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A student’s guide to Edinburgh

Edinburgh is one of my favourite places in the world. The capital of Scotland, it (for now) remains a treasured, intrinsic part of the UK and Scottish identity. The city is best known for the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe which takes place during the summer, although there is plenty to see outside of that season. Indeed, both of the occasions I have visited this wonderful city have been when the festival isn’t on. My experience of Edinburgh has been just as enjoyable and, with fewer people about, perhaps even better.

There are, in normal circumstances, a vast number of places worth visiting. As a politics student, visiting the Scottish Parliament during my trip was naturally a key priority. Compared to the Palace of Westminster, the building is unbelievably modern. Free to enter, it required only airport-style security followed by the ability to roam anywhere, sit in the public gallery and witness democracy in action. There’s plenty of information about how the Parliament was set up and its powers compared to Westminster.

Despite being contained within glass cabinets, stepping so close to such treasured pieces of history feels remarkable and daring in equal measure

If you’re more interested in royalty than politics, Edinburgh Castle would also serve you well. Perhaps the most iconic image of the city, the walk up the hill to witness the impressive, historic architecture was completely worth it. While guided tours do take place, there is also plenty of free range to explore the different royal artefacts. Despite being contained within glass cabinets, stepping so close to such treasured pieces of history feels remarkable and daring in equal measure.

When you’ve had enough of the history, Princes Street is an iconic part of Edinburgh’s New Town for shopping. Containing plenty of the businesses you’ll see on every High Street (assuming they reopen), it’s an important part of familiarity when exploring a new location. In particular, the Princes Street Gardens provide a plenty green aesthetic to the range of different buildings. Princes Street also allows you to pass the iconic Balmoral Hotel, famous for being where the last Harry Potter book was completed.

Museums are a valuable part of every great city. Unique to each location, they offer an exploration into the past and also provide a helpful context into the specific location being visited. Edinburgh is no different and has its fair share of history. The Museum of Edinburgh is so small you could almost miss it, but offers a reflection on how the city developed and came to be. On a grander scale, the National Museum of Scotland is full of treasure troves of history. It occupied many hours of my time: taking photos, learning more about the past and having time to see the beacons of a previous world.

Similarly, Edinburgh boasts a huge mixture of different art galleries. While I’m no Philistine, my knowledge of art isn’t particularly strong. Nonetheless, that didn’t stop me from appreciating the different creations on offer. Being able to take time to explore the artistic exceptionalism, for example, in the National Portrait Gallery, demonstrated the breadth of skills on offer. Some pieces were modern, others were painted hundreds of years ago. It didn’t matter. What remained consistent was the exceptionalism of the pieces of work.

While {Dean Village} is hardly any distance from central Edinburgh at all, it felt like I had entered a separate, beautiful, picturesque world

The different parts of Edinburgh are like any other city: there are wards worth visiting and others best avoided. While most tourists will gather in the New and Old Towns, being the central part of Edinburgh, the beautiful Dean Village in west Edinburgh also deserves a mention. It was only thanks to my Lonely Planet book that I learnt of its existence and, while it is hardly any distance from central Edinburgh at all, it felt like I had entered a separate, beautiful, picturesque world.

There are too many highlights of Edinburgh for the word count of this article. However, the Toppings bookshop is wholly deserving of a mention. One of only four branches in the UK, it is the definition of a perfect independent book shop. With marvellous wooden shelving, comfy places to sit, tea and coffee on offer, it provides an idyllic homely atmosphere for browsing different books and deciding what to purchase. Only opening in the last couple of years, it has slotted in perfectly to its area and looks like it had been part of the Edinburgh furniture for decades. That, perhaps ahead of all other locations, is the place most worthy of a visit should you ever visit the wonderful capital.

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