Why has Edinburgh been voted one of the best cities in the world?

What’s so great about Edinburgh anyway?

The Scottish capital has been voted the public’s favourite city in several polls in 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 has voted Edinburgh the number 1 city in the UK while holiday website HomeToGo has voted it in the top 5 cities of the world, and the Rough Guides website has even ranked it the 4th most beautiful city in the world.

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 Fringe, the world’s biggest arts festival), Edinburgh was the first ever city to be granted the title of UNESCO city of literature, and it’s one of the few cities on the planet 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 edge of Scotland?

A unique combination of attractions

The answer lies in the fact that so much history has been packed into one of the loveliest regions of a country that has already been voted the most beautiful on earth (Rough Guide readers poll 2017).

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There’s just so much to see and do there. Have you ever wanted to spend a morning roaming around buildings that are hundreds of years old, then explore one of the most majestic 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 alone, but Edinburgh is home to all these attractions and more in a beautifully compact area.

Edinburgh Fringe Street Performer

This city really does have it all. Fascinating old buildings, open parkland crying out for summer barbeques, 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

For anyone with a love of the arts there’s the biggest annual muti-arts festival in the world to experience, as well as festivals celebrating food, a book festival regularly featuring world-famous authors, and some of the best theatres in Britain.

And if you’re feeling adventurous you can easily step out of the city and journey to crystal-clear lochs and breath-taking mountain ranges, all easily accessible within a couple of hours of travel.

The best attractions in Edinburgh

If you’d like to find out more about the best places to visit in this fascinating city you’ll be pleased to know that 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.

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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 is the second oldest 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.

The Royal Edinburgh Zoo. Edinburgh’s zoo can be found in the Corstorphine area of the city where it’s 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 castle attracts over 2 million visitors each year who come to see the exhibitions, museums and displays that the castle is famous for, as well as soak up the atmosphere of one of the best-preserved medieval fortresses in Europe.

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 it for yourself. The palace is absolutely full of beautiful artworks and is joined by the Queen’s Gallery which contains masterpieces that you’ll not be able to see anywhere else.

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 also installed a restaurant in the site of the city observatory.

A brief history of Edinburgh

While most cities can lay claim to an ancient history, ‘Auld Reekie’ has a more interesting story than most others.

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While we know that this part of Scotland has been inhabited for many thousands of years the earliest records indicate that its origins began in the middle ages when a hillfort was established in the area of Castle Rock, where the famous 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 area – was added to the ancient ‘Old Town’, and Edinburgh continued to enjoy its status as Scotland’s largest city.

Edinburgh at night

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 that’s beaten only in size by the City of London.

Other than finance, the city has seen a surge in scientific advances and new industries in cutting-edge technologies are constantly springing up thanks in part to the continued quality of Edinburgh’s university graduates that are produced year after year.

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Although Edinburgh has an impressively long history the future looks extremely bright, and not only has it become a leading destination for tourists but it still draws in new residents every year, all keen to experience the history and opportunities of the city that has been voted the best in the world.

Infographic about Edinburgh

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Craig Smith

I'm Craig, I live in Scotland, and I'm your guide to the country's best attractions. I love exploring the Scottish wilderness and I'm happiest when I'm knee-deep in a muddy bog in the middle of nowhere.

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