The city today has kept the old and added the new, using the natural mediation of the somewhat extravagant Scottish spirit. You can see it in the contrasting Old and New Towns, divided by one of the largest city center parks in Europe – Princes Street Gardens. It preserved all the darkness and mystery of the past, but made it charming – like the Ghost and Ghouls Historic tour. And also developed tradition, transforming aristocracy into university spirit and all barbarian games and dances into a never-ending succession of festivals, celebrations and artistic inspiration.
No matter how long you stay, you should not miss to focus your exploration tour on the cosy narrow streets of the old town. In fact you will see the tour starting point yet when you land on the territory of the Scottish capital – the majestic hill that dominates the city and the 10 centuries old Edinburgh Castle. The impressive building was the home of the royal family until the siege that took place in 1570. The castle has sheltered landmarks of the history of the city and the nation. It will present to you impressive artworks, furnishings, and memories from distant époques so do not plan less than several hours for this intensive history trip. And most of all, do not forget to take a look around when going out of the castle – the views on the city are overwhelming. Going down the winding streets of the old town seems quite sufficient to fill your heart with the spirit of Scotland. But still there is a myriad of places you should not miss to stop at. The Royal Mile, representing the oldest part of the city, starts from the Castle and ends at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. One of the best ways to experience it is to take the Ghosts and Ghouls tour, which follows the same route. You will hear about the past of Edinburgh through the frightening stories of your guide and will be taken to some of the darkest places of the city by candlelight. Of course there are a lot to museum that need to be seen, depending on the time of your visit. One that is mandatory is the People’s Story, also located in the Old Town.
If you feel drawn too far back in time after the historic walk in the Old Town, go just few yards to the north, crossing the marvelous Princes Street Gardens, and you will be in the New Town. It grew in the 18th century after the expansion of the city to the North, launched by the rich classes who wanted to get away from the overpopulated central parts. Georgian architecture, splendid houses, former financial centers from the time when banking and insurance was most popular – the spirit of the new town is quite contrasting to what you had seen. A stroll along Rose Street will give you quite a good idea of how new town feels. The lively pedestrian area bordered with shops and fancy bars, the trendy homes and neo-classical houses, Rose Street is also the performance arena for many street artists who all through the summer entertain visitors. The New Town will maybe take less of your time, but still there are some highlights not to be missed – the National Portrait Gallery of Scotland, the Scott Monument on Princes Street, the National Gallery and the Royal Scottish Academy. A good end for your new town adventure is Castle Street – it ensures marvelous views to the Castle and the volcanic cliffs.
One of the best times to visit Edinburgh is summer. The city, famous for its all-year-round festivals and celebrations, culminates in the Edinburgh International Festival held in the end of August. In winter you will be quickly drawn into the Christmas and New Year open-air celebrations that take place every year and end with the Edinburgh Hogmanay, or the Scottish New Year.
Contrast being the core of the city, Edinburgh has even more to offer besides the historical center and the trendy New Town. During the 19th century expansion several villages were absorbed to the north to become part of the growing town. Today they have surprisingly kept their genuine village spirit adding a fresh sip of natural cheer to the city. Such a place is Stockbridge to the north with its cosy pubs and excellent small restaurants. You can also take a trip to the Lothians – Midlothian, West Lothian and East Lothian, to enjoy the verdant landscapes and add some more history to your tour, by visiting the Roslin Chapel in Midlothian as a start.
Edinburgh spreads from the south to the north, from the hills to the sea. The city port Leith and the waterfront will take you to a relaxing experience of marine views, casual bars and some quite charming pubs with excellent food.
A city of contrast and tradition, for the 10 centuries that marked it, Edinburgh has become one of the most tempting spots worldwide. You may hear a lot, you may see a lot, but what you can only sense is the amazing Scott soul deeply enrooted in the city that managed to establish charm through the rudeness of contrast, beauty through arrogance and intellectuality through cheer.