Edinburgh is famed for the Georgian splendour, the space of the New Town, the crowded alleys and seemingly ramshackle and ancient squash of the Old Town. Many visitors do not venture outside the centre of this great city as most of the obvious attractions are found within a 2 mile radius of Edinburgh Castle.
There is, however, a lot to be said for taking the time to venture west, away from the history of the castle and the gorgeous Georgian buildings of Charlotte Square.
Edinburgh Zoo is often overlooked by those on a short visit to the city, however, especially for visitors with children a visit here is highly recommended. Recently, the addition of two (very sleepy) Pandas from China has placed the zoo in the media spotlight. Sadly, recent attempts to produce panda cubs has, so far, been unsuccessful. Visitors should note that it is best to book online prior to arrival date to ensure a slot to visit the Panda enclosure.
Pandas aside we would thoroughly recommend setting aside a day, or at least a half day, to take in the delights of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. Edinburgh Zoo has been on Corstorphine Hill since 1913 and is home to lions, tigers, bears and over 170 different species. The Budongo Trail facility shows off the zoo’s troop of chimpanzees to great effect. The recently refurbished penguin enclosure is fantastic and the daily penguin parade is a sight to behold. Indeed, few zoos can claim to have a knighted penguin: Sir Nils Olav II currently rules the roost for the Norwegian Army in Edinburgh Zoo after they adopted this penguin during a visit to the Military Tattoo in 1972. The zoo is easily reached from town by bus and will be a stop when the tram system begins full operation.
Another slightly hidden gem to the west is the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. This free museum is found on Belford Road and is set in beautiful landscaped gardens. The tranquil gardens are also home to some spectacular sculptures. The grounds to the front of the gallery are a work of art in themselves, having been landscaped by Charles Jencks under the title Landform. The museum sits beside the Water of Leith visitors can normally access the gallery from the Water of Leith Walkway but this currently not possible due to landslip and is approximately a mile and a half from Princes Street.
Inside, works by artists as diverse as Francis Bacon, Eduardo Paolozzi and Damien Hirst can be found. In fact one of Bacon’s works was presented to Her Majesty’s Revenue in lieu of unpaid tax. Visitors who make the (small) effort to step of the usual tourist trail will be well rewarded. As a bonus the modern one cafe offers lovely, food, coffee and cakes. In decent weather the cafe’s sun terrace is a delightful place to sit. The museum is free to visit, however, charges are sometimes levied for special exhibits.
The artistic theme is continued at the Cadell, Fergusson, Peploe and Hunter Apartments in Learmonth Terrace. These apartments are named after the Scottish Colourists of the late 1920s. The converted townhouse offers a range of apartments complete with private parking to the rear of the property (always a bonus in Edinburgh). The beautiful period apartments offer a quiet base and are conveniently located just a 10 minute walk form Edinburgh City Centre. An example may be found by visiting: Fergusson Apartment
If like me you like to be able to escape from the noise and rush of city life, the previously mentioned Water of Leith Walkway is the perfect answer. Rising in the Pentland Hills and flowing through the centre of Edinburgh the waterway is an oasis of calm; a green valley running through the bustle of the city. If walking is your idea of fun then you can start the walk in Balerno on the outskirts of the city and follow the river some 12 miles. However, a less arduous route starts at the Water of Leith Visitor Centre on Lanark Road, four miles from the city centre.
The visitor centre highlights conservation work carried out and has displays on the history and wildlife you may meet. The walk will take you through several places of interest including Murrayfield Stadium, St Bernards Well, Dean Village, Stockbridge and the Botanic Gardens.
In 2010 Anthony Gormley installed 6 statues, 2 along the walkway and 4 in the waterway under the title ‘6 Times’. Normally, these can be viewed by walkers but in times of spate the statues are designed to fall over and may be difficult to see.
Dean Village is another overlooked wonder in Edinburgh. The village was once a centre for grain milling and was powered by the Water of Leith itself. Having fallen into disrepair by the 1970s concerted efforts helped to save this beautiful corner of the city. It has its own style and feels removed from modern life. The nearby St Bernards Well has recently been restored to its full glory. The ‘well’ was an attraction from 1789 where people were encouraged to ‘take the waters’ from this natural spring.
Murrayfield Stadium lies about 2 miles from Edinburgh Centre and is the home to Scottish Rugby. The stadium plays host to Six nations games and is home turf for Edinburgh Gunners who play in the Rabodirect League. Ashgrove House is the perfect base for visitors to this area.
Saint Mary’s Cathedral is a focal point of Edinburgh’s skyline with its distinctive three spires. Built in 1874 by Sir George Gilbert Scott it is a classic example of Victorian Gothic architecture. The cathedral is the only one in Scotland to have a daily choral service and was the first choir in Britain to include both boys and girls. The cathedral was paid
for by the Walker sisters whose maternal grandfather George Drummond was
Edinburgh’s Lord Provost and the driving force behind the creation of Edinburgh New Town.