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The Scottish capital city of Edinburgh is a firm favourite with visiting tourists who come to experience its historic attractions like Edinburgh Castle and its fun-filled events that include the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Discover exactly what makes the city so special in this article.

Calton Hill
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Why is Edinburgh so popular?

The Scottish capital has been voted the public’s favourite city in several polls over the last couple of years, with readers of a wide range of media outlets putting it at the top of their lists.

The Telegraph newspaper voted Edinburgh the number 1 city in the UK while holiday website HomeToGo has voted it in the top 5 cities of the world. Rough Guides has even ranked it the 4th most beautiful city on the planet.

It’s a well-known fact that Edinburgh regularly tops the list of destinations for culture-seekers looking to explore the best art galleries, museums and festivals in Europe.

In fact, as well as hosting 12 major cultural events each year (including the Edinburgh Fringe, the world’s biggest arts festival and Edinburgh’s Hogmanay which has the biggest street party in the world), Edinburgh was the first-ever city to be granted the title of UNESCO city of literature, and it’s one of the few cities to have its centre elevated to UNESCO world heritage status.

But, you might be asking, what’s so special about this small collection of medieval and Georgian buildings nestled on the south-east corner of Scotland?

Edinburgh has a unique combination of tourist attractions

The answer lies in the fact that so much history and so many tourist attractions are packed into one of the nicest areas of the United Kingdom.

There’s just so much to see and do in Edinburgh.

Have you ever wanted to spend a morning roaming around buildings that are hundreds of years old, then explore one of the biggest castles in Europe before finishing off the day with a wander around an extinct volcano?

In most cities, any one of these activities would be worth the price of visiting but Edinburgh is home to all these attractions and more in a beautifully compact area.

A walk through Edinburgh will take you past fascinating old buildings, open parkland crying out for summer barbecues, mysterious pathways leading into hidden courtyards, world-class shopping, fantastic festivals, a royal palace, a majestic castle, and of course, the enormous volcano.

There are also award-winning restaurants all over the city, nestled in between some of the friendliest pubs and bars you’ll ever come across where great Scottish cooking can be enjoyed alongside a dram of spectacularly good whisky.

There are family-friendly attractions that will delight all age groups where not only will the kids be entertained but mum’s and dads can join in the fun too.

There are romantic walks for couples to enjoy – both through the winding streets and the numerous beautiful parks, along with museums, art galleries, a world-leading zoo, and even a few sandy beaches!

Edinburgh City Centre
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For anyone with a love of the arts there’s the biggest annual muti-arts festival in the world as well as festivals celebrating food, a book festival that attracts world-famous authors and some of the best theatres in Britain.

If you’re feeling adventurous you can easily step out of the city and journey to crystal-clear lochs and breath-taking mountain ranges that are just a couple of hours away. Take a look at my Itinerary for a One-Day Drive from Edinburgh for more information.

The best attractions in Edinburgh

If you’d like to find out more about the best places to visit in this fascinating city I’ve listed a few favourites below – each of which offers a great experience and a real flavour of what the city has to offer.

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. A fantastic family-friendly attraction that’s just a short bus ride away from the city centre. The garden features over 13,000 different plant species and it’s the second oldest botanic garden in Britain. It’s also one of the biggest and you’ll find plants from all over the world in the 70 acres of grounds that it sprawls across.

Edinburgh Zoo
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The Royal Edinburgh Zoo. Edinburgh’s zoo can be found in the Corstorphine area of the city where it has been entertaining tourists since 1913. The zoo is a world-leader in captive breeding and has a huge number of animals on display, including the UK’s only pair of giant pandas.

Edinburgh Castle. No visit to the city can be complete without a tour around the castle. Sat on top of Castle Rock in the city centre, this historic attraction draws over 2 million visitors each year who come to see its museums and military exhibits as well as soak up the atmosphere of one of the best-preserved medieval fortresses in Europe.

Holyrood Palace
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Holyrood Palace. This magnificent building is the official residence of The Queen in Scotland and you’ll get the chance to follow in the footsteps of royalty when you visit. The palace is absolutely full of beautiful artworks and a ticket allows entry into the Queen’s Gallery which contains masterpieces from the private royal collection

Calton Hill. Calton Hill is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s located close to Princes Street in the city centre. The hill is home to several of Edinburgh’s finest monuments including the National Monument, the Nelson Monument, and the Dugald Stewart Monument. A recent revamp has seen the introduction of an art galley, a historic exhibition and a restaurant.

A brief history of Edinburgh

While most cities lay claim to a fascinating history, ‘Auld Reekie’ has a more interesting story than most.

While we know this part of Scotland was inhabited for many thousands of years the earliest records indicate that the city’s origins began in the Middle Ages when a hill fort was established on Castle Rock where Edinburgh Castle now sits.

From the seventh to the tenth centuries the town (also known as a ‘burgh’) was a part of the Anglian Kingdom of Northumbria, after which it became the official residence of several Scottish kings thanks to Castle Rock being such a good defensive fortress.

The town continued to grow in size until it was officially decreed as the capital of Scotland in the 14th century.

During the following years it became well-known as a site of trade thanks to it’s proximity to the North Sea, as well as a centre of enlightenment as several world-class universities were established.

By the 18th century, what is now known as the New Town – another UNESCO World Heritage Site – was added to the ‘Old Town’, and Edinburgh continued to enjoy its status as Scotland’s most important city.

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The future of Edinburgh

Recent developments have seen several financial centres relocate themselves to the city and Edinburgh is now regarded as the second major British financial centre behind the City of London.

Other than finance, Edinburgh has seen a surge in scientific advances and new industries in cutting-edge technologies are constantly springing up thanks in part to the research conducted by Edinburgh’s university graduates.

Although Edinburgh has a long history the future looks extremely bright and it is fast becoming one of the world’s top tourist destinations.

If you want to discover Edinburgh for yourself there’s no better way than booking yourself onto an organized tour. Take a look at the Edinburgh tours offered by Get Your Guide to see what’s possible.

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Scotland travel writer and specialist 360° photographer. Founder of the Out About Scotland travel website and Vartour virtual tours. Follow on Pinterest, Facebook, and YouTube.