Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland and one of its 32 local government council areas. Located in Lothian on the Firth of Forth's southern shore, it is Scotland's second most populous city and the seventh most populous in the United Kingdom. The 2016 official population estimates are 464,990 for the city of Edinburgh, 507,170 for the local authority area, and 1,339,380 for the city region as of 2014 (Edinburgh lies at the heart of the proposed Edinburgh and South East Scotland city region). Recognised as the capital of Scotland since at least the 15th century, Edinburgh is home to the Scottish Parliament and the seat of the monarchy in Scotland. The city is also the annual venue of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and home to national institutions such as the National Museum of Scotland, the National Library of Scotland and the Scottish National Gallery. It is the largest financial centre in the UK after London.
Historically part of Midlothian, the city has long been a centre of education, particularly in the fields of medicine, Scots law, literature, the sciences and engineering. The University of Edinburgh, founded in 1582 and now one of four in the city, was placed 17th in the QS World University Rankings in 2013 and 2014. The city is also famous for the Edinburgh International Festival and the Fringe, the latter being the world's largest annual international arts festival. The city's historical and cultural attractions have made it the United Kingdom's second most popular tourist destination after London, attracting over one million overseas visitors each year. Historic sites in Edinburgh include Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, the churches of St. Giles, Greyfriars and the Canongate, and the extensive Georgian New Town, built in the 18th century. Edinburgh's Old Town and New Town together are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which has been managed by Edinburgh World Heritage since 1999.
Situated in Scotland's Central Belt, Edinburgh lies on the Firth of Forth's southern shore. The city centre is 2 1⁄2 miles (4.0 km) southwest of the shoreline of Leith and 26 miles (42 km) inland, as the crow flies, from the east coast of Scotland and the North Sea at Dunbar. While the early burgh grew up near the prominent Castle Rock, the modern city is often said to be built on seven hills, namely Calton Hill, Corstorphine Hill, Craiglockhart Hill, Braid Hill, Blackford Hill, Arthur's Seat and the Castle Rock, giving rise to allusions to the seven hills of Rome.
Occupying a narrow gap between the Firth of Forth to the north and the Pentland Hills and their outrunners to the south, the city sprawls over a landscape which is the product of early volcanic activity and later periods of intensive glaciation. Igneous activity between 350 and 400 million years ago, coupled with faulting, led to the creation of tough basalt volcanic plugs, which predominate over much of the area. One such example is the Castle Rock which forced the advancing icesheet to divide, sheltering the softer rock and forming a 1-mile-long (1.6 km) tail of material to the east, thus creating a distinctive crag and tail formation. Glacial erosion on the north side of the crag gouged a deep valley later filled by the now drained Nor Loch. These features, along with another hollow on the rock's south side, formed an ideal natural strongpoint upon which Edinburgh Castle was built. Similarly, Arthur's Seat is the remains of a volcano dating from the Carboniferous period, which was eroded by a glacier moving west to east during the ice age. Erosive action such as plucking and abrasion exposed the rocky crags to the west before leaving a tail of deposited glacial material swept to the east. This process formed the distinctive Salisbury Crags, a series of teschenite cliffs between Arthur's Seat and the location of the early burgh. The residential areas of Marchmont and Bruntsfield are built along a series of drumlin ridges south of the city centre, which were deposited as the glacier receded.
Other prominent landforms such as Calton Hill and Corstorphine Hill are also products of glacial erosion. The Braid Hills and Blackford Hill are a series of small summits to the city's south west that command expansive views looking northwards over the urban area to the Forth.
Edinburgh is drained by the river named the Water of Leith, which rises at the Colzium Springs in the Pentland Hills and runs for 29 kilometres (18 mi) through the south and west of the city, emptying into the Firth of Forth at Leith. The nearest the river gets to the city centre is at Dean Village on the north-western edge of the New Town, where a deep gorge is spanned by Thomas Telford's Dean Bridge, built in 1832 for the road to Queensferry. The Water of Leith Walkway is a mixed use trail that follows the course of the river for 19.6 kilometres (12.2 mi) from Balerno to Leith.
Excepting the shoreline of the Firth of Forth, Edinburgh is encircled by a green belt, designated in 1957, which stretches from Dalmeny in the west to Prestongrange in the east. With an average width of 3.2 kilometres (2 mi) the principal objectives of the green belt were to contain the outward expansion of the city and to prevent the agglomeration of urban areas. Expansion affecting the green belt is strictly controlled but developments such as Edinburgh Airport and the Royal Highland Showground at Ingliston lie within the zone. Similarly, suburbs such as Juniper Green and Balerno are situated on green belt land. One feature of the Edinburgh green belt is the inclusion of parcels of land within the city which are designated green belt, even though they do not connect with the peripheral ring. Examples of these independent wedges of green belt include Holyrood Park and Corstorphine Hill.
Edinburgh has many museums and libraries. These include the National Museum of Scotland, the National Library of Scotland, National War Museum, the Museum of Edinburgh, Surgeons' Hall Museum, the Writers' Museum, the Museum of Childhood and Our Dynamic Earth. The Museum on the Mound has exhibits on money and banking.
Edinburgh Zoo, covering 82 acres (33 ha) on Corstorphine Hill, is the second most popular paid tourist attraction in Scotland, and currently home to two giant pandas, Tian Tian and Yang Guang, on loan from the People's Republic of China.
Edinburgh is also home to The Royal Yacht Britannia, decommissioned in 1997 and now a five-star visitor attraction and evening events venue permanently berthed at Ocean Terminal.
Edinburgh contains Scotland's five National Galleries of Art as well as numerous smaller art galleries. The national collection is housed in the National Gallery of Scotland, located on the Mound, now linked to the Royal Scottish Academy which holds regular major exhibitions of paintings. Contemporary collections are shown in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art which occupies a split site at Belford. The Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Queen Street focuses on portraits and photography.
The council-owned City Art Centre in Market Street mounts regular art exhibitions. Across the road, The Fruitmarket Gallery offers world class exhibitions of contemporary art, featuring work by British and international artists with both emerging and established international reputations.
There are many small private galleries, including the Ingleby Gallery. This provides a varied programme including shows by Callum Innes, Peter Liversidge, Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Forster, and Sean Scully.
The city hosts several of Scotland's galleries and organisations dedicated to contemporary visual art. Significant strands of this infrastructure include: The Scottish Arts Council, Edinburgh College of Art, Talbot Rice Gallery (University of Edinburgh) and the Edinburgh Annuale.