The Incredible Hipness of Edinburgh

I WROTE A FEW WEEKS AGO that “there is no such thing as small in Budapest.” If that is true, then the opposite must be said of Edinburgh, where everything is small, and cute, and surrounded by a proud air of uniqueness: things are hand-woven or hand-written or hand-made, arts & crafts, one-of-a-kind, organic and fair trade and ethical, and very, very hip.

I suspect it is no coincidence that these things are also very expensive.

There’s no denying its small-city charm, owing mostly to its younger population, connected and inspired enough to gentrify every neighbourhood, few enough in number to maintain a sense of community. The food co-op is as busy as the supermarket. For every cookie-cutter Greggs Bakery there is a locally-owned one down the block, so you never have to walk very far to find a vegan date square.

There are old police boxes standing lonesome in wide grassy parks, re-painted and re-appropriated into miniature cafes and sandwich shops. A bright green longboat along the dull brown Union Canal has been bought by a decidedly eccentric man with a dreadlocked ponytail and two lip piercings who sells chai teas and granola flapjacks.

The writing is on the chalkboard wall: this city is being invaded and reinvested in by its entrepreneurial youth. It’s a hipster haven, no doubt driven by the rich literary history (I did not pay the 12 pounds required to join the much-advertised Literary Pub Tour, but that it exists reveals much of the kind of tourists who must flock here) and slight edginess (being the “most haunted city in the UK”, there’s also no shortage of red-haired girls who very probably identify as Wiccan handing out leaflets for ghost walks), all wrapped up in an adorably kitschy haggis pie crust.

Not that the city needed the reinvigoration in the first place. Edinburgh is beautifully gothic and dreary in the kind of dramatic way that movies can only replicate, with rows of wealthier houses on the outskirts of the city that affect the appearance of small castles. The big castle, of course, sits perched omnipresently atop The Mound (what a name!), a cliffy hill of crags, teeming with tourists and serious men in serious kilts. The clouds always seem on the verge of rain, and the skyscrapers are so few that the sky is always filled with a myriad of dramatic shapes and colours.

I can’t write much more about the city because too many of the world’s greatest English writers already have. Most of them, however, are dead now, and I wonder if Robert Louis Stevenson, J.M. Barrie and Arthur Conan Doyle would have enjoyed a bit of free WiFi and a four-quid bag of organic 70-percent cocoa dark chocolate teddy bears.

Actually, come to think of it, Barrie definitely would’ve.

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