DUBLIN: There’s nowhere else in Britain quite like Edinburgh. In fact, you could argue there’s nowhere else in the world like it: from the medieval buildings that cling to the Royal Mile to the extinct volcano that looms over the city, it’s a place filled with unexpected charm. It’s also one of the most culturally switched-on cities in Europe, one with a long legacy of science, literature and art. It was even dubbed the ‘Athens of the North’ in the 18th century. These days it’s home to numerous festivals and a whole heap of culture from great bookshops to world-class museums and art galleries.
For a glimpse of not just Edinburgh’s history but the history of Scotland, head to the National Museum. Its incredibly in-depth exhibitions feature everything from videos about the country’s last lighthouse keepers to the cloning of Dolly the Sheep. It’s free and it’s a place to spend at least an afternoon in.
Edinburgh has a coffee culture all of its own and Brew Lab, less than five minutes’ walk from the museum is one of the city’s best — grab one of its single-origin brews to go.
Scottish food has never really gained much of an international reputation (deep-fried Mars Bars?), but one local ‘delicacy’ worth trying is haggis: a mixture of sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, mixed up with onions, spices and stock, and encased in the sheep’s stomach, then boiled. It might not sound too appetizing, but it’s great as a side with a traditional Scottish fry-up. For something more refined, head to Fhior on Broughton Street, which has turned into a foodie haven in recent years. Traditional dishes get a modern twist here, and the minimal interior is clean and welcoming. Try the lamb; it’s amazing. Another favorite is The Little Chartroom on Albert Place, which specializes in seasonal French-British food, all served up with a local twist.
To work off some of those calories, head to Edinburgh Castle, the city’s most popular tourist attraction. The adjoining grounds, Princes Street Gardens, are lovely too, although be prepared to queue if you want to get into the castle proper. The Gardens are also home to both The Royal Scottish Academy and the Scottish National Gallery, which tackle Scottish art from two very different vantage points. The Academy features a raft of local and international modern art as well as exhibitions focusing on everything from science to music to architecture. Next door is the National Gallery, a striking neoclassical building which is home to a huge array of work from the likes of Gaugin and Cézanne to Monet and Constable as well as iconic Scottish painters.
From here, you can make your way to Holyrood Park — a huge green space offering plenty of space to enjoy the occasional sunny day the city gets. Arthurs’ Seat dominates the park and the city, being the highest of the peaks that punctuate the city. An extinct volcano, it offers a challenging hike to the ridge at the top, although the views are very much worth it.
Depending on the time of year you visit, try to get to a local football match. Although the rivalry between the two local teams, Hibs and Hearts, isn’t as fractious as in Glasgow, there’s no love lost between the two sets of fans.
If you have time, a visit to Edinburgh’s port of Leith is definitely worthwhile. Once a rundown reminder of the city’s industrial past, it’s now reinventing itself as a trendy neighborhood. From the rapidly changing waterfront to the hipster cafés and second-hand clothes shops, it’s a great place to while away a weekend morning.
Back in Edinburgh — particularly in the summer months — there’s sure to be something going on. From one of the world’s largest art festivals, the Fringe (on throughout August) to the Jazz & Blues Festival (every July) to the three-day Hogmanay celebrations at New Year, Edinburgh is a city that knows how to party. It’s also a city, despite all the highbrow culture, with a great sense of humor. It’s an attractive mix and just one reason why the city should be next on your ‘to-visit’ list.