Published March 3, 2020 by Karl Beckman
Edinburgh! Scotland’s beguiling capital: a brooding bastion of wit and intellect set amongst a scene as morosely enchanting as it’s haunted history. Laid out across a collection of craggy volcanic slopes above the bleak waters of the Firth of Forth, the erudite town labeled Athens of the North emits an ominous aura of gothic gloom. The focal point is the legendary castle, looming over all from a crown-like perch atop the Old Town pulpit, the rest of the medieval center rising from the narrow escarpment as a dusky stone collage of angular rooftops and imposing facades. This is the learned city of David Hume and Adam Smith, the world of Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, the raw inspiration of J.K. Rowling and Irvine Welsh. Cobbled, courtly, compact: Edinburgh is old world charm wrapped in a damp grey filter. June may feel like November and a gusty mist may be the most optimistic of forecasts – but such conditions are as much a part of the experience as the haggis and the whiskey. Strap on the rain boots, grab an umbrella, and step out into the haar.
Edinburgh’s allure is driven by its dichotomous center. The Old Town tangle of bending avenues and shadowy passageways is the bustling hub of visitor attention. Traversing the slope, the Royal Mile is the central artery of the age-old quarter – a perpetual pulse of folklore and fanfare. From the Castle to Holyrood Palace, St. Giles Cathedral to Victoria Street, the legendary district bleeds historical intrigue and never ceases to fascinate with its mysterious gothic beauty. Just to the north through the pristine Princes Street Gardens is stately New Town, an 18th century master-class of city planning and Georgian architecture. The network of handsome boulevards and stylish squares includes the city’s premier shopping district, refined artistic attractions, and an abundance of modish cocktail bars. Rising on the eastern edge of the area, the windswept crest of Calton Hill is an acropolis of monuments to famed Scots, also offering what may be the best and most iconic view of the city.
There is, however, far more to the Scottish capital than it’s famous, two-faced center. To experience Edinburgh is to exit the well-trod tourist path. Head to the south side for the youthful energy and laidback vibes of the University district. The adventurous can take in the anatomical oddities of the Surgeons’ Hall Museums, while creatives can explore the dynamic exhibitions and events of Summerhall. On the rare sunny day, do as the locals and soak in some rays on the glorious green space that is The Meadows. Just west of downtown is the sylvan oasis of Dean Village. Escape any hubbub with a stroll through the bucolic old milling enclave, which happens to be the perfect gateway to a tranquil trek along the Water of Leith Walkway. Speaking of Leith, a visit to Edinburgh is incomplete without an amble around the old port district. With it’s Trainspotting days well in the past, the post-industrial waterfront has been reborn with fine dining and a buzzing bar scene.
Last but not least, a hike up fabled Arthur’s Seat is as quintessential an Edinburgh activity as any. Whether at the onset of the trip to get a lay of the land, the end of the visit to put it all in perspective, or sometime in between, the view from the mightiest of Edinburgh’s hills enchants and inspires. While Arthur’s Seat may overlook it all, the appeal of this city can be felt from any corner, nook, or cranny within it. With the distant drone of bagpipes calling on the breeze, the slopes, strolls, and shortcuts of Auld Reekie beg to be explored.
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