EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND, dramatic and unspoiled, is now among my favorite cities, one to which I would gladly return. Windy but not cold during my 36-hour visit, it has more greenery and longer days than I imagined possible in mid-March.
Edinburgh wears its stony grime proudly. It’s an irresistible tourist magnet, yet very real. It has an Old Town, where ancient cobbled streets are linked by often-steep alleys, and a New Town, where elegant townhouses built in the late 18th century form uniform rows along geometrically laid-out streets, crescents and squares.
The two areas are separated by a wide valley of vegetation, the Princes Street Gardens, that contain some of the city’s key museums and serve as a venue for Edinburgh’s famous summer cultural festivals, which make the city the second most visited in Europe after Paris.
I circumnavigated Edinburgh on foot to see as much as I could in my brief time there, hitting several of the literal and figurative high spots, starting with Calton Hill, right behind my very comfortable guest house. The 15-minute climb is rewarded by the view from the summit, where a replica Parthenon intended to honor Napoleonic war dead was abandoned incomplete for lack of funds in 1826 but still makes a striking landmark, and the city spreads out below to the Firth of Forth, an estuary in the distance.
Then I walked the Royal Mile in Old Town, a cobbled road that runs from Hollyroodhouse, the Queen’s Palace when she’s in Scotland, to Edinburgh Castle, a skyline-dominating fortress with parts as old as the 12th century, and through the ordered Georgian streets of New Town.
Toward evening of my only full day, my legs aching and my iPhone step counter registering the equivalent of 45 flights of stairs, I fell into a cushy seat at the American-style multiplex right around the corner from my guest house and caught a showing of T2 Trainspotting, set on some of the same atmospheric streets I had just been treading.
The centerpiece of Day 2 was a good modern Scottish lunch at The Gardener’s Cottage, a four-year-old restaurant with its own kitchen garden out front. I willed myself not to rush but to savor my meal and the serene ambience of the restaurant, before regretfully saying goodbye, too soon, to Edinburgh.
My highly recommended guest house, below, the family-run Adria House, is at the top of the street, above.
My room had ceilings at least 15 feet high and a garden view (£60 a night, including breakfast).
After breakfast, I climbed Calton Hill, below, which felt like a taste of the wild Scottish moors.
At the very top, an unfinished Greek-temple-like monument and other Neo-classical buildings have given Edinburgh the occasional title “Athens of the North.”
I descended into the heart of the city, where there’s a dearth of modern buildings…
and strolled along the Royal Mile, where there’s no dearth of shopping.
Stepping into an archway and then a courtyard, I was intrigued by the building, below, which turned out to be Lady Stair’s late 17th century house, now a museum celebrating Scotland’s three literary luminaries: Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Burns.
The city milks its Goth splendor and Harry Potter connection with all manner of ‘haunted’ tours and attractions.
I crossed the bowl-shaped Princes Street Gardens, below, to New Town, which has a very different feel, and walked around enjoying the row houses and old storefronts.
I walked along a stream too small to be called a river; they call it The Water of Leith.
Below, the utterly charming Gardener’s Cottage, scene of my best meal in Edinburgh.
Below, cod and mussels with barley, parsnips and broccoli.
The Doric, one of Edinburgh’s oldest pubs, where I passed a little time before heading across the road to the train station for my 4 hour 20 minute ride back to London.