The Edinburgh Royal Mile lies at the centre of the city’s Old Town, still in many ways the heart and soul of Scotland’s capital. At the head of this world-famous thoroughfare which Daniel Defoe called, “The largest Longest and Finest Street in the World” is Edinburgh Castle, at its foot is the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
Visitors to Edinburgh who flock to the capital’s best-known street are following in the footsteps of kings and queens who for the last five centuries have made the short journey from Castle to Palace.
ABOUT THE ROYAL MILE
Edinburgh’s Royal Mile is really a series of connecting streets. From the top they are:
- High Street
- Abbey Strand
Edinburgh Castle, Scotland’s top tourist venue, home to the world-famous Edinburgh Military Tattoo, dominates the Edinburgh skyline and proudly boasts a thousand years of history.
This best-known of all Scottish castles is a fascinating place to visit. You’ll discover the Honours of Scotland, the Stone of Destiny – Scotland’s inauguration stone – and the mighty seige cannon that is Mons Meg. Explore St Margaret’s Chapel, Edinburgh’s oldest building and the Great Hall built by James IV. The Castle is the highlight of any visit to Edinburgh.
Find out more or book a tour of Edinburgh Castle.
Camera Obscura on Castlehill, only 100 metres from Edinburgh Castle, is Edinburgh’s oldest visitor attraction. It offers a world of optical illusions, tricks, puzzles, a magical mirror maze, the biggest display of holograms in Europe and the ever-popular Victorian ‘Eye in the Sky’. All this and an amazing view from the roof terrace. It’s an experience for kids of all ages.
More information from the Camera Obscura website
SCOTCH WHISKY EXPERIENCE
The Scotch Whisky Experience is a five star visitor experience on Castlehill. Take a tour and discover 300 years of Scotch whisky history. If you’re lucky the centre’s resident ghost may reveal some of the blenders best kept secrets. Try a nip of Laphroaig the best whisky in the world (in my humble opinion). Dine in the Amber Restaurant and Whisky Bar or immerse yourself in the world of Scotch Whisky on one of their popular whisky training courses
More information from the Scotch Whisky Experience website
Gladstone’s Land is one of the best surving examples of a 17th century Edinburgh tenement, complete with ‘luckenbooth’. The building, sited on the Lawnmarket was once owned by Thomas Gledstanes a wealthy merchant. Today, admisistered by the National Trust for Scotland, the building is open to the public.
Gladstone’s Land holds some real treasures for curious visitors. For example the ‘Little chamber’ complete with the Darien Press is a reminder of the dark days when Scotland tried to establish a colony on what is now modern Panama. One of the best-loved aspects of the house is the range of period costumes that both adults and kids can try on while exploring
Just a word of warning that on a busy day on the Royal Mile the house is easy to miss so make sure you know the location in advance.
Find out more from the National Trust for Scotland
ST GILES’ CATHEDRAL
Exploring St Giles’ Cathedral is one of my favourite things to do in Edinburgh. Don’t miss the Thistle Chapel and its intricate carvings. This magnificent building is inextricably linked to some of Scotland’s most influential figures: The Duke of Argyle, Marquis of Montrose, Jenny Geddes and those who formed the Covenanting movement that swept the nation.
Find out more or book a tour of St Giles’ Cathedral.
While many visitors to Edinburgh know they can visit the new Scottish Parliament building, opened in 2004, the fact that they can also visit the debating hall where the last Parliament of Scotland sat until the Act of Union in 1707 is less well known.
Parliament Hall, built at the instigation of Charles I and still with its original 17th century hammer beam roof sits behind St Giles Cathedral.
Although now as part of the Supreme Courts and used by lawyers and their clients, it is still open to the public although it’s not widely advertised. The Hall is peppered with statues and portraits of politicians and legal grandees who once plied their trade in this historic building. Among them Henry Erskine who found himself with the unenviable task of defending the celebrated Edinburgh thief Deacon Brodie.
THE REAL MARY KING’S CLOSE
The Close was part of a 17th century street running north under what is now Edinburgh City Chambers. A visit is an opportunity to take a look at life in the city before the Black Death arrived in 1645 and discover the stories of some of the people who once lived here. If you’re interested in the history of Edinburgh then a visit to the Real Mary King’s Close is for you.
Find out more from the Mary King’s Close website.
MUSEUM OF CHILDHOOD
It’s the first museum in the world to specialise in the history of childhood. Oft James Mossman bought the buildingen filled with laughter, it’s can be the nosiest museum in town. With toys from across the generations and around the world, it’s fun for big people as well.
Find out more from the Museum of Childhood website.
JOHN KNOX HOUSE
John Knox House is one of the oldest buildings in Edinburgh, mostly built in the 16th century with earlier sections dating to 1470. In 1556 wealthy goldsmith James Mossman and his wife bought the building. Mossman, a supporter of Mary Queen of Scots, was later hanged during the religious turmoil of the period. However whether John Knox ever lived here is a matter of debate. Today the building is a museum dedicated the the history of the Reformation. It’s a fascinaing place to visit.
Find out more from the John Knox House website.
DUNBAR’S CLOSE GARDENS
Dunbar’s Close Gardens is one of the nicest free things to do in Edinburgh. Taking its name from Edinburgh writer David Dunbar, is one of these wonderful Royal Mile ‘hidden gems’. Set back and hidden from the street this little garden, laid out in 17th century style, was a favourite of Robert Burns. It’s a place to relax and draw breath while escaping the bustle of the Old Town.
The Museum, a reminder perhaps that Edinburgh is the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature, is in Lady Stairs Close part of Lawnmarket. It’s dedicated to the lives of some of Scotland’s finest writers: Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns who stayed here when he visited Edinburgh. It houses a fascinating collection of manuscripts, portraits and personal items.
Find out more from the Writers’ Museum website.
PEOPLE’S STORY MUSEUM
Housed in the Canongate Tolbooth, this unique museum is filled with past sights, sounds and smells from the lives of the people who lived in Edinburgh.
This interesting museum takes a look some of the early working conditions that real people had to endure along with social housing, crime and leisure activities in Scotland’s capital city. It’s a story told through the medium of photographs, personal and household items.
Find out more from the People’s Story Museum website.
Palace of Holyroodhouse
THE PALACE OF HOLYROODHOUSE
The residence of Her Majesty the Queen when she visits Scotland. started life as a monastery in 1128. A visit to the Palace gives you a taste of Scotland’s turbulent past, a great place to explore if you have an interest in Scotland’s best loved monarch Mary Queen of Scots.
Find out more or book a tour to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
Visiting the Scottish Parliament building is another of the most popular free things to do in Edinburgh. While not traditionally considered as part of the Royal Mile, lies close to the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Holyrood Park. With its controversial yet award winning design it’s well worth a visit. There are a number of tour options available.
Find out more from the Scottish Parliament website.
SOME OF THE BEST-KNOWN STATUES ON THE ROYAL MILE
Edinburgh has a long history of erecting monuments and statues, reminders of significant events and important people. Although the city is packed with them it’s easy to walk past without stopping to wonder who they were and what their contribution to Scotland’s history was.
- Charles II on Parliament Square: the oldest of Edinburgh’s historic statues erected in 1685, the year of his death.
- Walter Francis Montagu Douglas Scott, 5th Duke of Buccleuch and 7th Duke of Queensberry on Parliament Square: this much respected figure was a Privy Councillor, member of parliament, Chancellor of the University of Glasgow and much more.
- David Hume on Lawnmarket: regarded by many as the greatest philosopher to write in the English language.
- Adam Smith outside St Giles Cathedral: philosopher, writer and influential economist.
- James Braidwood on Parliament Square: founder of the world’s first municipal fire service in Edinburgh in 1824.
These example listed here are just the tip of the iceberg. Edinburgh’s Royal Mile has so much more to offer, it’s crammed with fascinating historical nooks and crannies just waiting to be explored.
The Royal Geographical Society – Royal Mile Walk
The Royal Geographical Society publishes a really helpful self-guided walk of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. If you prefer there’s an app you can download to your phone. Find out more on their Discovering Britain site.