The city is basically split into two main districts — the
The Old Town: This is the largely medieval heart of Edinburgh in which most of its important historical monuments can be found, including
The Cowgate and Grassmarket areas are towards the southern end of the
Princes Street Gardens: These gardens fill the valley between
The Mound is bang in the middle of
The New Town: Whilst the
George Street is the centrepiece of the
Stockbridge & Dean are in the western part of the
Calton: At the east of the city, this hill is a popular spot for watching the Festival fireworks. The views of
Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat: This area is just behind the
Duddingston: Located at the northeast end of Dunsapie Loch, this area is tranquil with a village feel.
Bruntsfield, Marchmont and Morningside: These southern suburbs offer large open spaces such as The Meadows and Bruntsfield Links. It is also the site of the medieval Burgh Muir (town heath) — used to isolate dying victims of plagues and for training armies. Marchmont is a popular student area.
Leith: A docklands area, Leith feels quite separate from the rest of the city - people here often prefer to say they're from Leith rather than from Edinburgh. It has its own financial centre, waterway (the water of Leith) and shopping/eating areas. A source of inspiration for Irvine Welsh's "Trainspotting", it is today the scene of a thriving café society. Leith Links, the park where the rules of golf were originally formulated, is a lovely place to stroll. The sport has been prohibited on this ground, however, since 1907.
The huge rock upon which Edinburgh Castle now stands is a natural stronghold, and warring Celtic tribes would use it as such during the first centuries of the first millennium. King Edwin of Northumbria is thought to have built the castle here in the 7th century and the settlement's name was anglicised to Edinburgh. In 1018 King Malcolm II defeated the Northumbrians and Edinburgh Castle became Scottish.
Essentially the town took its starting point from the Edinburgh Castle, and developed down the slope of Castle Rock. In 1128 an abbey was founded at Holyrood, at the foot of the rock, and what's now called the "Canongate" took its name from the presence of its canons who founded a separate burgh there.
Since the 9th century there has been a church on the site where St Giles' Cathedral now stands, but little is known about it until the building founded by Alexander I in 1120.
The developing route — from the Edinburgh Castle, along Lawn Market & High Street (past St Giles' Cathedral), to Canongate became known as the "Royal Mile".
A brief spell under the English and some ferocious power struggles marked the 14th and 15th centuries. During this time, Edinburgh received a royal charter from Robert the Bruce and in 1498 Holyroodhouse Palace was built at the site of the Abbey. At this time Edinburgh was beginning to benefit from the trade and export of wool. Meanwhile, the "Old Town" was developing — creating the Grassmarket and Cowgate.
After a hefty defeat by the English, at the battle of Flodden in 1513, the people of Edinburgh began work on the Flodden Wall in a desperate attempt to defend themselves against possible invasion. Completed in 1560, it marked Edinburgh's boundary for the next 200 years.
Also in 1560 Protestantism was declared as Scotland's official religion. Two factions were now set against each other. They are best represented here by the two leaders who personified them in Scotland: John Knox, zealous Protestant reformer, and Mary Queen of Scots, pro-French Catholic.
Espionage and bloodshed suffused every level of Edinburgh society, most famously in an incident when Queen Mary could only watch in horror as her favourite and (alleged) lover, David Rizzio, was murdered by a group of noblemen in Holyroodhouse Palace under the orders of her husband, Lord Darnley. Their son became King James VI of Scotland in 1567, when he was 13 months old. In 1582 Edinburgh University was established, and 1603 saw the accession of James VI of Scotland to the English throne.
In 1633 Edinburgh officially became the capital of Scotland. Then, in 1707 the Act of Union joined Scotland to England and the Scottish parliament was dissolved.
By the 18th century it was decided to branch out of the city's original ("Flodden") walls — a "new town" was to be built. Scottish architect James Craig developed a simple grid design based around three parallel streets: Princes Street, George Street and Queen Street. This plan, and the beautiful Georgian architecture of which it is comprised, are still in place today.
The Victorian era was another time of expansion. Middle-class suburbs such as Marchmont and Morningside were born. The Edinburgh and Leith railway line was built in 1831, linking the port and industrial center with the capital city, and the Edinburgh and Glasgow line followed in 1842.
Many people associate modern Edinburgh with the Edinburgh International Festival, which has been keeping the city at the center of the international arts scene since 1947.
More recently still, the re-introduction of the Scottish parliament, three centuries after it was dissolved by the Act of Union, has meant a return of Scottish government to Edinburgh.
Dining and drinking in Edinburgh are fun and tasty pursuits. All manner of eateries and watering holes lurk around every corner. From traditional haggis haunts to romantic Italian restaurants, whisky-stained pubs to trendy bars — there is something to suit most cravings.
The city center offers many tastes and tipples and the Old Town is a great place to sup and pub. For a European flavour try The Grain Store, just off the Royal Mile, whose rather unpromising name belies the tasty Scottish/French fare served. Ciao Roma is just one example of the decent regional Italian eateries the city has to offer. To sample the native delicacies, try the haggis and tatties at the Doric Wine Bar & Bistro. For a contemporary dining experience of the highest quality, take the transparent lift inside The Museum of Scotland to The Tower Restaurant and Terrace . Pub-lovers should prop up the Bow Bar, just below Edinburgh Castle, and vegetarians should check out Bann UK. Fed up with whisky? Try vodka of all flavours imaginable at Bar Kohl.
Cowgate and Grassmarket are very popular drinking haunts. Try Bannerman's for a traditional pub atmosphere or wander down Candlemaker Row and check out Greyfriars Bobby. Driving? Maison Hector is great for non-alcoholic beverages.
Towards Holyrood Park, there are some good eateries near the Edinburgh Festival Theatre. Those with the Mexican munchies should try Mother's, whilst Ayatthaya serves great Thai food. At the Canongate end, the Holyrood Tavern's cozy atmosphere will help you nurse your pint.
On the other side of Princes Street Gardens, New Town has many treats worth sampling. Dining à la française is particularly satisfying here; the Café St Honoré offers excellent brasserie fare, whilst Pompadour is perfect for expensive French cuisine. For a continental luncheon La Cuisine d'Odile has a very good menu. Not to be outdone, the Italians and Spaniards are also well represented in New Town. Try La Rusticana or the Patio Restaurant for a taste of pasta/pizza paradise, or Tapas Tree for some great Hispanic nibbles. Kids in tow? Check out old favorite the Hard Rock Cafe, then drop the smalls home and relax with a late-night cocktail at Po Na Na.
Further out of town is the dockland area of Leith, a must for seafood seekers. All along the quays, fish restaurants can be found offering menus that are fresh from the ocean. If you're going to try any of them, make sure it's the charming Fishers Bistro at number one. Set back from the water, the Raj Restaurant's curries will put fire in your belly, but if you prefer lighter delicacies, the French seafood dishes at The Vintner's Rooms are wonderful. For an aperitif or one-for-the-road, Bar Java is a great start or finish to any night.
The Edinburgh Festival is, without doubt, the highlight of the capital's entertainment calendar. This summer extravaganza centers on two festivals that run concurrently — The Edinburgh International Festival and The Fringe Festival, both of which focus on the performing arts. The former invites touring professionals from all over the world, whilst the latter welcomes new talent and crowds of students and wannabees.
Up-and-coming comics frequent The Pleasance, whose outdoor bar is open late into the night, and the Gilded Balloon. The comedy is one of the best things at the Festival and a must on the stand-up circuit — you are very likely to see acts that will later appear on TV. Amateur theatrical and dance productions are often of a very high standard, although one of the joys of the Fringe is being the only member of the audience at an obscure, incomprehensible play.
Edinburgh goes crazy during the Festival; it's packed with street-performers, tourists, talent scouts and hangers-on. As there are so many productions on, you are never short of entertainment. If you are at all interested in the performing arts, the Edinburgh Festival should not be left off your summer schedule.
The Edinburgh Military Tattoo also takes place in the summer — during the month of August. The Tattoo is one of the world's finest military displays, attended by over 200,000 people. It's a splendid mix of pomp, pageantry, music, ceremony, entertainment and drama — all set against the stunning backdrop of Edinburgh Castle.
Hogmanay is a ticket-only (ish) affair for New Year celebrations. The festivities stretch over days and cover all forms of entertainment — a programme is available near the end of the year.
Art galleries are everywhere in Edinburgh. From architecture and design, to oils and watercolour, a plethora of disciplines can be found on show. For fine art, the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery of Scotland are the must-sees. But it is the contemporary art scene that is particularly exciting in the capital. Formerly thought of as Glasgow's exclusive terrain, Edinburgh now frequently displays fresh Scottish talent and cutting-edge art: the Fruitmarket Gallery is the best for this, whilst the nearby City Art Centre and Collective Gallery are also worth a look. Contemporary crafts can be found at the Scottish Gallery and Nexus Galleries.
Cinema is a popular diversion in Edinburgh. As capital city of the nation that produced Sean Connery, Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlyle, Edinburgh has a fittingly fine selection of cinemas. Lothian Road, behind the castle, offers both types of flicks — Filmhouse Cinema for art-house, and ABC Film Centre for general release. For that multiplex experience there is an Odeon on the other side of town.
Music, Dance and Opera are all on tap to entertain you in this city. You can listen to The Scottish Chamber Orchestra at Queen's Hall, rock at The Venue and indie at the Liquid Room. The best place to experience classical music, ballet or opera, however, has to be the Edinburgh Festival Theatre. There are many venues — from tiny darkened dive to classical theatre — you'll find them all in Edinburgh.
Museums have a fine reputation here and they've got much to be proud of. Educational excitement for kids and grown-ups can be found all-over, but especially in the Old Town. The Museum of Scotland is a must-see, full of ancient and modern exhibits. A visit to the capital is clearly incomplete without a visit to Edinburgh Castle and the Holyroodhouse Palace — the fun and fascination doesn't stop there. The Royal Mile holds many treats, including Gladstone's Land and the John Knox House Museum and it would be a sin for any good whiskey-drinking soul to miss the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre. To the south of the city center, the Royal City Observatory is a more space-age experience.
Nightclubs are easy to find in Edinburgh. Clubbers will not be disappointed with the wide choice — indie fans, rock chicks, laid-back lounge lizards and hard-core house fanatics can all shake their stuff here. Cowgate is a popular clubber's haunt, with the Attic, La Belle Angele and Wilkie House offering something for everyone. Not far from here is the rockin' Rocking Horse. Live music at the Liquid Room and gay cabaret at CC Blooms offer twists on the classic club-scene.
Theatre really comes alive during August and the Festival, but happily, the Edinburgh boards are also walked during the rest of the year. Behind Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Lyceum Theatre offers mainstream and avant-garde performances, whilst the Traverse Theatre is a real treat for contemporary writing.