You may not be able to catch the St Andrew’s Day celebrations next week, but there is never a bad time to visit Edinburgh, says Denise O'Donoghue.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1879 observation is among the quotes in the Poetry Garden in the city’s St Andrew’s Square and it still holds true today.
Edinburgh, like its street-lamps, is a unique sight. Streets thronged with locals and tourists alike are filled with popular high street stores as well as small, quirky boutiques.
The public buildings also display signs of the people of Edinburgh’s consideration. The clock of the city’s train station, for instance, is ten minutes fast so hurrying passengers will be sure to make their train ahead of time. Only in Edinburgh!
The Scottish capital is a laid-back alternative to the hustle and bustle of London. It has the same shopping experience, but it is more affordable. It has beautiful parks, but they are less crowded. And it has a spectacular castle.
Edinburgh Castle is a breathtaking sight. Towering over the city, it controls the attention of the town just as powerfully as when it was the seat of kings. The city ebbs and flows around the castle.
Edinburgh is a city which caters for all tastes. It played host to countless festivals and performances throughout the year as part of Homecoming Scotland 2014, which saw the country celebrate with a programme of spectacular events; something to suit everyone.
St Andrew’s Day is enjoyed in style annually on November 30 with a week-long festival celebrating traditional Scottish music, arts and dance in cities, towns and villages across Scotland.
And Edinburgh hosts its own events next Sunday from the city’s St Andrew’s Square, in typical festive style.
There were over 50,000 performances in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe alone during the summer months.
I got a taste of Edinburgh’s festival fun during the Jazz and Blues Festival over the summer. With 140 shows over 10 days I was lucky enough to attend two of the most exciting shows — Zara McFarlane at the Pallazzo Spiegeltent and Van Morrison at the Festival Theatre.
Rising star Zara McFarlane’s style is a beautiful blend of modern and classic. At times she is reminiscent of jazz legend Nina Simone, but she can also belt out a ballad that could put Adele to shame. The power and depth of her voice is astounding and she is definitely someone to keep an eye on. She captivated her audience and I would happily go to another concert of hers.
The Festival Theatre was filled for Northern Irish music legend Van Morrison and it’s easy to see why. ‘Van the Man’ was a hit with the packed audience, which was treated to some of his classic hits, including ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ and ‘Moondance’ as well as some tracks from his latest album, Born To Sing. Van gave a lengthy two-hour performance which was greeted with delight from his fans in attendance.
During my stay in Edinburgh, I made use of Scotland’s excellent public transport system and in less than an hour I found myself in the country’s second city.
Glasgow is a beautiful place. I expected an industry-heavy city but instead I found romantic buildings, a thriving cultural scene, and a shopping experience to rival any European capital. Where Edinburgh has the Royal Mile, Glasgow has the ‘Style Mile’. It comes as no surprise that Glasgow has been named the number one UK destination ‘on the rise’ by travel site TripAdvisor.
An exhibition entitled ‘How Glasgow Flourished’ at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum was another alternative during my stay. The exhibition can be a fascinating and free afternoon for anyone with an interest in the city’s past.
The Kelvingrove is also home to an extensive natural history museum, which is sure to delight both young and old history buffs.
Lunch at the nearby An Clachan cafe in Kelvingrove Park is a great addition to your relaxing journey around Glasgow city. I enjoyed a pulled pork sandwich, which, for just £3.50, was a deliciously satisfying energy boost. We spent a few hours enjoying the beautiful surroundings of the park before exploring the nearby cobbled backstreet of Ashton Lane.
The lane is popular among Glaswegian students and it’s easy to see why. The trendy pubs, thriving restaurants and one very quirky cinema set it apart from the rest of the city and it has become a favourite for foodie visitors. Ashton Lane was busy in the late afternoon, but I’m told it thrives at night.
Of the two cities, Edinburgh was my firm favourite. As a first-time visitor to Scotland, I had my mind made up about what the two cities would be like. I was wrong for both.
I expected Edinburgh to be an old-world, Hogwarts-esque town with tiny medieval streets winding around the dominating castle. I simply did not expect the full extent of its modernity. The city has embraced the old and the new.
Just around the corner from its cobbled streets lies a new city, filled with modern amenities and all the conveniences of the 21st century.
The thriving theatre and nightlife provide a great experience, particularly the ever-popular festivals. The sights and sounds of Glasgow are just a brief train journey away.
If you want a different Christmas shopping experience, or just fancy a relaxing trip away, make it a winter trip to Scotland.
I stayed in the five-star Sheraton Grand Hotel and Spa on Festival Square, which is walking distance to all of Edinburgh’s main attractions. The friendly staff went above and beyond to answer any queries I had. From the free WiFi to its central location, the Sheraton is perfect. See www.sheratonedinburgh.co.uk
Two highly recommended restaurants are Divino, on Merchant Street, and Spoon. Divino is an Italian wine bar and restaurant, and Spoon is a more laid-back restaurant/bistro. Rumour has it that Spoon was one of the locations frequented by JK Rowling in the early 1990s, while she wrote the first draft of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
For lunch, the Olive Branch, on Broughton Street, is well worth a visit. I highly recommend the Mediterranean chicken main course.
WHAT TO DO
The Edinburgh Hogmanay party is the largest New Year’s Eve event in the world and as synonymous with New Year as singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’. Edinburgh Castle is open to visitors every day.
It boasts spectacular views of the surrounding city and is an informative and entertaining experience for all the family. See www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk/
If heading to Glasgow, the Style Mile is a must visit — a square mile in the centre of Glasgow, it has varied shops, from small designer stores to large international retailers.
Homecoming Scotland 2014 is a year-long programme of events, such as the 2014 Ryder Cup, the MTV EMAs and the Ryder Cup gala concert. Visitors are invited to join in a celebration of the nation’s food and drink, active pursuits, and ancestral and cultural heritage.
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