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Eight Places Not to Miss in Edinburgh

To start, let’s recall that Edinburgh is both a World Heritage Site and also the first place to be designated by UNESCO as a “City of Literature”, because of its numerous well-preserved buildings and monuments and its age-old literary traditions.

The city is best seen at a walking pace, and as a pedestrian you’ll find its hidden nooks and crannies and perchance the spirits of the city’s famed authors and even more famous creations, such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his shrewd detective Sherlock Holmes, Robert Louis Stevenson and the two-faced Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, or Sir Walter Scott and his heroic Ivanhoe and Rob Roy characters. And there’s even a chance you’ll see some of the city’s literary figures in the flesh, for we shall start our tour in the café with the red façade where the contemporary author J. K. Rowling penned many of her early stories and planned her books about the boy wizard Harry Potter.

1. Few people noticed the young Rowling scribbling in her notebooks at a table in the unprepossessing Elephant House café. The establishment, which opened in 1995, remains a favourite of literary types, thanks to its selection of the city’s best coffees and teas, which continue to stain many pages of manuscript. Huge breakfasts are also served, as well as hot midday and evening meals, plus the usual sandwiches and cakes, etc. And there’s an excellent wine list, too. No excuse for not sitting down and writing your book!

2. Or you might prefer to take a stroll down Edinburgh’s legendary Royal Mile, linking the city’s two most popular monumental sites, Edinburgh Castle, standing above the city atop the towering volcanic basalt plug known as Castle Rock, and, at the other extreme, Holyrood Palace, the official Scottish residence of the British monarch. A slow and attentive walk down the four stretches of the Royal Mile, called Castlehill, Lawn Market, High Street, and Canongate, will infuse you with the unique, friendly atmosphere and stony charm of this historical city.

3. If you appreciate the macabre, on your walk down the Royal Mile you must stop at Mary King’s Close, a warren of gloomy underground streets and enclosures widely believed to be haunted by the ghosts of the past. Once a thriving market, the close was named for a woman who lived there and traded in cloth in the early 1600s. According to urban legend, when the plague struck the area in 1645, the authorities walled it off, leaving scores of people inside to die. Since, then reports of strange lights and noises have fuelled beliefs that the zone remains haunted. Visitors often brings dolls to calm the ghost of the legendary Annie, a child plague victim thought to have been left by her parents to die in the Close, and whose heart-rending cries can still be heard. Perhaps.

4. For a Facebook-worthy selfie showing Edinburgh Castle in the background, the place to go is Princess Street, Edinburgh’s main shopping street, which featured in the 1996 film Trainspotting. Apart from the shopping opportunities there, the street happens to be the best place from which to capture a panoramic view of the castle, since there are no buildings on the castle side of the street, but only gardens and monuments.

5. If you’re looking for quirkier and more out-of-the-way shops, head for the wildly picturesque Victoria Street, a curving slope just off the Royal Mile that is a favourite of photographers because of its colourful specialised shops selling liquors, cheeses, handicrafts, and all sorts of treasures. You’re sure to find bargains in the several charity shops selling used clothing and other items, the proceeds from which are donated to worthy causes. Harry Potter’s creator J.K. Rowling acknowledged that this street was her inspiration for Diagon Alley, where her wizards bought their magical gear.

6. Edinburgh is not made entirely of stone, despite initial impressions. It also features expansive green zones, such as the parks of Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat, where the city’s joggers, cyclists, and dog-walkers go. Both offer fantastic views of the city from on high. The 251-metre Arthur’s Seat is the peak to which, according to legend, King Arthur used to repair when he needed time alone to think. Atop Calton Hill are two monuments to British victories over the French, Nelson’s Tower, commemorating the battle of Trafalgar, and Scotland’s National Monument, an unfinished construction modelled on the Parthenon in Athens, built in the 1820s to honour Scotland’s dead in the Napoleonic wars.

7. At Ocean Terminalin the Port of Leith, Edinburgh’s harbour, stands the Royal Yacht Britannia, used by the British royal family from 1954 until 1997 when it was converted into a floating museum that is well worth a visit –don’t miss the little bedroom where Queen Elizabeth II slept during her nearly 1,000 state voyages.

8. To finish up, you might visit Greyfriars Cemetery and have your picture taken next to the statue of one of Edinburgh’s heroes, Bobby, a Skye terrier traditionally believed to have stood watch by his master’s grave for no less than14 years, until his own death in 1873, after which he was buried next to his master.

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Text and Photos: Nani Arenas

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