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The proud Scottish capital Edinburgh is Great-Britain's second-most popular destination (after London). This is hardly surprising as Edinburgh combines history and cultural treasures with a liveliness that is seen in very few cities. Every year, the city organizes a large number of festivals, but even when there are none, the bars, cafés and restaurants, as well as the shopping streets are a hive of activity. Edinburgh is a city that many people visit more than once, because there is so much to see and do.
To better understand the Scots you should start with a visit to the Museum of Scotland. Admission to the museum is free and here you will learn everything about Scotland's history and culture. Next door you'll find the Royal Museum, which holds a varied collection: Geology, archeology, nature and science, technology and art. One of its main attractions is the stuffed body of Dolly the sheep, the world's first clone of a mammal.
The Museum of Edinburgh focuses more on the origin and history of the city itself. Quite frankly though, The People's Story Museum does the same, but in a slightly nicer and livelier manner. This museum is also about Edinburgh's history, but backed up by sounds, objects and even smells from the past!
This museum is located at the end of the city's most famous street, the Royal Mile. At the beginning of the street lies the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the British queen's official residence when she visits Scotland. When she is not around, you can visit the palace that looks like a castle. At the end of the steep uphill running Royal Mile, lies the city's main symbol: Edinburgh Castle. The Scottish Crown Jewels are kept here and part of the castle is a war museum.
Edinburgh is also the place to go for shopping. Princes Street is the main shopping street with large department stores like Debenhams and Jenners, and nearby Harvey Nichols (on St. Andrew Square). Across from Jenners lies the entrance to the large, underground Princes Mall shopping mall. Along George Street you'll find luxury stores, while Grassmarket and Cockburn Street are the realm of alternative fashion and art galleries.
Being a student city, Edinburgh has no shortage of pubs, cafés and nightclubs. You can find them around the above-mentioned Grassmarket, but also around the South and George IV bridges. The pubs along the Royal Mile are mainly geared towards tourists.
Edinburgh organizes festivals all year round, but the most famous one is Fringe. It is in fact a derivative of the Edinburgh International Festival, which was considered too 'snobby'. Strangely enough, tickets for a show at the International Festival are often cheaper than tickets for a Fringe show. In any case, in August, Edinburgh is steeped in cultural activities, both indoors and outdoors, such as theater, dance, music, opera and much more.
In the immediate vicinity of Edinburgh you will feel miles away from busy city life. The region, which is known as The Lothians, caters for all tastes.
East Lothian consists of rolling hills, secluded beaches and ancient ruins. This is also the place to be for golf lovers: There are various wonderful golf courses. But you will also find attractions like the National Museum of Flight (on East Fortune Airfield, including for example the Concorde), the Scottish Seabird Centre (in North Barwick Harbor) and the Glenkichie Distillery (in the village of Pencaitland), where you can see how real Scottish whisky is made.
The area south of Edinburgh is called Midlothian. One of its most famous attractions is the Rosslyn Chapel, which figures in the book 'The Da Vinci Code'. A visit to the Butterfly & Insect World is a great experience for children. Here you can walk through a genuine tropical jungle with beautiful butterflies, creepy spiders, slimy snakes, lizards, iguanas and all the rest of it.
When driving from Edinburgh towards Glasgow, you will cross West Lothian. It is a rural area with fantastic views and scattered mansions and palaces, like Linlithgow Palace, where the Scottish Queen Mary was born. You should also visit the ancient town of Linlithgow, with a traditional Scottish High Street. West Lothian also houses several wildlife reserves and natural parks, including Beecraigs Country Park, Almondell & Calderwood Country Park and Polkemmet Country Park.
Edinburgh has a compact city center that is best explored on foot. The city struggles with traffic jams and also has many one-way streets. As a consequence, it may be difficult to find your way around. Finding parking space may also be difficult. There are large parking garages near Castle Terrace on the west side of the center and St. James Centre and Greenside Place on the east side. Near the beltway around the city you'll find P+R lots where you can park your rental car. From here you can take public transportation to the center.
Edinburgh Airport is located twelve kilometers west of the city. You can easily reach the airport by rental car as it is situated along the A8, which runs to Edinburgh's city center. The exit to the airport is located between two roundabouts (Gogar and Newbridge).