Exploring Edinburgh - Scotland's Enthralling Capital

3 April 2013

When a city is voted the European Destination of the Year at the World Travel Awards in 2012, it is safe to say it is popular with visitors. And given that Edinburgh is one of the most visually arresting cities in the world, it is not hard to see why millions of tourists flock to the atmospheric alleyways and the historic cobblestone streets which line this brilliant and occasionally brooding Scottish capital.

Divided into a maze-like medieval Old Town and the Georgian-era New Town built to relieve rampant 18th Century overcrowding, what makes Edinburgh unique is the range of its diverse architecture, something Tom Maxwell of 'VisitScotland' - the country's national tourism board - was keen to highlight.

Edinburgh Edinburgh

"A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Edinburgh has an extraordinary range of stunning architecture, including the Scott Monument, a gothic spire built in Princes Street to celebrate the genius of Sir Walter Scott, and Edinburgh Castle, a majestic masterpiece that dominates the city skyline," Maxwell said.

"Equally eye-catching is the Scottish Parliament, at the foot of the Royal Mile. Its unique design is bold, modern and is well worth a visit."

Other parts of the city worth visiting include Calton Hill – which boasts several important buildings and monuments, including the iconic National Monument – distinctive St. Giles' Cathedral and the lush greenery of the historic Princes Street Gardens, which dissects the cramped Old Town from the wide boulevards and avenues of the expansive New Town.

Given such a dramatic backdrop, it's no surprise to discover Edinburgh has deep literary connections. "From literary giants such as Sir Walter Scott, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson to hugely popular modern writers such as Ian Rankin, Irvine Welsh and Alexander McCall-Smith, Edinburgh has a literary heritage that is the envy of the world," Maxwell explained. "It's the world's first UNESCO City of Literature and, each summer, hosts a Literary Festival that attracts huge names," he added.

Literary walking tours are popular and take in some of the sights featured in contemporary novels such as the wildly successful Inspector Rebus series, with walking tours also a great way to familiarise yourself with the city. Perhaps the best known walk in a city full of pleasant perambulations takes you from Edinburgh Castle on top of Castle Rock down the famous Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace at the opposite end. Along the way is the Heart of Midlothian – a heart-shaped pattern set into the road to mark the site of the Old Tolbooth. It's one of the city's most recognisable landmarks and also lends its name to another of Edinburgh's most famous institutions.

Heart of Midlothian Football Club – known universally as Hearts - are one-half of Edinburgh's famous football divide. Based in the west of the city at Gorgie, Hearts reserve most of their enmity for local rivals Hibernian - situated in the north near the port of Leith. "The 'Capital Derby' still stirs the emotions unlike any other and any football fan visiting Edinburgh must add a trip to Tynecastle or Easter Road to their itinerary." Maxwell said. "Last season, the Scottish Cup final was contested between the two sides for the very first time, with Hearts running out 5-1 winners."

From its cobblestone streets and dimly-lit alleyways to the historic Scottish institutions which dominate its cityscape, it's no wonder Edinburgh remains such an alluring place to visit. The Scottish capital boasts countless attractions, ensuring it remains high on the list of ‘must-see' destinations countless international visitors.

Mike Tuckerman

From Europe to Asia and many places in between, there's rarely a town or city I've not enjoyed exploring. When I'm not wandering the streets and discovering new destinations, you can usually find me hanging out with the locals at major sporting events.