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From organic medieval and planned Georgian, to neo-classical masterpieces and the über-modern, Edinburgh’s varied architecture creates a ginormous juxtaposing palette of styles. Although it’s tempting to ogle every landmark, make sure to take in a true sampling of the capital’s history and heritage with our “Athens Of the North” walking tour.
Embellishing the end of the Royal Mile, the Palace of Holyroodhouse holds great architectural substance. As the official residence of the British monarch in Edinburgh, it has been home to Scotland’s kings and queens since the 16th century. Although the foundation stems from its heritage as an Augustinian abbey back in 1128, the palace as we see it today owes credit to Scots architect Sir William Bruce. He designed the plans to rebuild it, which were executed between 1671 and 1678. Today, the historic apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots, which date back to the 16th century, are open for the public to explore when the Royal Family are not in residence.
Food: Reekie’s Smokehouse is a character-filled BBQ joint with a charming Scottish twist. Great for an in-and-out pit-stop kind of meal.
The Scottish Parliament building is like whisky or haggis—many love it, others loathe it. Either way, there’s no denying the detailed designs caressing this evocative edifice are impressive. Using materials such as steel, oak, granite, gneiss and sycamore, Spanish architect Enric Miralles sought inspiration from Scotland’s majestic landscapes. He is known to have said that “The Parliament should be able to reflect the land it represents. The building should arise from the sloping base of Arthur’s Seat and arrive into the city almost surging out of the rock.” Building began in 1999, with the inauguration held in 2004. Although ultra-modern, the series of low-lying buildings blend in beautifully with the dramatic surroundings, and the wealth of alluring details projected across the facade serve as visual narratives of Scottish culture.
Food: Don’t miss out on Hendersons of Edinburgh at Holyrood. Part of a local culinary empire, this dynamite bright eatery is famed for its iconic wraps, salads and overall delicious fare.
George Heriot’s School is a private school founded in 1628 as George Heriot’s Hospital for the care of fatherless children, and is one of Edinburgh’s plenitude of impressive architectural wonders. Regarded as a fine example of Scots Renaissance architecture, the majority of the main building is the work of William Wallace, the King’s master mason. When Wallace died in 1631, William Aytoun took over and was in turn succeeded by John Mylne. In 1693, Sir William Bruce’s plans for a central tower on the north facade became a reality. Made from sandstone, the school features majestic turrets and intricate decorations.
Food: For sumptuous artisanal Swedish eats and fantastic coffee, look no further than Söderberg Pavilion Café. For indulgent ice cream and the best hot chocolate in town, head to Mary’s Milk Bar.
In 1896, whisky distiller and blender Andrew Usher donated £100,000 to build a city hall that would host concerts and other recitals in Edinburgh. A competition was held, and Stockdale Harrison & Sons’s classical Beaux-arts-style design was deemed the winner in 1910. Described by some as a stubborn step away from the Victorian Gothic characteristics indicative of the time, Usher Hall’s highlights include its signature curved walls (made possible at the time by reinforced concrete), outstanding acoustics, sculpted interior plaster panels and two large figures guarding the outside—one symbolises inspiration, the other achievement.
The Neoclassical design of the Scottish National Gallery building nearly steals the show from the awe-inspiring selection of fine art by some of the world’s greatest artists that it holds inside—think Monet, Degas and Rembrandt. Standing proud on The Mound, midway along Princes Street, this grand building is the work of William Henry Playfair, one of the most prominent 19th century Scots architects, who also happens to be responsible for much of the grand planned neo-classical New Town structures. The gallery, which opened in 1859, is a magnet for art lovers, thinkers and tourists alike.
Food: Take a wee wander over to George Street, and discuss the beautiful columns of the National Gallery over aesthetically and gastronomically pleasing cocktails and innovative afternoon tea at The Dome.
Next to the Castle and the Scott Monument, The Balmoral is one of the most notable Edinburgh landmarks. Located at 1 Princes Street (arguably the best address in the city), this Victorian Scots Baronial architectural trophy was designed by William Hamilton Beattie and opened as a railway hotel, called the North British Station Hotel, in 1902. Like many renowned Scottish buildings, the chosen design arose from a competition in 1895. With the exception of Hogmanay, the city’s New Year’s celebration, the trusty clock at the top of the structure notoriously runs three minutes fast, and has done since 1902 to help ensure travellers won’t miss their trains out of Edinburgh Waverly station. The building endured an extensive refurbishment and was reopened as The Balmoral in 1991 when 007 himself, Sir Sean Connery, cut the red tape! For the ultra-rich and famous, secret entrances exist.
Food: You have to experience The Balmoral at least once. For Michelin-starred gastronomic delights, book a table at Number One. If a more casual, contemporary Scottish meal sounds appealing then check out Hadrian’s Brasserie. For the best afternoon tea and bubbles, try Palm Court. Or go straight for the whisky at Scotch—they have over 400 types!