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Edinburgh History

It's impossible not to feel the long arm of history as you walk along Edinburgh's grand New Town boulevards and steep, narrow Old Town streets. The city wears its past proudly, from the towering volcanic crag of its castle to the modern day parliament that stands opposite the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

Human settlement in the Scottish capital dates back over 3,000 years, with evidence of dwellings found high on the castle hill. It wasn't until the 11th century, though, that the city began to expand down from the castle along what is today known as the Royal Mile.

First given royal status by King David I in the 12th century, Edinburgh grew to play a key role in the Scottish Reformation of the 16th century, before King James VI became King James I of England in 1603. Despite the two countries now being royally linked, Edinburgh continued to suffer at English hands. Occupied by Cromwell's forces in the wake of the English Civil War, it sheltered Jacobite rebels during the early 18th century, even though the two countries formed a political union in 1707.

Modern-day Edinburgh can be traced back to this period. Overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in what is now the Old Town led the city's Lord Provost to announce a competition to design a new residential suburb, on virtually vacant land on the other side of what is now Princes Street Gardens. Its now UNESCO–protected streets were named after contemporary royals, designed to reaffirm Scottish commitment to the union.

It was at this time that Edinburgh's status as an intellectual powerhouse was assured. At the centre of the 18th-century enlightenment, thinkers such as Adam Smith and David Hume helped make the city the 'Athens of the North'.

Although the Old Town improved during the 19th century, Edinburgh faced a long period of decline in the 20th century due to the death of the industry and economic stagnation. Today's city has been reinvigorated by Scottish devolution and the cultural currency of the Edinburgh festivals, created in the late 1940s and still held every August.

Did you know?
• Edinburgh's Old and New Towns have been UNESCO listed since 1995.
• Edinburgh became UNESCO's first ever 'city of literature' in 2004.
• The Edinburgh Fringe started after theatre groups who were not invited to the first International Festival showed up anyway and had to find performance spaces 'on the fringe'.

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The Principal Edinburgh George Street Hotel

This five-star hotel is perfectly located in the heart of the New Town, this grand looking hotel offers room at surprisingly reasonable rates. When you're dining beneath the vast crystal chandeliers, drinking in the glorious views from the Panorama bar or relaxing in one of the indulgent beds.

The Alexander Guest House

Edinburgh is packed with little guesthouses offering great value, but this is one of the best. It's a bit of a walk from the city centre, but rooms are cosy, the beds are comfortable, the owners are brimming with local knowledge and the breakfasts are consistently excellent.

Crowne Plaza Edinburgh - Royal Terrace

This hotel is situated in an elegant Georgian terrace, close to the city centre and to attractions such as the Scottish Parliament and Our Dynamic Earth. Perhaps uniquely for a hotel in Edinburgh city centre, the Royal Terrace has its own beautifully landscaped gardens. It also has a small gym, sauna and indoor swimming pool.

Radisson Collection Hotel, Royal Mile Edinburgh

Radisson Collection Hotel occupies an enviable location on the corner of the Royal Mile and George IV Bridge. The rooms and public spaces are beautifully styled using a mixture of Missoni and other furniture and textiles. There's a small gym, spa, Italian restaurant and super stylish bar.

The Balmoral

With its distinctive clock tower, old and new Edinburgh blendsperfectly in this landmark hotel, which was once the guesthouse of Waverley railway station. The hotel has a choice of bars and restaurants, including the Michelin-starred Number One. The Balmoral Spa is highly acclaimed, with ESPA and Ytsara treatments, and there's also a fully equipped gym and a decent-sized pool.

The Scotsman

This distinctive and luxurious hotel on Edinburgh's North Bridge is housed in the former offices of The Scotsman newspaper. Many of the building's original features have been retained and wooden panelling and high ceilings mingle with contemporary art and high-tech facilities. The Scotsman offers guests a shoeshine service, TV entertainment system, Wi-Fi, whiskey upon arrival, an in room telescope and GHD straighteners, as well as a complimentary newspaper.