Edinburgh’s majestic castle dominates the city. As beautiful as Paris, Venice, Prague, Edinburgh ‘s broad tree-lined avenues with Georgian town houses, a world class arts festival, a lively cultural life and a friendly population. And as the home of the new Scottish Parliament, it is in the midst of a finance and culinary Renaissance.
Edinburgh Castle sprawls over Castle Rock, an extinct volcano whose top was inhabited as early as 900 B C. The tightly packed Medieval Old Town consists of tall, grey, solid buildings separated by narrow alleyways and mysterious cul-de-sacs. It is an adventure to get “lost” in Edinburgh’s Old town.
Holyroadhouse Palace is still used as a royal residence, and definitely worth a visit to admire the treasures it contains.
The Castle and Holyroadhouse, the two landmarks, connect the Royal Mile, a wide avenue that succeeds in balancing, history with tourism.
Here you can shop for kilts and cashmeres, oatcakes and marmalade, visit the Scotch whisky Heritage Centre, or the house of John Knox, the 126th century protestant reformer.
Edinburgh is an eminently walkable city. A tourist can see and appreciate more of the city on foot. The “high street” full of retailers, is always busy with pedestrians and vehicular traffic.
Just around the corner of the railway station is the classic Royal Scot’s Hotel built with solid local stones and exuding opulence. Well-to-do business people and tourists stay here, others prefer boutique hotels in new Town designer-planned and located north of Old Town.
Museum of Scotland in the Old Town ought to be visited by all tourists to appreciate the long and colourful history of this small, but industrious and ingenious nation that produced geniuses like Alexander Bell, Macadam, Dunlop, (tires), Macintosh (trench coat), Andrew Usher (blending of whisky), and the unknown cook who invented haggis.
This recipe demonstrates vividly the frugality of Scots and how by-products can be used successfully. Haggis consists of sheep’s variety meats (lung, heart, kidney) mixed with onion, oatmeal and spices, stuffed into the stomach and steamed. Haggis in other countries enjoys a lowly reputation, but it has nourished millions of university students and poor folks. Today restaurants that call themselves “modern Scottish” almost always put it on the menu with a tongue-in-cheek patriotism. “Restaurant haggis” is made by local butchers and delivered. Believe it or not, there is even “vegetarian haggis”.
But you don’t go to Edinburgh for haggis.
You go because you want to play a round of golf at St. Andrew’s, or visit a few distilleries, fly-fish nearby, the Royal Botanical Gardens, and Greenhouses if you an avid gardener.
Scottish pubs offer a surprisingly varied list of local brews, all of which are very fine and enjoyable.
Caledonian, Brighton, Bellhaven, Maclay and Co. are independent brands worth exploring.
Today, Edinburgh is a player in Britain’s culinary revival, and its restaurants now feature cuisines from al over the world. You can eat osso buco, tajine, tandoori chicken, burritos, pizza, pasta, fine French fare and “modern” Scottish cooking which could be likened to simple, flavour-focused, imaginative cuisine with a few fusion recipes thrown in for good measure.
Restaurants feature Scottish lamb and beef, both of which are superb. Wild salmon and trout from pristine local waters, foraged mushrooms, berries, and stone fruits offered on menus of new restaurants can be tempting. Game, especially venison, grouse, partridge, and pheasant in season are special.
Scotch aficionados can taste a full range of whiskies in the Heritage House, but also visit distilleries if they have a few days to spare.
Edinburgh is sedate and dignified, except during the festive season. The International festival was first organized by farsighted city fathers in 1947in an attempt to attract artists, writers and performers. Today, many world-famous dancers, actors, writers make appearances, and every year more express interest to attend festivities.
Performers who were not invited to the International Festival in 1948 started the Fringe. It is much smaller in scope but twice as much fun to attend. The venues are small and more interactive.
Edinburgh also organizes other festivals i.e jazz and blues, film, and recently a book festival was added.
Rumours are circulating of a food and wine festival. At this rate a Scotch whisky festival cannot be too far away.
If you want to attend the International Festival make your reservations well in advance (at least 6 – 8 months)
Today Edinburgh is a vibrant city of approximately 450 000 souls, and undergoing a culinary revolution, the likes of which no British city has never seen.
British Airways and Air Canada operate daily flights to London. The train ride from London takes four hours.
Several Canadian charter companies operate direct flights to Edinburgh and Glasgow, which is closer to Edinburgh than London.