If you are enjoying a weekend getaway or stopping over in Edinburgh on your way to amazing Scotland, and you only have a short period of time to explore the city, don’t panic. Edinburgh is a compact and historic city that a lot could be seen in the city centre in just a day or two. If you are reaching Edinburgh by train, you are right at the heart of the city the moment you stepped out of the station; If you are reaching Edinburgh by flight (like I did), there are sophisticated bus systems connecting you to the city in merely about 20-30 minutes.
While it might not look like it, Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland since at least the 15th century. There are many iconic landmarks, museums, and monuments scattered on both sides of the Edinburgh Waverley station, while the beautiful and green Princes Street Gardens in front of the station separates the city into north and south. Tourist attractions include the Scott Monument, Edinburgh Castle, the Writer’s Museum, St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh Vaults, Scottish National Gallery, National Museum of Scotland, Saint Andres Church, Saint Steven Church, Frederick Street, David Hume Statue, and Scottish National Portrait Gallery… all are located within walking distance from Waverley. While you would explore all of them when you are in town, I am introducing two places in the city today –
Calton Hill is probably the best spot to take a picture of the cityscape in Edinburgh and every visitor knows it. Calton Hill is formed by volcanic activity 340 million years ago and gouged by glaciers during the Ice Age, and it has a long and fascinating history. In 1724 the Town Council of Edinburgh purchased Calton Hill, establishing it as one of Britain’s first public parks. In 1775 the first path was constructed around the Hill for ‘the pleasure and amusement, and health of the inhabitants of this crowded city…’
Today Calton Hill is part of The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage Site. Visitors may take an easy climb to the top and be rewarded with spectacular views of the city and the Forth.
There are lots of monuments built to commemorate some of Scotland’s leading figures. While some people from Edinburgh may not like it, the incomplete National Monument of Scotland is a Greek-style historic monument and also considered a “Scotland’s disgrace”. The monument was intended to be a national memorial dedicated to the Scottish soldiers and sailors who died fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. However, the construction was ceased and left unfinished in 1829 due to lack of funds. There were several proposals in the early 20th century to complete the construction of the monument yet failed to succeed due to either funding issues or lack of local enthusiasm.
Next to the National Monument is the Nelson Monument. Climb the 143 steps to the top and enjoy the view of the hill, and the city, then follow the network of paths which lead around the Hill from the Regent Walk, Portuguese Cannon, South viewpoint, Parliament Cairn, Hume Walk, North viewpoint, Playfair Monument, City Observatory, Observatory House and finally return to the Dugald Stewart Monument – arguably the most photographed landmark in the city. The monument was designed by Scottish architect William Henry Playfair and it was completed in 1831.
Camera Obscura & World of Illusions, Royal Mile
Coming back down from Calton Hill, walking along the Royal Mile and explore Edinburgh’s Old Town. The Royal Mile is filled with sights and restaurants, and it’s the most popular place for the gathering of tours, there you will always find a piece of Scottish culture, with a street performer blowing the windpipe in traditional Scottish uniform. The most eye-catching structure would be the Edinburgh Castle, a historic fortress built in the 1200s. Somehow, I have also visited the Camera Obscura outside the castle and I found the museum quite interesting.
What is Camera Obscura?
“Camera Obscura” is Latin for ‘dark chamber’. Being inside a camera obscura chamber is similar to standing inside a giant, photographic film camera, in which the round table takes the place of the film in the camera, where the image is projected.
Camera obscuras have been around for centuries. The ancient Greeks were familiar with the optical principle and in the 4th century BC, Aristotle wrote about being able to view a partial eclipse of the sun projected onto the ground by the narrow shafts of light. From the 13th century, AD astronomers would look at sun spots and solar eclipses with them.
The Italians experimented with the Camera Obscura in the sixteenth century, adding lenses and mirrors to sharpen the image and adapt it for use as a form of entertainment with projections inside a room, like an ancient type of cinema.
The camera obscura was used by artists in the seventeenth century, and portable camera obscuras were created, including one made in a sedan chair, and tent-like structure. It is thought likely that Vermeer made use of the camera obscura to create his paintings, utilizing its ability to distill onto a flat surface the confused visual information which strikes the eye.
In 1895 Sir Patrick Geddes, a gardener, biologist, conservationist, social evolutionist, peace warrior, town planner and renowned forward thinker, took over the ‘Popular observatory’ and set up what was described in 1899 as ‘the world’s first sociological laboratory’.
The museum features lots of illusional paintings and artworks that visitors might be “tricked” and “challenged”. The museum also displayed a lot of the city’s old pictures and I Iearned much more about the history and fun facts about the sites in the old town at the balcony at the top – like the High Street is Edinburgh’s oldest street, and the Edinburgh Castle Esplanade is still used as a parade ground.