There's something seductive about Edinburgh. Nature and elemental forces have scoured and scooped the volcanic rock on which the city ... more »sits, creating a series of hills erupting from a coastal plain that lets romantics claim that Edinburgh, like Rome, is built on seven hills. For 2,500 years, the people who have lived here have designed shelters, then fortresses and dwellings adapted to the vertiginous terrain, and in doing so have sculpted one of the most distinctive cityscapes in Europe, dominated by the glowering castle on its crag, and with a skyline rich in spires, steeples and voluptuous turrets.
The multiple levels are linked by steep, winding alleys and breath-hogging stairways, often flanked by towering apartment blocks with origins in the 16th and 17th century. By the 18th century, these densely-packed proto-skyscrapers were overcrowded, heaving and unsanitary, leading the well-heeled to take flight to the gracious terraces then being laid out with symmetrical discipline in what is now the still-graceful New Town. The picture above shows Princes Street Gardens created from the drained Nor' Loch that serves as the boundary between these two worlds.
The contrast between the organic growth of the (now much-gentrified) Old Town, with its wynds and closes (an ideal canvas for murder, assassination and political intrigue) and the formal elegance of the New Town has led commentators for more than 150 years to see this as symbolic of a 'duality' at the city's core - between darkness and light, good and evil and - in the best-known creation of one of the city's leading writers - Jekyll and Hyde. Walking around to acquaint yourself with this dichotomy is one of the joys of exploring Edinburgh.
You could spend a month and still not exhaust the city's museums, galleries, attractions and staggering range of (generally excellent) guided walks. For a one-day tour, we've tried to incorporate something for everyone - from the dramatically-sited castle, through the fun-for-all-ages Camera Obscura, and the shopping opportunities on architecturally-interesting Victoria Street and the West Bow.
Mary King's Close presents a fascinating aspect of the city's hidden history, while that of the Scottish nation as a whole is under the microscope in the innovative National Museum. After being on your feet for several hours (though covering just over a mile), you can grab a rest on the three-mile bus journey to Ocean Terminal in Leith, where the former Royal Yacht Britannia offers a glimpse into the unexpectedly suburban tastes of Britain's modern royal family.
Inevitably a single day trip can only be a taster. For tours around many of the city's other most prominent attractions seek out the other tours in this series. less «