First impressions are important.
For example, we‘ll never forget our first flight into London. The plane seemed to snake along the River Thames as it wound through the English capital.
It’s a similar story when your first glimpse the romantic bridges of Florence; the water wonderland that is Sydney harbour; the towers of Rome and Paris reaching up at you; the multi-deck roadways of Los Angeles; and the Mediterranean coastline into Barcelona.
Edinburgh castle photo courtesy: Kim Traynon Wikimedia Commons
But, for sheer WOW factor, it’s hard to beat the approaches to the Scottish capital of Edinburgh.
Before our first visit to Scotland, we were advised that Edinburgh was one of the world’s most beautiful destinations, well worth spending a few days exploring. It proved to be sound advice indeed.
We fell in love with this remarkable city on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth. And first impressions got us off to a great start.
For example, the iconic Forth Bridge, about 14 kilometres from the centre of Edinburgh, provides a jaw-dropping welcome to the city.
A symbol of Scotland instantly recognisable around the globe, the cantilever railway bridge spans the Forth between the villages of South Queensferry and North Queensferry. Opened in 1890 at 2,467 metres, it was the longest single cantilever bridge span in the world until 1917. And, it is truly a sight to behold.
However, as the visitor to Edinburgh quickly discovers, this wonderful structure is only part of a collection of architecture that is the envy of many of the world’s biggest cities.
At almost every turn in the Scottish capital are buildings and architectural styles that you cannot help but stop and admire.
Naturally, the centrepiece is Edinburgh Castle, which literally looms up from the centre of the city atop the volcanic Castle Rock .
The oldest wing of this striking fortress was built in the 12th Century and some of the city virtually stands in the shadow of the castle.
Other wonderful buildings in Edinburgh include the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland.
The palace is as grand as it is large and is surrounded by landscaped gardens. Highlights include impressive ornamental iron gates; towers that flank the central block; and its infamous resident ghost, Bald Agnes, who is said to roam the apartments.
Another eye-catcher is the gothic St. Giles Cathedral, which is situated on the historic Royal Mile in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town. The current building dates to the 14th Century after the original burnt down in a fire in 1385.
The modernist Scottish Parliament buildings; Edinburgh University; the Scottish National Gallery and George Heriot’s School are other outstanding buildings in Edinburgh.
We love Calton Hill, yet another high point in Edinburgh which is also set right in the city centre. The hill is unmistakable with its Athenian acropolis poking above the skyline.
The acropolis is in fact an unfinished monument – originally called the ‘National Monument’.
Initiated in 1816, a year after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, it was meant to be a replica of the Parthenon in Athens, as a memorial to those who had died in the Napoleonic Wars.
Another more unusual but popular Edinburgh destination is the statue of Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye Terrier who became known in the 19th-century for supposedly spending 14 years guarding the grave of his owner until he died himself on 14 January 1872.
The Royal Botanic Garden is a another landmark Edinburgh site, that specialises in the study of plants, their diversity and conservation.
Originally founded in 1670 as a physic garden to grow medicinal plants, the garden’s collection consists of more than 13,302 plant species, whilst the herbarium contains in excess of three million preserved specimens.
Visitors to Edinburgh should take a stroll to the city’s Old Town, where much of the medieval street plan and many Reformation-era buildings have been preserved.
The “Royal Mile” is a name coined in the early 20th-century for the main artery of the Old Town which runs downhill from Edinburgh Castle to both Holyrood Palace and the ruined Holyrood Abbey.
Narrow closes (alleyways) – often no more than a few feet wide – lead steeply downhill to both north and south of the main spine which runs west to east.
Notable buildings in the Old Town include St. Giles’ Cathedral; the General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland; the National Museum of Scotland; the Old College of the University of Edinburgh; and the Scottish Parliament Building.
The area has a number of underground vaults and hidden passages that are relics of previous phases of construction.
With all this – and a lot more – we readily understand why readers of the popular travel publication, Rough Guide, have named Edinburgh the fourth most beautiful city in the world for the past two years.
This year, the city was beaten only by Rome, Florence and Paris.
Announcing the fourth placing, Rough Guide said visitors who scale the ridges around Scotland’s capital never question “why it’s been voted the fourth most beautiful city in the world.”
We wholeheartedly agree. Go up and take a look!
Watch Memorable Destination for more on stunning Scotland.
Photos of Forth Bridge, St Gile’s Cathedral and Royal Botanic Garden herbarium are © 2013 Edinburgh-Scotland.net. See here.