Walking through the streets of Edinburgh it’s clear to see why the city has been accredited as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As Scotland’s famously bonny capital, it blends modern and historic culture, and is renowned the world over for its annual festivals, from the highbrow performances of the International Festival to the giddy melting pot of indie theatre and music at the Fringe – all topped off with the world’s most famous street Hogmanay party, where revellers dance in the new year under a firework-lit castle. If you’re lucky enough to pay a visit, here’s our guide to getting the most bang for your cultural buck.
A perennial fixture on World’s Best Cities lists, Edinburgh is lauded as one of the most culturally significant places to visit and as well as being named a World Heritage Site, it’s also the very first City of Literature. This title is hugely significant for Edinburgh as it credits the city for its contribution to international literature. And it’s easy to see why – the city is simply bursting with beautiful libraries, independent bookshops and literary events, including the sellout International Book Festival that sets up shop against the backdrop of stunning Georgian architecture in the city centre’s Charlotte Square. It’s also home to a whole host of renowned authors who work out of and take inspiration from the city: Irvine Welsh, JK Rowling, Iain Banks and Ian Rankin are all celebrated contemporary authors local to Edinburgh.
Beyond literature Edinburgh has many other avenues of culture to explore. Art is another area that is bursting with activity in the city and with over 50 galleries peppered across Edinburgh’s historic cobbles, you’re truly spoiled for choice. See the Guardian’s online guide 10 of the best contemporary art galleries in Edinburgh for the pick of the bunch, although our favourite has to be The Fruitmarket Gallery. Nestled in the centre of the city just moments walk from the Castle, his gallery boasts a well-stocked calendar of exhibitions from both Scottish and international artists and art groups. The Scotsman Steps commission by Martin Creed has been the most popular exhibition in the galleries’ history and successfully brought contemporary art into the public eye, from the gallery to the steps of Edinburgh. The Stills Gallery on Cockburn Street and the Edinburgh College of Art exhibitions are also a fantastic place to see new upcoming artists in Scotland. For thought-provoking pieces on a grander scale, check out the weird and wonderful installation art at summer outside exhibition extravaganza Jupiter Artland.
Then of course there’s the Festival Fringe itself – the biggest and best performing arts festival in the world. It spans an entire month each August and welcomes more than 2,500 shows from countries all around the world. Over the past few years, theatre, dance and musicals have been fighting hard to compete with the overpowering presence of comedy at the festival, and is happily succeeding with diverse and ever-increasing menu of acts to whet any cultural appetite. But even outside the heady festival period, the performing arts thrive in the city (despite the recessions) with the Traverse, the Lyceum and the Festival Theatre all playing host to an eclectic variety of local and internationally-acclaimed theatre, dance and opera.
Modern culture is also happily evident in Edinburgh with a dynamic shopping and food scene bursting with independent boutiques, cafes, delicatessens on every corner. Try the upmarket shopping district of Thistle Street for the best gems, such as shoe emporium Pam Jenkins and Vogue-celebrated designer clothing boutique must-visit Jane Davidson , which offers a carefully-curated collection of international collections as well as exclusive Scottish luxury designers. Alternatively head down to “village within a city” Stockbridge for interior design and gift boutiques galore.
If you’re looking for cultural things to do in Edinburgh it’s a promise that you won’t struggle for choice, whether you’re interested in art, dance, literature or fashion, the city has something to offer in every direction – it truly is a city inspired by culture.
By Jane Sommerville