You have probably heard it said that it’s not about the destination but the journey. The Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” I like your point, RLS! But if your destination is Edinburgh, Scotland, then I want to submit to you that your journey has only just begun.
Today I want to very briefly introduce you to the city I fell in love with and that I’m quite sure is one of the most beautiful and captivating in all the world. This multi-dimensional, self-proclaimed Athens of the North has the power to stop you in your tracks and make you feel as if you have stumbled through some secret doorway, transported back into time. In Edinburgh, the old and the new are woven seamlessly together, the past and present separate but always one.
Scotland’s capital, correctly pronounced ‘eddin-burrah’ or “eddin-bra’ (throw in a sexy Scottish roll of the R and you’ve got it!), is a compact, walkable, vibrant city, located on the eastern coast and overlooking the Firth of Forth. The city is draped across numerous hills and crags, and rests under the watchful and protective eye of Edinburgh Castle, perched high atop Castle Rock.
City Center lies at the heart of this pretty burgh and Princes Street is the visible divider between the two original sections of the town. On one side, Old Town provides a stunning, well-preserved picture of the city’s medieval past. A stroll down Victoria Street will lead you into Grassmarket, an area situated below the castle that historically served as both a marketplace and the sight of public executions. Yikes! Reformation-era tenements line the cobbled Old Town streets, which today are home to shops, restaurants, cafes, pubs, walking tours, museums, parliaments, and flats.
At the center of Old Town lies the Royal Mile, which is really made up of four connecting streets: Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, and Canongate. This area is hugely popular with tourists and is the hub of the city’s many festivals. The Royal Mile begins at Edinburgh Castle on one end and ends at the Palace of Holyrood House and Holyrood Park on the other.
This stretch of the Old Town is where you’ll find St. Giles Cathedral, Tron Kirk, and the Old Tolbooth-each one a fascinating piece of Edinburgh’s historic past. Hidden courtyards and around 80 or so narrow alleyways (called closes) extend off of these streets, and are quite fun to explore. You never know what hidden gems you will discover!
Cross to the other side of Princes Street and you will be in New Town (which ironically isn’t so new). Inspired by the period known as the Scottish Enlightenment (more on this another time), this section of the city boasts spectacular neo-classical and Georgian period architecture, preserved beautifully since construction began in the 18th and 19th centuries. Take a stroll and you’ll not only find great buildings, but also lots of lovely designer boutiques, galleries, and upscale pubs and restaurants.
There are so many layers to this beautiful city. Achitecture, history, art, music, literature, food, whisky, the great outdoors, and culture abounds…we have a lot of ground to cover and we have only just begun. This brief introduction really is just the very tip of the iceburgh (haha). I hope, though, that this small glimpse of Edinburgh will intrigue you to come back for more. I have decided that rather than overwhelm (and kill my brain cells trying to figure out how to organize so much information), I will break things up over several posts. I will focus on each of the city’s primary areas of interest (both the ones I mentioned here as well as others), and I will highlight my favorite sites and notable places of interest.
I can’t wait to walk with you down those cobbled streets and show you this city I love. So grab a cup of tea and meet me here again next time as we discover Edinburgh!