Edinburgh, sometimes called the "the Athens of the North," is undoubtedly Scotland's most beautiful city, combining the old and the new, with its classically Scottish atmosphere, here medieval palaces rub shoulders with the best of modern architecture. The Old Town is the medieval heart of the city, and home to most of the important historical sites, including Edinburgh Castle, the symbol of the city, where the Crown of Scotland is kept. The other half of the city is the Georgian area, called the New Town, which is sprinkled with beautiful 19th century residences; this is where you'll find the city's financial and shopping districts. You can still feel the influence of the Scottish Enlightenment here, at which time Edinburgh was the hub of intellectual progress in Europe, with statues of men such as David Hume and Adam Smith as markers of this rich past. In a more modern light, the city still holds its own, particularly in the month of August, when some might say that Edinburgh is the most important city in the world, for its unequalled programme of festivals. Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year, kicks off the year's festivities, which ramp up to a city-wide celebration in mid-summer, with events including the Tattoo, the Edinburgh International Festival, The Fringe, and many others.
If you're only going to visit Edinburgh once, make sure you do it in August in time for festival season, when the city really comes alive. The best by far is The Fringe, the world's largest arts festival, which spreads out over three weeks and hosts thousands of performers on stages all over the city, presenting comedy, dance, theatre, live music, and more. Head to The Pleasance or Udderbelly venues for world-class comedy acts and the best beer tent atmosphere! During the world-famous Edinburgh International Festival, which also takes place over three weeks in August, the city's six major theatres and concert halls, as well as a few smaller venues, come alive with the best classical music, theatre, opera, dance and visual art from around the globe. The International Book Festival which takes place on Charlotte's Square each August is also another must visit. Hear famous authors speak or just sit with an ice cream and read something from the pop up bookshop. As The Spectator suggested, ?you can sleep in September'. When things are a bit quieter, make your way up the hill to Arthur's Seat where you'll get fantastic panoramic views of the entire city.
The Royal Mile, which links the Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, is the perfect first stop for Edinburgh newcomers. The Castle, home to the Edinburgh Tattoo, is a royal fortress perched atop one of the highest points in the city. It has been in continuous use for 1000 years, and is still in excellent condition. The Holyrood Palace is a royal residence, where the Queen's Gallery, containing art from the Royal Collection, is housed. For some interactive fun for the whole family, visit the Camera Obscura. Located on Castle Hill, it is a 150 year old tower which focuses light onto a dish in a dark room below, allowing a 360 degree view of all of Edinburgh!
Surface area : 78772.0 km2
Population : 60776238 inhabitants
Time difference : Scotland runs on Greenwich Mean Time and applies daylight savings time, like the rest of the UK.
If you're planning on going to Edinburgh for Hogmanay (around New Year's Day) or the summer festival high season (August to early September) make sure you book your stay well in advance (even a year or more) as the city becomes intensely crowded, and hotels fill up quickly. The most pleasant time, weather-wise, to go the Edinburgh is between May and September, though the weather here is fickle, so make sure you pack an umbrella or raincoat whatever the season. Edinburgh International Airport is some 10 miles west of the city and offers a wide range of domestic and international flights.
Edinburgh is for the most part a very safe city, though common sense should be used here, as anywhere else. The most trouble you'll likely find is brawls breaking out as people make their way out of pubs in the evening, particularly near Lothian Road and Grassmarket. Some areas of Leith (particularly between the bottom of Leith Walk and the dockside) should be avoided at night.
If you're prepared to try anything - and we mean anything, make sure you order some traditional Scottish Haggis, a dish made of sheep's heart, liver, and lungs, mixed with onion, oatmeal, suet, and spices. It is traditionally served with "neeps and tatties" (turnip and potatoes) and a ?dram? (a glass of Scottish whisky). Black pudding is another typically Scottish dish to try if you're not too weak of stomach; it's made of pig's blood, fat, and oatmeal, and has a rich, almost nutty taste. On the other side of the spectrum, if you've got a sweet tooth you can't miss the Edinburgh classic deep fried Mars Bar - calories galore, but very tasty!
It depends on how all-out you want to go, but if you really want to get into the spirit of things kit yourself out from head to toe in Scottish attire. Start with a kilt (for men) or a tartan skirt (for women), which you'll have no trouble finding either ready-to-wear, or custom-made, if you take your kilt-fitting seriously. Get yourself a pair of ghillies (traditional Scottish shoes), and top off the ensemble with some handmade Celtic jewellery.
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