It has a medieval Old Town and elegant Georgian New Town with gardens and neoclassical buildings. Looming over the city is Edinburgh Castle, home to Scotland’s crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny, used in the coronation of Scottish rulers.
Arthur’s Seat is an imposing peak in Holyrood Park with sweeping views, and Calton Hill is topped with monuments and memorials.
The famous Edinburgh Castle is situated on the top of a volcanic rock intrusion which was resistant to erosion by the ice sheet, and so stands above the surrounding area; a perfect defensive site!
Edinburgh Old Town
The Old Town runs down the “tail” and the castle stands on the “crag”. The site of the city of Edinburgh was first named as “Castle Rock”.
The Old Town, which is located along the “tail” from the crag, on which the Castle stands tall, is preserved in the medieval street plan. It is down the tail from the castle that the famous “Royal Mile” runs. Due to the tapering of the tail, space was a problem with an expanding population in the 1500’s. Their immediate solution (before the expansion into the New Town, after the Jacobite rebellions) was to build high rise residential areas. Ten and eleven story blocks were typical for these buildings but one even reached fourteen stories!
St Giles Cathedral
Founded in the 1120s, St Giles’ was the church of John Knox during the Reformation and is often referred to as the ‘Cradle of Presbyterianism’. Highlights of a visit include our beautiful stained glass windows.
The impressive Rieger organ was installed in 1992 and the famous Thistle Chapel, home of the Knights of the Order of the Thistle, Scotland’s great order of chivalry designed by Robert Lorimer for the Order of the Thistle, was added in 1911
Despite its name, St Giles’ Cathedral is not a cathedral. The title gives an idea of its magnificent scale, but was only strictly correct for two short periods when Bishops served in the Scottish Church, from 1633-8 and from 1661-89.
King Mary’s Haunted Close
Just opposite the St Giles’ cathedral, you can see the city council and a haunted tour!
It took its name from one Mary King, daughter of advocate Alexander King, who in the 17th century had owned several properties within the close. The close was partially demolished and buried under the Royal Exchange, and later being closed to the public for many years, the complex became shrouded in myths and urban legends; tales of ghosts and murders, and myths of plague victims being walled up and left to die abounded.
However, new research and archaeological evidence has revealed that the close actually consists of a number of closes which were originally narrow streets with tenement houses on either side, stretching up to seven stories high. Mary King’s Close is now a commercial tourist attraction.
I absolutely recommend taking a 45min tour of the dungeons. I found a £6 off voucher in one of the city guides and got in with only £11. They made a good show and I think I was laughing though most of it (even when the cemetery seats started poking me in the back!)
King Arthur’s seat
When I Googled this, I saw some ruins and was not paying enough attention to realize that King Arthur’s seat was not an actual relic, but … a mountain. Thank God I had good hiking boots, a warm windproof jacket and the weather was clear and sunny! Don’t go on this trip if it’s cloudy as you’ll miss half the fun you see at the top.
The name “Edinburgh” is rumoured to originate from the old English of “Edwin’s fort”, referring to the 7th century King Edwin of Northumbria (and “burgh” means “fortress” or “walled collection of buildings”). However, the name probably preceded King Edwin so this is unlikely to be true. In 600 A.D. Edinburgh was referred to in the form “Din Eidyn” or “Fort of Eidyn”, when the settlement was a Gododdin hillfort. The city is also affectionately named by the Scottish as “Auld Reekie” (Reekie meaning “Smoky”), referring to the pollution from coal and wood fires that left dark smoky trails from chimneys through the Edinburgh skies. It has also been named “Auld Greekie” or the Athens of the North due to its topography; the Old Town plays a role similar to that of the Athenian Acropolis.