Edinburgh, the fringe city

Robert Louis Stevenson had Edinburgh in mind when he wrote The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Its literary connections were what brought me to the “city of literature” last summer, the capital of Scotland that inspired art with its duality.

The bright and pleasant side of Edinburgh can be experienced in its unique museums and galleries located around the city centre. Obscurely hidden in Lady Stair’s Close is The Writer’s Museum, which exhibits the possessions and rare editions of books that once belonged to three celebrated Scottish writers: Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott. Strolling through the city centre at our own time proved to be rewarding as we chanced upon many other amusing sights. The Museum of Childhood, for one, is a depository that traces the evolution of childhood toys and objects from the 18th to the 21st century.

Art lovers should visit The Elephant House, a quaint little teahouse and restaurant frequented by contemporary writers such as J.K. Rowling. It boasts large crowds that were ardent (as much as we were) to have meals at the birthplace of Harry Potter. Instead of waiting in the queue, however, we decided to have lunch in a lesser-known pub, aptly called Jekyll and Hyde, notable for the Gothic ambience created by its remarkably detailed interior design.

As night descends, Edinburgh morphs into eerie streets characteristic of Mr Hyde’s haunts.  Not called a city of secrets for nothing, it did not take us long to learn about its dark past, from the oppression of the poor through the Poor Law to the unorthodox witch-hunting and persecution. The underground South Bridge Vaults are located down below the Old Town, rumoured to be haunted. There are five-star guided tours held within these vaults, dramatically conducted with as much historical authenticity as possible, although it is not for the superstitious or faint-hearted.

Up on the streets there are various other evening tours that delve into Edinburgh’s bloody past. The guides, dedicatedly dressed and acting in character, share the tales of famous criminals and victims of the gallows and the guillotine in Royal Mile, a stretch of busy streets which people would otherwise walk past in ignorance.

We maximised our activities by purchasing two-day Edinburgh passes at about £39 (one-day and three-day passes are available at different rates). The smart card gave free entry for over 30 attractions and discounts all around the area. Although it does not include entry into Edinburgh Castle, the pass is sufficient for one to visit galleries, the Camera Obscura, Dynamic Earth, the Edinburgh Dungeon and more without having to worry about the entry costs.

Edinburgh, the Unesco world heritage site, embodies the juxtaposed elements of light and darkness in the city. They form the literary fascination that drives culture vultures to hover in the city year after year.


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May 2021
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