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Travel / Tours / Scotland / Edinburgh
Visit Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland
  Arthur's Seat
  Calton Hill
  Canongate (Royal Mile)
  High Street (Royal Mile)
  Lawnmarket (Royal Mile)
  Castle Hill (Royal Mile)
  Edinburgh Castle
  Greyfriars Bobby
  The Mound / Princes Street
  Around Edinburgh
  Further information


Edinburgh is the capital city and centre of administration of Scotland, with a population of about 500,000. It is home of the Scottish parliament. Many people visit during the arts/entertainment festivals in August (to see the Edinburgh Tattoo, Edinburgh Festival and Edinburgh Fringe Festival). The Scottish celebrate New Year much more than the English, in a festival known as Hogmanay. There is a big street party in Edinburgh on the night of New Year's Eve, and the celebrations continue for two days.

For many years most of the buildings in Edinburgh were constructed in the area known as the Old Town. It was much safer to live inside city walls: the city was often attacked during fighting between the English and Scottish. There was a shortage of space, so people lived in tall buildings (see picture below), with the richest people living on the floors in the middle. Waste was thrown out of the windows onto the street (there was no sewage system), so the lowest floors could be smelly places to live.

Following the union between England and Scotland, the city enjoyed peaceful times. Starting in about 1760, during the time known as the Georgian period, the "new town" was created outside the old city walls. Buildings were created from white sandstone, in a style which was influenced by the classical designs of Ancient Greece. Edinburgh is sometimes called the Athens of the North.

Typical building
in the Old Town

A Scottish

Georgian crescent
in the New Town

Edinburgh (picture guide book)
Author: Vivien Brett
Publisher: Pitkin Guides
Date: February 2001
A Guide to the Royal Mile (guide book)
Author: Gordon Wright
Publisher: Steve Savage Publishers
Date: March 2005

Edinburgh (guide book)
Author: Donald Reid
Publisher: Rough Guides
Date: June 2005


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This tour of Edinburgh starts in the place called Holyrood. In the pictures below you can see the ruins of Holyrood Abbey and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The area in the background is called Holyrood Park.

Holyrood Abbey

Holyrood Abbey (left) & Holyrood Palace (right)

This area used to be a royal hunting park. When the Scottish King called David the First went hunting in this area one day in 1128, he was attacked by a stag (a male deer). He was thrown off his horse and tried to grab the stag's antlers to protect himself. According to legend, a crucifix (a cross) suddenly appeared above the stag's head. When the king held the cross, the stag became calm and walked away peacefully. King David believed this was a sign, and following a dream that night he started to build Holyrood Abbey to thank God for saving him. It became a place where monks lived. The abbey was extended at the end of the 12th century and during the early years of the 13th century: the ruins you can see today date from this period.

If you look carefully at the entrance gate you can see that it contains the head of a deer with a cross above it, representing the story about David the First. The name Holyrood also comes from this story: it means "holy cross".

Stag and cross on the palace gate

State Apartments at Holyroodhouse

Construction of Holyrood Palace next to the abbey was started by the Scottish king James the Fourth in 1501. The royal court, which used to meet in the safety of Edinburgh Castle, moved into this building. When the kings and queens needed to travel from the palace to the castle they would follow a road which is now known as the Royal Mile.

It is traditional for the British king or queen (currently Queen Elizabeth the Second) to stay in Scotland at Balmoral during part of the summer, and to spend time at Holyrood first (they stay in the rooms known as the State Apartments). The fountain which you can see in the foreground is only turned on when royalty is visiting. The buildings which you can see today were constructed in the 1670s (during the reign of King Charles the Second).

You can visit the abbey and palace: there is an entrance charge. For further information, see:

The Palace of Holyroodhouse: Official Guidebook
Publisher: Royal Collection
Date: October 2006
Royal Palaces of Britain
Authors: Jane Struthers, Paul Riddle, Chris Coe
Publisher: New Holland Publishers (UK)
Date: October 2004

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To the south of the palace are some dramatic rocky hills called Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags. Many years ago there were active volcanoes here. Arthur's Seat (the highest point, 822 feet above sea level) was probably named after a local prince from the 6th century. When you look from Meadowbank (to the north), the hills look like a lion which is lying down. Visitors can walk from near the entrance to Holyrood Palace to the top of Arthur's Seat to enjoy lovely views of the city. Cars or coaches can follow the road known as Queen's Drive.

View from Queen's Drive

A photo opportunity!

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On the other side of Holyrood Palace, you can walk for about 15 minutes to climb to the top of Calton Hill. From the top you have an excellent view of the city and the River Forth, and there are several stone monuments to see. The National Monument is a memorial for the people who died in the wars against the French leader Napoleon Bonaparte: there wasn't enough money to complete it, so it was left unfinished in 1820. The Nelson Monument was built to look like a telescope. The ball at the top drops to the bottom at 1 o'clock each day. If you pay a small charge you can enter and climb to the top of the tower.

National Monument

Nelson Monument

Burns monument

The Burns Monument is dedicated to the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-96), whose life is also celebrated each January on Burns Night. He is most famous for the song Auld Lang Syne. Various versions of which are sung in many countries across the world, especially at the end of events just before everyone leaves.

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From the gates in front of the palace you can follow the same path to the castle that the kings and queens used to use: the Royal Mile. This is made up of 4 roads: first Canongate, then High Street, then Lawnmarket, and finally Castle Hill. There are many interesting shops and museums along the roads.

The most impressive building on Canongate is Canongate Kirk (kirk is a Scottish word meaning a church). The British royal crest is displayed on the church, because the Royal Family worships here when it is staying at Holyrood. On the top are the antlers of a deer and a cross, representing the story about the foundation of Holyrood Abbey by David the First (see above). In the graveyard is the grave of Adam Smith, who wrote "The Wealth of Nations".

Nearby there are two free museums. The Museum of Edinburgh (inside an old building called Huntly House) shows exhibits connected to local history. One of the items which may be of interest are the collar and bowl of the dog Greyfriars' Bobby (for details, see below). The People's Story at the Canongate Tolbooth is a museum about the everyday lives of Edinburgh people in the last 200 years.

Canongate Kirk

Museum of Edinburgh

The People's Story

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In the Old Town is a large Christian church called St Giles' Cathedral. The main pillars were built in about 1120, and the crown-shaped spire (a style only found in Scotland) was added in 1495. As well as the cathedral itself, you can also visit the Thistle Chapel (built in about 1910). The highest honour given by The Royal Family is the title of Order of the Thistle.

Near to the cathedral you can see the shape of a heart in the path. This is known as the Heart of Midlothian. It shows the location of the tolbooth, a place which was originally used to collect tolls and other taxes, but has also been the a place for a prison and for executions. The tolbooth was destroyed in 1817.

In late August / early September this area is particularly busy because of the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which are major arts festivals. Stages are set up here on which there are free short performances by artists who want to attract people to visit their shows.

Entrance to St Giles Cathedral

Heart of Midlothian

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On Lawnmarket is the Writers' Museum, which introduces the life and work of Scotland's three most famous writers: Robert ("Rabbie") Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Nearby is Deacon Brodie's Tavern. This is named after a local man called Deacon William Brodie. Although he was an important and respectable man in the city during the day, at night he would steal from people's homes. It was the "double life" of this man which inspired the Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson to write the story about Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: the respectable Dr Jekyll turns into the monster Mr Hyde at night (the story, which is based in London, has been made into several popular horror films).

Deacon Brodie:

a respectable man during the day ...

... but a thief at night

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Tales of Terror
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
Publisher: Penguin Books
Date: February 2003
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde [2003] (DVD)

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde [1932] (DVD)

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At the end of the Royal Mile is a steep path towards the castle, known as Castle Hill. There are several interesting museums here.

The Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre explains the history and manufacturing process of whisky (this drink is exported from Scotland to many parts of the world). There is plenty of whisky on sale in the shop.

The Camera Obscura includes displays of early cameras as well as holograms and other interesting ways of using light.

The Tartan Weaving Mill includes a free museum showing the history of the kilt (the traditional dress of Scotland for hundreds of years), as well as a large shop.

The Spirit of the Tattoo is a free exhibition about the Edinburgh Military Tattoo (a famous annual event which includes military bands and other performances of music and dance).

Scotch Whisky
Heritage Centre


Tartan Weaving Mill
(includes a free museum)

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Edinburgh Castle, which is built on top of a cliff, dominates the city. The castle was attacked and destroyed several times, during many years of fighting between the English and Scottish.

Each day at one o'clock a cannon is fired from the northern part of the castle: this was originally done as a time signal for ships on the River Forth.

The castle is a popular visitor attraction, although there is an entrance charge.

Edinburgh Castle, by day ...

... and by night

Edinburgh Castle: The Official Souvenir Guide
Author: C. J Tabraham
Publisher: TCRE Division / Scottish Conservation Bureau
Date: January 2004
Scotland's Castles (Historic Scotland)
Author: Chris Tabraham
Publisher: B.T. Batsford
Date: June 1997

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At the junction of Candlemaker Row and George IV Bridge is a life-size statue of a dog known as Greyfriars' Bobby. After his master died, Bobby (a Skye terrier) slept on his master's grave each night for 14 years. The local people were impressed with Bobby's devotion, and when he died he was buried close to his master. If you visit the churchyard at Greyfriars' Kirk you can see a gravestone which has been put up for Bobby with the inscription "Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all". Bobby's story became widely known after Disney made a film based on his life.

Bobby's grave

Statue of Bobby (Candlemaker Row)

Greyfriars Bobby (book)
Author: Eleanor Atkinson
Publisher: Penguin Popular Classics
Date: May 1996
Greyfriars Bobby [1960] (DVD)
Studio: Walt Disney
Date: July 2004

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There is a road leading down from the castle called The Mound. There are two art museums here, including the National Gallery of Scotland. Entrance is free, but you will have to pay if you want to go to a special exhibition there.

Prince's Street is a long road with buildings along only one side, so that the view of the castle is not hidden. This is a good place to come for shopping. There is a large park next to the street. Concerts are often held on a stage here, especially during the summer. You can enjoy some of the best views of Edinburgh Castle from these gardens. Look out for the floral clock and other attractive flowerbeds. If you pay a small amount you can climb the Scott Monument, which was built in honour of the Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott.

National Gallery of Scotland

Floral clock in the gardens

Scott Monument

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There are several other attractions in the area outside Edinburgh's city centre.

The main river is called the River Forth, and it is crossed by both the Forth Railway Bridge (painted red) and a more modern road bridge. The railway bridge was the longest in the world at the time it was opened (in 1890): the red paint helps to preserve its metal.

The Royal Yacht Britannia is a luxurious boat which was used by the Queen and other members of the Royal Family during official trips abroad, and also as a place to entertain foreign guests. It was decided that it is too expensive to keep such a yacht, so it is no longer used - it is now kept in Edinburgh's old port (Leith).

Forth Bridges

Royal Yacht Britannia

The Royal Botanic Garden is located at Inverleith, not far from the city centre. The garden was originally created as a place where plants were grown to be used as medicines.

Botanic garden

Rosslyn Chapel is about 7 miles (11 km) south of Edinburgh (in the village of Rosslyn). This chapel is the hiding place for the Holy Grail in the book "The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown, and is shown in the film released in May 2006 (starring Tom Hanks). For visitor details see the chapel's website:

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A traditional Scottish meal which you can try in Edinburgh is haggis (a mixture of various parts of a sheep, salt, pepper, herbs and barley), neeps (a Scottish word for turnips), and tatties (a Scottish word for potatoes). Afterwards, you can enjoy a drink in one of the many pubs.

Traditional food: haggis, tatties & neeps

Enjoy a pint or two in a local pub

Once it is dark, a popular activity is to join one of the evening walking tours through the narrow alleyways and graveyards in the Old Town. Edinburgh's history includes stories of murders, executions and plagues, so it is said that there are many ghosts wandering through the streets at night ...

"Witchery Murder & Mystery" tour:
your guide is Adam Lyal (deceased)

"City Of The Dead"
walking tour

If you want to party all night, there are
several nightclubs in the city

There is a good nightlife in Edinburgh, including pubs, clubs and cinemas.

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The following two companies provide weekend trips to Edinburgh from London:
- International Friends: Travel/Tours/Company/InternationalFriends
- Anderson Tours: Travel/Tours/Company/AndersonTours

For tours of Scotland which start in Edinburgh, click: here.

For more information about visiting Edinburgh, visit the websites of the official tourist organisations:
Edinburgh & Lothians Tourist Board:
Scottish Tourist Board:

City guide:

Airlink bus service between Edinburgh airport and central Edinburgh:

Weather forecast for Edinburgh:

Lonely Planet verdict: Edinburgh
"Edinburgh is a unique blend of culture, sophistication and architecture, fused together in a remarkable location - it is an extraordinary city ... Scotland's capital is a World Heritage Site ... The Old Town, riddled with its nooks and crannies, stands in contrast to the orderly grid of the New Town - the world's most complete, unspoilt example of a Georgian town ... The city's size makes it a joy to walk around ... Edinburgh's castle is an irresistible sight, never failing to turn heads ... Edinburgh's spirit soars every August with a number of festivals including the daddy of them all: The Edinburgh Fringe"
(extracts from "Lonely Planet Great Britain - 2003 edition", used with permission)
Lonely Planet Great Britain
Publisher: Lonely Planet Publications
Date: May 2007
Lonely Planet Edinburgh
Publisher: Lonely Planet Publications
Date: June 2006
Other Lonely Planet publications

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Edinburgh Military Tattoo: Ideas/Album/Tattoo
Edinburgh Hogmanay: Ideas/Album/Hogmanay
Events in the UK: Ideas/Events
(see December/January for Hogmanay, January for Burns Night, August for Edinburgh Military Tattoo and the Edinburgh Festival)

Travel guide to Scotland: Travel/Tours/Scotland
Introduction to Scotland: Britain/Countries/Scotland

Home page: Home

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