Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith described Edinburgh as “a city of shifting light, of changing skies, of sudden vistas. A city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again.”
The capital of Scotland has long been a center for culture, science, innovation, art, and celebration. Its Old Town and New Town are listed together as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the city as a whole is bursting with centuries of history.
- Founded: Before 600 A.D.
- Area: 102 sq. mi (264 sq. km)
- Population: 507,000
- Language: English
- Currency: Pound sterling (£/GBP)
- Time Zone: Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)
- Major Airport: Edinburgh Airport (EDI)
- Drive on the: Left
While Edinburgh is lovely any time of year (yes, even in the middle of winter), the best time to visit coincides with the most crowded. June through August is when the temperature is warmest, and when the amount of people in town for the summer festivals hits an all time high. If you plan to visit Edinburgh during festival season, make sure to plan well in advance.
The weather in Edinburgh can be ferocious; wind, rain, and snow are frequent visitors, but don’t let that deter you. The beautiful, monotone colors of the city’s stone buildings make for a moody yet welcoming atmosphere in inclimate weather. Be sure to pack a raincoat (even if you think you won’t need one!), but leave your umbrella behind. The wind in Edinburgh can be strong enough to render umbrellas completely useless, so most locals choose to opt for hoods and jackets instead.
The city is divided into two basic areas: Old Town and New Town, with Princes Street Gardens serving as the “border” between the two. Old Town is where the city began, and where you’ll find most of the sightseeing and attractions. Though New Town may sound, well, new, it’s actually quite old. This part of the city refers to the area that expanded in the 1700s.
Navigating the city is fairly easy. Edinburgh is small enough to walk, which most choose to do. If you want to rest your feet (or if the weather forces you inside), use the city’s bus system. You can buy multi-day or single passes online, or in various transportation offices around the city.
There is plenty to do in Edinburgh. First, explore the Royal Mile, which runs through Old Town from Edinburgh Castle down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Follow in the footsteps of J.K. Rowling, take a photo tour, or visit some of the more haunted areas of the city. But don’t forget to check out Edinburgh Castle, catch sunset from Calton Hill, and wander through Princes Street Gardens.
Edinburgh supposedly has more bars and restaurants per capita than any other city in the United Kingdom, so take advantage of the pub scene while you’re in town. The pubs and cafés are both varied and similar in nature, but all offer good food and something to drink. If you’re feeling brave, try some haggis — a traditional Scottish pudding containing sheep’s pluck (the heart, liver, and lungs). Also note that although you aren’t expected to tip at restaurants in Scotland, it’s always nice to if you receive especially good service.
Finally, get out of the city! Go to the Highlands, take a day trip to Loch Ness, or pop over to Glasgow. If you have a few days, rent a car and road-trip to the Isle of Skye.