Gazing out over Edinburgh from the spectacular vantage point of its castle is a great way of getting the lie of the land WORDS: Amy Macpherson
The view shows the clear contrast between the New Town and Old Town, on either side of the valley that contains the city’s main railway station and Princes Street Gardens. The New Town’s smart Georgian buildings contrast noticeably with the Medieval Old Town’s imposing Gothic architecture, jumble of angled rooftops and narrow, winding streets.
King of the Castle
Built on an extinct volcano, Edinburgh’s castle seems to grow out of the huge rocky crag that forms its base, with the natural stone formations incorporated into the masonry. It’s an atmospheric spot providing great views over the city and harbour, and spooky haws or sea fogs are known to envelop it from time to time.
The castle complex is comparatively modern in parts, due to being constantly besieged and rebuilt over the years. However, its walls still contain the oldest building in Edinburgh – the small but perfectly formed St Margaret’s Chapel, built in the 12th century. Other interesting features include the Dog Cemetery, where generations of faithful friends have been lovingly memorialised by their soldier owners.
This is a town that knows how to show visitors a good time, hosting major shindigs like the Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe Festival, not to mention the legendary Hogmanay celebrations. The city’s nightlife has plenty to offer outside these times too. In the New Town, head straight for Rose Street’s pubs and eateries. For an atmospheric tipple, you can’t beat the historic Kenilworth, named after a novel by Scottish literary icon Sir Walter Scott. It’s a listed building with a beautiful late Victorian interior complete with tiled walls and carved mahogany. In the Old Town, Cowgate is a big drinking street popular with students, while Grassmarket has its fair share of venues.
When in Rome …
You owe it to yourself to try haggis. After all, it’s a Scottish culinary legend and surprisingly tasty. Just don’t think about what’s in it. If you really can’t face the prospect, there are meat-free versions for vegetarians and the squeamish. The classic accompaniments are neeps and tatties (mashed turnip and potato) and you can find such dishes in touristy restaurants and local hangouts alike. Try The Wee Windaes on High Street, Royal Mile, or the Rose Street Brewery on Rose Street, which has a cosy restaurant tucked away upstairs. For the sake of authenticity, you could follow it with Scotland’s great contribution to modern cuisine, the deep-fried Mars bar.
Worth a look
The Real Mary King’s Close
Discover the subterranean world of old Edinburgh on this entertaining tour, which explores the warren of streets underneath Royal Mile. See www.realmarykingsclose.com.
Palace of Holyroodhouse
The Queen’s official residence in Scotland, this sits at the opposite end of Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle. The former home of Mary, Queen of Scots, it’s a must for history buffs.
The Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre
Close to the castle, this provides a good opportunity to do some essential research into Scotland’s favourite drink.
Edinburgh’s got a good range of budget accommodation. Slightly out of town, the Globetrotter Inn hostel is a popular choice and worth the trek as the facilities (and the sea view from the bar) are great. They run a shuttle service to and from the centre. See www.globetrotterinns.com.
Bonus points for: Bonhomie and atmosphere
Loses marks for: Somewhat dodgy weather
Check out: www.edinburgh.org