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Edinburgh World Heritage/City of Contrasts

City of Contrasts

Edinburgh: A World Heritage City and its people

You are currently standing in Scotland’s sixth World Heritage Site – the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh.

UNESCO requires each site to have a Statement of Outstanding Universal Value. This lists its special qualities or values which must be understood and protected. Edinburgh’s values include its unique physical landscape and skyline, its monuments and green spaces, the contrasting designs of its Old and New Towns and the remarkable survival of its historic buildings.

This is the ‘official line’ on Edinburgh’s value, but what do its people think? We asked a range of people who live and work in our World Heritage city to tell us what they feel is special about it. Do you agree with their views?

Aerial view of Edinburgh highlighting World Heritage Site

The Old Town is all sort of higgledy- piggledy and grown on top of each other, and the New Town is beautifully organised – it’s like a tidy cupboard.

Christine - resident

Edinburgh is often called a ‘City of Contrasts’ due to the difference between the dark, twisting streets of its Old Town and its elegantly ordered Georgian New Town. The city’s iconic skyline also contrasts the distinctive outline of its natural and cultural landmarks.

Many of Edinburgh’s people see a further contrast within the city’s stories. Behind those celebrated by its landmarks and streetscapes lie hidden histories on a range of subjects. These include poverty, the numerous women wrongly accused of witchcraft and the role of slavery in Georgian Edinburgh’s economic boom.

In 1838 when slaves were finally freed, people who lived in these streets were generously compensated for the loss of their ‘property’. Scotland’s role in slavery is evident all around, from our street names to statues.

Sir Geoff Palmer OBE - Professor Emeritus at Heriot-Watt University and human rights activist

New Town door; Ornamental dragon, Wardrop’s Court; Decorative panel above ‘Bible Land’ doorway in Canongate; Classical architectural details (image by Kevin McLean).

There's so many stories Edinburgh's got to tell, they're not always nice though.

Jim - resident

When I look at this view I think of how my mother would have seen it the same, and her mother would’ve seen the same view. Life has changed, we’ve all changed, but that skyline hasn’t.

Christine - Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a capital and yet it is a village. Sometimes I feel like I know everyone here. It is the beautiful capital of a beautiful country and it is my home.

Sonny - tour guide. Invisible (Edinburgh) trains people who have been affected by homelessness to become walking tour guides. For more information or to book a tour, please visit

I think Edinburgh’s more of a blend – like a watercolour – than a contrast.

Rebecca - resident

That view from Arthur’s seat, awww it’s absolutely stunning!

Michael - resident

Image by Tom Duffin

You always notice the skyline. You don’t take it for granted.

Melanie - resident

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