Radiating out from the narrow wynds and vennels of Old Town at the historic heart of the city, are parks, wealthy stone-faced streets and the suburb-villages that the city has subsumed, leafy Stockbridge and edgy seaside Leith. Students hang out in the South, rugby fans in the West, and all is overlooked by Arthur's Seat, the extinct volcano that stands above the city.
The Old Town
Nearly 900 years ago, Edinburgh started to take on a recognisable shape in the Old Town, and the area still has many of the city’s major tourist sites. But don’t mistake it for some medieval wonderland preserved in aspic. Its backbone, the Royal Mile, has a range of 21st-century additions, from designer hotels to Scotland’s parliament, plus vibrant street performance during the Fringe every August.
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The New Town
Perhaps the apogee of Scottish Enlightenment thinking in practice, the squares and streets of the New Town, created in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, have an unparalleled Georgian elegance. This is an area for walking and gawking.
At its southern extent, Princes Street is the main thoroughfare for the entire city; George Street has the more aspirational shops, plus any number of restaurants and bars.
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A Bohemian little enclave to the north-west of the New Town, the old village of Stockbridge is best approached for its fine selections of restaurants, cafés and bars, its quirky little shops and delicatessens, and – perhaps the key to its appeal – the faintly exclusive sense it offers of being a remove or two from the big city. It’s also the home of Scottish cricket, and is handy for the Royal Botanic Garden.
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Calton Hill & Broughton
The appeal of this quarter of the city is stretched between two extremes: the heights of Calton Hill, with its array of unusual monuments and its 360-degree views of Edinburgh; and buzzing Broughton Street, with its complement of pubs and café-bars edging into the heart of the city’s gay scene.
Pay your respects at the grave of philosopher David Hume or go clubbing until 3am. Or, of course, do both.
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Arthur’s Seat & Duddingston
Holyrood Park is an oasis of wilderness in the middle of the Scottish capital. Its centrepiece is Arthur’s Seat, a hill formed by ancient volcanic action that now stands an impressive 251 metres above the city. On a clear day, you can see 40 miles from the top, assuming you’re not just concentrating on the fauna and flora around you. To the south-east, the village of Duddingston completes the bucolic picture.
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With the Meadows and Bruntsfield Links, then Blackford Hill and the Braid Hills ebbing towards the Pentlands, South Edinburgh doesn’t lack for green spaces. It’s also home to some attractive neighbourhoods – Bruntsfield, Marchmont, Morningside – and some of the city’s more exclusive streets.
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Not an obvious port of call for visitors, this is where you visit a specific place for a specific purpose: Edinburgh Zoo for the animals, Murrayfield for rugby, Tynecastle for football or the Union Canal towpath for a walk. The village of Cramond in Edinburgh’s far north-west has a river walk and a fine coastline.
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Leith & the Coast
A working deepwater port, Leith was once a town in its own right and still feels separate from Edinburgh. It’s been transformed since the 1980s and is now a centre for fine dining and café-bars. Like its coastal neighbours Granton and Newhaven, it’s undergoing massive residential development; further east, Portobello is the city’s beach suburb.
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