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Edinburgh is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities
draped across a series of rocky hills overlooking the sea. It’s a town intimately entwined with its landscape, with buildings and monuments perched atop crags and overshadowed by cliffs – in the words of Robert Louis Stevenson, ‘a dream in masonry and living rock. From the Old Town’s picturesque jumble of medieval tenements piled high along the Royal Mile, its turreted skyline strung between the black, bull-nosed Castle Rock and the russet palisade of Salisbury Crags, to the New Town’s neat grid of neoclassical respectability, the city offers a constantly changing perspective.
It’s a city that begs to be discovered, filled with quirky, come-hither nooks that tempt you to explore just that little bit further. The Athens of the North – an 18th-century Edinburgh nickname dreamed up by the great thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment – is a city of high culture and lofty ideals, of art and literature, of philosophy and science. It is here that each summer the world’s biggest arts festival rises, phoenix-like, from the ashes of last year’s rave reviews and broken box-office records to produce yet another string of superlatives.
And it is here, beneath the Greek temples of Calton Hill – Edinburgh’s acropolis – that the Scottish Parliament sits again after a 300-year absence. Edinburgh is also known as Auld Reekie, a down-to-earth place that flicks an impudent finger at the pretensions of the literati. Auld Reekie is a city of loud, crowded pubs and decadent restaurants, late-night drinking and all-night parties, beer-fuelled poets, and foul-mouthed comedians.
It’s the city that tempted Robert Louis Stevenson from his law lectures to explore the drinking dens and lurid street life of the 19th-century Old Town. And it’s the city of Beltane, the resurrected pagan May Day festival where half-naked revelers dance in the flickering firelight of bonfires beneath the stony indifference of Calton Hill’s pillared monuments