Whether it is a short break or a longer stay, there is no better place to gain a taste of Scotland than its capital Edinburgh.
Steeped in history, an old city with a young beating hear t, Edinburgh has been a pull for tourists for hundreds of years.
The Edinburgh city region is a major tourism centre in the UK and the gateway to the rest of Scotland. Around 4 million visitors a year inject £2 billion into the local economy. It is the UK’s favourite domestic holiday alternative to London and has an award-winning reputation as one of the most attractive destinations in the world, with an ideal mix of shopping, culture, music, heritage and leisure facilities.
Ten of the 20 most attended visitor sites and eight of the 20 most attended free visitor attractions in Scotland are located in Edinburgh City Region. The area is also home to two of Scotland’s five UNESCO World Heritage Sites the Frontiers of the Roman Empire and the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh.
Edinburgh has been Scotland’s capital since 1437, but has been attracting visitors, traders and inhabitants since at least 850BC. With a natural fortress in Castle Rock, a nearby strategic port with two 400m-year-old dormant volcanoes for defence, it was an ideal place to settle. By the 1800s, Edinburgh was nicknamed the ‘Athens of the North’ as the neoclassical New Town took shape alongside the medieval Old Town. Together, these were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995.
Today, tourists enjoy Edinburgh’s past and present landmarks. It is home of the Scottish Parliament (opened by the Queen in 1999), the world’s most famous festival city (Edinburgh International Festival was launched in 1947), the world’s first City of Literature (awarded by UNESCO in 2004) and a leading science and business destination. Edinburgh is also the world’s festival capital, with 13 international festivals and a host of other major events throughout the year. They include the Edinburgh International Science Festival, International Film Festival, International Book Festival, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world. In 2010 5,486,354 people attended Edinburgh’s festivals.
Half of Scotland’s top visitor attractions are in Edinburgh City Region. Edinburgh Castle is consistently the most popular paid-for attraction, drawing more than one million visitors a year. The Scottish Parliament, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh Zoo, and the Royal Botanic Garden are also favourites, alongside city region attractions such as Stirling Castle, the Falkirk Wheel and East Lothian’s Museum of Flight. On the far side of the city sits Holyrood Palace, birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots and the ancestral palace of the Royal House of Stuart which is also well worth a visit. Edinburgh Castle, home to the iconic Stone of Destiny is also a must see and is best toured first thing in the morning to beat the crowds who flock to this world famous attraction every day.
Why not spend the afternoon hopping on and off the city’s tour buses whilst exploring the other top attractions such as the iconic Scottish Parliament, the refurbished National Museum of Scotland, the Royal Yacht Britannia and Edinburgh Zoo, home to some giant pandas! You can also view a 360 degree panorama of the city projected via a giant periscope at Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, a 150-year-old observatory on the Royal Mile.
If you’re looking for an afternoon of retail therapy, Edinburgh provides a variety of shopping experiences to suit any taste, from the high-end fashion retailers on George Street to the weekly stalls of the award-winning Edinburgh Farmers’ Market, the largest of its kind in Scotland. Princes Street Gardens sit below the magnificent castle and provide the perfect location for taking a well-earned break from your shopping and sightseeing.
After a busy day exploring Edinburgh, you can enjoy a glass of specially blended Scottish whisky and cuisine on a relaxing evening tour of the Scotch Whisky Experience. Here, you’ll learn all about the fascinating whisky making process before tucking into a delicious three course meal. A great way to walk off your meal is by taking a gentle stroll down the atmospheric Royal Mile or Grassmarket whilst exploring Edinburgh’s legendary nightlife, which is full of busy bars, pubs and restaurants.
There are also a number of special tours that you can take to explore the city. These range from traditional open-top bus tours to spooky ghost tours exploring the darker side of the city’s history! Whatever your tastes, Edinburgh has something for everyone and is a perfect introduction to Scotland.
For advice on where to stay including booking accommodation online, upcoming attractions and where to eat out, go to www.visitscotland.com or contact the Edinburgh Tourist Information Centre on 0845 859 1006 for more information.