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Edinburgh Travel Guide

Edinburgh Photo info
ChrisHepburn/iStockphoto.com

Burrowed beside long-dormant volcanoes and reigning over green moorlands, Edinburgh (or Ed-n-bruh in Scots speech) is known for more than its staggering landscape. The Athens of the North or Auld Reekie, as Edinburgh is sometimes nicknamed, also claims a cast of near mythic characters: Rebel leader Sir William Wallace (aka Braveheart); the tragic Mary, Queen of Scots; the Enlightenment thinkers David Hume and Adam Smith; James Bond actor Sean Connery; and prolific wordsmiths Sir Arthur ... continue»

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When to Visit Edinburgh

The best time to visit Edinburgh is sometime during the months June through August when the average high temperatures rise to a balmy 65 degrees Fahrenheit. But this is also -- by far -- the city's busiest time for tourism, especially in August when festivals take over. To cash in on the best deals, you’ll have to bundle up: Winter, from about November to March, is when you'll score low-season deals, except over New Year’s Hogmanay. Spring and early fall are the sweet spots -- relatively mild weather and thin crowds pair with the chance to find hotel and airfare deals. 

Best Times to Visit Edinburgh»

Edinburgh Temperature (F) Edinburgh Precipitation (in)

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Getting Around Edinburgh

Edinburgh Neighborhoods

On visiting Edinburgh, first-time travelers will be able to easily differentiate between Old Town and New Town. The 12th-century Edinburgh Castle stands stalwartly on the south side of east-to-west Princes Street Gardens, guarding a labyrinth of wynds and closes (the Scots way of saying, 'narrow alleys'). New Town's planned streets, squares and public greens occupy Edinburgh's northern section. And tucked into medieval Old Town and Georgian New Town, a number of interesting districts and neighborhoods can be found.

New Town

Princes Street

This street, running parallel to the boundary-forming Princes Street Gardens, is New Town's main attraction. A shopping street with British department stores like Marks & Spencer, and Scottish specialty stores such as Jenners, Princes Street also affords views of Edinburgh Castle and the Princes Street Gardens. The resplendent Balmoral Hotel resides on Princes Street, too. 

George Street

Just a couple of blocks north of Princes Street is George Street, another shopping district, which is filled with high-end boutiques, independent shops, pubs and cafés. On the west end of the street lies Charlotte Square, which holds the St. George's Church-turned-West Register House, where you can find your family crest. (The General Register House, on eastern Princes Street, also holds genealogical documents). If you meander the other way on George Street, you'll run into St. Andrew Square, which shelters the department store, Harvey Nichols; the Melville Monument; the Royal Bank of Scotland; and the start of the Edinburgh's financial district.  

Stockbridge

Located northwest of Edinburgh Castle, New Town's Stockbridge sprawls across the Water of Leith and is known for its quaint-village feel. A handful of cafés, pubs and antique shops -- including a number of vintage/second-hand boutiques -- fill the neighborhood. Time Out Edinburgh says, "Some of its most striking features are its schools: neo-classsical Edinburgh Academy and gargoyle-heavy Fettes, which was apparently JK Rowling's inspiration for Hogwarts." For an idyllic Scottish scene, replete with hills, trees and the river, writers recommend strolling or biking along the Water of Leith walkway to the old mill town of Dean Village.

Dean Village

New Town's Dean Village is located southwest of Stockbridge and northwest of the Edinburgh Castle. An old milling community that dates back to the 12th century, the village seems to hold on to its history while also welcoming innovation. Dean Village is home to the free Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the affiliated Dean Gallery, which displays works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Henry Moore, among others.

Old Town

Princes Street Gardens

Filling the gap between New Town and Old Town, the verdant Princes Street Gardens used to be a polluted loch. But thankfully in the early 1800s, the Scots drained the Nor Loch and turned the literal wasteland into a sloping meadow speckled with trees and flower beds Today, the 29-acre west gardens and the nearly nine-acre east gardens -- collectively known as the Princes Street Gardens, play host to picnics and concerts, especially during Hogmanay.

And from late November to early January, the gardens are transformed into a Winter Wonderland, replete with an ice skating rink, a Christmas market, a huge Ferris wheel and a number of winter-theme plays. Also, make sure to check out the Scott Monument -- a Victorian Gothic memorial to Scottish author, Sir Walter Scott. If you climb the 287 steps to the highest deck, you'll enjoy a sweeping view of Edinburgh.

The Mound

Splitting the Princes Street Gardens, The Mound is an artificially raised area. Supposedly, when the Scots drained the Nor Loch, they dumped more than one million cartloads of soil on this site, which now supports the National Gallery of Scotland, the Royal Scottish Academy, the Bank of Scotland and the General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland. The city's main transportation hub, the Waverley Train Station, is also located here. 

Royal Mile

Connecting the Edinburgh Castle to the west and the Holyroodhouse Palace to the east, the Royal Mile spans four streets and is known for its deluge of historical attractions. Along the Royal Mile is the new Scottish Parliament building, which was only finished in 2004; the 17th-century St. Giles' Cathedral; the Witches' Well, a cast-iron fountain that memorializes 300 alleged witches who were burnt to death at the stake in the 16th century; as well as numerous wynds and closes plentiful with pubs, restaurants and shops. Note that this area tends to be a tourist trap, too, but writers say it's a must-visit for first-time Edinburgh travelers. You can also take in the view through Edinburgh's Camera Obscura and World of Illusions.

Beyond Holyroodhouse Palace is Queen's Park, a sprawling swath of Scottish mountains and moorlands. The most popular hike is called Long Row, and the trail extends from the ruins of St. Anthony's Chapel to the highest point of Edinburgh's seven hills, Arthur's Seat. Be sure to take your camera because Arthur's Seat affords a breathtaking view of the Scottish countryside.

Grassmarket and Cowgate

Located to the south of the Royal Mile in Old Town, the Grassmarket and Cowgate areas are known for their compilation of pubs, clubs and live-music venues. According to Travel Channel, "When the sun shines the Grassmarket has the feel of a continental town; relaxed al fresco coffee drinking, little traffic and authentic, colorful shop-fronts make this one of Europe's premier haunts."

Outside of the City Center

Calton

East of Edinburgh's city center is Calton, home to the famous lookout point, Calton Hill, which according to Fodor's, was writer Robert Louis Stevenson's favorite place to take in the city. And according to Concierge.com, "The area around Broughton Street has an enthusiastic nightlife and is also the hub of the city's gay scene."

Leith

Edinburgh's centuries-old port town, Leith is just about a mile north of Princes Street and rests on the bank of the River Forth. "At various points a medieval fishing settlement, a crucial port, a shipbuilding centre and a crime-riddled suburb, it's now on the up, and in quite spectacular fashion," Time Out Edinburgh says. With its proximity to the North Sea, Leith has a handful of good seafood-centric restaurants and pubs.

West Edinburgh

West of the city center, West Edinburgh isn't usually on a traveler's must-hit list. But this part of Edinburgh houses the Edinburgh Zoo, the Murrayfield Rugby Stadium, as well as the Union Canal, which links to more than 32 miles of waterways perfect for boating along or walking beside.

South Edinburgh

This section of city is also off the tourist's beaten path, but South Edinburgh is populated by much of the city's younger set since it houses several universities. To meet the needs of the cliché 'poor college students,' budget restaurants, cafés, pubs and bargain shops abound. Time Out Edinburgh says, "Starting at the new Quartermile residential development on Lauriston Place, South Edinburgh stretches off like a slice of cake, taking in everything from the green spaces of the Meadows and Blackford Hill to tenemented suburbs such as Marchmont and Bruntsfield."

St. Andrews

About 90 minutes north of Edinburgh is the pristine university town of St. Andrews. (Both Prince William and Prince Andrew attended the University of St. Andrews.) Located on the eastern coast of Fife, the royal burgh shelters the posh Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, as well as the St. Andrew's Castle and St. Andrew's Cathedral. Visitors can while away a day wandering around campus, slipping into shops, restaurants and pubs.

Safety

Don't fret over avian flu, mad-cow disease or any other animal-named illnesses. "The crisis over so-called mad-cow disease has passed and in fact it apparently never affected cattle in Scotland. … Avian flu remains a concern here as almost everywhere, but the country is not particularly vulnerable," Frommers says.

And like other tourist-heavy cities, Edinburgh sees some petty theft and pickpocketing. But as TripAdvisor puts it, "Common sense is key and if you use it, touring Edinburgh is likely just as safe as walking down your own home street."

The best way to get around Edinburgh is by foot. This hilly city may have you breathing hard at certain points, but it's still small enough that walking makes sense. When you grow tired or want to explore out-of-the-way areas, a very efficient bus system can cart you the rest of the way.  A bus -- Airlink Shuttle, to be exact -- can also bring you from Edinburgh International Airport (EDI) into the city center in about the same time as cab, but for fewer pounds. Once there, you can hail metered black cabs on the street or in ranks throughout. Be on the lookout for a tram system, scheduled to open in 2012.

Getting Around Edinburgh»

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