Not ‘hidden gems’ just really interesting places to visit in Edinburgh.
Scotland’s capital city is a fascinating place to visit. It’s packed with countless grand historical buildings which visitors to the city flock to. But alongside the best-known monuments there are many more unusual things to see in Edinburgh.
While they are all worth visiting, some of them do tell a painful story but together are an integral part of Edinburgh history. As such, should time allow, are well worthwhile exploring.
I’ve kept the number to four on this page which lets me add a bit more detail which you might not normally find on this type of article.
I really didn’t want to call them Edinburgh’s hidden gems, I just thought they were interesting places to visit.
The Covenanter’s Memorial
On the edge of the Grassmarket, part of Edinburgh’s Old Town, a roughly cut raised disc with granite circle and Saltire cross provides a poignant reminder of Scotland’s often brutal religious struggles.
A brief introduction to the Covenanters
During the early months of 1637 it became clear that the attempt by King Charles I and his hated Archbishop Laud of Canterbury to introduce the English prayer book into the Scottish Kirk would not be tolerated.
Two leading Scottish Presbyterians, Moderator of the General Assembly, Alexander Henderson and his clerk Archibald Johnstone (Lord Warriston) drew up a document of protest against the king’s actions. It became known as the National Covenant.
On February 28, 1638 Scottish nobles gathered at Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh to sign the document. The following day thousands more queued to add their name to a piece of Scottish history that would ultimately divide the country and plunge it into war.
Those who signed the document became known as Covenanters.
If you would like to learn more, Greyfriars Kirkyard, close to the Grassmarket is the site of the Covenanter’s Prison which following the Battle of Bothwell Bridge in 1679, was filled with prisoners held in awful conditions.
My article on Greyfriars Kirkyard says a little more.
More Edinburgh attractions
- NTS properties in Edinburgh & nearby
The prison is usually locked but if you ask at Greyfriars Kirk you should be able to arrange a visit.
The Archivist’s Garden
Edinburgh’s Archivist’s Garden might well be described and an oasis of peace in the heart of a busy city. Entrance is free.
This little-known garden is located close to the east end of Princess Street, between General Register House and New Register House which hold the National Records of Scotland (NRS). The garden was created by David Mitchell of Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens to signify Scotland’s collective memory.
The garden is planted with 57 species, each one associated with Scotland’s history through folklore, heraldry, myth, tartan, birth, marriage and death, homecoming and famous Scots.
Excellent Information boards will guide you through the role of plants in Scottish culture.
Among the plants, with the most obvious connections to Scotland, are: Bell Heather, Scotch Rose, White Rose of Scotland and hazel, the plant badge of the Clan Colquhoun and the perfect representation of the wonderful Harry Lauder’s twisted walking stick.
It’s a lovely city centre space, packed with colour and texture and history – a fascinating place to explore.
The NRS website has all the details about the garden including opening times, how to find it and further information about some of the plants and the role they play in our national identity.
The Statue of Abraham Lincoln
A statue of former American president Abraham Lincoln is not something you might expect to see in Scotland’s capital cit
But the Emancipation or Lincoln Monument, unveiled in August 1893 is located in Edinburgh’s Old Calton Burial Ground. It commemorates the Scottish-American soldiers who fought on behalf of the Union in the American Civil War.
The memorial, complete with bronze shield and American flag wreathed in thistles, stands over a slave being released from his shackles
The names of six Edinburgh residents who took part in the conflict are inscribed on the memorial.
Although the Lincoln Monument, the only one to a US president in Scotland, is particularly poignant, others who lie in the burial ground also have a story to tell. They include philosopher David Hume, a leading Scottish Enlightenment figure, whose striking mausoleum is adjacent to Lincoln.
My article on Truly Edinburgh says more about the Old Calton Burial Ground.
You can find the cemetery on Waterloo Place, on the opposite side of the road from the entrance to Calton Hill and close to the east end of Princes Street.
The Witches’ Well
The Witches’ Well, a small fountain with plaque, is set into the wall of Edinburgh Castle esplanade. It marks the spot where over 300 people, the vast majority were women, were burned at the stake
They unfortunate victims were first often nearly drowned in the stinking waters of the Nor’ Loch, today drained and the site for Princes Street Gardens.
The accused were tied and thrown into the Nor’ Loch – if they drowned, they were believed to be free of evil spirits but if they survived the ordeal they were promptly burned at the stake, many on the nearby Castlehill.
More people were burned on Castlehill than any other part of the country. Some were strangled before the pyre was lit – were they the ‘lucky’ ones?
The plaque reads, “This Fountain, designed by John Duncan R.S.A is near the site on which many witches were burned at the stake. The wicked head and serene head signify that some used their exceptional knowledge for evil purposes while others were misunderstood and wished their kind nothing but good.
“The serpent has the dual significance of evil and wisdom. The foxglove spray further emphasises the dual purpose of many common objects.”