Monday, April 30, 2012

Edinburgh, Scotland

I had a feeling that I would like Edinburgh and it didn't disappoint.  Located in the south-east part of the country, Edinburgh is Scotland's capital and its second-largest city.  With over 495,000 people it is also the seventh largest city in the United Kingdom.  It's also a twin city of San Diego, California, so how can you go wrong with that?

Edinburgh was founded prior to the 7th century.  In 1995, the city's Old Town and New Town districts were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Royal Mile is a succession of streets that make up the main thoroughfare in the Old Town.  It runs all the way from Holyrood Palace up to the Edinburgh Castle.  The Royal Mile is actually more than one mile long.  Standard English measurements were not introduced in to Scotland until after 1701 so the Royal Mile is an old Scottish mile which is about 672 feet (205 meters) longer than an English mile.  Today it is a very busy tourist street with lots of stores, pubs, restaurants and hotels.

St. Giles' Cathedral dates back from the 14th century.  It is the Church of Scotland's principle place of worship in the city.  The crowned spire is very cool.

Edinburgh Castle sits above the city perched on top of Castle Rock.  There has been a castle here since the 12th century and it served as the royal residence until Scotland and England united in 1603.  By the 17th century the castle's main use was as a military base.

Within the castle grounds is the Scottish National War Memorial.  It commemorates Scottish soldiers, and those who served with Scottish regiments, who died in both world wars as well as in more recent conflicts.  Over 147,000 soldiers were killed in WWI and another 50,000 were killed in WWII.  No photography is allowed inside of the memorial but trust me it is quite beautiful.

Carlton Hill is just east of the New Town and has lots of stuff to see.  Also from the hill you have great views of the entire city.

The National Monument of Scotland is at the very top of the hill.  It serves as a memorial to the Scottish soldiers and sailors who died fighting in the Napoleonic Wars.  It is modeled after the Parthenon, in Athens, Greece.  Construction began in 1826 but it was left in its unfinished state in 1829 when the funding ran out.  I'm not sure why it still has never been completed.

The Nelson Monument honors Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson and his victory over the French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.  Admiral Nelson died during the battle.  The tower was built from 1807 to 1815 and is 32 meters (105 feet) high.

In 1831, the Dugald Steward monument was built.  Steward was a Scottish philosopher who taught at the University of Edinburgh.

Holyrood Palace is Queen Elizabeth II's official residence in Edinburgh.  Since the 15th century it has been the principal residence of the Kings and Queens of Scots.  Queen Elizabeth II stays here one week at the beginning of every summer.  The palace is open to the public except when members of the Royal Family are in residence.

The Scottish Parliament building is unique.  Construction began in 1999 and the formal opening was in 2004.  The building has been controversial.  Some people love it and others hate it.  Some didn't like that it is located so close to the royal palace.  Others criticized the choice of architect and the design.  Some didn't like that Chinese granite was used instead of Scottish granite.  Construction was completed more than three years behind schedule.  Initial estimates were that it would cost between £10 million and £40 million (~$15.6 - $62.5 million).  I'm sure that the biggest complaint about the building is that in the end it cost an estimated £414 million (~$648 million).

The Scottish National Gallery was opened to the public in 1859.

In the middle of the Princess Street Gardens is the Scott monument.  The Victorian Gothic memorial, in honor of Sir Walter Scott, was erected from 1840 - 1844.  It is quite ornate and is the world's largest monument that honors a writer.

Edinburgh has a charming urban legend about a Skye Terrier called Greyfriars Bobby.  It goes that upon the death of his owner, the dog spent the next 14 years guarding the grave until the dog died in 1872.  The following year a statue was erected to commemorate the dog.  It looks like the whole story was a publicity stunt by locals to drum up some tourist business.  Whether the story is true or not, probably not, it is a nice little story.

Here's a Rick Steves video I pulled from YouTube that gives more information about Edinburgh, including the castle, the war memorial and the new parliament building.

©Rick Steves

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