Edinburgh City Guide

Edinburgh City Guide to Scotland's majestic capital and one of the most beautiful cities in the world, is one of Europe's most visited cities. With plenty of culture, history and nightlife and a large collection of museums, galleries and attractions it's not difficult to see why. Situated on the shore of the Firth of Forth, the spectacular skyline, rugged landscape, dramatic medieval buildings and beautiful Georgian architecture make a stunning first impression.

The historic centre of Edinburgh is divided into two distinct areas, to the south lies the medieval Old Town, dominated by Edinburgh Castle, and to the north the neoclassical New Town whose development had an important influence accross Europe. The beautiful co-existence of these two contrasting areas is what gives the city its unique character and with many important buildings, the towns were listed as World Heritage Sites in 1995.

The Old Town, dating back centuries, is steeped in history with a dramatic and colourful past to explore. There are many interesting areas, including narrow closes and wynds, fascinating underground chambers and historic landmarks. The Royal Mile, which is the heart of the Old Town, is made up of several streets - Castlehill, the Lawnmarket, the High Street down to the Netherbow Port and The Canongate. This famous street is home to St. Giles Cathedral and Law courts. The Castle stands at the top of this historic mile and the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the foot. The area is also home to the Scottish Parliament which was previously situated on the Mound but now in the newly built in Holyrood.

The Old Town is home to some of the earliest high rise tenement buildings due to the narrowness of the ridge on which it lies, creating the distinct look of the area. Deep below street level are the infamous vaults which make up a fascinating underground city. They were once inhabited by the very poor and now claimed to be haunted with many ghost tours available. Other notable features of the Old Town include Mary King's Close, Greyfriars Kirkyard, South and North Bridge, George IV Bridge and the Grassmarket.

The New Town was created in the 18th century to accomadate the increasing population of the overcrowded Old Town, which had become very noisy and insanitary. A new site was chosen to the north and in 1766 an architectural competion to design the town was won by young architect James Craig. The plan he created put George Street on top of the natural ridge as the main street, with Princes Street and Queen Street at either side. Charlotte Square to the west and St. Andrew Square to the east, all linked by a series of smaller streets.

The New Town is one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the world today especially Charlotte Square. The square was designed by Robert Adam, the leading Scottish architect of his day, who died before it was completed. Bute House on the north side of the square has been the official residence of Scotland's First Minister since 1999.

Seperating the Old Town and New Town areas is Princes Street Gardens, a large green public space in the centre of Edinburgh which had once been Nor Loch. The Loch which had been the city's water supply was very polluted due to years of sewage. It was drained in the 1820s when the New Town was being created. The gardens, overlooked by Edinburgh Castle, run along Princes Street with the Mound through the middle. The National Gallery of Scotland and Royal Scottish Academy Building were built on The Mound in the 19th century.

Nicknamed Auld Reekie (Scots for Old Stinky or Old Smoky), because of the smell from the open sewers and the thick smoke that polluted the air. Edinburgh has also been known as Dunedin, deriving from the Scottish Gaelic, Dùn Èideann.

Most famous for the annual Edinburgh Festival . This is actually a collection of festivals which includes the Edinburgh Fringe, the Edinburgh International Festival, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and the Edinburgh International Film Festival. The festival is held annually over four weeks from the begining of August.

The home of  the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh has been the capital of Scotland since 1437 and with a population of over 400,000 it is Scotland's second largest city after Glasgow.