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Is this Britain's brainiest city?

By Lennox Morrison for BBC CAPITAL

With its medieval castle perched high on a crag, Edinburgh is renowned for its dramatic skyline and striking architecture. But the Scottish capital is more than a pretty face.

A mini-city of around half a million people, Edinburgh lays claim to being the brainiest place in Britain. Fifty-four per cent of the population is educated to university degree level, ranking it number one among British cities, said John Donnelly, chief executive of Marketing Edinburgh. London, with 49%, is its nearest rival, followed by Bristol at 44%.

As Scotland’s seat of power, law and finance and as a long-established hub for higher education – with more than 56,000 students enrolled in the city’s four universities last year – Edinburgh “intellectually competes with London” in most sectors, according to Donnelly.

 

 

“Learning, culture and literature are rooted in Edinburgh,” he said. The city’s world-famous cultural festivals bring in £260 million (3 million) annually, according to the latest Edinburgh Festivals Impact Study, and research at the universities helps drive the creation of new grey matter businesses.

Edinburgh intellectually competes with London in most sectors

All of that intellect has had pay-offs for the city. Edinburgh is home to Royal Bank of Scotland and to the Scottish headquarters of the Lloyds Banking Group. Insurers Standard Life and Scottish Widows, as well as fund managers Baillie Gifford, Martin Currie and Artemis Investment Management, are also major finance employers.

Although several big names warned they might relocate to London if Scotland left the United Kingdom ahead of thereferendum on Scottish independence last year, Scots voted to remain in the UK; the flow of brainpower north and south of the border continues.

Today, Edinburgh’s success is no longer built purely on finance and the law, but also on tech and digital innovation. The University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics has produced more world-leading and internationally excellent research in computer science and informatics than any other UK university, according to the Research Excellence Framework 2014. This assessment made assessments based not only on results published but also on their impact on society, industry and government policy.

Meanwhile, the city’s growing cluster of tech companies includes the headquarters for Skyscanner and FreeAgent, the UK headquarters for FanDuel and the Amazon Development Centre, which innovates for Amazon worldwide. Digital start-ups hub Codebase, which launched last year, bills itself as the largest tech incubator in the UK, housing 62 companies employing 400 people. Even Rockstar North, the video game developer behind Grand Theft Auto, is based here.

There are no fewer than seven specialist science parks dotted around the city, too. One, Edinburgh BioQuarter, has 1,200 research scientists and 900 hospital beds and is home to Europe’s fastest-growing academic medical centre. Well-known companies at the BioQuarter include GlaxoSmithKline and Roslin Cells.

Cool, calm and collected

In Edinburgh, though, big money doesn’t translate to big-city frenzy – like it can with its rival to the south. “I find London very similar to New York, especially in the pace. What’s particularly appealing about Edinburgh is that it has a bit more of a relaxed vibe,” said Dana Curatolo Cullen, New York-based account supervisor for Laura Davidson Public Relations and a regular business visitor to Scotland.

“There’s a calmness level on a business trip that you might not necessarily find elsewhere,” she said. “Scots have an ability to make you feel comfortable and calm when you might be in a really intense business situation.”

What’s particularly appealing about Edinburgh is that it has a bit more of a relaxed vibe

Depending on your sector, your Scottish hosts might suggest conducting business over a round of golf or following a business meeting with a cultural outing, such as a trip to the theatre, she said.

But if dinner is on the agenda, be wary of confidential discussions. “A lot of restaurants in Edinburgh are quite quaint and small, so perhaps it’s best to get the crux of the business done in the boardroom before heading out to one of Edinburgh’s fine dining establishments – particularly if you’re a large group having serious business conversations,” she advised.

The same caution applies to the departure lounge at Edinburgh Airport for the regular London shuttle flights.

Money matters

Scottish bank notes have the same value as Bank of England notes and are legal currency throughout the UK. However, since they have different designs, they are sometimes refused outside Scotland and when changing abroad. The best plan is to swap your Scottish bank notes for English ones before leaving.

Where should you stay?

Housed within a grand, red sandstone Victorian edifice is the five-star Waldorf Astoria – previously The Caledonian and still known to locals as ‘The Caley’. In the heart of the city and with Edinburgh Castle views, the hotel is a five-minute walk from the Edinburgh International Conference Centre and two minutes from the chic bars and shops of George Street. Or there's the three-star Thistle Hotel, which offers value for money in a central location. The King James has an unprepossessing exterior but is spruce, comfortable and only a four-minute walk from Waverley, the main city centre railway station.

Dinner for one

In a converted whisky warehouse on the waterfront of Edinburgh’s port of Leith, Tom Kitchin’s team prepares seasonal Scottish produce like hand-dived Orkney scallops and Highland lamb at the Michelin-starred waterfront restaurantKitchin. Or there’s gastro pub Scran & Scallie in the Stockbridge district, where home-cooked Scottish fare – or ‘scran’, in Scottish dialect – is served in modern rustic surroundings for moderate prices.

For romantic views of Edinburgh Castle and the rooftops of the Old Town, head to the Tower Restaurant above the National Museum of Scotland. Brunch, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner are served seven days a week, featuring prime local produce such as Isle of Skye lobster and scallops hand-dived off the Isle of Mull or grouse and venison from Perthshire, in season.

Time to kill?

Much of Scotland’s tumultuous history unfolded on the cobbled Royal Mile in the Old Town, and despite the requisite tartan-and-shortbread shops, it remains an unmissable and atmospheric stroll. Begin at Edinburgh Castle, once home to Mary Queen of Scots, and amble down to the Palace of Holyrood House, still in use as a residence for Queen Elizabeth II. Your path is studded with sightseeing highlights, including the High Kirk of St Giles, Scotland’s main cathedral.

At the foot of the Mound, within the colonnaded splendour of the Scottish National Gallery, you’ll find paintings by masters such as Botticelli, Vermeer and Rembrandt. It’s also home to the Scottish national collection.

Special considerations

The festival season in July and August has festivals for jazz and blues, art and books as well as world music festivalEdinburgh Mela, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the main Edinburgh International Festival and the Fringe. During those summer months, as well as at Christmas and New Year – when the city stages massive Hogmanay festivities over several days – finding accommodation can be almost impossible and prices soar. Try to book well in advance. For quality-checked options, use Visit Scotland’s official website.

Getting there

Only 8 miles (12km) west of the city, Edinburgh Airport offers flights to more than 120 destinations worldwide, including the US, Canada and the Middle East, and about 50 flights daily to London.

The host with the most

As a conference and convention host, Edinburgh offers “not just the big convention centres you’d expect”, said John Donnelly of Marketing Edinburgh, such as the recently refurbished Edinburgh International Conference Centre with its vast glass atrium and flexible flooring, but also “unique venues”, from ancient castles and whisky vaults to the Royal Yacht Britannia – formerly floating home to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.

A direct service to Stuttgart will launch in November and next year will see more direct flights to New York JFK, plus new direct links to Vienna and Helsinki.

Travel into the city centre takes just 25 to 35 minutes by bus, taxi or tram. The Airlink 100 express bus to the city centre departs outside Domestic Arrivals every 10 minutes, except between 00.15 and 04.00 when it becomes the N22 night service, running every 30 minutes. Tickets cost £4.50 (.97). To use Edinburgh Trams, follow the covered walkway from the main terminal. Trams run every 8-12 minutes, cost £5 (.74) into the city centre and are 100% wheelchair accessible. For taxis, follow the signs from the main terminal to the multi-storey car park opposite. The rank operates 24 hours and a trip downtown costs about £20 (.96).

This story is a part of BBC Britain – a series focused on exploring this extraordinary island, one story at a time. Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram

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