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Old Town - Where To Stay in Edinburgh

This medieval part of Edinburgh's Old Town is the heart of the city’s historical past, and also home to much of its large student population. The majority of Edinburgh University’s buildings are found in the Old Town between the major parks of Holyrood, Princes Street Gardens and the Meadows. Edinburgh Castle surveys the section from what was once an active volcano. The ancient city then recedes down the hill, cut through by medieval wynds (secretive little alleys and closes) and grand squares dominated by famous architectural landmarks like St Giles’ Cathedral.

The often-confusing dual level street layout in Edinburgh's Old Town sees steep roads lead down to areas like Cowgate, in years gone by a cattle market just five minutes from the Castle. It was also a slum in the mid-18th century; not a place to linger once night fell. Now it comes to life at night, as the vaults and basements left behind make wonderfully atmospheric pubs and clubs – The Caves and Cabaret Voltaire being the best examples. The Royal Mile in the Old Town runs parallel to Cowgate and is equally history-packed, but with a completely different feel. It lives up to its name, capped at both ends with royal buildings – the Castle and Holyrood Palace. It is the most touristy street in Edinburgh, and for good reason. It is light, beautiful, and packed with fascinating things to see and do for all ages, from the Camera Obscura to the Storytelling Centre.

The Grassmarket is a good compromise between the two areas. The square that Cowgate opens up into, it sits below the Castle walls. Packed with pubs and vintage shops, it’s a quirky little spot at once historic and entertaining.

The Old Town’s main street runs south from Princes Street, and changes its name with every few steps. From Princes Street it is called North Bridge, South Bridge, Nicholson Street, Clerk Street then Newington Road. It feels a bit run down in some places, but is as safe as any major city road, and home to many seemingly unlikely restaurant, pub and café treasures. It is also a short step from the unmissable Arthur’s Seat and the Crags, part of the wonderful volcanic Holyrood Park that feels like you’ve stepped from a city straight into a countryside walk.

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