|Over four million tourists visit Edinburgh each year, according to Visit Scotland, and Scotland’s capital city has an almost magical attraction for visitors, says Stephen Penman from Berlitz. “The city is alive,” he says. “It has a heartbeat, it breathes and it has a character so distinctive that you can’t help being drawn to it. People come here and fall in love with the place. Many people start looking for jobs. Companies should be aware that if they send their employees to study in Edinburgh they should be prepared to lose that employee.”
Edinburgh is famous worldwide as host of the annual arts and fringe festival and many language students are attracted to the city for this reason alone. Amanda Henderson from the Institute for Applied Language Studies (IALS) at the University of Edinburgh says that they are well placed for students to take full advantage of all the festival have to offer. “During August, students spend a lot of free time visiting the Edinburgh Festival,” she says. “IALS is located right in the centre of these activities with many venues for drama, comedy, exhibitions and music right on our doorstep.”
The Edinburgh Festival is actually a collection of festivals that take place in August and early September, showcasing the latest talent in the fields of music, dance, comedy and theatre. The most popular event with students is usually the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which is now the largest arts festival in the world, but other events that also take place include the Edinburgh International Film Festival, the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival and the Military Tattoo.
As host to such a distinctive and contemporary arts event, Edinburgh exudes a modern and creative buzz at all times of the year that is immediately striking to visitors. Sya Bruce from Hawthorn Edinburgh adds that the city has a very youthful population, which also helps create a student-friendly atmosphere. “Edinburgh is a vibrant student city with three universities and many colleges,” she says. “All of which have lively student unions which are open to anyone with a student card which we supply our students with.”
The city is also small enough for students to be able to get around easily and affords a number of attractions for those taking a stroll through the centre. “Every step through the city is a revelation,” says Bruce. “Students will find themselves surprised by tiny alleyways leading to ancient courtyards or amazing panoramic city views emerging from behind the medieval architecture.”
Penman adds, “Both the old town and the new town are a designated World Heritage Site so the streets and the buildings themselves are a tourist attraction. The castle is the most dominant building in the city and we have palaces, churches, museums, galleries many of them free to visit.”
The city’s most famous street is the Royal Mile (1), which has Edinburgh Castle (2) situated at one end and Holyrood Palace (3) the official residence for the kings and queens of Scotland since the 15th century at the other. “Hawthorn Edinburgh is lucky enough to be situated on the Royal Mile one of Britain’s most famous streets,” says Bruce. “Its amazing architecture sweeps down from towering tenements into the Georgian splendour of the new town.”
The New Town area of the city is a popular haunt for students, according to Andrew Fisher of EAC, Chairperson of the Scottish schools group, Seltic, due to its modern high street shops and boutiques. He adds, “For night owls, Edinburgh has a large student population and many pubs, clubs and restaurants to choose from.”
Jackie Simpson from Aspect adds, “Edinburgh Castle, the Camera Obscura, the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre and the various ghost tours are all popular with students.”
As well as its beautiful architecture and historic city buildings, Edinburgh also affords a number of natural attractions. Arthur’s Seat is the main peak of a group of hills that can be found in Edinburgh’s city centre and is the remains of an ancient volcano system. The same volcanic system was responsible for the formation of Castle Rock, where Edinburgh castle now stands. The unspoilt wildness of Edinburgh’s hills means that those wanting to experience the great outdoors don’t have far to travel from the city centre. “It is easy to feel like you are in the countryside when in fact you are minutes from the centre of a major European capital,” notes Penman.
Another aspect of Edinburgh that may come as a surprise to students is the city’s position on the coast, which means there is easy access to a number of beautiful beaches from the city. Jane McKinlay, from ECS Scotland, says that “walking on the hills or on the beach” is a popular activity. She adds, “Some students take the opportunity to play golf on the inexpensive city golf courses.”
McKinlay points out that Roslyn Chapel has also recently become a popular destination for students since it featured in the book by Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code, and the Hollywood film, while further afield, “favourite attractions for students are Tantallon Castle in East Lothian, the William Wallace monument in Stirling, New Lanark World Heritage Centre (Robert Owen’s 18th century cotton mill) and St Abbotsford House (home of Sir Walter Scott)”.
Scotland is famous for its whisky distilleries and no stay in Edinburgh would be complete without a trip to one of the country’s famous drink manufacturers. A popular choice from the many local distilleries is the Glenkinchie Distillery, which produces The Edinburgh Malt.
With so much to see and do in their spare time, it is no wonder that Henderson notes, “many of our students return home for a rest!” Edinburgh’s busy city vibe also means that making local friends is relatively easy for international students. “Scottish hospitality is renowned for being warm and unquestioning,” says Henderson. “Scots themselves are great travellers and enthusiastically share the traditions of their culture the ceilidh (traditional Scottish dance), first footing [visiting friends houses after midnight] at Hogmanay (New Year), storytelling and sharing a wee dram of whisky this isn’t just folklore.”
Mixing with the local people necessarily means experiencing some of Scotland’s traditional pursuits and, according to Simpson, “Pub nights and ceilidhs are always popular.” Visiting local pubs is a good way to get to meet the people as they are such hospitable places, says Penman. “Or you could just get into conversation with someone in a shop or at the station or on a walk in the park,” he adds. Students often find that local people will go out of their way to help. “I hear constantly how friendly locals are, in host families, in the street as well as in shops and bars,” says Colin Smith from Basil Paterson College, adding, “Locals have been known to take students to a place, not just show them on a map.”
“I think people select Scotland mainly for the natural beauty and interesting history and Edinburgh because, although it is the capital, it is different from London. It’s more beautiful and quiet and the people are very kind. I have several excellent partner schools in Edinburgh where I place my clients and this also contributes to their image of Scotland as being the best place they have been.”
Karel Melzmuf, English Language Consultancy, Czech Republic
“For the majority of students, Edinburgh is a novelty most Spanish students usually go to the south coast of England. All the students who have been to Edinburgh return absolutely delighted. The thing they like most is the city itself they are usually very surprised at how beautiful it is and the people, whom they consider to be very warm and welcoming.”
Trevor Sowerby, Manchester School Idiomas, Spain
“Edinburgh is very well known in Taiwan due to the Edinburgh International Festival and the Military Tattoo. Individual students will stay in London one week for sightseeing and then fly to Edinburgh to study. For groups, Taiwanese prefer to study two weeks in London (or Cambridge) and two weeks in Edinburgh. It is a combination of English and Scottish culture tour.”
Danny Chang, Global Education, Taiwan
“I personally think Edinburgh is a wonderful place to study and meet people. I’d like to convince more students to visit a lovely place as Edinburgh but as the flight options are not so good it is sometimes a bit difficult.”
Heike Rehder, Dialog Sprachkurse, Germany