Edinburgh: The Perfect Mix of Culture and Natural Beauty

Photo by Freeimages.com/Chris van Es

By Susan Calmanby Telegraph Sponsored from The Daily Telegraph, April 13, 2016

Comedian and Glaswegian Susan Calman talks about her love for Edinburgh, highlighting the importance of sensible footwear

Let me start with a confession. I am a proud Glaswegian and, if you believe common lore, I should look at Scotland’s capital with cynicism borne out of many years of rivalry.

It’s true that until I started as a stand-up comedian I knew little of Edinburgh other than what I’d gleaned from the occasional Christmas shopping trip or to see my sister who was at university in the city.

This year marks my 10th year performing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, a decade of summers being a part-time resident and full-time fan. I’ve learned to love the twisting lanes and busy streets and can safely say that I am almost as fond of Auld Reekie as I am of my home town.

I’ll truly never forget the first year that I stepped off the train at Edinburgh Waverley station into the maelstrom of noise and colour that is the Fringe. When I walked along the Royal Mile, right in the centre of town, laden with suitcases and bags, it felt like New Orleans Mardi Gras with added bagpipes. Which is a good thing, in my opinion.

I’m a huge fan of the pipes, a fortunate turn of events given that on most street corners you can find pipers of varying talents entertaining those passing by. What could be more Scottish?

The best advice I can give before you embark on a trip to Scotland’s capital is to equip yourself correctly. It’s very much a walking city and sensible footwear is absolutely crucial. Cobblestone streets give way to popular pavements and, if you’ve never visited before, it’s fair to say there are a few hills dotted around the place.

You can do some hiking to the top of Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano that provides a stunning panoramic view of the city and the surrounding area. It’s traditional for many performers to climb to the top to watch the sunrise. I haven’t done that yet. But I have watched other people do it. Joy by osmosis is always my preferred course of action.

Theatres are hot, the evenings cool, the mornings pleasant, so I’d advise you to dress like you might have done in the 1980s and pile on the layers. It’s essential to be able to strip off and cover yourself up with a moment’s notice.

But enough of the fashion advice. Why should you venture to the Athens of the North? Well, for a start, it’s a Unesco World Heritage City with literary connections at every turn and there’s no better place to find an avalanche of culture.

Edinburgh is the world’s leading festival city, with 12 major annual festivals bringing talent from more than a third of the world’s countries to its streets and stages.

Dating back to 1947, the Edinburgh International Festival was established after the Second World War to create “a flowering of the human spirit” in the Scottish capital.

Around the theatres of the city you can find remarkable performances that vary from the traditional to the experimental.

The summer months are particularly busy with a multitude of events including the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo that takes up residence at the castle. This spectacular show has implications throughout the city, some unexpected.

In my third year at the Fringe I performed a show with a rather pretentious conceit. I needed the audience to believe that we were the last people on Earth and were sealed inside a nuclear bunker. Unfortunately the illusion was shattered, every single night, at exactly the same time by a fly-past from several noisy RAF jets.

My own personal favourite of all the festivals is the Fringe. Big-name comics mix with newbies and an increasing focus on kids’ shows and circus acts makes it truly eclectic.

Venues spring up everywhere from bingo halls to phone boxes and caravans. Pay attention as you walk down the street – culture is all around you and if you blink you might miss it.

This year will be particularly exciting for me as I’ll be at the Edinburgh International Book Festival for the first time. Based in the New Town, it’s an oasis of calm in the middle of the frenzy of August and, as well as being an opportunity to meet world-renowned authors it also has some of the best scones I’ve tasted in a long time. I have my priorities correct.

Live performance isn’t the only thing on offer, as the Edinburgh Film Festival attracts some of the biggest names to its doors and the Edinburgh International Television Festival which runs at the end of August means both big and small screens are celebrated.

The choice of accommodation in Edinburgh is mind-boggling and varies from charming B&Bs to five-star hotels.

Location is important and in my time I’ve stayed in the New Town, with exquisite Georgian architecture, delightful coffee shops and restaurants. But I’ve also ventured into the Old Town, a maze of excitement which has preserved much of its medieval street plan and boasts an incredible array of historical and cultural attractions.

There’s the Castle and museums, and there are art galleries at almost every turn. There are far too many to list here but my favourites include the National Museum of Scotland, one of the country’s top tourist attractions, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery which is a wonderful place in which to spend a few hours, and Surgeons’ Hall Museum is a must-see. Just don’t go there straight after lunch.

Culture is important but so is having downright fun and, in truth, I can say that I’ve had some of the best nights out of my life in the city. From cocktail bars and old-fashioned pubs to fine-dining restaurants there’s a venue to suit almost anyone’s nocturnal tastes.

During festival time beer gardens spring up outside venues and are the perfect place to sit and watch the world go by.Edinburgh Gin is a popular tipple but personally I prefer a cold pint of lager and there’s no shortage of that to be found.

If you seek non-alcoholic beverages then you’re in luck as independent coffee shops have sprung up on every street corner like crocuses in springtime, with every type of mocha cocoa frappachinio you could ever desire.

Edinburgh is magical all year round. I’ve spent a decade getting to know it and I haven’t seen half of the sights and events on offer. Get a map, get kitted out and dive right in. You won’t regret it.

By Susan Calman

See Susan Calman at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in her new show The Calman Before The Storm from 3 to 28 August at 6.20pm. For more information visit pleasance.co.uk . She will also be appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival talking about her first book Cheer Up Love which is released on 5 May 2016.

For more information and inspiration, and to discover the true spirit of Scotland, go to  visitscotland.com


This article was written by Telegraph Sponsored from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.