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Edinburgh: History and Hidden Finds in the Scottish Capital

Edinburgh: History and Hidden Finds in the Scottish Capital

Edinburgh, Scotland’s beguiling capital simultaneously exudes exuberance and an elegant calm. Home to a famous castle, gardens hidden behind 17th century closes and world-renowned festivals, a maze of underground streets and bagpipers busking on corners, there is so much to explore here. So if you are planning a visit, be prepared to revel in a few days of old-fashioned seriousness and glorious grandeur and bask in the unhurried atmosphere of this rugged city.

Edinburgh - Tourist Attraction

Princes Street runs through the city and makes a good starting point, with shops on one side and Princes Street Gardens on the other. The gardens provide a city-centre retreat when weary from trudging the cobbled streets; take a bench and share lunch with squirrels in the summertime or stroll along to the Christmas markets and outdoor ice skating in winter.

Princes Street Gardens

Edinburgh’s touristic draw revolves around its Castle. Built on a volcanic plug, it houses the oldest crown jewels in the British Isles, dating from 1494. A good time to visit would be to join the crowds at 1 pm every day to experience the roar of the One o’clock Gun as it’s fired across the city.

Edinburgh Castle - One O'Clock Gun

En-route to the castle, for those travelling with children, or indeed adults with an acute sense of fun, Camera Obscura provides hands-on, interactive entertainment and the chance to see down the Royal Mile from the viewing platform on the roof. Although it can become uncomfortably popular on school holidays, the tickets are valid all day, allowing visitors to pop in and out of the six floors of vortex tunnels and mirror mazes as they wish.

View from Camera Obscura

Sundays from 9 am see Castle Terrace transformed into one of the world’s best farmers’ markets, where characteristically Scottish ingredients for an al-fresco lunch can easily be picked up. More than 50 specialist producers are in attendance so if fresh meats and cheeses fail to stimulate the taste buds perhaps locally made chocolates and sweet treats will. For deli-indulgences on weekdays, IJ Mellis has the best cheese selection from across Europe and Lupe Pintos has a generously stocked variety of epicurean delights from around the globe.

Farmers' Market

Harry Potter fans, drop into the Elephant House tea and coffee shop for a visit; this is where J K Rowling wrote her early novels in the back room that overlooks the castle. There are however some magnificent coffee houses more suited to the aficionado such as Artisan Roast with its pleasantly shabby hessian-sack adorned walls, Cult Espresso with reclaimed furniture and exposed brickwork or the slick and contemporary Brew Lab.

The Elephant House

Deep beneath the Royal Mile is the secret warren of streets called Mary King’s Close. Once a vibrant and busy area of the city for traders and residents in the 1600s, it’s reputed to be haunted - ostensibly from the bubonic plague victims walled up and left to die in the close. A costumed and in-character tour guide quite brings alive an eerie experience of a place most don’t know exists.

The Royal Mile

Those in Edinburgh to celebrate a memorable occasion would be prudent to book a table at The Witchery by the Castle. It’s a 16th- century former merchant’s house and provides all the luxurious drama and dark ambience one could wish for. Oak panelling, tapestries and heraldic paintings on ceilings teamed with seasonal Scottish produce such as ‘Roast Loin of Cairngorm Venison with pickled pear and iron bark pumpkin’ ensure a culinary treat.

The Witchery

For the impecunious, Edinburgh does have many free wonders to be sampled. Dunbar’s Close Garden on Canongate (a continuation of the Royal Mile) is the very definition of a hidden gem and a perfect place to steal a quiet moment. With little aesthetic allure to passing tourists, this 17th-century style garden with manicured shrubs is a well-kept secret, neatly hidden behind the close entrance. Only a five-minute walk from Princes Street, Dean Village is a desirable residential area and a convivial step back in time - the antithesis of the tourist hubbub. It leads out to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art which has free entry and is set in landscaped parkland.

Dean Village Edinburgh

Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens is one mile north of the city centre and also has free admission, although there is a small charge to enter the Victorian glasshouses in order to see the tropical, rainforest and carnivorous species. Exceptionally well cared for specialist collections, requisite café for afternoon tea and a gift shop for mementoes ensure there is enough for visitors to spend the best part of a day there.

Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh

Every August sees the Edinburgh International Festival take place when the world’s best comedians, theatre groups and cultural acts descend on the city. Along with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, bringing high-spirited entertainment to the streets, the city is transformed into a fantastically energetic hub. Accommodation prices rise dramatically at this time of year and crowds flood the cobbled streets, shops and restaurants, but for the artistically inclined it has an indisputable draw.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

The Edinburgh Military Tattoo is also held during festival time and sees visitors throng to the castle esplanade to enjoy a carefully choreographed show of military precision; traditional dancers, mass pipes and drums, world-class performers and a spectacular fireworks finale enthral the crowds who ensure the show is a sell-out long before the summer performances begin.

Edinburgh Military Tattoo

After a day’s sightseeing, Mary’s Milk Bar offers delicious gelato in flavours to tickle any connoisseur’s palate; Earl Grey Tea and Citrus Peel, Rosemary and Lemon Curd or Gooseberry Sorbet are just a selection from an ever-changing menu to suit modern tastes, even though the time capsule décor would lead you to believe you had entered an authentic mid-century British milk bar. Visitors during the festival will undoubtedly see queues throughout the day or until the chillers are bare.

Mary's Milk Bar

Whether you visit in late October to experience some spooky tours round the historical old town, or in August for the liveliest times, it’s hard not to be enchanted by Edinburgh. With so many things to see and do, this atmospheric city is best experienced on foot, as well as with the expertise of a barry Edinburgh tour guide (the epitome of the natural warmth of the Scottish people) who will chum you to the best local hotspots around.


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