Given the contrasting reputations of Edinburgh and Glasgow, any traveler who hasn't examined a map of Scotland might be forgiven for thinking that they are separated by hundreds of miles. In fact, Scotland's two primary cities are only about 45 miles apart, but almost everyone who visits them will be struck by their differences.
And although there is a good deal of competition (and some envy, too) between the two cities -- like The Beatles' Lennon and McCartney -- they are strongest as a pair, each bringing value to the partnership.
Both cities contribute mightily -- and equally -- to the cultural vibrancy of the nation. With this in mind, the country would do well to improve the public transportation links between the two cities, especially in the wee small hours.
To the east, the capital, Edinburgh, has an almost fairy-tale setting, with its imposing castle high on one hill. Built on ancient volcanoes and first established because of its secure and defensible position, it has become a crossroads. Practically everyone who comes to Scotland today spends some time in Edinburgh. And its midsummer international Festival is one of the biggest in the world. Edinburgh is the second most popular tourist destination in Great Britain following London, and it's not hard to see why. Compact and tidy, it is more of a big town than a small city.
In the west, Glasgow, on the other hand, is not a place that anyone might call precious. In comparison to Edinburgh, Glasgow was settled much earlier because it was an ideal place to ford the River Clyde, which later gained a reputation for shipbuilding and industry. Today Glasgow resembles nothing but a modern city. It has overcome its 20th-century associations with grime, grit, and gangsters -- and now it is arguably more vibrant than Edinburgh, with a vigorous indigenous music and art scene. Without a picturesque castle or twee palace, it exemplifies urban Scotland: historic, dynamic, increasingly cosmopolitan, and attuned to the world. In 1990, it was named European Culture Capital and in 1999, U.K. City of Architecture and Design.
Edinburgh and Glasgow have a lot to offer individually, and taken as a duo, they are more impressive still. Both cities are among Europe's most dynamic centers. Edinburgh is the seat of Scottish royalty and government, and urban Glasgow boasts lively culture and Victorian splendor.