Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland and one of its 32 council areas. Historically part of the county of Midlothian (interchangeably Edinburghshire before 1921), it is located in Lothian on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth. Edinburgh is Scotland’s second-most populous city, after Glasgow, and the seventh-most populous city in the United Kingdom.
Recognised as the capital of Scotland since at least the 15th century, Edinburgh is the seat of the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament and the highest courts in Scotland. The city’s Palace of Holyroodhouse is the official residence of the British monarchy in Scotland. The city has long been a centre of education, particularly in the fields of medicine, Scottish law, literature, philosophy, the sciences, and engineering. It is the second-largest financial centre in the United Kingdom, and the city’s historical and cultural attractions have made it the UK’s second-most visited tourist destination attracting 4.9 million visits, including 2.4 million from overseas in 2018. Time Out magazine rated Edinburgh the best city in the world in 2022.
Edinburgh’s official population estimates are 506,520 (mid-2020) for the locality, 518,500 (mid-2019) for the City of Edinburgh council area, which takes in some outlying villages in the western part of its territory, and 1,384,950 (2019) for the wider Edinburgh and South East Scotland city region which also includes East Lothian, Fife, Midlothian, the Scottish Borders and West Lothian.
The earliest known human habitation in the Edinburgh area was at Cramond, where evidence was found of a Mesolithic camp site dated to c. 8500 BC. Traces of later Bronze Age and Iron Age settlements have been found on Castle Rock, Arthur’s Seat, Craiglockhart Hill and the Pentland Hills.
The city hosts a series of festivals that run between the end of July and early September each year. The best known of these events are the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the Edinburgh International Festival, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the Edinburgh Art Festival and the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
The longest established of these festivals is the Edinburgh International Festival, which was first held in 1947 and consists mainly of a programme of high-profile theatre productions and classical music performances, featuring international directors, conductors, theatre companies and orchestras.
The annual Edinburgh Hogmanay celebration was originally an informal street party focused on Tron Kirk in the Old Town’s High Street. Since 1993, it has been officially organised with the focus moved to Princes Street. In 1996, over 300,000 people attended, leading to ticketing of the main street party in later years up to a limit of 100,000 tickets. Hogmanay now covers four days of processions, concerts and fireworks, with the street party beginning on Hogmanay. Alternative tickets are available for entrance into the Princes Street Gardens concert and Cèilidh, where well-known artists perform and ticket holders can participate in traditional Scottish cèilidh dancing. The event attracts thousands of people from all over the world.
Outside the Festival season, Edinburgh supports several theatres and production companies. The Royal Lyceum Theatre has its own company, while the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh Festival Theatre and Edinburgh Playhouse stage large touring shows. The Traverse Theatre presents a more contemporary repertoire. Amateur theatre companies productions are staged at the Bedlam Theatre, Church Hill Theatre and King’s Theatre among others.
The Usher Hall is Edinburgh’s premier venue for classical music, as well as occasional popular music concerts. It was the venue for the Eurovision Song Contest 1972. Other halls staging music and theatre include The Hub, the Assembly Rooms and the Queen’s Hall. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra is based in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh has many museums and libraries. These include the National Museum of Scotland, the National Library of Scotland, National War Museum, the Museum of Edinburgh, Surgeons’ Hall Museum, the Writers’ Museum, the Museum of Childhood and Dynamic Earth. The Museum on The Mound has exhibits on money and banking.
Edinburgh Zoo, covering 82 acres (33 ha) on Corstorphine Hill, is the second most visited paid tourist attraction in Scotland, and home to two giant pandas, Tian Tian and Yang Guang, on loan from the People’s Republic of China.
Edinburgh has one repertory cinema, The Cameo, and formerly, the Edinburgh Filmhouse as well as the independent Dominion Cinema and a range of multiplexes.
Edinburgh Airport is Scotland’s busiest airport and the principal international gateway to the capital, handling over 14.7 million passengers; it was also the sixth-busiest airport in the United Kingdom by total passengers in 2019. In anticipation of rising passenger numbers, the former operator of the airport BAA outlined a draft masterplan in 2011 to provide for the expansion of the airfield and the terminal building. In June 2012, Global Infrastructure Partners purchased the airport for £807 million. The possibility of building a second runway to cope with an increased number of aircraft movements has also been mooted.
Edinburgh Waverley is the second-busiest railway station in Scotland, with only Glasgow Central handling more passengers. On the evidence of passenger entries and exits between April 2015 and March 2016, Edinburgh Waverley is the fifth-busiest station outside London; it is also the UK’s second biggest station in terms of the number of platforms and area size. Waverley is the terminus for most trains arriving from London King’s Cross and the departure point for many rail services within Scotland operated by ScotRail.
There are three universities in Edinburgh: the University of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt University and Edinburgh Napier University.
Established by royal charter in 1583, the University of Edinburgh is one of Scotland’s ancient universities and is the fourth oldest in the country after St Andrews, Glasgow and Aberdeen. Originally centred on Old College the university expanded to premises on The Mound, the Royal Mile and George Square. Today, the King’s Buildings in the south of the city contain most of the schools within the College of Science and Engineering. In 2002, the medical school moved to purpose built accommodation adjacent to the new Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh at Little France. The university is placed 16th in the QS World University Rankings for 2022.
Heriot-Watt University is based at the Riccarton campus in the west of Edinburgh. Originally established in 1821, as the world’s first mechanics’ institute, it was granted university status by royal charter in 1966.
Edinburgh Napier University was originally founded as the Napier College, which was renamed Napier Polytechnic in 1986 and gained university status in 1992. Edinburgh Napier University has campuses in the south and west of the city, including the former Merchiston Tower and Craiglockhart Hydropathic. It is home to the Screen Academy Scotland.
Edinburgh has three football clubs that play in the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL): Heart of Midlothian, founded in 1874, Hibernian, founded in 1875 and Edinburgh City, founded in 1966.
The Heart of Midlothian and Hibernian are known locally as “Hearts” and “Hibs”, respectively. Both play in the Scottish Premiership. They are the oldest city rivals in Scotland and the Edinburgh derby is one of the oldest derby matches in world football. Both clubs have won the Scottish league championship four times. Hearts have won the Scottish Cup eight times and the Scottish League Cup four times. Hibs have won the Scottish Cup and the Scottish League Cup three times each. Edinburgh City were promoted to Scottish League Two in the 2015–16 season, becoming the first club to win promotion to the SPFL via the pyramid system playoffs.
The Scotland national rugby union team play at Murrayfield Stadium, and the professional Edinburgh Rugby team play at the nextdoor Edinburgh Rugby Stadium; both are owned by the Scottish Rugby Union and are also used for other events, including music concerts. Murrayfield is the largest capacity stadium in Scotland, seating 67,144 spectators. Edinburgh is also home to Scottish Premiership teams Boroughmuir RFC, Currie RFC, the Edinburgh Academicals, Heriot’s Rugby Club and Watsonians RFC.
Edinburgh’s Old Town and New Town together are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which has been managed by Edinburgh World Heritage since 1999.