Edinburgh for the History Buff

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First things first: Where in the world is Edinburgh? As Scotland’s capital city, it’s only a little over 400 miles north of London. England and Scotland are actually neighbors on the same island in the U.K.

The next—maybe less obvious—question is: How the heck do you pronounce it? Though it might look like it sounds like “Pittsburgh,” don’t give away your tourist status by calling it “Eden-burg.” Instead, you should pronounce it “Ed-in-buh-ruh” or (if you’re feeling especially Scottish) “Ed-n-brah.”

Here, this is what I’m getting at: 


The origin and meaning of its unassumingly tricky name are just as muddled as its pronunciations. Present-day Edinburgh was the location of Din Eidyn, a dun (or hillfort) of the sixth-century Gododdin kingdom.

Edinburgh has also been nicknamed Auld Reekie (Old Smoky) because back in the day if you looked down at Old Town, it’d be covered in a haze from all the coal smoke puffing from the chimneys.

If you look down at Old Town today, it still looks pretty similar to the way it did back then; all of Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most of the city’s medieval street plan is still intact along with most of its Reformation-era buildings from the 1500s.

On the ground in Old Town, it feels like you’re inside a medieval anthill. There are underground vaults, hidden passages, tunnels, and sloping alleyways only a few feet wide. Many of them shoot off the Royal Mile, the main artery in Old Town. It’s not actually a mile long (well, it’s a Scot mile long, which is longer than the standard American mile). And it’s not one long street called the Royal Mile; it’s a continuous strand of four streets—Canongate, High, Lawnmarket, and Castlehill—that lead into each other.

It’s one of the best ways to see most of Edinburgh’s historical sites in one shot. It connects the Palace of Holyroodhouse (a living royal palace where the Queen summers) and the ruins of Holyrood Abbey to Edinburgh Castle, which you might recognize as the one-and-only Hogwarts Castle from the Harry Potter series.

The castle is also home to the Stone of Destiny, only recently returned from England after a 700-year custody battle. It was last used in Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in the 1950s.

Edinburgh claims an insane number of literary royalty, too, as its own. Classics including Treasure Island, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Ivanhoe, Peter Pan, the Sherlock Holmes novels, The Wind in the Willows, The Wealth of Nations, and the Harry Potter novels were written in the city’s taverns and green spaces.

Ready to write the next chapter in your history (see what we did there)? Check out our London and Scotland Escape.   EF College Break offers lots of great trips to Europe.  Explore all of our trips here, including trips to Edinburgh.

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