Cultural icons of Edinburgh

Edinburgh native Robin McKelvie reveals the city’s most celebrated cultural icons

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Robin McKelvie

Robin McKelvie
HomeAway travel expert

Cultural Icons of Edinburgh Some cities boast one or two seminal icons; prodigious talents who have had a seminal influence on the city around them. Edinburgh doesn’t. The Scottish capital instead overflows with highly talented novelists, poets and artists who have all helped define both how the city sees itself and its past, but also how the world sees its myriad layers today. Edinburgh today is as much about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or Inspector Rebus as it is about its picturesque old town or landmark castle.

Given this rich tapestry of literary and artistic luminaries, it comes as no surprise to learn that Edinburgh was named the very first UNESCO City of Literature back in 2004. For visitors this translates as a welter of talent who have created a wealth of books, poems and paintings that can help you develop a deeper understanding of the Scottish capital even before you arrive. This cultural canon can also be enjoyed against a backdrop of this deeply attractive city. For the ultimate cultural experience you can visit the buildings, monuments and even the bars that tie into these famous cultural icons of Edinburgh.


Meet Edinburgh's cultural icons


Sir Walter Scott Sir Walter Scott

Arguably Edinburgh’s greatest novelist ever, and also a deeply talented writer of poems and essays, has the city’s main railway station, Waverley, named after his landmark Waverley novels. The most striking testament to Scott is the unmissable Victorian monument that rockets skywards above Princes Street Gardens in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle. Scott himself sits in stony silence inside this perhaps rather overblown 200 feet high monument, while 287 stairs take you up to enjoy epic views of the city so beloved of the great writer.

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Robert Burns Robert Burns

The romantic and often risqué verse of Scotland’s bard, Robert Burns, still reverberates around the old town of Edinburgh. Nowhere more so than the raucous Grassmarket, for centuries home to some of the city’s liveliest pubs. Burns used to lodge here and pop next door to the Beehive Inn to catch cock fights. It is fitting then that today The Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour sets off in the poet’s shadow at the Beehive. The evening perfectly combines a swathe of historic pubs and the works of Burns, with a flurry of other talented writers.

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Robert Louis Stevenson Robert Louis Stevenson

The ghost of Stevenson and the multiple spectres of his characters haunt Edinburgh everywhere, from the little known Kidnapped statue on Corstorphine Road, to the Deacon Brodie pub on the Royal Mile, which celebrates the infamous respected citizen by day/burglar by night who inspired the Jekyll and Hyde story. The most profound understanding of Stevenson can be gleaned from the Writer’s Museum just off the Royal Mile.

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Sir Eduardo Luigi Paolozzi Sir Eduardo Luigi Paolozzi

Edinburgh born Paolozzi was one of Scotland’s greatest ever sculptors, perhaps the greatest. His distinctive work adorns many public spaces across the UK (such as the murals at Tottenham Court Road tube station in London and the Faraday Sculpture at the University of Birmingham) and in Edinburgh can be viewed in Leith. Here sits The Manuscript of Monte Casino, a work that gazes towards Paolozzi's birthplace of Leith. To gain a real insight into Paolozzi a visit to the Museum of Modern Art is essential. It houses a recreation of his old studio as well as some of his most acclaimed work.

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Ian Rankin Ian Rankin

JK Rowling may famously hail from Edinburgh and also have written her first Harry Potter novel in the city’s Elephant House Café, but surely of the current crop of Edinburgh writers it is Ian Rankin who most evokes the many faces of Scotland’s capital. His Inspector Rebus novels conjure up a city of mystery, where dark forces hide behind elegant façades, a city that Stevenson in his Jekyll and Hyde guise would have instantly recognised. Rebus fans are usually as surprised as they are delighted to find that the hardnosed fictional detective’s favourite boozer, the Oxford Bar, actually exists.

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