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World Heritage Site

for World Heritage Travellers

Blog: A second look at Edinburgh

In determining the Top 200 among WHS, we are constantly reassessing a certain site’s uniqueness on a global scale. The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh became a WHS because of juxtapositional Urban Planning: the organically grown medieval Old Town versus the planned 18th/19th century New Town. “The dramatic topography of the Old Town combined with the planned alignments of key buildings in both the Old and the New Town, results in spectacular views and panoramas and an iconic skyline.”

View on the Old Town from Calton Hill

So if the Skyline is what makes it different, Edinburgh should particularly be enjoyed from a high viewpoint. On a crisp Sunday morning in December I walked the short and easy trail to the top of Calton Hill. This is a setting very typical of Edinburgh: it’s one of several hills surrounding the city center, dotted with monuments and memorials to historic Scotsmen. I wasn’t the only one enjoying the morning here: especially young Asian tourists (or are they students?) know about the place too. This spot allows unobstructed views on both the Old and New Towns. You supposedly can see as far as the Forth Bridge, although I wasn’t able to spot its red arches.

There’s plenty to discover: landmarks such as the Castle and the Hotel Balmoral of course. But also the numerous thin, (neo)gothic spires that stand out like needles piercing the sky. The obelisk of the Political Martyrs' Monument and the Scott Monument are two eye-catching examples of these.

The Edinburgh City Council tries to protect the “key views and skylines that are considered fundamental to the image and sense of Edinburgh”. Not an easy task in a prospering city and noting the “international revival in the fashion for high buildings”. A controversial plan to create dramatic “Inca-style” terraces on either side of Calton Hill seems to just have been thwarted. This in addition to the commotion a proposed 12-storey luxury ‘ribbon’ hotel stirred earlier this year.

Edinburgh New Town

Edinburgh also has more than its fair share of notable single buildings. On my first visit to this city in 2001 I covered Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood House and other tourist hotspots along the Royal Mile in the Old Town. This time around I started with St. Giles Cathedral. It’s a rather bright structure as far as cathedrals go (it’s actually a former cathedral, having only acted as such from 1633- 1638 and again from 1661-1689). You’ll be looking in vain for the High Altar in its usual position: the church now being owned by the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland, the focus of worship has been moved to a sanctuary in the middle of the church. The interior further distinguishes itself by the many stained glass windows. The ornate Thistle Chapel unfortunately was closed for the day.

Next stop in the Old Town for me was the National Museum of Scotland. This refurbished museum comprises two connected buildings, one of those being dedicated solely to Scottish history. It’s a great building for a museum, very light and airy. Entrance is free. Just as I remember from my first visit in 2001, I wanted to like it but had trouble doing so. It’s more of a collection of rarities than a consistent story. I went looking for displays on the Forth Bridge (the “icon of Scotland” nonetheless), but there seem to be none. The museum does have two left-over railwaytracks of its predecessor, the unfortunate Tay Rail Bridge.

Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial, St. Giles Cathedral

The UK started its Justification for Inscription in 1994 with the sentence “Edinburgh is a great city”. And indeed, it seems to be both one of the prettiest and most livable cities of the country. I would happily go there again and explore some of the minor sights. Many thanks this time go out to Freda & Iain Jackson for inviting me to stay, allowing a glimpse into what life is like in Edinburgh and showing the subtle impact WH travel has on their existence (such as daily use of an eclectic collection of German WHS tea mugs).

Published 19 December 2015

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Responses to A second look at Edinburgh
Pikkle (26 December 2015)

Edinburgh is one of my favorite cities to explore. The Edinburgh World Heritage app for smartphones is actually pretty good and allows users to take photographs of sites for "points," answer trivia, and gives some pretty interesting details about lesser known sites.

www.ewht.org.uk/visit/edinburgh---world-heritage-city-app