The City of Edinburgh – A Beginner’s Guide

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Seeing as the majority of students at the uni come from outside Edinburgh (and often outside of the UK), I thought it would be helpful to feature some information and facts about the city of Edinburgh to help everyone to get a sense of Edinburgh life. As someone who has been living in Edinburgh for quite some years now, I can safely say that it really is my favourite place to be – beautiful, friendly and full of things to do.

Where photos are credited to a photographer, they were taken by international students at the uni as part of a photography competition run by the International Office, the theme of which was “A lasting impression – Edinburgh”.

Student City

Edinburgh is a very studenty city. There are a number of universities and colleges across the city, resulting in a very high number of people either being students or employees of institutions of higher or further education. A high proportion of these are international students, giving the city a very diverse and culturally rich feel. However, Edinburgh is large enough for you not to feel submerged in student culture and it is very easy to get out of the student bubble if you feel you need to. Furthermore, you can get student discount in loads of places which is always a help!


Edinburgh Castle from Brown's Place, by Elizabete Rancane

Edinburgh Castle from Brown’s Place, by Elizabete Rancane

Edinburgh is really really old – that’s for sure. Even Wikipedia can’t be more specific than pre-7th century AD! 😉 The historic feel of Edinburgh is very much evident on a daily basis. There are even pubs you can still drink in which were established in the 1400s (demonstrating that the Scots have always been fond of a pint)! Walking around the city, you’ll see the stunning Georgian architecture of the New Town, the centuries old tenements of the Old Town and Royal Mile, as well as statues and monuments of historical significance dotted all over the city.

One of the most unique and iconic features of Edinburgh’s skyline is our stunning castle, which sits atop an extinct volcano in the centre of the city. It is a very prominent part of Edinburgh life, and can be seen from many top floor flats and high buildings. The main shopping street (Princes Street) only has buildings on one side, so the castle and the public gardens beneath it are in constant sight. Monday- Saturday at 1pm, a canon-like gun (otherwise known as the One O’clock Gun) is fired from the castle. This makes it very easy to tell Edinburgh folk from the tourists – they jump at the noise and we check our watches! Some people joke that it also functions as an alarm clock for the students – libel and slander!

However, Edinburgh isn’t a static museum city by any stretch of the imagination. There are modern buildings within these areas too, with the past complementing the present. Edinburgh is constantly renovating and redeveloping; balancing its historical integrity with contemporary innovation. As such, Edinburgh is very much a living, breathing city which is functional as well as beautiful.


Even though it is the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh’s population is just under half a million (which is helpful as another half a million people turn up in August, more of which below…). This contributes to the wonderfully contradictory atmosphere of Edinburgh being a city, with the feel of a town, and the warmth of a village. Walking down the street, it is very common to bump into a friend, and nothing is ever very far away, with buses being cheap, frequent and efficient in the event of things not being within walking distance.


View from Arthur's Seat by Hui Zong

View from Arthur’s Seat by Hui Zong

Whilst still very much an urban environment, Edinburgh is a very flexible city. If you prefer a city atmosphere, there’s plenty of hustle and bustle to keep you happy, however, there are more residential areas close to the uni and green spaces everywhere. You’re also only a short bus or train ride away from beaches, mountains and fields if you like hiking, exploring and nature.

Arthur’s Seat is a huge hill which is very popular with walkers, and is very centrally located –  just a mile from the castle and short walk from the uni’s George Square campus. As you can see from the photo on the left, you can get superb views of Edinburgh, the mountainous horizon and the sea.

The Highlands of Scotland are a quick drive up North, and are legendary for their beauty. Absolutely perfect for people who like an outdoors adventure with breathtaking views! Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow is less than an hour away, and is a great for the arts and shopping. Furthermore, a  flight to London only takes an hour and a half or less, making Edinburgh a fantastic location for travel, if you want to explore more of the UK or Europe during your time here.

The Festival

Festival Fireworks over the Castle

Festival Fireworks over the Castle

During the month of August, the population of Edinburgh doubles as people travel from all over the world for festival season. The whole city buzzes with art, theatre, literature, comedy and fireworks – there’s really something for everyone. It’s my favourite time of year, because you really feel like Edinburgh becomes the centre of the world. You’re definitely guaranteed to see lots of celebrities and crazy sights! Many of the main venues are based around the university campus. For instance, a huge upside down purple cow takes over Bristo Square and is known as the Underbelly. Honestly. I’ve been to comedy shows in places which, during term time, are lecture theatres which is both utterly confusing and completely awesome in equal measure. I really hope that you all get a chance to experience the festival during your time at Edinburgh.


George Square in the Snow 2010

Snowy George Square, 2010

Now, I know what you’re all thinking – “In Scotland it rains all day every day, except for when its snowing”. Thankfully this is not the case! Whilst we definitely don’t have a tropical climate, as I write this, we’ve had 3 weeks of beautiful warm sunny weather with the sun not going down until 10 at night! Perfect for getting your friends together for barbeques in the Meadows (which is very busy at the moment)! Winters can and do get cold (definitely bring a coat!), but nowhere near as bad as many other northern European countries. Edinburgh in the snow is often Edinburgh at its most beautiful too. Edinburgh also tends to be less rainy than many other places in Scotland due to it’s south-eastern location. Partly because we can sometimes get four seasons in a day, you’ll find that Scottish people talk about the weather quite a bit!

A recent picture of George Square Gardens, Edinburgh

A recent picture of George Square Gardens, Edinburgh




If there’s anything else you’d like to see or know about Edinburgh before you get here, then just ask in the comments below – I’d love to hear from you! 🙂

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