Edinburgh is UNESCO's first world city of literature. Everyone from Burns to Stevenson and Conan Doyle to Ian Rankin lived or wrote here, and a walk with a drink is the best way to find out about them. The Edinburgh Book Lovers' Tour takes you through the Old Town at night, weaving from pub to pub telling stories and reciting extracts. If you're a particular fan of just one grumpy detective, Rebus Tours will take you to the scenes of some of Britain's best-selling crime novels.
The Water of Leith is Edinburgh's secret river, winding a 12 mile path from the outer suburb of Balerno right through the heart of the City until it emerges near the docked Royal Yacht Britannia. If you pick up the trail behind the National Gallery of Modern Art then the last few miles are enlivened by spotting five life-sized Anthony Gormley figures who stand in the river bed.
Well signposted nearby, easiest found behind the National Gallery of Modern Art
24 Lanark Road, Edinburgh, Midlothian EH14 1TQ
+44(0)131 455 7367
Google map: bit.ly/p2NMgS
Little Sparta is a garden created by the artist Ian Hamilton Finlay over four decades. It is unique and delightful. As you wander round you are continually surprised as you encounter his many art works.
Fantastic small gallery with some of the most innovative exhibitions in the city. Best to plan ahead and set aside some time if you are interested in the video pieces. Very helpful and friendly staff as well.
Not a gallery in the accepted sense, nevertheless a Georgian square in Edinburgh's New Town has been transformed into an outdoor gallery displaying amazing, giant sized natural history photographs. The exhibition is part of the city’s Science Festival and runs until May 1st. Many more people were admiring the work displayed in this setting than I’ve seen visiting more conventional galleries.
The first thing you see as you enter Edinburgh’s Dean Gallery is Eduardo Paolozzi’s huge Vulcan, a seven metre high Roman fire god made of multi-faceted metal striding among the café tables. The gallery also has a recreation of Paolozzi’s studio: you can stand for hours spotting all the little toys and bits of junk he used for inspiration. There’s an excellent programme of temporary exhibitions too, and Scotland’s best brownie in the café.
With the madness of the Edinburgh festival just about to start, I have a trip for anyone wishing to take a break from it and escape the city for a day.
The splendid Jupiter Artland, a contemporary sculpture garden in the grounds of Bonnington house, just outside the city.
An impressive selection of art work from some of Britain's biggest names - Andy Goldsworthy, Anthony Gormley, Anish Kapoor etc. When you need a break from exploring, treat yourself to tea and cake from the chrome vintage caravan cafe, and hang out with the peacock.
And if that's not enough to tempt you, did I mention the miniature donkeys?
This multi-cultural festival is a great budget alternative to the pricier and overcrowded Fringe and main festival.
Set up by a group of ethnic minorities in Edinburgh, Mela means ‘gathering’ in Sanskrit and is a celebration of cultural diversity in Scotland.
The festival has a laid-back vibe, with food stalls and a craft market alongside the main line-up of theatre, music, film, and visual art from around the world, from Zimbabwean Theatre to Bollywood Dance.
It's only £2 for an all day pass, but some single events are free.
7-9th August, Pilrig Park
I'm old enough to remember going to seven Edinburgh Fringe shows in one day at 50p per show. Some were rubbish but who cared at 50p a ticket. Nowadays, choosing a show is a more serious activity with tickets costing an average of £7.
Never fear, checkout www.festivalpreviews.com. This website hosts video preview clips of the shows so that you can see for yourself whether you might like it. The site also has festival clips from Brighton, Adelaide, Avignon, Tokyo, etc etc.
These are two first-class galleries, across the road from one another, in Belford Road, some 15 minutes' walk from the city centre. The collections are diverse, of very high quality, and contain a comprehensive display of painting and sculpture from 1900 to the present time.
Only a portion of the entire holding can be shown at any one time. Accordingly a selection is rotated periodically, with special exhibitions mounted in the Dean Gallery, where there is, in addition, a permanent show of the work of Eduardo Paolozzi - a local hero with an international reputation.
Entry is free. The galleries have shops, selling scholarly material as well as postcards and gifts, and the Cafe Newton in the Dean Gallery is particularly attractive, with good food at sensible prices. The staff at both galleries are welcoming and helpful.
Belford Road, Dean Village, Edinburgh. Number 13 bus, or the National Galleries of Scotland free bus service, which runs a return journey, every 45 minutes, from the National Gallery complex in the city centre and visits each of the five national galleries.
One of the most loved places for hippies, lefties, backpackers and young artists: the Forest Cafe, run by a DIY collective of artists, is the best place in Edinburgh to hang out in a non-capitalist fashion and meet like-minded people.
With free internet access, an art gallery, vegan and vegetarian food and stunning entertainment and events during and outside of the festival, this is the craziest place in town for dissidents and thinkers.
No matter if you want to watch films, read the latest protesting leaflets, or drop off your clothes and old books in the free shop, the Forest is the space for you. Just around from the university, it constantly changes.
It’s usually open from about 11am -11pm, licensed - sometimes with bring-your-own bottle - and during August it’s open till 3am. Also, it sells famous organic heather ale and seaweed beer.
3 Bristo Place, EH1 1EY;
tel: 0131 220 4538;
bus stop: 2, 42
At the far end of the Royal Mile is the Outlook Tower, and inside is one of the most remarkable of inventions from the mid-nineteenth century, a Camera Obscura. To visit this is to fall in love with Victorian technology with its gleaming brass and polished mahogany.
Climb to the top of the tower and enter a darkened room with a white circular table in the middle. At the appointed hour a guide appears for the ritual. Above the table in the summit of the tower is a complex arrangement of ropes and pulleys that ingeniously manipulate a variety of lenses. The guide, by means of these, can make images of the streets below appear on the white table, complete with people and traffic. So clever is the system that it is possible to zoom in on individuals, who appear with the most startling clarity.
Visit the Camera Obscura and be captivated by its archaic charm. There is a fascination about this mechanism, which ensures that any subsequent visits to the city will include a return to the Outlook Tower.
And forget the camcorder.
Castlehill, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh;
tel: 0131 226 3709;
If it’s culture you’re interested in, then it has to be the festival. Not the Edinburgh Festival. The Fringe. Originally a late night revue with Peter Cooke, Alan Bennett, Jonathan Millar and Dudley Moore, the Fringe has outstripped the original, certainly in content, and in many cases, quality, and is now, in the public imagination, the main festival. One thing that will be learnt, if you visit the city during the festival, is that the world has too many jugglers.
Venues all over the city;
tel: 0131 226 0000;
This is the most visited monument in Britain after the Tower of London, but it should be remembered that it is a working military establishment. Inside, roam the Crown Room and the Great Hall. Listen for the one o’clock gun fired daily, except on Sundays. Ponder the Witches’ Well, where women found guilty of witchcraft were put to death.
Situated on rocky outcrops, the castle rears over Princes Street, the main shopping thoroughfare, and an elegant, wide avenue, graced by public gardens with the tapering spire of the Scott Monument at one end.
tel: 0131 225 9846;
It’s worth booking for the theatre if you’re here. The Victorian splendour of the King’s Theatre is within walking distance of the city centre. Herself having taken a notion for a bit of culture, and it being the birthday, The King’s Theatre got the vote. Peter Bowles, of Irish RM fame, was in it and worthwhile it was.
2 Leven Street, Edinburgh, EH3 9LQ;
tel: 0131 529 6000;
There are plenty of free museums and art galleries to see in Edinburgh: Chambers Street museums (Royal Museum and Museum of Scotland), Museum of Childhood, Museum of Edinburgh, The People’s Story (all central) and City Art Centre, Dean Gallery and the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art (n.b: you have to pay entry fee for some exhibitions within the galleries).
Royal Museum and Museum of Scotland: www.nms.ac.uk;
City Art Centre, Museum of Childhood, Museum of Edinburgh, The People’s Story: www.cac.org.uk;
Dean Gallery and Scottish Gallery of Modern Art: www.nationalgalleries.org
From outside the Dean Gallery looks like what it used to be: a hospital. Not the orphan hospital it actually was, but more a retreat for Victorian gents with gout, set as it is in opulent grounds. But it’s all about the beauty on the inside. Surrealist art (including works by Dali and Man Ray), a recreation of Sir Eduardo Paolozzi’s haphazard studio, a shop packed with fascinating books, and a buzzing café in which locals and visitors share their love of art over steaming cups, all combine to make it an unusually vibrant gallery experience.
Not quite so lively is the Dean Cemetery, located at the side of the gallery. But it’s still wonderful to stroll through the trees and read the names of forgotten scholars and captains of industry on mossy mausoleums and gravestones.
Old and new melted into one another. Dali might have liked it.
The Dean Gallery it located directly opposite the National Gallery of Modern Art, Belford Road, Lothian. Number 13 Bus from Georges Street; entry is free; www.natgalscot.ac.uk
It's free and it's utterly absorbing, even for an Englishwoman with no known Scottish heritage. The Tower Restaurant in the roof is rather expensive but has one of the best views in Edinburgh.
www.nms.ac.uk/scotland/home/index.asp Chambers St, Edinburgh
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