Edinburgh’s medieval old town is characterized by way of its convoluted, narrow cobbled streets (commonly known as Closes), small courtyards and medieval houses. It is dominated by Edinburgh Castle, which is perched high upon the volcanic cone shaped Castle Hill. From here lie breathtaking views of the Royal Mile to the east, the New Town to the North and south to the spectacular Pentland Hills range.
The Old Town extends from the Castle Crag, along the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace. As well as galleries and museums, the Royal Mile contains intriguing houses and the Outlook Tower, which with Camera Obscura offers an experience which attracts many visitors.
Attractions in the Old Town
Today, tourists come from all over the world to experience Edinburgh Castle, propelling it to the position of Scotland’s second most visited tourist attraction. Sections of the castle itself date from 1130 A.D. while the Castle Rock site displays indications of ancient human settlements dating from around 900 B.C. The castle presided over many years of important Scottish historical events, such as the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century and the Jacobite Rising of 1745, and was a royal residence right up until 1603.
St Giles’ Cathedral
St. Giles’ Cathedral, often referred to as the High Kirk of Edinburgh, is a very well known feature of Edinburgh’s skyline. The cathedral is decorated with a traditional Scottish crown steeple and has now been the main focus of Edinburgh’s religious worship for almost 900 years. Nowadays, most people consider it to be Presbyterianism’s mother church.
Abbey and Palace of Holyrood House
Holyrood Palace (also referred to as the Palace of Holyroodhouse), the Queen’s official residence in Scotland, is usually open to the general public apart from times when the Royal Family are residing there. This palace has served as the primary residence of Kings and Queens of Scots for more than 600 years. Between 1528 and 1536, James V ordered a variety of additions to the palace including the northwest tower. This tower houses the chambers where Mary, Queen of Scots lived. The State Apartments inside the palace, today serve as residences for the Queen and members of the Royal Family.
Mary King’s Close
Mary King’s Close is an award winning underground attraction situated within the heart of the city on the Royal Mile and across from St. Giles Cathedral. Tour Guides wearing period outfits guide visitors, through a complicated labyrinth of alleys as well as numerous underground houses. The guides reveal a story of the city which was ravaged by plague and famine throughout the 1600’s.
Stunning views of the city are visible from the North Bridge, including views of Edinburgh’s many hills, Edinburgh Castle, the Old Town, Edinburgh University as well as the new town’s busy Princes Street featuring its many hotels and boutiques.
One of the great charms of Edinburgh, is its amazing medieval old town atmosphere with its stone houses located on the Royal Mile. During your visit to Edinburgh, you can explore some of these old houses – Gladstone’s Land, on the Royal Mile being probably the most famous.
Located in central Edinburgh, Greyfriars Kirk is a Church of Scotland place of worship with a history dating back to 1602. The church itself has been recently renovated and restored, but its most well-known feature is the ancient Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, a cemetery encircling the church.
The Scottish Parliament Building
The Scottish Parliament Building sits at the foot of Edinburgh’s famous Royal Mile in front of the beautiful Holyrood Park and Salisbury Crags. One hour walking guided tours of the building can be booked, allowing access to the area where the MSPs meet to debate.
Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is the oldest visitor attraction in the city. It was constructed in 1853 and is located just behind Edinburgh Castle. On your visit to Camera Obscura you can explore 360 º Panoramas of Edinburgh in 3D, view the city from the rooftop telescopes, uncover the history associated with the city in 3D, and enjoy the amazing optical illusions which are larger than life!
National Museum of Scotland
The National Museum of Scotland (also known as the Royal Museum) is a collaboration of works tracing Britain’s historical past from early paleontology fossil collections, dating from the beginnings of man, to modern day agricultural activities with hand’s on learning experience. The Museum is much admired throughout the world for it’s commitment to bring the sciences to life by means of interactive workshops as well as discovery centres in search of education and excellence.
The Royal Mile
The Royal Mile measures one Scots mile – 1.1 English miles or 1.8 kilometres – the distance from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace. Most of its high-rise tenements date from the 1500’s when residents from the top storeys threw trash from upper windows with warnings to people in the streets below to beware. Today, the Royal mile consists of many shops and museums such as Royal Mile Whiskies, opposite St. Giles’ Cathedral, which features over 300 whiskies from distilleries from Scotland and Ireland.
Holyrood Park located in central Edinburgh, consists of woodlands, lochs, spectacular basalt crags, marshes along with cultural remains throughout its 260-hectare area. Established in 1128 by King David I of Scotland as being the royal hunting grounds for Holyrood Abbey, it was subsequently expanded to it’s current form by James V in the 1500’s. The main feature of Holyrood Park is the volcanic remnant Arthur’s Seat, the highest point in Edinburgh at 251 metres, which offers panoramic views of the city. Queen’s Drive circles the park and provides road access to it’s crags, wetlands and parklands.
If you’ve ever seen and loved Cavehill in Belfast, you will find yourself every bit as captivated with Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. Located right in the center of Edinburgh, Arthur’s Seat stands out as the highest hill in an ancient formation of volcanic rock which graces the city’s sky line. The walk to reach the top is not too difficult and the reward is definitely worth every step, giving the visitor magnificent views of central Edinburgh and also of the basalt cliffs which lie between.
Where to stay in Edinburgh’s Old Town
If you are looking to stay in Edinburgh’s Old Town and be close to the sites above, there are over 30 hotels and apartments in this area to choose from. Some of the most popular can be found here – > Edinburgh Old Town accommodation