Edinburgh City Guide

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All cities aren't created equal. Venice sinks, Paris sparkles, but Edinburgh, built of stone and hard weather, broods. But though the city seems solemn, underneath a vivacious university life keeps her alive and young.

Scotsmen consider Edinburgh to be the "Athens of the North" because of its many neoclassical buildings from the 19th century. The city takes itself seriously and at the same time is both dignified and historical. Rising out of the midst of the city is Edinburgh Castle, the stone fortress that symbolizes the might of the Highland clans. The Crown Chamber houses the sword of state and the scepter. The city relies heavily on its past history of religious fanatics and cool intellectuals like John Knox and Adam Smith, and looming above all, Mary Queen of Scots.

One of the grandest streets in the United Kingdom, the Royal Mile, running from Edinburgh Castle to Queen Mary's Palace of Holyroodhouse. divides Edinburgh into Old Town, with buildings of grey stone, and New Town, with classic Georgian buildings. If you have time, you should try walking the full length of the street. Along the way, you'll see some of the city's most interesting buildings with their gables, turrets, and towering chimneys.

The stroll from the Castle to the Palace passes some of Edinburgh's oldest houses and museums. One of these, Gladstone's Land, is the only surviving example of the medieval dwellings that used to be called "lands." At the time, space was at a premium, so houses rose to five or six stories.

St. Giles Cathedral, also known as the High Kirk, designed by Sir Robert Lorimer, features notable stained glass windows and stalls. John Knox, the minister of St. Giles and founder of the Scottish Presbyterian Church, became the Reformation's Scottish leader. A visit to his timbered galleried house will show you what estates along the Royal Mile used to look like.

Take a detour into White Horse Close where you'll discover a restored 17th-century coaching inn. Nearby, stands Huntly House, a nobleman's mansion which houses a museum of the city's history.

At the eastern end of the Royal Mile stands the Palace of Holyroodhouse adjacent to an Augustinian Abbey. It's here where Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip stay whenever they visit Edinburgh. All that's left of the original palace is the new wing, built by Charles II, and the north tower. More than 100 portraits of Scottish kings line the walls.

At some point in the city's history, the Old Town became too crowded, so the burghers ordered a new town built across the valley. Architecturally, the most fascinating district is the north side of Charlotte Square. Architect James Craig oversaw the creation of the Georgian style of the New Town, with its crescents and squares.

Georgian House stands as a shining example of this symmetric style of architecture. Originally the home of John Lamont XVII, known as the last of the patriarchs and first of the moderns, its interiors sparkle with 18th-century furniture in the style of Chippendale, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton and its dining table is set with fine Wedgewood china.

Edinburgh's most famous landmark, the Scott Monument, honoring the heroes of Sir Walter Scott's books, stands in the East Princess Street Gardens. The world's first floral clock lies in the West Princess Street Gardens.

Most of Edinburgh's attractions are within easy walking distance of either the Castle or Holyroodhouse, making it easy for you to see them during a two or three-day visit.