political prominence diminished even more during the first half of the eighteenth century, it subsequently bred a new era of intellectual rebirth, giving rise to the city’s period of Enlightenment in the second half of the eighteenth century, as it produced more and more luminaries such as Adam Smith and David Hume.  When the New Town was planned and laid out at around the same era, the city quickly expanded, and so did the population. 

After the World War II, in 1947, the city was chosen among European cities to host the International Festival, a series of independent arts-related festival running for a whole month.  Up until now, the city hosts this annual festival which draws crowds from all over the world.  This firmly established Edinburgh’s position as a cultural city. 

Recently, after the parliament of Scotland was re-established, Edinburgh rose again as an important figure in UK politics.  It continues to be a centre for finance, business and the arts. 

Layout
Though Edinburgh is big but not as densely populated as Glasgow, most of the sights you want to see in the city are concentrated in the city centre, so it is best explored on foot.  The labyrinthine Old Town lies on and around the crag, and parallel to it is the Royal Mile, with the Palace of Holyroodhouse to its east and the Edinburgh Castle to its west.  The New Town, on the other hand, is on the north, and is a breeze to go through because of its symmetrical layout.  The whole town is dominated by the largest of the extinct volcanoes in the area, Arthur’s Seat, southeast of the city centre.

 


 

Central Edinburgh


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Places of interest:  (The Royal Mile is shown as a blue line and includes locations 1 to 11.)   1. Edinburgh Castle  2. National War Museum  3. Gladstone's Land  4. Writers' Museum  5. Kirk of St Giles  6. The Real Mary King's Close  7. John Knox House  8. The People's Story  9. Scottish Parliament  10. Holyrood Palace  11. Holyrood Abbey  12. Our Dynamic Earth  13. Holyrood Park  14. Greyfriars Church  15. National Museum of Scotland  16. Surgeons' Hall Museum 17. National Gallery of Scotland  18. Scott Monument  19. Georgian House  (scroll west of map border)  20. Scottish National Portrait Gallery  21. RoyalHigh School  22 & 23.  Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (scroll west of map border)

 

 

Greater Edinburgh

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Places near Edinburgh:   1. Inchcolm Island  2. Queensferry  3. Hopetoun House  4. Leith Docks  5. Rosslyn Chapel

 



Balmoral Hotel, EdinburghThe Royal Mile connects the castle to Holyrood Abbey and got its name when the king used  it
 in the sixteenth century as the very definition of a Scot's Mile which is equivalent to 1.1 Imperial English Miles.  However, the English Mile as the standard measurement of distance was imposed as an Act of Parliament in 1824.  The whole one-mile stretch is filled with medieval tenements that eventually became unhygienic slums upon the construction of the New Town.  Nowadays, it is much better than it used to be, but it is also filled with my tourist shops, so be careful about being trapped in one.  It still has some of the best sites in Edinburgh, offering a great look into the medieval life of the city. 

The whole mile is divided into four streets: Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, and Canongate. 

Edinburgh CastleEdinburgh Castle (Castlehill, +44 1312 259846, £9.90-online/£12-ticket office), overlooking the whole city and sitting on a majestic crag, is the whole reason for Edinburgh’s existence and is inextricably linked to the history of the whole country.  Its shift from being a purely defensive fort to royal residence is reflected in the variation of structures present in the complex.  The castle last saw military action in the mid 1700s.  Nowadays, it is still very much a working military garrison, with some of the soldiers residing here guarding the drawbridge at the gatehouse.  It is also home to the country’s crown jewels.  Many find the castle quite an expensive monument to go to—perhaps the most expensive in all of Scotland—but the wealth of insights you get from exploring the castle is worth it.  However, you can still get a feel for the atmosphere of the castle by looking around the Esplanade, through which you enter the castle.  This enclosed eighteenth century parade ground is particularly crowded and busy during the Edinburgh International Festival, when it is used for the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

The batteries in the lower part of the castle offer great panoramic views of the city below, but the best views can be had on top of the battlements of St. Margaret’s Chapel, which is the oldest part of the castle and the oldest structure in all of Edinburgh.  It was supposedly built in the twelfth century, discovered in the mid-1800s and restored in the 1930s.  From here, walk eastwards and you will find the highest and most secure point in the castle, the Crown Square.

Beyond the Mill’s Mount Battery where the one o’clock firing of the gun happens daily, you will find the National War Museum of Scotland, an account of Scotland’s military history during the last four hundred years.  Brave the overly long lines to view Scotland’s crown jewels in the Royal Palace, which is located east of the Crown Square.  The crown jewels, or the Honours of Scotland, were kept away after the Union of the Parliaments in 1707.  Beside the jewels, you will also find what is purportedly the Stone of Destiny, which is a humble-looking slab of sandstone.

At the top of Castlehill, you will find the Outlook Tower which houses the oldest attraction in the city, built for exactly that purpose, Camera Obscura and World of Illusions (549 Castlehill, +44 1312 263709, £9.25).  Just a few steps away, at the bottom of the hill, you will also find the Hub, a converted black church used as Edinburgh’s Festival Centre.  It is open all year round for performances and rehearsals. 

In Lawnmarket, the Gladstone’s Land (477b Lawnmarket, +44 8444 932120, £5.50) offers a great glimpse into the dreary tenement life of medieval Edinburgh.  Owned by a rich merchant who leased out spaces to the less fortunate, Gladstone’s Land’s atmosphere owes a lot to the painstakingly restored narrow staircases, the cramped rooms that families squeezed into, and the tiny windows that you can barely look out of. 

Nearby, down Lady Stair’s Close, you will find the Scottish Writers’ Museum (Lady Stair’s Close, +44 1315 294901, free) housed in Lady Stairs’ House.  The museum pays homage to the three giants of Scottish literature: Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott.  The displays contain their manuscripts, and other memorabilia, including a plaster of Burns’ skull, among others.  Lady Stairs’ House, built in 1622, is quite an interesting house and is another great example of a medieval Edinburgh dwelling place.

Occupying the regions on either side of the North Bridge-South Bridge intersection is the High Street, which is typically busy during the Edinburgh International Festival. This street is dominated by the Kirk of St. Giles (+44 1312 259442, free), which is surrounded by the Parliament Square, the former political heart of the city.  The Kirk of St. Giles used to be the parish church of the city, and is also sometimes known as a cathedral, though it has only been a seat for a bishop very briefly.  It is more famous for being the church in which John Knox started the Reformation and eventually gathered the people’s support for it to be a successful revolution. 

In the complex, you will find the intricately designed Thistle Chapel, built in 1911 by Sir Robert Lorimer for the knights of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of Thistle.  The painstaking attention to detail can be seen in the stalls decorated with the helms of the sixteen knights of the order, a reflection of Lorimer’s bias towards the Arts and Crafts movement.

Walking around the Parliament Square, watch out for the heart-shaped cobblestoned mosaic, the Heart of Midlothian.  You will immediately notice it as the locals who pass by it typically spit on it for good luck, though it really started out as a show of disrespect to authority.

Underneath the City Chambers, now the headquarters of the Edinburgh City Council, you can take guided tours through the “lost city” of Real Mary King’s Close (2 Warriston’s Close, High Street, +44 8450 706244, £11).  When the City Chambers were built in the eighteenth century, they simply sliced off the top of the tenements and built the structures on top of the settlements so that the houses remained intact.  One of the most horrific events to have happened here is the apparent imprisonment of a plague-stricken family here, with their house walled up, so that they were left to die. 

John Knox’s house (43-45 High Street, +44 1315 569579, £4) is just beyond the intersection of the two bridges, and is one of the oldest existing buildings in the area, a great example of a Royal Mile house in its golden age.  Now it holds a museum detailing the life of one of Scotland’s greatest religious figures, John Knox, who led the country towards Calvinism. 

Canongate ClockCanongate used to be its own burgh for at least seven hundred years before it was enclosed to be a part of the Royal Mile.  Because of its central location, authorities have been adamant about restoring the area, as it had grown into an infamous slums area even well into the 20th century.  The street of Canongate is filled with curio shops that will take your fancy and maybe steal much of your time.  One of the most interesting sites here is the sixteenth century Canongate Tolbooth in all its turreted beauty.  It now houses the fascinating People’s Story ((163 Canongate, Abbeyhill, +44 1315 294057, free), a social history museum detailing the daily life of an Edinburgh resident from the eighteenth century to the present.  Back then, the Canongate Tolbooth housed a jail and a courtroom, among other things. 

The end of Canongate signals the beginning of Holyrood, Edinburgh’s former royal quarter, and now the location of the controversial Scottish Parliament.  

Holyrood PalaceHolyrood Palace
(+44 1315 565100, £10.25) is still the residence of the royalty in Scotland, and has been so since the fifteenth century.  It is open for the whole year except for when the royal family is in town.  The Great Gallery in the palace boasts of the portraits portraits of the ninety-six Scottish kings in the late 1600s, by Jacob de Wet who had no idea how they looked like.  The highlight of the palace is the bed chamber of the tragic Mary Queen of Scots, who witnessed the brutal murder of his secretary David Rizzio, by her husband and his men.  The bed chamber has items associated with the queen, and can be reached by climbing a claustrophobic narrow staircase. 

The ruins of the Holyrood Abbey adjacent to the palace date back from the thirteenth century.  The abbey itself was founded by King David I and started to fall to ruin in the late 1700s. 

When the parliament was reintroduced to Scotland in 1999, plans were made to build a structure that would house the country’s elected assembly.  They commissioned the design of Catalan architect Enric Miralles, who created an elaborate Scottish Parliament building (+44 1313 485200) filled with symbols and motifs.  His death before the structure was finished caused people to panic, but the result has impressed most of the architectural community.

Among the hosts of new structures in Holyrood is Our Dynamic Earth (Holyrood Road, +44 1315 507800, £10.50), which is a multimedia museum geared towards science-loving kids.  Complete with explosive sound effects and imaginative displays detailing various parts of the world, from tropical forests to the Polar Regions.  During the International Festival, the amphitheatre outside the dome becomes home to many outdoor performances.

A tiny patch of greenery in the city – that is what Holyrood Park (East of Holyrood Palace, +44 1316 528150) is for the residents of Edinburgh.  Once the hunting grounds for the monarchy, the park consists in its five-mile diameter land various landscapes characteristic of Scotland’s natural wonders.  The highest point in Edinburgh can be reached from here, Arthur’s Seat, which is a twenty-minute ascent and provides great views of nearby regions Fife and Highlands.

Nowadays, Grassmarket is a favorite haunt for naughty bachelor and bachelorette parties, but for more than five hundred years, it was the city’s cattle market, as well as the site of Edinburgh’s public gallows, where criminals such as the notorious body-snatching duo of Williams were tried.  The body snatchers, William Burke and William Hare took over the public’s imagination when it was revealed how they had imprisoned a group of people and killed them to sell their cadavers to a medical school. 

East of Grassmarket, Cowgate—so called because cattle used to pass through here—used to be another slums area that degenerated after the South Bridge and George IV Bridge were built and overshadowed it literally.  Nothing has changed about that—in some parts, Cowgate is still dark, but it has since been revived as a nightlife area.

Many tourists flock to the pub near the gate of Greyfriars Kirkyard because of the statue of Greyfriars Bobby, the dog who kept vigil for fourteen years over his master’s grave and who was popularized by a 1960 Disney film.  Inside the enclosed cemetery, you will find the grave that Bobby watched over, along with a host of other gravestones of many Scotsmen of note, including the Adam family who were famous for their work on the New Town.

The disparate-looking twin museums looming over Chambers Street, which stand east of Greyfriars Bobby, are as different from the outside as they are on the inside.  The National Museum of Scotland (Chambers Street, +44 3001 2367, free) is a modern five-story structure which houses a chronological account of the country, from the first man in the country till the 1990s, when the museum was built.  There are many relics here, including those that date back from the first millennium AD.  It has been recently refurbished, opening in 2011.

The adjoining museum, the Royal Museum of Scotland, has long been an institution in the country.  The museum, housed in a Victorian palace, holds displays of artefacts from all over the world, focusing on Britain’s love for anything related to natural history and archeology.

Passing by the Old College, which is the oldest part of the University of Edinburgh, and towards Nicolson Street, you will find the Surgeons’ Hall, which is the headquarters of the Royal College of Surgeons, and houses the Surgeon’s Hall Museum (Nicolson Street, +44 1315 271649/678, £5), which is a becoming homage to Edinburgh, which in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, led the world of anatomical research.  There are spine-tingling displays here, so it’s not for the faint of heart.

 



Georgian Houses, EdinburghA
great example of successful urban planning, the layout of New Town is just as remarkable as the neoclassical and Georgian structures that still stand in this part of Edinburgh today.  The New Town, separated only by the Princes Street Gardens from the Old Town and the Castle, was an idea thought up by George Drummond after he became Lord Provost in the mid-1700s.  It was then brought to life by the symmetrical plan that won twenty-two year old James Craig that public competition to design the new town.  Many of the buildings that define the area’s skyline are Robert Adam’s creations, though. 

East Princess Street GardensThe Princes Street Gardens, before the New Town was born, was the Nor’ Loch.  To make way for this new part of Edinburgh, they drained the Nor’ Loch and out came the Princes Street Gardens.  If not for the gardens, Princes Street would just be an ordinary shopping district, but the views of the garden, added to the majesty of the Castle looming over and the character of the Old Town just a bridge away, give the street a great appeal. 

West of the Princes Street Garden, you will find the National Gallery of Scotland (The Mound, +44 1316 246200), which shares an underground link with the Royal Scottish Academy.  The National Gallery of Scotland houses some of the best European art owned by the country.  It houses an enviable roster of paintings by El Greco, Botticelli, Rembrandt, Renoir, Degas, Monet, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Camille Pissarro, and the list goes on.  For a gallery that’s not quite as big, it is packed with such inspiring works of art, and the size of the gallery makes it a great compact, if quite overwhelming, visit.

Underneath the National Gallery, you can enter the Royal Scottish Academy, which houses works of art by the members of the RSA as well as many interesting visiting exhibits from all over.

Scott Monument, EdinburghIn the East Princes Street Garden, Edinburgh pays tribute to one of Scotland’s most famous writers, Sir Walter Scott, with the 200-foot-high Scott Monument (near Waverley Station, +44 1315294068, £3).  There are displays inside detailing the life of the writer, and if you can, brave the 287 steps to the highest point of the monument for a great panoramic view of the entire city.  It holds teh distinction of being the highest monument to a writer in the world.

One of the crowning glories of New Town, Charlotte Square was the last of Robert Adam’s creations designed a year before he died in 1792.  The result is a simple yet majestic square which used to be one of Edinburgh’s most exclusive residential complexes.  Nowadays, the First Minister of Scotland calls No. 6 Bute House his home.  The Georgian House (7 Charlotte Square, +44 8444 932118, £5.50) in no. 7 is a great recreation of life for the affluent in Now Town during the early nineteenth century.  The gardens in the middle of the square become lively and crowded during the Edinburgh Book Festival which happens here every August.

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, north of St Andrew Square, is set in a red Gothic palace, which makes it stand out among all the Neoclassic structure around New Town.  The Portrait Gallery is exclusivist, though, as it only features portraits of people who have to be connected to Scotland one way or another.  It is currently closed for renovation and will reopen in late 2011.

Calton Hill used to be the canvas upon which architects would vie to have their structures placed.  One of the most impressive structures here is the Old Royal High School, which is owned by the City Council.  It was supposed to be the debating chamber until they deemed it too small for the parliament when the Scottish parliament was reestablished.  Nowadays, the City Council is looking to lease the structure, either as a hotel or an art gallery.  There are multitudes of other impressive structures around here, but the Calton Hill is also noteworthy of being a great place to take in Edinburgh as a whole. 

The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
(75 Belford Road, +44 1316 246200, free) is the first British museum dedicated to contemporary art.  It holds an impressive collection of twentieth century paintings and sculptures, including Charles Jencks’ Landforms which is easily spotted in front of the gallery.  There’s an impressive collection here dedicated to Scottish art.

Dean Gallery, the annex set in what was purpose-built as an orphanage in the 1800s, holds a massive collection of art by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, an Edinburgh-born forefather to Pop Art.  The displays dedicated to him include a faithful recreation of his studio in London.  Among the Paolozzi’s works, you will also find an impressive array of Dada and Surrealist art.

        

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Old Town Hotels

Castle Rock Hostel (15 Johnston Terrace, +44 1312 259666, £13-15)
This hostel is popular for a reason: it’s very central (i.e., very close to the castle itself), the facilities are well-maintained, the rooms—both dorm rooms and communal areas—are clean, and big enough to accommodate the number of travelers staying.  The free Wi-Fi is also convenient, and the staff are always there to help.

Located in Edinburgh’s best spot for party-backpackers,
Budget Backpackers (37-29 Cowgate, +44 1312 266351, £18) is friendly to the pocket, and a great base in the Royal Mile.  The rooms range from mixed dorm rooms to twin rooms, so it has options for people who are not comfortable sharing rooms with strangers.

Amaryllis Guest House (21 Upper Gilmore Place, +44 1312 293293, £25-40).   This Georgian guest house is a great base—located in a quiet residential area, but still within the city centre.  The five rooms vary greatly in size, and the bathrooms are quite small, but they are all clean and recently refurbished.

Aonach Mor Guest House (14 Kilmaurs Terrace, +44 1316 678694, £27-70).  This 19th century Victorian terrace is family-run, which makes service very personal.  They will upgrade you without extra charges if the room is not to your convenience.  

Cluaran Guest House (47 Leamington Terrace, +44 1312 210047, from £40).  This Victorian guest house dates back from the 1860s, and renovated in the 1990s to make a great guest house that looks bright and cheery, with touches of period furnishings.  

Elmview (15 Glengyle Terrace, +44 1312 281973, £45-65) boasts of large comfortable beds, delicious Scottish breakfasts, and amazing hosts who will even help you with booking tickets to the castle in high season.

Southside Guesthouse (8 Newington Road, +44 1316 684422, £80-160).  Boutique hotel look with a friendly bed and breakfast atmosphere, set inside a beautifully refurbished Victorian terrace, the Southside Guest House combines the best of both worlds, and the result is a welcoming accommodation that’s every bit as stylish as any high-end chain hotel.

Ashdene House (23 Fountainhall Road, +44 1316 676026, £115)  is a very comfortable and welcoming B&B set in an Edwardian house surrounded by a peaceful garden.  If you book directly with the hotel, you can get free bus service.

Prestonfield (Priestfield Road, +44 1312 257800, £295).  Each of the twenty-three rooms in this hotel is designed individually and up to the latest standards in luxury accommodations.  The sheer opulence of the hotel can be seen in every detail in the rooms, all decked out in red, black and gold.

The Scotsman Hotel (20 North Bridge, +44 1315 565565, £300) was the headquarters of The Scotsman newspaper opened in 1904, before it was converted into a luxury hotel.  The whole building is modern, but the history of the building is still there, with the grand marble staircase having been retained.  The price is quite steep, but you can get great discounts if you book online.

The Witchery by the Castle Apartments (Castlehill, The Royal Mile, +44 (0) 1312 255613, £325).  These decadent suites attached to the restaurant known for its theatricality are nothing short of a spectacle.  The antique furnishing, the lushness of the fabrics, and the overall mood of the place are fit for a king.  No wonder it’s always fully booked months in advance.

 

 

New Town Hotels

The Victorian Town House (14 Eglinton Crescent, +44 1313 377088, £35-70).  Located in historic West End and populated with different notable figures over the years, The Victorian Town House has three en-suite bedrooms, all individually decorated.  The house is a little tricky to find as there is no signage, but this is a minor problem.

The Terrace Hotel (37 Royal Terrace, +44 1315 563423, £50-80). Some rooms in this hotel are not en-suite, but majority are.  The location is also very peaceful, while also very central.  The lounge has wide airy windows overlooking a garden, perfect for an afternoon tea.

Set in a Victorian structure, with nine rooms, seven of which are en-suite,
Fraoch House (66 Pilrig Street, +44 1315 541353, £50-115) contains very contemporary furnishings that are lush and very serene-looking, perfect for a peaceful sleep.

Six Mary’s Place (Raeburn Place, Stockbridge, +44 1313 328965, £59-99) is a guest house with a very refreshing look, combining the original Georgian features of its structure with modern touches.  The breakfast is served in an airy conservatory, which overlooks the great garden.  Try the vegetarian haggis and you won’t be disappointed.  Parking is quite difficult for visitors bringing their own cars.

Ramsay’s Bed and Breakfast (25 East London Street, +44 1315 575917, from £65).  This four-bedroom B&B is great for families with young children in tow.  The en-suite rooms are all comfortably furnished in a lush and modern way, all light and airy.  The atmosphere of the location is also very friendly and artsy.

Traditional and period furnishings in the room, combined with little touches such as a tray of varied beverages for different times of the day, make
14 Hart Street (14 Hart Street, +44 1315 576826, from £82) a great B&B.  The hosts are truly accommodating, and will serve you breakfast at whatever time you choose, among other things.

Gerald’s Place (Abercromby Place 21B, +44 1315 587017, £109-149).  This charming accommodation is a basement B&B with two bedrooms comfortably furnished and a wonderful yet discreet host, who makes sure that his guest house feels very much like a home.

20 Albany Street (20 Albany Street, +44 1314 785386, £109-159).  This luxury boutique bed and breakfast is a beautifully restored Georgian town house with exquisite-looking bedrooms and spacious en-suite baths.  Because there are only two guest suites, everything that you could possibly wish for is granted by the warm hosts.

The Bonham Hotel (35 Drumsheugh Gardens, +44 1312 266050, £100-280).  This boutique hotel is very sleek, housed in a Victorian structure but with very contemporary interiors.  The central heating provided in the room is manual, so you have to adjust it yourself.

The Balmoral Hotel (1 Princes Street, +44 1315 562414, from £305).  Many believe this is the best five-star hotel in Edinburgh and it is easy to see why.  It blends the town’s history seamlessly into its own look, while also having the highest modern standards.

 


 



Leith HarbourFamously known as Edinburgh’s port, Leith actually grew independently as its own burgh, built on fishing, trade and shipbuilding, which is quite worlds away from what the city thrived on.  In the sixties and seventies, it gradually degenerated because of the industry’s collapse, but it has since come back as a major hub for the best pubs in the city.  

Leith is also home to one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city, the Royal Yacht Britannia (Ocen Terminal, +44 1315 555566, £10.50), which used to be the royal family’s home on the sea, before retiring it forever moored on the Ocean Terminal.  A tour around the ship reveals that it’s not as royal as one would expect.  

Kids love Edinburgh Zoo (134 Corstorphine Road, +44 1313 349171, £5), which is famous in the scientific community for saving many endangered animals through their captive breeding program.  The penguin parade is a popular attraction here.

The ruins of fifteenth century Craigmillar Castle are one of the better preserved castles in the country, though its location near the housing scheme of Craigmillar, which is quite a depressing sight, is unfortunate, even though it doesn’t take much away from the atmosphere of the castle itself.  This was where Mary Queen of Scots escaped to after her secretary Razzio was murdered.

 



Hopetoun HouseSitting on the banks of the Firth of Forth on the outskirts of Edinburgh and surrounded by extensive greenery, Hopetoun House (South Queensferry, +44 1313 312451, £8 (house and grounds)/£3.70 (grounds only)), built at the turn of the century by William Brue, the first Earl of Hopetoun, is still one of the finest homes of its stature in all of Scotland.  The newer part of the house is what makes the Hopetoun House even larger than life—the additions made by William Adam in the 1700s are nothing short of Roman Baroque theatricality.  The furnishings certainly do justice to his architectural feat, as well as the collection of paintings that can still be seen here. 

 



Forth Rail BridgeFamous only for the two Forth Bridges built more than seventy years apart from each other, Queensferry (formerly known as South Queensferry) is a former royal burgh, and now a part of the City of Edinburgh.  It got its name from Queen Margaret, who allowed pilgrims going to St. Andrews free passes over the firth on the ferry which docked here, the narrowest part of the firth.  The ferry was rendered obsolete when the Forth Road Bridge was opened in the 1960s.  It is the fifth longest road bridge in all of Europe.

East of the newer bridge is 19th century engineering marvel, the Forth Bridge (some call in Forth Rail Bridge just to distinguish it from the newer one) was the first bridge made entirely of steel in Britain.  It connects Edinburgh with the Fife. 

The town itself is about 15 kilometres north west of Edinburgh and is pretty yet sleep cobblestoned, with a tiny High Street crammed with buildings.  The Queensferry Museum  (53 High Street, +44 1313 315545, free) is tiny but packed with the history of the two bridges to which the town owes its fame.

Incholm Island
B
oard the Maid of the Forth (£14.70-day/£17-evening), from the Hawes Pier which is west of the rail bridge, to get to the Island of Incholm.  Less than a mile from the Fife coast, Incholm is home to the best preserved abbey ruin in all of Scotland.  The medieval abbey’s tower, chapterhouse and cloisters, founded by the Augustinians in the 12th century, are worth exploring, and the lawns surrounding the abbey are a relaxing way to spend an hour just relaxing.

 


 
Rosslyn ChapelL
egends surround this historic Midlothian chapel in the village of Roslin, just a few kilometers south of the Edinburgh bypass. 
Rosslyn Chapel (Roslin, +44 1314 402159, £7.50) is notable for supposedly being the repository for items shrouded in mystery, such as the true Stone of Scone, the lost Scrolls of Solomon’s Temple and the Holy Grail.  This bit of legend, as well as the chapel’s supposed connection to the freemasonry, led author Dan Brown to include it in his best-seller The Da Vinci Code, which put the chapel on the map for tourist destinations in this part of Edinburgh. 

The church itself, a late Gothic creation founded by William Sinclair and owned by the St Clairs of Rosslyn, is a mysterious beauty to behold.  It is considered “a Bible in stone” for the intricate stone carvings inside the church, depicting Bible passages in allegorical terms.  Look out for the Apprentice Pillar, which, like the church, is a subject of another legend.  The legend claims that the apprentice who carved this intricate pillar enraged his master for creating something that the master himself had not been able to do, which led to the apprentice’s murder. 

 


 

   

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