Designated UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Old Town of Edinburgh represents the historic core of the Scottish capital, built eastwards of the Castle Crag, along the Royal Mile to Holyrood. This article also covers the areas to the immediate south and west of the Old Town - Southside, Tollcross and Bruntsfield.
Along with the New Town, the Old Town was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995.
The Old Town is well connected to the rest of Edinburgh by bus. Numerous taxi ranks can also be found, although beware, Edinburgh taxis are expensive and the ride is soon costly.
From the New Town, it's a short walk along North Bridge from the east end of Princes Street; up the Mound (quite steep!) alongside the National Galleries; or up Lothian Road from the west end of Princes Street.
- Edinburgh Castle, ☎ 0131 225 9846, . Open daily Apr-Oct 9:30AM-6PM, Nov-Mar 9:30AM-5PM. Edinburgh Castle, home to the Edinburgh Tattoo, is a magnificently situated royal fortress located on one of the highest points in the city. The castle has been continuously in use for 1000 years and is in excellent condition. The audio tour, which costs £3 per headset, is extremely detailed and worth hiring, providing both location based and chronologically based commentary on the castle. Highlights include the Honours of Scotland (the Scottish Crown Jewels) and the ancient St Margaret's Chapel. There are also concerts on the castle esplanade (in the same stands as the Tattoo). Admission adults £11, concessions £9, children £5.50.
- Abbey and Palace of Holyroodhouse, 0131 556 5100, (fax: 020 7930 9625, ) . The Palace is a royal residence, and hosts the Queen's Gallery containing a collection of art from the Royal Collection. The Palace is best known as the home of Mary Queen of Scots and as the site of the murder of Mary's secretary Rizzio, allegedly by her husband Lord Darnley. The Palace opens at 9:30AM and closes at 6PM April to October and 4:30PM during the rest of the year. Palace admission is £10 adults, £6.50 concessions, and £4.00 children. Separate admission to the gallery is £5 adults, £4 concession and £3 children. Joint admission to the gallery and the palace is £11 adults, £9 concessions and £5.50 children.
The cathedral from the east
- St Giles' Cathedral , The Royal Mile, between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse— The historic City Church of Edinburgh is also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh and takes its name from the city's patron saint. St Giles' is Presbyterianism's Mother Church and contains the Chapel of the Order of the Thistle (Scotland's chivalric company of knights headed by the Queen). The building bears a distinctive crowned spire and was first officially dedicated in 1243, although a church probably existed on the site since before the 9th century.
- Behind St. Giles' Cathedral, within the Parliament House home of the Scottish Supreme Courts, explore the 1639 Old Parliament Hall where the earlier meetings of the Scots Estates, or Parliament, took place, prior to the enactment of The 1707 Act of Union (of the Parliaments of Scotland and England).
- Mary King's Close , Warriston's Close (opposite St Giles' Cathedral), open daily except Christmas Day. A slice of Edinburgh's medieval history, preserved since being closed over in the 18th century - watch out for the haunting.
View from the North Bridge up to Calton Hill
- North Bridge— Offers spectacular views of the city skyline.
- Gladstone's Land , in the Lawnmarket at the top of the Royal Mile. It is a 17th century Old Town tenement (known as a 'Land') decorated with period furniture. It has an impressive painted ceiling.
- Greyfriars Kirkyard is a very old graveyard in Old Town off the Southwest corner of George IV Bridge. It contains some impressive, ancient grave markers and fantastic views of the surrounding Old Town. Many folk, of course, will be drawn here by its links to Greyfriars Bobby, that loyal little dog brought to worldwide fame by Walt Disney.
- The Scottish Parliament, (eastern end of the Royal Mile, opposite the Palace of Holyrood House)— A unique building (designed by the Spanish (Catalan) architect Enric Miralles) with a £431 million price tag which is much higher than the original back-of-an-envelope estimate. Highly controversial among Scots, who consider it either a daring showpiece of postmodern architecture or a national embarrassment. Free access to an exhibition, and the Debating Chamber on non-business days. It is necessary to get (free) tickets to watch the Parliament in session from the Public Gallery.
Debating Chamber, Scottish Parliament
- Camera Obscura , Castle Hill. Over 150 years old, the Camera Obscura focuses light from the top of the tower onto a large dish in a dark room below, allowing a 360 degree view of all of Edinburgh! The tower is also host to a fun and quirky gallery of optical illusions. Great views of the city from the top of the tower.
- Museum of Scotland and Royal Museum of Scotland , Chambers Street, tel 0131 247 4422. fax 0131 220 4819. typetalk 18001 0131 247 4422. email firstname.lastname@example.org. The museum mixes innovative modern architecture with the best of Scotland's heritage. The Royal Museum has a magnificent airy Victorian atrium now with the Millennium Clock at one end - arrange to be there when it is chiming. Exhibits in the Museum of Scotland include Scottish pottery and weapons from the Roman era and the Renaissance. 'Note that some of the galleries in the Royal Museum are currently (as of summer 2008) closed while a major project to extend the museum and improve access takes place. This will create a whole new storey at street level and promises to bring the museum up to the standard of the best of modern museums'. Opening hours are 10AM - 5PM Monday to Saturday with extended opening to 8PM on Tuesdays; and 12PM - 5PM Sundays. Admission is free.
- Visit the Meadows, Edinburgh's (modest) version of Central Park. Always awash with activity, the Meadows is the perfect place to relax, read a book, get drunk, or play some football. Tennis courts are available for hire at the eastern end of the park.
- Walk down the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The Royal Mile is the backbone of the sixteenth century Old Town] and most of the buildings date from this period. Take the time to divert from the main route down some of the many small "closes" that run off the Royal Mile to each side. There are plenty of bars along the length of the Royal Mile, where you can relax over a pint of Edinburgh Ale and/or a classic single malt.
- Walk around Holyrood Park which is just East of the Old Town. Created by King James the VI in the 16th century, it is like a Scottish landscape in miniature, containing Arthur's Seat , an extinct volcano with wonderful views from the summit, three lochs, and the stunning Salisbury Crags.
- Follow a ghost walk around the back streets surrounding The Royal Mile and learn about the sinister goings on of Edinburgh's past. These tours are generally excellent and are highly recommended.
- There are free walking tours that set off periodically from the High Street Starbucks. They are in a variety of languages and take about 3 hours, with a stop for lunch. Tickets are free, but the tour guides appreciate tips. Even with a generous tip for the guide, these are still a far cheaper way to see the city than most bus tours, and they give you a much more personal experience.
You don't need to go to the faceless chain stores and multinationals that line the main shopping streets in the New Town. Support local Edinburgh businesses and take home a fantastic and unique memento of your trip.
- Victoria Street, and the east end of the Grassmarket is where the Old Town's best shopping experience can be found. A clutch of independent business can be found here, and it is highly recommended that you avoid overpriced tourist traps on the Royal Mile and make a beeline for here. The best include Oddities, a must visit for the Scottish hipster, Analogue, a fantastic bookstore/art-space, Red Door Gallery, where some of the quirkiest (and best) gifts in Edinburgh can be purchased. Last but not least, Armstrongs, a local institution, has all the vintage clothing you could ever want.
- Cockburn Street (pronounced "co-burn") has many small alternative shops. Avalanche is one of the city's best independent music stores. Support your local record shop! Route One is a great skate/alt clothing store. Whiplash Trash, as the name suggests, is one of the Old Town's more risque stores. Beyond Words is a brilliant bookstore specialising in photographic titles. You will not be disappointed. Underground Solushn is a great little record store dealing mainly in dance/electro music.
- The Pubic Triangle is usually best avoided, due to its proliferation of lap-dancing establishments, but during the day you can find a number of great shops here. It can be found at the intersection of Lady Lawson Street and West Port, near the western end of the Grassmarket. A gaggle of second-hand bookstores adorn this area, as well as Pageant is a great new clothing boutique, and Focus is a skatewear/skateboard store situated at the western end of Grassmarket.
- Lothian Road is quite a busy thoroughfare, but doesn't have any real jewels, save Wonderland Models, 97 & 101 Lothian Road, ☎ 0131 229 6428 (fax: 0131 229 7625), . Claims to be the largest model and hobby shop in the country. Certainly any wee (and not so wee) boys passing through the doors will struggle to leave again without a large bag of goodies.
- The Royal Mile especially the higher end near the castle, has many tourist-oriented shops selling Scottish souvenirs from postcards to whisky and kilts. These shops help reinforce stereotypes that a modern Scotland is trying to shake off.
- Kebab Mahal (Smarter than your average Kebab Shop - and an Edinburgh institution), 7 Nicolson Street, . Great value "diner" type establishment which serves excellent kebabs as well as some of the best curries in town, all at rock-bottom prices. Eat in or take-away. Run by Muslims so there are lots of vegetarian options but no alcohol license. Popular with students as it's close to the University - don't let them have it to themselves!
- Baked potatoes (tatties) are also a Scottish staple. Some say the best in town can be found at the Tempting Tattie, 18 Jeffrey Street. A tattie stuffed with enough fillings for a family of 4 can be had for under 5 pounds.
- Meadowood Oriental Cafe, 15 Bread Street Edinburgh. Only a five minute walk from Princess street, Meadowood has a fantastic range of juices, soups, and is probably one of Edinburgh best secrets. The prices are very reasonable and the staff are incredibly friendly. Meadowood is an absolute must visit!
- Oink, 34 Victoria Street. This small eatery does one thing, the pulled pork sandwich, and it does it extremely well. No chips, no crisps, no sides, just pork, sauces and a roll. It's quite cheap, with 5 pounds getting you a sandwich and a drink. Well worth checking out for meat lovers.
- Edinburgh Central Mosque Kitchen, 50 Potterrow, . , located just off George Square, the Mosque Kitchen is a classic student hangout, with meat and vegetable curry available for around £3.50.
- Le Sept, 5 Hunter Square (behind the Tron Kirk on the Royal Mile close to its junction with North Bridge), ☎ 0131 225 5428, . Mo-Th 12noon-2.15pm & 6pm-10pm. Fr-Su open all day.. There can't be too many restaurants on the Royal Mile where even in the height of festival season, the bulk of the clientele are Edinburgh locals, but this is the case at Le Sept. Classy, but in a casually chic way, rather than the stuffy French restaurant stereotype. The chef focusses on straightforward cooking with quality ingredients, and the menu is keenly priced. The set lunches in particular offer excellent value. 3 course lunch £12 per person.
- Bangalore Tandoori Restaurant, 52 Home Street, Tollcross . Open since 1984, the Bangalore offers South Indian dishes from a traditional menu.
- Cafe Marlayne, 7 Fishmarket Close. Chic and intimate French bistro serving up exquisite French cuisine.
- Petit Paris, 38-40 Grassmarket. Traditional French restaurant complete with chequered tablecloths and whitewashed walls.
- David Bann's Vegetarian Restaurant, 56-58 St Mary's Street . Imaginative and tasty vegetarian food; some courses are suitable for vegans. Main courses cost about £10.
- Black Bo's, 57-61 Blackfriars St . Just off the Royal Mile. Vegetarian restaurant that caters for meat eaters with their tagline reading "You can bring your bloody friends". Inventive desserts that cater for vegetarians and vegans.
- Mezbaan, 14 Brougham Street, Tollcross . A South Indian restaurant and a rare treat because it serves Indian "street food" dishes such as dosas. There also can't be very many restaurants in the world serving (vegetarian) haggis pakoras. And they are as tasty as they are rare!
- Suruchi Restaurant, 14a Nicolson Street, . Traditional Indian cuisine but the menu also features Scottish dishes with an Indian twist. Look out for their Haggis Pakora!
- Thai Orchid, 5A Johnston Terrace. Moderately priced, but serving delicious Thai food, with vegetarian options.
- The Bombay Bicycle Club, 6 Brougham Street. Average Indian restaurant offering the usual array of Indian and curry dishes. Attentive staff.
- Relish, 217 High Street . For great burgers.
- Among a good Chinese restaurants is the The Panda Inn in Bruntsfield just 100 metres up from The Kings Theatre.
- Round the side of the Kings Theatre is the excellent Back Stage Bistro. Small, so book ahead. BYOB - "Scotmid" Store right across the road.
- One of Edinburgh's more famous cafes is The Elephant House , which shamelessly cashes in on being where J.K. Rowling wrote much of the first Harry Potter book. 21 George IV Bridge.
- reform, 267 Canongate, The Royal Mile . They brand themselves as being "consistently different". Food is often unusual, always fresh. Most dishes are offered in starter and main course sizes, which is a great idea if you're finding it hard to choose.
- The Witchery Restaurant . Just beside Edinburgh Castle, The Witchery is a small, beautiful candle-lit restaurant with fantastic food, excellent service and a wonderful wine list. Even their bread basket is a standout. Highly recommended, but expensive.
- There are many famous "traditional" pubs on the Grassmarket. Beware, however: these pubs are tourist traps and tend to be very popular with visiting stag and hen parties. Real Edinburghers tend to keep clear most of the time, other than to visit Dragonfly, a trendy and well-hidden cocktail lounge just up the street on West Port, which is arguably the city's best bar. This does mean, of course, that it can often get very crowded.
- The Royal Mile is another tourist trap, with many pubs here just not worth the bother. However, make time to visit The Jolly Judge on James Court, just off the Lawnmarket, and Albanach, which is on the corner of Cockburn Street and the High Street.
- Around George IV bridge you will find another selection of cool lounges including Villager, Vodka Revolution, and Bar Kohl. Villager is brought to you by the same people who own Dragonfly (see above), and is consequently well worth a visit.
- On the cusp between the Old and New Towns is The Wash which is situated near the top of the Mound. Popular with a slightly older crowd than you'll find in such a student-orientated city, it is quite a lively nightspot.
- The Bongo Club is also well worth a mention for travelers. A short hike down Holyrood Road towards the new Scottish Parliament, this is a great cafe style bar cum live music venue, with excellent club nights, especially the popular "Fast Punk Club".
- Cabaret Voltaire on Blair Street is one of the city's most respected clubs, and also hosts regular gigs. Club nights are eclectic and cater to all tastes.
- GRV is a relatively new bar/club, situated on Guthrie Street (just down the alley that leads to the Cowgate). It describes itself as "an urban sanctuary for multi-media arts, creative culture and music in Edinburgh’s city-centre", but don't let that put you off, it is an excellent bar and venue.
- The Liquid Room is one of Edinburgh's most established nightclubs, and is situated on Victoria Street. It plays host to both regular gigs and popular club nights. "Evol", which takes place on a Friday night, is a well respected indie night. For a cheaper, more student orientated indie night, try their Wednesday night club "Indigo". Following a fire, The Liquid Room is currently (April 2009) closed. The regular club nights are being held at Faith, Cowgate.
- Sandemans NewEdinburgh Pub Crawl £10 for pub tour with drink deals, meet in front of the Bank Bar on the High Street everyday from Tuesday to Sunday at 8pm. Look for the guides in red "new Europe" T-shirts.
- Yellow Card at The Tron (on Hunter Square) will cost you only £2 if you are a student but gives you discount on almost every drink in the pub. The same card can be use with many other pubs around the country with a Yellow Card sign (the other "Yellow Card" pub in Edinburgh is The Crags, situated opposite the Commonwealth Pool on Dalkeith Road).
- General debauchery can be found on the Cowgate which runs under the South and George IV bridges. Numerous clubs and bars line this street, which gets very, very crowded at weekends. Rush, which is situated on Robertson's Close just off the Western end of the Cowgate, has cheap drinks deals all the time, and is a favourite with students at the nearby halls of residence. Faith is a standard nightclub, with reasonably priced drinks, but sadly, not many other redeeming qualities. Siglo is just across from Faith, and is a similar establishment.
- Doctors and Sandy Bells on Forest Road offer good ales and pub food in a relaxed atmosphere. Sandy Bells also has live folk music every night.
- The Pear Tree offers a great beer garden for summer months, and a mix of university students and residents all year round. Or check out The Blind Poet next door.
- Opium, 71 Cowgate, EH1 1JW. 8pm-3am. Opium is one of the staples of the Cowgate and a haven for those of a more alternative persuasion. The music is rock, with a jukebox downstairs and a DJ upstairs. It runs a popular rock karaoke night on Mondays. Opium has very cheap drinks details and gets very busy on the weekends. free.
- Budget Backpackers Edinburgh, 37-39 Cowgate . Regularly voted top 5 in the world due to its cheerful and friendly staff and modern amenities. From £18.
- Euro Hostel Edinburgh, Kincaid's Court, Guthrie Street, ☎ +44 (0)8454 900 461, . Euro Hostels Edinburgh is located in the Cowgate and open every summer from June 8th until September 2nd. Budget accommodation in 43 apartments used as student residences during term time.
- Merith House  has special offers at times as low as £40 for a double, check other websites
- Ceilidh-donia, 14-16 Marchall Crescent, 0131 667 2743 . £30-50pppn. Friendly, clean hotel with free internet and a really good breakfast. 15 minutes walk from the old town.
- Citybase Edinburgh Apartments, Blackfriars Street ??, ☎ 0845 226 9831 (email@example.com), . Over 60 apartments available, in 25 individual apartment blocks. All apartments are in city centre locations, and all are en-suite. From £65 per night to £310 per night.
- The Dunedin Guest House, Priestfield Road, West of Old Town, tel +44 (0)131 668 1949, . This is relatively expensive (around £50-£90 for a double room), but with a beautiful decor and friendly staff.
- The Bruntsfield Hotel, 69 Bruntsfield Place, tel +44 (0)131 229 1393 . Traditional boutique hotel with an award winning restaurant. From £65 per night
- The Melvin House Hotel, 3 Rothesay Terrace, tel +44 (0)131 225-5084 . Traditional hotel with lovely views. From £79 per night
- Meadowmile Apartments, The Meadows, Edinburgh tel +44 (0)20 8630 7200 . Really nice apartments suitable for anyone and works out cheaper than a hotel for two or more people.
- Ten Hill Place Hotel, 10 Hill Place, ☎ +44 (0)131 662 2080, . Award winning hotel created from a fusion of a traditional Edinburgh Georgian terrace with a modern and fairly stylish new development, 78 bedrooms no less, and 3 stars too. From £68 per night.
- The Sheraton Grand Hotel, 21 Festival Square, tel +44 (0)131 229 9131. Luxurious opulence in the heart of Edinburgh. Against the backdrop of majestic Edinburgh Castle, the Sheraton Grand Hotel and Spa combines city center convenience with warm Scottish hospitality.
- Central Library, George IV Bridge (Opposite the National Library of Scotland), ☎ 0131 242 8137 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: 0131 242 8009), . Mo-Th: 10AM-7:45PM, Fr: 10AM-4:45, Sa: 9AM-12:45PM. Closed Sun. The Learning Centre at the Central Library has 16 computers with free internet access, also MS Office applications. If there are no PC's free when you visit it's possible to reserve a slot later that day. Free (Charge for printing).
- The Jolly Judge , 7 James Court, Lawnmarket (Royal Mile, near the Castle), tel 0131 225 2669, open daily, mid-afternoon until 11:30PM (later on weekends). No computers, but free wireless connection for those with the right equipment and know-how (no support); may be too busy on Thursdays and weekends for extended web sessions.
- The Forest , 3 Bristo Place, tel 0131 220 4538, open daily 10AM-12PM. Two computers and wireless connection for free. You probably have to wait for a while, but as it is a bar, you can enjoy a coffee while waiting.
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