Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and has more than 1 million residents in its immediate area. Its setting is one of the most celebrated in the UK because of its beautiful ruggedness. The city itself isn’t too shabby either with its well preserved Medieval and Georgian architecture in the Old and New Town sections, both of which are claimed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
In its earliest times, Edinburgh was a fort called Castle Rock. Its cliff sides and sweeping views offered a position that was very easy to defend. A battle over the ground ensued and in the 7th century the English swiped it from the Scots and renamed it Eiden’s burgh. But by the 10th century the town was back under Scottish rule and it truly began to flourish in the 12th century. This still holds true today. Edinburgh has one of the strongest UK economies, only ruled out of the number one position by England. The city relies on its education, health, finance, business, retail, and tourism sectors for employ.
Edinburgh also boasts one of the fastest growth rates in the UK and it is easy to see why – a beautiful setting, well preserved historic sectors, tourist friendly, and a lively nightlife. What more do you need?
Edinburgh thrives in a temperate maritime climate, meaning it has mild winters (compared to the areas surrounding it) and moderate rainfall throughout the year. Because of its location between the sea and the cliffs, it sees a lot of wind. Gulf Stream winds from the west often bring warm air that is quite unstable and can cause unpredicted rainfall. From the East, winds are often whipping and cold. The city is also subjected to Atlantic depressions, also called European windstorms, which rise up between October and March.
Year round the climate stays between 0°C (32°F) in February and 10.3°C (50.5°F) in July and August. The most favorable month to go is in August. During this month the city holds its annual Edinburgh Festival and sees an upwards of almost 1 million visitors in a 4 week stretch. If you don’t want to deal with the crowds but still want great weather, July is also a wonderful alternative.
By Air: The Edinburgh International Airport services the city. It offers many flights to major spots in Europe and North America, including a daily flight to the Newark Airport just outside of New York City. It is very well connected to the world. The EIA also has an exclusive airport bus service called the Airlink Express that runs from the terminal in Edinburgh City at the Waverley Bridge every 10 – 30 minutes. An even cheaper alternate are the Lothian Buses, particularly #35, which has arrivals at the Ocean Terminal at Royal Mile/High Street. It is slower but half the price of Airlink.
By Rail: The main station is called the Waverley Railway Station located adjacent to Princes Street, Edinburgh Castle, and the Princes Street Gardens. From here there are the First Scotrail trains which provide access to almost the entire country, including a shuttle train to Glasgow every 15 minutes. National Express East has hourly routes to London Kings Cross. Virgin Trains has rides to London Euston, Birmingham, and central England. There are also two additional stations called Haymarket and Edinburgh Park too.
By Car: The M8 (Glasgow), M9 (Stirling), A90/M90 (Perth), A1 (Newcastle), A701/M74 (Carlisle), and M1 to A1 (London) all take road travelers into Edinburgh. However, the city is not very car friendly because of its tricky medieval layout. Therefore, the multistory carparks or a park and ride from a rail station are the best ways to get int.
By Bus: Edinburgh has bus service for Scotland and England at the St. Andrew Square station.
By Boat: Superfast Ferries are another alternate from Belgium. There are also bookable services from Edinburgh to Belfast and back again via Citylink.
It should be noted that compared to other UK cities, Edinburgh is ranks poor in the public transportation department. It can be frustrating to travel in a motorized manner. There are ways to get around but the winding, hilly, tiny medieval streets lend themselves to easier means of travel, like walking. Something else to keep in mind is that anything left behind on public transport will incur an expensive fine.
Walk: Edinburgh is a great walking city. Most of the sites in Old Town and New Town are not more than a 20 minute walk. There are stunning views that are more easily taken in on foot. You can also plan your own walking tour at Walkit.
Board: The city has two bus services, Lothian and First. They share the same stops but are not interchangeable. Lothian buses are burgundy and cream colored. They have routes from the east and west side of the city all day. There is also a handful of sightseeing bus companies that operate different routes around the city. However, they all use the Waverley Station to start and finish so it is easy to catch one.
There is also a single tram line being built that will stretch the length of Edinburg from the Airport through to New Town. It will be completed in 2011.
Drive: The center of the city is almost impassable by car. The city discourages driving and encourages the Park and Ride facilities on the outskirts.
There are also a number of suburban train destinations from the Waverly Station that make stops at Balerno, Currie, Wester Hailes, Portobello, Prestonpans, and Musselburgh. Edinburgh Park also makes stops at Berwick, Bathgate, and Glasgow Central.
January: Great Winter Run – The Scots are not shy when it comes to indulging in food and alcohol – fact. To burn off those extra holiday pounds, Edinburg has recently introduced a 5km run around King Arthur’s seat. It is the same day as the Great Edinburgh International X Country but is on a much smaller scale for those who want to begin getting in shape for the upcoming warm weather. The run starts at 10:00am – 2:30pm. The cost is £16 for Scottish Athletics members and £18 for non members. Spectators are free.
March: Edinburgh International Harp Festival – This festival pays homage to the lovely sounds of the harp. There are concerts, workshops, and exhibitions as well as other instruments, like the bagpipes, and traditional Scottish country dances. The festival is still a work in progress and often has new events annually. It takes place at the Merchiston Castle School in March and April from 3:00pm – 4:00pm, and then from 7:30pm on. The cost is £7 – £12.
April: Beltane Fire Festival – Carlton Hill is a glow with bonfires at this unconventional neo-pagan fertility ceremony. It is a great way to get in touch with ancient Scotland. There is much singing, dancing, and lavish props to get through this powerful performance. The festival is free and begins at 9:30pm.
May: Mary King’s Ghost Fest – A medieval city like Edinburgh certainly lends itself to tales of the paranormal. There are activities, a ghost trail and stories yes. But where this festival gets interesting is when the University science department performs experiments to prove that ghostly activity does indeed exist.
June: Edinburgh International Film Festival – The EIFF is considered the oldest running film festival in the world. It’s had a number of excellent premieres, including the beloved Spielberg flick ET. Many celebrities and international films also make a stop here. EIFF typically runs the last weeks of June at the Filmhouse. Prices and hours vary.
August: Edinburgh Fringe Festival – A huge part of the annual Edinburgh Festival, this event sells over 1 million tickets each year. You will laugh until your sides hurt at the comedians, small productions, and the rest of the gang at this eclectic free for all. The Fringe Fest takes place through most of August throughout the city. Hours are 24/7 and admission is free.
September: Edinburgh Mela – The word Mela means community festival across most of Asia. This event is dedicated to the spirited dance, music, theatre, arts of the Asian lifestyle. Many notable people have appeared at this unique festival that brings to completely different worlds together in celebration. The Mela takes place at Pilrig Park throughout September from 12pm – 10pm.
October: Samhuinn Festival – Edinburgh is illuminated during this spirited festival that celebrates the best of Scottish music, folk dance, and theatre. There is a medieval pageant parade as well as many retellings of beloved ancient stories. Samhuinn is known as one of the biggest, brightest, and best Halloween events in the UK. It takes place throughout the city all over October from 9pm onward. Admission is free.
November: Scots Fiddle Festival – This event rejoices in an old Scottish pastime – fiddling! Thousands come to see the unique way many fiddle bands have put together their music – and it isn’t all as traditional as one might think. There are also many lively late night concerts and spur of the moment dances when the entire audiences moves from the Assembly Rooms to the countryside. The Assembly Room doors open at 7:30pm.
December: The Hoog – This dance party is one of the most popular New Year’s celebration in Edinburgh and one hot ticket. A mix of contemporary music as well as traditional Scottish music is played into the wee hours of the morning on this night called Homanay. The Hoog takes place in the Assembly Rooms from 7:30pm – 2:00am. The cost starts at £40.
As you can tell, there is much to see and do in Edinburgh. Some of the best well preserved Middle Aged sites in the world are located here including the 17th century burial vault known as Soutra Aisle, the Edinburgh Dungeon, and the Real Mary King’s Closer. There is also the beautiful Belhaven Bay, a handful of glorious castles, the lovely chapels and churches, and historic places like the Dalmeny House, Gladstone’s Land, and King Arthur’s Seat. Even if you’ve gotten your fill of history, there are many activities like cycling, sailing, surfing, skiing, carting, ballooning, wall climbing, fishing, and golfing where you can take in the breathtaking views doing your favorite thing.
There is also plenty of good retail shopping in the center of the city including the Barbour Store, Troon, and WM Armstrong and Sons. A kilt wear specialist is also located here and goes by the name of Geoffrey Kiltmakers and Highland Crafts. As with any European city, it has a Farmer’s Market at the heart of the city, which offers a great place to mingle and pick up fresh goods.
And of course, eating and drinking, a Scottish tradition! There are almost 100 restaurants, bistros, bars, and pubs in Edinburgh. The city centre has an abundant number of restaurants including blue, Ye Olde Peacock Inn, The Atrium, Harvey Nichols Fourth Floor, The Kitchin, Santini, and Siam Erewan. The Frankenstein Pub, Revolution Bar, Sygn, Bollinger Bar, and El Barrio are great places to party the night away.
After taking in the sites, a good meal, and a quick drink, there is endless nightlife in Edinburgh too including the UGS Cinema, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, The Jam House for live music, Jamie’s for Scottish culture, The Stand Comedy Club, and nearly a dozen theaters including King’s Theatre.