Edinburgh is a stunningly beautiful city small enough to be explored on foot and yet big enough to inspire the imagination. The city itself is generally built up around the Royal Mile, which is the original main street of the city leading down from the castle, and leads all the way to Holyrood Palace, and the Scottish Parliament building. Unlike other cities it is quite difficult to get lost in Edinburgh as the city is quite compact with the majority of streets in the new town laid out in a grid like pattern. The original name of the city was Din Eidyn before it was anglicised into the name that we know now.
An Ancient Past
For the first thousand years of its history the town grew around the Royal Mile, the old tenement blocks here being some of the oldest high rise buildings in the world. The population was densely packed into these tall and narrow buildings, and between them were dark alleyways which were the scenes of many a crime and wrong doing. There are several night time ghost tours that take place in this part of the city that will guide you through the dark, dimly lit alleyways where you will hear tales of the dark and unsavoury past of the city.
With the decline in living conditions becoming unbearable in the city during the 1760’s a new plan was drawn up to develop a new town to the north of the old one. Laid out in a grid pattern, the loch that surrounded the castle was drained and converted into what is now the Princes Street Gardens, and the new Georgian town development was centred around the new Princes Street, Queens Street and George Street. The new development attracted those of a higher social standing out of the old slums and into the new town.
A Two Sided City
The new town and the old town though part of the same city offer two distinctly different experiences. In the old town you will find many of the truly historical sites that attract the tourists like the castle and palace. Also along the length of the Royal Mile you will find the tourist attractions of the Scotch Whiskey Experience, St Giles’ Cathedral and Canongate Kirk, as well as many interesting shops, bars and cafes. Waverly rail station is right in the centre of the old and new parts of the city and close to the wonderful Fruit Market Gallery.
At the opposite end of the Royal Mile from the castle you will find the Parliament building and the incredible ‘Our Dynamic Earth’ experience before getting to the university quarter of the city complete with the National Museum of Scotland. The new town offers a fabulous opportunity for some retail therapy right along the length of Princes Street, which has become the main thoroughfare into the city, and from this part of the city you can find your way to the Royal Botanic Gardens and the fabulous Edinburgh Zoo.
Every summer Edinburgh is home to one of the biggest and most varied arts and culture festivals in the world. The Edinburgh Festival is actually an amalgamation of the Jazz and Blues festival, the Edinburgh Malt Festival, the International Book Festival and of course the Edinburgh Fringe where you can laugh with up and coming comedians as well as catching the professional comics in action. Added to the mix are the International Film Festival, The Edinburgh Mela, the Edinburgh Foodies Festival and the Royal Military Tattoo which is a spectacular sight to see. From July and right through August the city is buzzing with activity and colour. If you are visiting during the summer months you would be wise to book your accommodation well in advance as during the festival many places are booked solid, such is the draw of the festival to people from all over the country and beyond.
What many people fail to realise when they come to the city, is that while they are exploring the streets above ground there is an older part of the city buried beneath their feet. In the underground vaults are the homes of some of the past residents of the city, not homes as you would think of them now, but homes dug out of the earth and rock on which the city stands. In places like the Blair Street Vaults and Mary King’s Close you can journey underground as part of a guided tour that will take you on a walk around this subterranean city, this is not a place for those with a fear of enclosed spaces though, as there is no natural light that enters the vaults and rumour has it that not all of the residents have departed from this dark and atmospheric subterranean city.