The day begins with a browse through the reviews in the morning newspapers. Scotland’s national paper. The Scotsman, has swapped its panoramic perch on North Bridge for a sleek new office block beside the parliament, but it retains an intimate familiarity with the local carnival that the English papers never achieve.
The best tips, however, are always word of mouth, and the best place to hear them is in the Assembly Rooms, in the Georgian New Town. This is the flagship of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, with half a dozen stages under one roof, and the top shows here are as polished as anything you will
see at the International Festival. Stars who have played here range from Steven Berkoff to Rory Bremner. Shoppers, sightseers and buskers collide on the Mound. Wedged between the chain stores of Princes Street and the craggy grandeur of the castle, it swarms with jugglers, stilt walkers and every other sort of street acrobat. If fire-eaters are too low-brow for your taste, the Mound is also the hub of Edinburgh’s fine-art collections. The National Gallery of Scotland and the (newly refurbished) Royal Scottish Academy are two of the neoclassical landmarks that give Edinburgh its self-important sobriquet, the Athens of the North. The new extension that links them is an example of how Edinburgh is becoming tactfully modern without intruding on its august past.
The linking of these galleries in time for this summer’s major Titian exhibition completes the Playfair Project, named after the architect who designed these twin –
Top, the Dugald Stewart Monument on Calton Hill. Above, from left, Martin Wishart in action at his restaurant; The Scotsman hotel; Festival street theatre
Above, chef Tony Singh creates an impressive international menu at Oloroso; the lavish Rhubarb restaurant at Prestonfield hotel galleries and shaped much of the city besides. It was an audacious move to tamper with Edinburgh’s civic core, but this is no monstrous carbuncle. The architects, John Miller & Partners, have worked on some of Britain’s greatest galleries, including the Fitzwilliam and the Tate. The new entrance is tucked away in Princes Street Gardens. Up above, Playfair’s Doric perspective remains unchanged. There are echoes of this polite nod to modernity all over town, from the Festival Theatre to The Glasshouse hotel. Since the war, most British cities have been locked in an architectural tug-of-war between the antiquated and the modern: uniquely, Edinburgh seems to have found a diplomatic way to reconcile the two.
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