11 Apr, 2009

Edinburgh, Scotland: Not Just Your Ordinary European City


Looking at the dry facts, one can easily dismiss Edinburgh as one of those European cities. This isn’t surprising, but it is also not fair, since this city in the scenic and beautiful country of Scotland are filled with marvelous attractions that visitors would take the time to travel and explore. Consider these statistics and information: Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, is the country’s second largest city, next to another prominent Scottish city, Glasgow. One of its more prominent travel destinations is Edinburgh Castle—and one can say that castles are a dime a dozen in Europe. This ancient stronghold is also Scotland’s second most visited tourist attraction, next to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. The top spot was held by the Edinburgh Castle until 2007, when the gallery-museum reopened after an extensive (note: 27 million pounds) renovation. The city of Edinburgh is also the second most visited destination in United Kingdom (attracting more than one million tourists a year), next only to the more prominent London.

These statistics would make Edinburgh look like a second-rate city. After all, practically everything about it was a second-rate finisher, a bridesmaid, but never on the top. Nonetheless, the facts and the statistics do not prove anything—Edinburgh does not need the statistics to prove that it’s a first-class city. Not only does Edinburgh boast of the usual European ambiance, it is also well-known for hosting festivals that celebrate the culture and intellect of the Scottish and the Europeans.

Forget the dry facts and all the information that can be read in a travel guide—Edinburgh in Scotland is a country worth visiting.

A brief history

Edinburgh has been the capital of Scotland since 1437. However, even during the pre-historic times, Edinburgh was already a settlement for humans, particularly in the Pentland Hills and the Craiglockhart Hill area of the city. Pentland Hills is actually a range of hills, with a length that stretches up to 20 miles. A park within this area was erected during the early 1980s, and it is a favorite sport of outdoor recreation. In any case, experts have known traces of human settlements in these areas, particularly during the Iron Age and the Bronze Age.

Before it became the capital of Scotland, however, it was under the power of the Anglo-Saxon Danelaw. When the power of the Danelaw collapsed during the 10th century, the Scots regained power over this city, with it flourishing two centuries later. But this did not end the conflict in the area, as the former rule of the Anglo-Saxon of the city made the English claim the city, together with other domains of the Danelaw. The conflict ended under the rule of King Jame IV of Scotland. He made the city the proxy capital of the country, since he moved the Royal Court to Holyrood in Edinburgh (it was previously located in yet another prominent Scotland city, Stirling).

The city flourished since, even though it experienced more tribulations due to numerous conflicts in the country. Nonetheless, since 1437, Edinburgh is Scotland’s capital. And judging from the attractions it houses alone, it is a very wise decision.

Prominent attractions

Of course, one could not travel to Edinburgh—and Scotland—without even setting foot to Edinburgh Castle. This castle attracts around 1.2 million tourists and visitors a year, proving that it is not just any other castle that one can see in Europe or anywhere else in the world. Occupied way back since the Bronze Age, the Edinburgh Castle has served as the royal residence since the rule of David I of Scotland. It ended in 1603, a year marked by the Union of the Crowns, an event that made England and Scotland have the same monarch. The castle was the site of a number of historical events in the country, making it not only significant historically because it was a royal residence.

Two other prominent destinations in the city are the Old Town and the New Town. Both areas both listed in the World Heritage Site list of UNESCO due to its significance in the country. For instance, the New Town is often regarded by historians and designers as a city planning masterpiece. Considering that this was built between 1765 and 1850, Edinburgh’s New Torn is certainly a feat, something definitely worth the travel. This area is noted for its neo-classical architectural designs. These designs have been mostly retained, making the city a marvel to behold. On the other hand, the Old Town mostly has medieval and Reformation period building designs.

In additional, while both areas are attractions themselves, they also house some of the more historically and culturally important structures in the city—and the country. This would include the Church of Scotland and the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Old Town and the Edinburgh Castle in the New Town.

The Church of Scotland is not just a church in Edinburgh—it is actually Scotland’s national church, and the history of Christianity in Scotland can actually be traced back to the roots and beginnings of the Church of Scotland. Meanwhile, the Palace of the Holyroodhouse was built in 1128. It serves as Queen Elizabeth II’s official residence in the country, since she spends summers in Scotland.

Other attractions that one should not miss to explore and travel when in Scotland are the University of Edinburgh, the Edinburgh Zoo, Our Dynamic Earth, and the Royal Mile. Our Dynamic Earth is unique among all the other attractions in the city because it is a science center. This is perhaps one of the reasons why it is one of the more prominent attractions in the city and the country. This attraction is fairly new, since it was built in 1999, although in less than a decade it managed to turn itself into a prominent destination in the country. The Edinburgh Zoo, on the other hand, isn’t so young, as it was established in 1913. Yet it continues to strive, attracting more than 600,000 visitors a year. Although zoos aren’t exactly unique (since there are practically zoos everywhere), the Edinburgh Zoo (with the strength of its 600,000 visitors annually) is the second most visited paid-for attraction not only in Edinburgh but also in Scotland. Remember that Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is Scotland’s most visited destination, although it currently has free admission. The Edinburgh Zoo showcases more than 1,000 animals—mostly birds and mammals, with a number of amphibian and reptile displays. It houses the only Koala in the Britain, together with rare attractions such as the Indian Rhinoceroses, Asiatic Lions, and jaguars. Penguins, too, are very prominent in the zoo. In fact, the zoo has a “penguin parade.”

A natural attraction in Edinburgh is the Holyrood Park. From here, one can have access to the highest point in the city—Arthur’s Seat. This site is a popular destination, especially for its excellent view of the city. Also, while the highest point of the city, it is very accessible and is actually a very popular destination for walks.

The University of Edinburgh may not be considered as the usual tourist attraction, but it can surely be found prominently on travel websites and travel guide materials. This is because the university is among the most prominent in the country, and one of the best in the continent. It is also among the so-called ancient universities of the United Kingdom (a list that includes the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge, collectively known as Oxbridge) and is among the top 25 universities in the world.


Beyond the destinations, Edinburgh is well known all over the world because of its very prominent festivals. The centerpiece of this is the Edinburgh Festival. Held during August annually, this event is actually a series of arts and cultural festivals.

The largest among these is The Fringe, or the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It is considered as the largest arts festival in the world. The Fringe is mainly a performing arts festival, with more than 200 venues all over the city. It attracts drama, comedy, dance, and music acts, with works that range from the classics (William Shakespeare) to the well-known modern classics (Samuel Beckett) to the more recent works in the field of European performing arts. However, the festival that is considered as the original is the Edinburgh International Festival, which is also a performing arts festival. Unlike the Fringe which does not have a jury (meaning practically everyone can present), this festival is by invitation only. The Edinburgh International Festival is housed at only the most principal performing arts venues in the city, such as the Usher Hall, the Edinburgh Playhouse, and the Festival Theater, all of which has a capacity of more than 1,500. The Fringe actually was an offshoot of this very selective festival, which could explain the more relaxed standards of the Fringe.

With these and more, Edinburgh is surely a world-class city that is more than just second-rate. Its attractions, its history, its beauty—everything is far beyond what anyone would expect from London’s bridesmaid in the attracting tourists.



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