Cultural Guide To Edinburgh
“Welcome to Edinburgh”. The words ring out across the city’s sandstone buildings, printed on purple signs reminiscent of the Scottish thistle. The Scots pride themselves on their national identity, so their capital city has evolved into a monument to Scottish-ness.
Scotland may sit within the borders of the United Kingdom, but the country has an entirely different cultural and political perspective to England and Wales. This singularity creates a unique holiday destination; making it popular with tourists. In 2011, it became the second most visited city in the UK, after London. Rent a car in Edinburgh with easyCar to get out into the country and really experience it yourself.
Use Edinburgh’s history to explore the tumultuous relationship between Scotland and England, which stretches on today – the country still reverberates from last year’s referendum and the sharp rise of the Scottish National Party in May’s election. In 1707, the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote: “We are bought and sold for English gold. Such a parcel of rogues in a nation.”
Scotland and England were constantly locked in bloody battles, both before and after the union was created, but Scottish history is about more than just conflict. Other key historical moments include the establishment of Protestantism during the Scottish Reformation, the Union of Crowns where the monarchies of England and Scotland were united, the Scottish Enlightenment and the recovery of the city after World War One.
Every August the city becomes crammed with visitors from all over the world – they come for Edinburgh’s International Festival. The city’s cultural scene, however, does not just evaporate once August is over. It lives on, vibrantly holding its own on the world stage.
Edinburgh is packed with museums – The Museum on the Mound exists in the bowels of the Lloyds Bank’s Scottish HQ and is an excellent place to visit if you are interested in how money evolved over 4,000 years. If you’ve never seen £1m in the flesh before, here’s your chance.
Remember Dolly the Sheep? She was the first animal to ever be cloned back in 1996. She might have died in 2003 but her body has been stuffed and can now be seen in Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland, alongside T-rex skeletons and the jawbone of a sperm whale.
The Scottish National Gallery and the Royal Scottish Academy both have impressive international collections, with a special focus on Scottish artists. In the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, see portraits of famous Scots – from Sean Connery (aka James Bond) to Mary Queen of Scots.
Contemporary art also has a strong presence in the city. Collective is a progress organisation, set up in the 80s, that focuses on collaboration and experimentation. It has become a hub for bright new talent, so head here to get a glimpse of the future of Scottish art. Ingleby is another forward-looking gallery that is well worth a visit – known for its bold, unashamed adoption of conceptual, cutting edge artists.
For something more children-friendly, visit Camera obscura – a novelty gallery packed with optical illusions. This is the Alice in Wonderland of the art-world; the interactive exhibits include tricks where you can pick up passers-by in your hand, descend into psychedelic wormholes and tower over someone of the same height. If the visual stimulation becomes overwhelming, take a lunch break and come back later – your ticket lasts all day.
Edinburgh is more than just a city of art, it’s a city of literature. In 2004, it became the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature, further cementing its reputation. It was once the home to great writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott and Muriel Spark.
Sir Walter Scott is given pride of place in the city – the Scott Monument is the largest monument given to a writer in the world. Climb its narrow spiral staircases to get a panoramic view of the city and look out for the 64 characters from his novels, carved into the sandstone.
Edinburgh is not a complacent city; it continues to build its literary legacy. It was here, in the city’s cafes, where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter and it is also home to Ian Rankin, the Scottish Crime writer and the imagination behind Inspector Rebus.
Take a drive over the iconic Forth Bridge, on the edges of Edinburgh, to witness what was regarded as an engineering marvel when it was built in the 60s. In 2016, the Bridge will become dedicated to cyclists and pedestrians when The Queensferry Crossing is opened. At 2.7km, the new crossing is to be the longest bridge of its kind in the world – revealing how Edinburgh is keen to continue making its presence felt on the international stage. Now all that’s left is your transport, hire a car in Edinburgh for the best experience.