Edinburgh is one of the world's most attractive capitals, rich in vivid reminders of the past and abundantly endowed with memorable buildings. They range from the high, dark structures of the medieval Old Town to the classical architecture of the Georgian New Town. The ancient streets which run eastwards from the castle to the gates of Holyrood House, are known as the Royal Mile; many of these houses and wynds (narrow paths) date from the 17 th century or earlier. These include the Lawnmarket, where countryfolk came to sell their wares, named after the old linen market. James Court, where the philosopher David Hume lived and where Boswell entertained Dr Johnson in 1773. Lady Stair's Close contains Lady Stair's House, built in 1622 and now restored in pseudo-medieval style. It houses a museum dedicated to Scotland's greatest literary figures Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. Close by is Brodie's Close, named after the father of one of Edinburgh's most famous criminal hypocrites, Deacon Brodie.
A pillar of the establishment by day and burglar by night, he was hanged in 1788. Robert Louis Stevenson found in his character inspiration for the acclaimed novel ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde'. White Horse Close, named after Mary, Queen of Scots' white palfrey, is thought to have been the site of the stables for Holyrood House before the old coaching inn (1623) became the terminus for coaches to Newcastle and London. Cannongate Tolbooth, built in 1591 (though its records go back to 1477), was where travellers paid their tolls in order to enter Edinburgh. The external staircase gave access to the Council Chamber on the first floor, and the prominent projecting clock was an addition in 1822. Moray House, with its distinctive pyramidal gate-piers and its semi-octagonal stair tower, is named after Margaret, wife of the 4 th Earl of Moray. She received it as a gift from her mother, the Dowager Countess of Home, for whom it was built in 1628.
The High Street is overshadowed by St Giles' Cathedral, the mother church of Presbyterianism. It is dedicated to a 6 th century hermit whose cult is centred on Arles. Charles I called the High Church a cathedral when he introduced bishops into the Church of Scotland, and the name remained. The building is small for a cathedral but has great width, which is evident in the view of its western end; a compact yet massive Gothic structure with a characteristically Scottish crowned tower instead of a spire. The basic structure is essentially late 14 th century, but the more recent facing, both inside and out, is largely Victorian, as is almost all the stained glass. The famously elaborate West Doors of St Giles were completed in 1884; the tower and crown in 1495, while the golden weathercock atop the crown has been in position since the 16 th century.
Around the turn of the 16 th century St Giles was divided up and separate areas were employed as law courts, the town clerk's office, a school and a prison; the city gallows, including a forerunner of the guillotine known as ‘The Maiden', was also stored in the building. The Thistle Chapel, designed by Sir Robert Lorimer and completed in 1911, is the most elaborate building of its kind erected in Scotland since the 15 th century. Many artistes, including the noted Scottish Pre-Raphaelite Phoebe Traquair, worked on the carving and decoration, directly inspired by medieval examples. The elaborately wrought ornamentation includes charming animal figures in the seats and angels playing musical instruments. Above the West Door is a memorial window to the poet Robert Burns. In the 16 th century, St Giles' Cathedral resounded to the fiery Calvinism of John Knox, the Protestant reformer.
Near the cathedral in Parliament Square, decorative cobbles mark the site of the 15 th century Old Tolbooth, or prison, called ‘Heart of Midlothian' - immortalised as the title of one of Sir Walter Scott's novels. Here, also, is Parliament House, where the Scottish Government agreed to the Act of Union with England in 1707. At the Square's entrance from the High Street is the Mercat Cross, from which royal proclamations have been read since the 15 th century. At the end of the High Street is John Knox's House, which dates from around 1490 but was much added to in the 16 th century. With its crow-step gable, overhanging timbered galleries and separate staircases to different levels of the house, it remains one of the most spectacularly archaic buildings in the Old Town. Knox probably lived here from 1561 until his death in 1572; the house is now preserved as a museum dedicated to his memory. The neighbouring Moubray House, built in 1462, is considered to be the oldest dwelling in Edinburgh.
The eastern end of Greyfriar's Church dates in part from 1620, the first church opened in Edinburgh after the Reformation. Its anachronistic Gothic windows and buttresses may have been taken, like its name, from the 13 th century Franciscan Friary that stood nearby until its dissolution in 1561. In 1722 New Greyfriars, a second church, was joined onto the west end in place of the spire destroyed by a gunpowder explosion in 1718. Nearby the churchyard gate is the famous statue of a little dog; this is the monument of ‘Greyfriars Bobby', the faithful Skye terrier who watched over his master's grave for fourteen years. Each day on hearing the one o'clock gun, he would scurry to the local pub to be fed; on Bobby's death in 1872, his loyalty had become so famous that Queen Victoria herself made the suggestion that local people should bury him beside his master. His monument is one of the most popular attractions for Edinburgh's visitors.
It was Edinburgh's lasting good fortune that the city's expansive building programme in the 18 th century, the New Town, coincided with the great period of Georgian architecture. The 23-year-old architect, James Craig, designed a network of broad streets, squares and circuses, overlooked by classical facades of pale stone. Robert Adam, who planned Charlotte Square in 1791, further enhanced Craig's work. Princes Street, one of the great thoroughfares of the world, was designed by Craig to have buildings only on one side, with gardens falling steeply away on the south side to reveal a spectacular panorama of the Old Town and castle. A memorable landmark in Princes Street Gardens is the monument to Sir Walter Scott. The 200ft Gothic spire, built between 1840/4, has 287 steps to the top, with niches containing statues of 64 characters from his works.
Edinburgh's many art galleries and museums include the National Gallery of Scotland, in Princes Street, opened in 1859, and considered the flagship of a group of six galleries that comprise the National Galleries of Scotland. Amongst the artistes on display are Raphael, Titian, Reubens, Rembrant, Poussin and Velazquez, their works being presented in galleries arranged in logical progression. The School of Impressionist painters is well represented by Monet, Van Gogh, Degas, Renoir, Seurat and Cezanne. Eight galleries in the basement house the Scottish Collection, covering artwork from the 17 th to the 20 th centuries. An affiliated gallery is the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, containing Scottish portraits dating from 1550 to the present day. The Royal Museum of Scotland and the National Museum of Scotland stand side by side, a single admission covers entry to both. The Royal Museum of Scotland contains scores of representatives from the animal world stuffed, mounted in glass cases and labelled for ease of identification. This museum looks slightly shabby beside the brand new, architecturally innovative National Museum of Scotland; here, the history of Scotland and the Scots is presented thoughtfully and imaginatively, with over 10000 objects displayed on six levels. Interactive touch-screen technology is employed throughout the museum to provide further information on items of interest.
An exhibition with a difference is the Dynamic Earth Centre, which houses an ambitious series of exhibits and films with the purpose of transporting visitors through time from the so-called ‘Big Bang' to the present day. The first three main zones explain the origins of the earth and the formation of its terrain, following on are recreations of different climatic zones on the planet. The final presentation, dealing with Earth's future, is a seatless cinema viewed from a lying position with images projected onto a domed ceiling. The Earth Centre is a very well conceived, hugely entertaining and most informative experience. By contrast, the Royal Botanic Garden is a simple, uncomplicated, but equally enjoyable ‘walk in the park'. The beautifully landscaped gardens comprise 70 acres of lawns, gardens, trees and water features, as well as a number of huge glasshouses which replicate tropical climates and their flora and fauna - all of this is located just north of Edinburgh city centre.
A history tour with a difference is catered for by the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre - the theme being the history of Scotch whisky, how it is made and where it comes from. The malt whisky manufacturing process is explained by members of staff, using a scale model of an actual distillery, while the resident holographic ghost explains the process of blending whiskies. Visitors are then transported in a whisky barrel-car through the history of the spirit over the last 300 years; the tour concludes with a free dram in the bar. Another unusual slice of history can be found at Leith Docks, where the Royal Yacht Britannia has now been decommissioned and is open to the general public. Britannia's interior was designed by the Queen and Prince Philip, and the ship, which saw 44 years' service, was primarily used for state visits as well as for family holidays and honeymoons. Short films of foreign visits, family photographs and a wide range of historical Britannia memorabilia help bring the floating home alive.