Given the contrasting reputations of Edinburgh and Glasgow, any travelers who haven't examined a map of Scotland might be forgiven for thinking that they are separated by hundreds of miles. In fact, Scotland's two primary cities are only about 74km (46 miles) apart, but almost everyone who visits them will be struck by their differences.
Both cities contribute mightily - and equally - to the cultural vibrancy of the nation. With this in mind, the country is improving the public transportation links between the two cities, first by increasing the frequency of trains and second by contemplating a high-speed rail link between them.
To the east, Edinburgh offers a famous and almost fairytale-like setting, with an imposing castle high on one of many hills. Built on ancient volcanoes and first established because of its secure and defensible position, the capital of Scotland has become a crossroads. Practically everyone who comes to Scotland today spends some time in Edinburgh - and its midsummer international arts festival is one of the biggest in the world. Edinburgh is the second most popular tourist destination in Great Britain after London, and it's not hard to see why. Compact and tidy, it is more of a big town than a small city.
In the west, Glasgow, on the other hand, is not a place that anyone might call precious. Glasgow was settled earlier than its cross-country rival because it was an ideal place to ford the mighty River Clyde, and later gained a reputation for shipbuilding and industry. For all its ancient origins, today Glasgow resembles nothing so much as a modern, cosmopolitan city, with a growing population. It has overcome its 20th-century associations with grime, grit, and gangsters - and now it is arguably more vibrant than Edinburgh, with a vigorous music and art scene. Without a picturesque castle or flamboyant palace, it exemplifies urban Scotland: Dynamic and attuned to the world. In 1990, it was named European Culture Capital; in 1999, U.K. City of Architecture and Design; and in 2014, it will host the Commonwealth Games.
Edinburgh and Glasgow have a lot to offer individually, and taken as a duo, they are more impressive still. Both cities are among Europe's most dynamic centers. Edinburgh is the seat of Scottish royalty and government, and Glasgow boasts lively urban culture mixed in with Victorian splendor. Each has an increasingly busy international airport and a city center railway terminal that regularly receives trains from London and other cities in England, and from elsewhere in Scotland.
Although Scotland likes to think of itself as a separate country, the central United Kingdom government in London regulates all issues regarding international visitors and immigrants, and the same rules apply to travel to Scotland as to traveling in any part of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
Edinburgh is one of Europe's fairest cities and has even been called the Athens of the North. And what most experienced travelers to the U.K. say is true: If you can visit only two cities in all Great Britain, it's London first and Edinburgh second.
Built on extinct volcanoes atop an inlet from the North Sea (the Firth of Forth), the Scottish capital began as a small and fortified settlement on a craggy hill. Indeed, because of its defensive attributes, Edinburgh became an important, protected place for the country's often besieged rulers. Somewhat ironically, the city today represents the crossroads of Scotland for visitors: The spot that they are likely to pass through while in Scotland.
Edinburgh (remember "burgh" is always pronounced more like "burr-a" with the "a" at the end quite clipped and softly guttural) abounds with historic, intellectual, and literary associations. Names such as Mary, Queen of Scots and her nemesis, Protestant reformer John Knox; pioneering economist Adam Smith and philosopher David Hume; authors Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Muriel Spark, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; as well as inventor Alexander Graham Bell are all part of Edinburgh's past.
Today the city is famous for its world-class cultural festival. The Edinburgh Festival is actually several festivals at once: Books, comedy, drama, classical music, dance, and more. But this ancient seat of Scottish royalty has a year-round interest. When the festival-goers aren't swarming the city center, Edinburgh's pace is more relaxed, its prices are lower, and the inhabitants are under less pressure and offer a more relaxed welcome.
Edinburgh is a city that lends itself to walking. The Old Town and New Town offer moody cobbled alleys, elegant streetscapes, handsome squares, and placid parks. From several hilltops, panoramic views can be enjoyed - and the city at sunset can be a romantic sight.
Even though Glasgow might trump it when it comes to the contemporary arts, Edinburgh has traditionally been considered the cultural capital of the north. It will always be home to the National Galleries of Scotland. And as a point for excursions, it's well placed. Notable nearby attractions include Linlithgow, the Borders to the south; the Kingdom of Fife on the opposite shore of the Firth of Forth; and even St. Andrews is not far.
This information is devoted to the when, where, and how of your trip - as well as the advanced planning required to get your traveling act together and take it, literally, on the road.
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