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Grand and stately, fun and hip – Visiting Edinburgh
Edinburgh’s a city with more than one side. Scotland’s capital is a key fixture on the itinerary of most UK visitors, and given its mixture of history and vibrancy, it’s easy to see why.
Divided in two halves by the green strip of is made up of the Old Town and the New Town. Don’t expect brand-new glass and chrome skyscrapers in the latter, though: the term ‘new’ is relative, with many of its buildings dating from the Georgian period. Both areas are of interest to visitors, with key sights such as Edinburgh Castle , the Palace of Holryroodhouse and the thoroughfare of the Royal Mile in the Old Town, and a wide selection of bars, restaurants and shops in the New Town.
An exploration of the castle is an ideal way to begin a visit to Edinburgh. Perched atop a (thankfully) extinct volcano, there has been a fortress on this site since the at least the twelfth century, although most of what you will see today was constructed in the sixteenth century and used by Scottish royals as a stronghold. The admission fee is a little pricy, but even if you prefer to save your pennies, be sure to stroll up to the castle compound for a panoramic view of the New Town below. At the other end of the appropriately-named Royal Mile sits the Palace of Holyroodhouse , Queen Elizabeth II’s official residence when in Scotland. It’s generally associated with a rather different monarch, though: the palace is where Mary Queen of Scots lived for much of her life.
The walk down the Royal Mile may be a long one, but it’s well worth it – on your way downhill, you’ll pass Edinburgh’s cathedral and the Scottish Parliament building, its striking modern design creating quite a contrast with the ancient buildings and cobbled streets leading away from the Mile itself. As long as you don’t scare easily, it’s worth exploring the Royal Mile and the alleyways around it after dark while visiting Edinburgh– there are a host of ghost tours to choose from.
Over in the New Town, Princes Street is a modern parallel of the Royal Mile, minus the stately attractions. Here, it’s all about shopping. With a selection of department and chain stores, there’s something for everyone, but those seeking something more distinctive should press on up the hill to the city’s boutiques. Further out of town, Edinburgh Zoo has been making UK headlines since the arrival of its cutest occupants, a pair of giant pandas. Named Sweetie and Sunshine, the duo have been charming visitors since December 2011 – much to the dismay of their next-door neighbours the penguins, who have been upstaged as the zoo’s star attraction. If a wander around the zoo isn’t active enough for you, you may prefer to climb Arthur’s Seat.
Although Edinburgh has more than enough to occupy visitors at any time of the year, the city’s particularly popular in summer, when it hosts its series of festivals, and at New Year (or Hogmanay, as it’s known in Scotland) when revellers flock to Princes Street for a giant street party complete with funfair and music from big-name bands. With separate festivals for film, jazz, literature and theatre (the Fringe Festival), summer in Edinburgh is a visitors’ delight: yes, prices may soar, but you’ll certainly never be bored with a calendar jammed full of more events than you could possibly attend. In fact, with so much on offer in such a beautiful setting, it’s likely that just one visit to Edinburgh won’t be enough. Even though there are many options to stay in and around Edinburgh, during festivals it is particularly important to book early.
Next week, Kate Turner looks at the best places to eat, drink and shop in Edinburgh.
*Today’s post for this Scotland series is brought to you by Home Away UK.
*all photos via Wikipedia