A central railway station, and now a new tram from the airport
The easiest way to reach Edinburgh is by train into Waverley Station, deep in a valley in the middle of the old city. Trains from London take not much more than four hours. Virgin plans Edinburgh-London journey times of around four hours, every hour, following introduction of its new fleet of Azuma trains, probably in 2018.
Another point of arrival is the airport, 8 miles to the north of the city. The opening of the tram line makes access much easier. The trams run from the airport right down Princes Street, every 7 minutes between 06.18 and 22.48. Journey time – 30 minutes into the city. Adult single £5.50; return £8.50. Every tram stop has ticket vending machines.
02 What to see and do
World Heritage Site
The medieval Old Town and the Georgian New Town make up one of the most beautiful and elegant cityscapes in the world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Each area contains important historic buildings.
The New Town, designed in 1767, and a mix of classical architecture, grand squares, terraces, gardens and quiet lanes, is the largest complete demonstration of the Georgian period’s town planning in the world.
Robert Adam’s Charlotte Square, designed in 1791, is an architectural masterpiece. The outstanding building here is the Georgian House.
The north side of Charlotte Square is considered one of the finest pieces of urban design in Europe, the last grand instalment of James Craig’s New Town plan. Robert Adam (1728 –1792) who grew up in Edinburgh and studied at the University, was the leading neoclassical architect in Britain. This was one of his final works.
With its palace-front, Corinthian pillars, tympanum arches and doorways crowned with fan-pattern arched windows, it looks like a single grand country house, although it contains a range of different living quarters. It became the model for “statement architecture” for years to come.
The Georgian House is the National Trust gem in Charlotte Square. Pure 200 year old grace, with a helpful guide on hand in each room.
A feast of festivals
Spot the next comic sensation at the Edinburgh Fringe (part of the festival, every August). Many of today’s comedy stars have played at this rambling, joyous riot of all-day performing. (The Fringe, like the main festival, began in 1947; eight groups came to the city hoping to perform at the new International Festival but were refused entry. They went ahead and performed on the fringe of the Festival anyway. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe was born.
The official festival (4-28 August 2017) was established in the same year as a world class cultural event to bring together audiences and artists from around the globe – “an unparalleled celebration of the performing arts and an annual meeting point for peoples of all nations…committed to virtuosity and originality.”
The book festival is on at the same time. And every street corner has its crazy, brilliant busker. Nothing quite like it anywhere on earth.
The film festival is the world’s longest running cine extravaganza: that runs in late June.
Men in Black
Men in black don’t come any jollier. Raeburn’s 1784 painting The Skating Minister – the best study I know of how to have fun in monochrome (Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch, about 1795) – is the marketing icon for the National Gallery of Scotland, now with a classy extension. It is one of 15 works by Raeburn. Among the most famous historical portraits at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery are Mary, Queen of Scots, Allan Ramsay’s portrait of the philosopher David Hume, Alexander Nasmyth’s portrait of Robert Burns and Sir Henry Raeburn’s Sir Walter Scott. The Scottish National Gallery is on Princes Street. Nearby are the Fruitmarket Gallery and City Art Centre, both on Market Street near Waverley Station.
Some of the city’s finest views are from Calton Hill. Its historic monuments are among the most important city landmarks. The National Monument was inspired by the Parthenon in Athens. The plan was to honour Scottish casualties in the Napoleonic Wars, but only the twelve columns you see today were completed.
The Nelson Monument, in the shape of an up-turned telescope, dates from 1816. It commemorates the death of Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. In 1852 they added a time ball to enable ships in the Firth of Forth to set their time-pieces accurately. The ball still drops at 1pm every day. The Nelson Monument is open to the public.
Also on the hill is the City Observatory. It was built in the style of a Greek temple in 1818. It was here where Professor Thomas Henderson, who became the first Astronomer Royal for Scotland in 1834, discovered how to measure parallax and the distance of the stars.
03 Where to stay
Many grand city centre hotels
The G&V Royal Mile Hotel is a design-led, five-star hotel in the heart of the Edinburgh’s Old Town, a short stroll from Edinburgh Castle, Grass Market, The Royal Mile, The Museum of Scotland and The Scottish National Gallery.
The hotel, which recently opened its Epicurean bar, is partnering with Daffy’s Gin to launch a pop-up bar on its outdoor terrace this summer (2017). G&V and Daffy’s Gin mixologists will serve a variety of beverages, including the G&Bees Spritz, a combination of Daffy’s gin, apricot brandy, orange blossom, soda and home-produced honey from G&V’s rooftop beehives. Another highlight is the Secret Manuscript, a concoction of Daffy’s gin, lemon, yellow chartreuse and strawberry balsamic.
Watch the birdies, take the train
- Watch the birdies
My pick for a battery-recharging short trip out of town is Bass Rock, swirling with gannets just out in the Forth. Take the train to North Berwick (30 minutes from Waverley station), and a short walk. They offer a live ‘feather-cam’ link to the Scottish Seabird Centre.
2. Borders Railway
The 35 mile long Borders Railway in Scotland was opened in September 2015 by the Queen. It runs from the city’s Waverley Station, and restores about a third of the epic 98-mile Waverley Route from Edinburgh to Carlisle, closed in 1969. It was the biggest programme of domestic railway building the UK for 100 years, and the most significant reopening of one of the lines shut under the Beeching Plan in the 1960s.
Trains follow the potent literary thread woven by Sir Walter Scott in his Waverley Novels, through commanding scenery, up into the Moorfoot Hills, past medieval castles, crossing and re-crossing the Gala Water on bridges and viaducts built for the original railway in the 1800s, until it reaches the heart of Scott Country around Galashiels.