After London, Edinburgh is the second most visited tourist destination in the United Kingdom. Every year over 13 million visitors come to the city, and during the annual Edinburgh Festival in August, the resident population of almost half a million is doubled.
One of the reasons the Scottish capital attracts so many visitors is because of its picturesque appearance, ancient history, and, though it is on the same latitude as Moscow, it also enjoys an equable climate with a fairly low rainfall.
There are more than 4,500 listed buildings and the appearance of the oldest part of the town, strung along on a narrow, rocky volcanic plug, is unparalleled in Europe.
Judging by archaeological evidence, people have lived in Edinburgh since the late Bronze Age, but its recorded history began in the 7th century AD when it was referred to by the English as Edin's Burgh - Edin being a local chieftain who chose the Castle Rock for his fortress because it was easy to defend.
The first houses were built along the long tail of rock that runs down from Edin's Castle, and by the 15th century people were crowded together in the earliest high rise tenements in Europe, most between 10 and 12 stories high and one even had 14 floors. As the city's population overflowed, in 1766 it was decided to build a New Town on the other side of the noisome Nor Loch beneath the Castle rock. The Loch was no loss because for centuries it had been used for sewage and rubbish disposal. Among the architects involved in building the elegant houses and grid-scheme streets of the New Town was Robert Adam. Today it is acclaimed as the finest example of Georgian town planning in the world.
Edinburgh's buildings have been added to throughout the centuries, starting with St Giles cathedral in the middle of the High Street which partly dates back to the 12th century, and building has gone on continually till the late 20th century when the new Scottish Parliament commissioned architect Enric Miralles to design its ground breaking Holyrood headquarters which were opened in 2004.
Edinburgh also attracts visitors because of its tradition of learning. The Royal High School is the oldest school in Scotland, having been established in 1128 - predating Eton by 300 years. It is still one of the last schools in Britain to provide a classical education.
In medicine, Edinburgh's Royal College of Surgeons holds a pre-eminent position, having been established in 1505. The famous Royal Infirmary, where doctors from all over the world have been trained, started in 1729 as a hospital for the Sick Poor before moving to its imposing site in Lauriston Place in 1879 which it eventually outgrew. Since 2001, it has been sited in Little France.
When the Nor Loch was drained in the 18th century, Princes Street and its Gardens were created and the city fathers excelled themselves in erecting grandiose monuments, like the Sir Walter Scott Memorial, which still adorn the streets of the city.
However, on the top of the Calton Hill overlooking the east end of Princes Street, is what is known as "Edinburgh's Disgrace". Its builders ran out of money when the hill top temple, that was meant to be a recreation of the Parthenon of Athens, was still unfinished. The burgesses of Glasgow offered to lend the funds to finish the job but their offer was refused because Edinburgh did not want financial help from its long time rival.