ALTHOUGH Edinburgh occupies a large area relative to its population - less than half a million people - most places worth visiting lie within the city centre, which is easily explored on foot. This is divided clearly and unequivocally between the maze-like Old Town, which lies on and around the crag linking the Castle and the Palace, and the New Town, laid out in a symmetrical pattern on the undulating ground to the north. It's also worth venturing into the city's outskirts, which range from residential inner suburbs to formerly separate villages which still retain their own distinctive identities.
Orientation in Edinburgh is straightforward, particularly as most public transport services terminate on or near Princes Street, the city's main thoroughfare, which lies at the extreme southern end of the New Town, with the Old Town on the heights immediately to the rear. The city's compactness makes it easy to explore on foot, but if you want to travel out to the suburbs, or are staying outside the centre, the public transport system, although a little confusing, is reliable.
Edinburgh International Airport (031-333 1000) is at Turnhouse, seven miles west of the city centre, close to the start of the M8 motorway to Glasgow. Regular shuttle buses ( pounds 3) connect to Waverley Station in the town centre; taxis charge around pounds 11 for the same journey. The station (031-556 2451) is the terminus for all mainline trains, conveniently situated at the eastern end of Princes Street in the New Town. The central exit takes you out on to Waverley Bridge, with Princes Street to the north and the Old Town to the south. The northern exit leads straight up the stairway to Princes Street itself, while the southern exit leads to Market Street, the outer fringe of the Old Town.
There's a second mainline stop, Haymarket Station, just under two miles west on the lines from Waverley to Glasgow, Fife and the Highlands, although this is only really of use if you're staying in the vicinity.
The bus terminal for local and intercity services is on St Andrew Square, two minutes' walk from Waverley, on the opposite side of Princes Street. SMT's shop (031-558 1616), at the north-western corner of the station, keeps timetables and sells tickets for several of the confusing array of private bus operators.
Edinburgh's main tourist office is at 3 Princes Street beside the northern entrance to the station (031-557 1700; Aug Mon-Sat 9am-8pm, Sun 11am-8pm; Sept Mon-Sat 9am-7pm, Sun 11am-7pm). Although inevitably flustered at the height of the season, it's efficiently run, with scores of free leaflets; when the office is closed, there's a 24-hour computerised information service at the door. The much smaller airport branch is in the main concourse, directly opposite Gate 5 (031-333 2167; Mon-Sat 8.30am-9.30pm, Sun 9.30am-9.30pm).
Edinburgh is well served by buses, although even locals are confused by the consequences of deregulation, with several companies offering competing services along similar routes. Each bus stop lists the different companies together with the route numbers that stop there. Most useful are the red buses operated by Lothian Region Transport. Timetables and passes (a good investment at pounds 8 for a week's unlimited travel, Sun-Sat, especially if you're staying far out; passport photo needed) are available from the headquarters at 14 Queen Street (031-220 4111), or the ticket centre at 31 Waverley Bridge (031-225 8616). Otherwise, tickets have to be bought from the driver, for which you need exact change.
The green buses run by Eastern Scottish and the green and yellow buses of Lowland Scottish link the capital with outlying towns and villages. Most services depart from and terminate at the St Andrew Square bus station.
Although you can't hail taxis on the street, the city is well endowed with taxi ranks, especially around Waverley Bridge. Costs start at about pounds 1 for the first 1,000 yards and 15p for each additional 240 yards. For the phone numbers of local cab companies see listings, overleaf.
It is emphatically not a good idea to take a car into central Edinburgh: despite the presence of several expensive multi-storey car parks, looking for somewhere to leave the car often involves long, fruitless searches. Bus lanes must be left clear during rush hours, and cars parked on yellow lines are regularly clamped or towed away, with a retrieval fee of pounds 90. Most ticket and parking meter regulations cease at 5.30pm Monday to Friday, and at 1.30pm on Saturday.
As befits its status as a top tourist city, Edinburgh has a larger and wider choice of accommodation than any other place in Britain outside London. The greatest number of places to stay can be found in the streets immediately north of Haymarket Station, Royal Terrace and the lower reaches of the New Town, and the inner suburbs of Bruntsfield and Newington, about a mile south of the West End and East End respectively.
In addition to hotels, hundreds of private houses offer B&B deals at low rates. There is also a decent choice of both official and private hostels, and three campsites attached to caravan parks. Surprisingly, the wide range of campus accommodation is neither as cheap nor as convenient as might be expected. Self-catering is an alternative, extremely cost-effective for groups intending to stay a week or more.
Advance reservations are very strongly recommended during the festival: turning up on spec entails accepting whatever is left (which is unlikely to be good value) or else commuting from the suburbs. The tourist office (see Information, left) sends out accommodation lists free, and can reserve any type of accommodation in advance for a non-refundable pounds 3 fee: call in personally when you arrive or write in advance to Edinburgh Marketing Central Reservations Department, 3 Princes St, Edinburgh EH2 2QP (031-557 9655), stating requirements. In Waverley Station the Edinburgh Hotel and Guest House Association runs an agency (031-556 0030; Mon-Sat 7am-10pm, Sun 8am-10pm) which makes no charge for bookings with any of its members.
FESTIVAL VENUES: THEATRE & COMEDY
Assembly Rooms (54 George St, 031-226 2428). Varied complex of small and large halls. Used all year, but really comes into its own during the Fringe, with large-scale drama productions and mainstream comedy.
Bedlam Theatre (2a Forrest Rd, 031-225 9893). Used predominantly by student groups and housed in a converted Victorian church.
Festival Theatre (Nicholson St, 031-529 6000). Opened in June 1994, the Festival Theatre ends the city's embarrassing lack of a venue suitable for staging grand opera and other theatrical spectaculars.
Gilded Balloon (233 Cowgate, 031-226 6550). Fringe festival comedy venue, noted for the Late'n'Live (1-4am) slot which gives you the chance to see top comedians whose main show elsewhere may be booked out.
King's Theatre (2 Leven St, 031-228 5955). Stately Edwardian civic theatre that offers the most eclectic programme in the city: opera, ballet, Shakespeare, pantomime and comedy.
Leith Theatre (28 Ferry Rd, 031-554 1508). The former Leith Town Hall, a regular stand-by for all kinds of performances, although the poor acoustics mean it is less used than it once was.
Netherbow Arts Centre (43 High St, 031-556 2647). Although the centre is run by the Church of Scotland, the emphasis in their adventurous year-round drama productions is more Scottish than religious.
Playhouse Theatre (18-22 Greenside Place, 031-557 2590). The most capacious theatre in Britain, formerly a cinema. Great venue for musicals and rock concerts.
Pleasance Theatre (60 The Pleasance, 031-556 6550). Fringe venue. Cobbled courtyard with views across to Arthur's Seat and an array of auditoriums used for a varied programme.
Royal Lyceum Theatre (30 Grindlay St, 031- 229 9697). Fine Victorian civic theatre with compact auditorium. The city's leading year-round venue for mainstream drama.
St Bride's Centre (10 Orwell Terr, 031-346 1405). Neo-Gothic church converted into an intimate stage that can be adapted for theatre-in-the-round.
Theatre Workshop (34 Hamilton Place, 031- 226 5425). Enticing programmes of international theatre and performance art all year.
Traverse Theatre (10 Cambridge St, 031-228 1404). A byword in experimental theatrical circles, and unquestionably one of Britain's premier venues for new plays. Going from strength to strength in its new custom-built home beside the Usher Hall.
Queen's Hall (89 Clerk St, 031-668 2019). Converted Georgian church with a capacity of around 800, though many seats have little or no view of the platform. Home base of both the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Scottish Ensemble, and much favoured by jazz, blues and folk groups. Also plays host to established comedians during the Fringe.
Reid Concert Hall (Bristol Square, 031-650 4367). Narrow, steeply pitched Victorian hall owned by the university.
St Cecilia's Hall (corner of Cowgate and Niddry St, 031-650 2805). A Georgian treasure that is again university-owned and not used as frequently as it deserves.
Usher Hall (corner of Lothian Rd and Grindlay St, 031-228 1155). Edinburgh's main civic concert hall, seating over 2,500. Excellent for choral and symphony concerts, but less apt for solo vocalists. The upper circle seats are cheapest and have the best acoustics; avoid the back of the grand tier and the stalls, where the sound is muffled by the overhanging balconies.
Cameo (38 Home St, 031-228 4141). Reruns and late-nighters.
Dominion (18 Newbattle Terrace, 031-447 4771). The latest releases.
Filmhouse (88 Lothian Rd, 031-228 2688). Edinburgh's trendiest cinema.
Odeon (7 Clerk St, 031-667 7331). Five-screen cinema showing latest releases.
AIRLINES: British Airways (32 Frederick St, 0345 222111). Other carriers handled by Servisair, Edinburgh Airport (031-344 3111).
AMERICAN EXPRESS: 139 Princes St (031-225 9179).
BANKS: Bank of Scotland (The Mound; 38 St Andrew Square; 64 George St; 141 Princes St). Barclays (1 St Andrew Square). Clydesdale (29 George St). Lloyds (113-115 George St). Midland (76 Hanover St). NatWest (80 George St). Royal Bank of Scotland (42 St Andrew Square; 14 George St; 142-144 Princes St; 31 North Bridge). TSB (28 Hanover St).
BIKE RENTAL: Central Cycles (13 Lochrin Place, 031-228 6333). Sandy Gilchrist Cycles (1 Cadzow Place, 031-652 1760).
BOOKS: Bauermeisters (19 George IV Bridge, 031-226 5561). A row of separate shops (general and academic, music and stationery, paperbacks). James Thin (53-59 South Bridge, 031-556 6743, and 57 George St, 031-225 4495). The first is a huge, rambling general and academic shop; the latter is smaller and more genteel, with a good cafe. Waterstone's (128 Princes St, 031-226 2666; 13-14 Princes St, 031-556 3034; and 83 George St, 031-225 3436). All host regular literary events.
CAR RENTAL: Arnold Clark (Lochrin Place, 031-228 4747). Avis (100 Dairy Rd, 031-337 6363). Budget (111 Glasgow Rd, 031-334 7740). Carnies (46 Westfield Rd, 031-346 4155). Europcar (24 E London St, 031-661 1252). Hertz (Waverley Station, 031-557 5272). Mitchells (32 Torphichen St, 031-229 5384). Thrifty Car Rental (24 Haymarket Terrace, 031-313 1613).
CHEMISTS: Boots (48 Shandwick Place, 031- 225 6757, Mon-Sat 8.45am-9pm, Sun 11am-4pm).
CONSULATES: Australia (80 Hanover St, 031-226 6271). Denmark (4 Royal Terrace, 031-556 4043). Germany (16 Eglington Crescent, 031-337 2323). Italy (32 Melville St, 031-226 3631). Netherlands (113 Dundas St, 031-550 5000). Norway (86 George St, 031-226 5701). Poland (2 Kinnear Rd, 031-552 1086). Spain (63 N Castle St, 031-220 1843). Sweden (6 St John's Place, 031-554 6631). USA (3 Regent Terrace, 031-556 8315).
EXCHANGE: Thomas Cook (79a Princes St, 031-220 4039, Mon-Fri 9am-5.30pm, Sat 9am-5pm). Also currency-exchange bureaux in the main tourist office (Mon-Sat 9am-5.25pm) and in the accommodation office in Waverley Station (see Information, previous page). To change money after hours, try one of the swanky hotels - but expect to pay a hefty commission charge.
GAY & LESBIAN CONTACTS: Gay Scotland (58a Broughton St, 031-557 2625). Gay
Switchboard (031-556 4049). Lesbian Line (031-557 0751).
GOLF: Edinburgh is awash with fine golf courses, but most are private. The best public courses are the two on the Braid Hills (031-447 6666); others are Carrick Knowe (031-337 1096), Craigentinny (031-554 7501) and Silverknowes (031-336 3843).
GUIDED TOURS: Most recommendable are the Guide Friday open-top buses, which depart from Waverley Station and cruise through the streets of the city, allowing you to get off and on at leisure. Lothian Region Transport have various coach tours leaving from Waverley Bridge, while several companies along the Royal Mile offer walking tours of the street.
HELICOPTER TRIPS: Lakeside Helicopters (Old Fire Station, Edinburgh Airport, 031-339 2321) offers spectacular aerial sightseeing trips of the city for pounds 39 per person, with a minimum of four people.
HOSPITAL: 24hr casualty department at the Royal Infirmary (1 Lauriston Place, 031-229 2477).
LEFT LUGGAGE: Lockers available at Waverley Station and St Andrew Square bus station.
LIBRARIES: Central Library (George IV Bridge, 031-225 5584, Mon-Fri 9am-9pm, Sat 9am-1pm). In addition to the usual departments, there's a separate Scottish section, plus an Edinburgh Room which is a mine of information on the city. National Library of Scotland (George IV Bridge, 031-226 4531, Mon- Fri 9.30am-8.30pm, Sat 9.30am-1pm) is for research purposes only, though there are no formalities at its Map Room (33 Salisbury Place, Mon-Fri 9.30am-5pm, Sat 9.30am-1pm).
MAPS: Carson Clark (173 Canongate, 031-556 4710) has wonderful antique maps, charts and globes. Map Centre (51 York Place, 031-557 3011) and the bookshops listed above for a range of up-to-date maps.
MOTORING ORGANISATIONS: AA (18-22 Melville St, 031-225 3301). RAC (35 Kinnaird Park, 031-657 1122).
NEWSPAPERS: International Newsagent (351 High St, 031-225 4827) has the best choice of foreign publications.
POST OFFICE: 24 Waterloo Place (550 8232, Mon-Fri 9.30am-5.30pm, Sat 9.30am- 12.30pm).
RAPE CRISIS CENTRE: 031-556 9437.
TAXIS: Capital Cabs (031-220 0404). Castle Cabs (031-228 2555). Central Taxis (031-229 2468). City Cabs (031-228 1211).
TRAVEL AGENTS: Campus Travel (53 Forrest Rd, 031-668 3303, and 5 Nicolson Sq, 031-225 6111). Student and youth specialist. Edinburgh Travel Centre (196 Rose St, 031-226 2019; 92 South Clerk St, 031-667 9488; and 3 Bristo Square, 031-666 2221). Youth specialist.
Adapted from the recently published 'Rough Guide to Scotland' (Penguin, pounds 8.99, available at good bookshops), one of 60 guidebooks published by Rough Guides covering everywhere from Amsterdam to Zimbabwe.
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