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.
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, Castlehill, ☎ . Open daily Apr-Sept 9:30AM-6PM, Oct-Mar 9:30AM-5PM, last entry 1 hour before closing time. 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 £3.50 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). Adult £16, Child up to including 15yrs £9.60, Concession (proof required) £12.80, no student discounts. Edinburgh Castle is part of Historic Scotland - consider a yearly membership for free entrance.
- Abbey and Palace of Holyroodhouse, ☎ , fax: +44 20 7930-9625, e-mail: email@example.com. The Palace opens at 9:30AM and closes at 6PM April to October and 4:30PM during the rest of the year. 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. 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.
- 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.
- Old Parliament Hall (Behind St. Giles' Cathedral). This 1639 Old Parliament Hall is within the Parliament House which is home of the Scottish Supreme Courts. The hall is the location 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.
- North Bridge. Offers spectacular views of the city skyline. It connects Old Town and New Town with Waverley Station just below.
- Gladstone's Land, Lawnmarket. 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. £6.50 Adult, £5 Concessions.
- Greyfriars Kirkyard (Off the Southwest corner of George IV Bridge, close to the National Museum). A very old graveyard that 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 grave of Thomas Riddell is said to be the inspiration of Tom Riddle from J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter.
- The Scottish Parliament (eastern end of the Royal Mile, opposite the Palace of Holyrood House), ☎ , toll-free: 0800 092 7600. Mon, Fri, Sat and public holidays: 10:00-17:00; Tue-Thu: 9:00-18:30 (last admission 30 min before closing time); Sun: closed; opening times may vary. 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..
- 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. £11.95 Adult, £9.95 Concessions, £8.75 Under 15, Free Under 5.
- The Edinburgh Dungeon, 31 Market Street. The scariest attraction in Edinburgh featuring 11 shows and 2 rides about Scotland's horrible history: William Wallace, Mary King's Ghost, the cave of Sawney Bean, Burke and Hare and more.
- The Scotch Whisky Experience, 354 Castlehill. Offers an interactive "tour" of the history and practise of Whisky distilling, complete with a rather sedate barrel ride. This is a good place to go if you want to sample whisky, as they have a very large selection (200+?) at a fairly reasonable price. Older whiskys tend to cost more and the rarest on offer can cost up to £50.00 per measure! The atmosphere is less pub-like than some might like as it tends to be fairly quiet. For basic tour £13.50 adult, £10.50 reduced.
Museum and galleries
- National Museum of Scotland, ☎ +44 300 123 6789; +44 131 247 4422; typetalk 18001 0131 247 4422, fax: +44 131 220 4819, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Daily: 10:00-17:00. 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. The museum has recently reopened after major rebuilding. The roof terrace on the seventh floor (free access) offers nice views over Edinburgh. Free, charges for some temporary exhibitions.
- Anatomical Museum, University of Edinburgh, Doorway 3, Medical School, Teviot Place. Open on the last Saturday of each month between 10.00am – 4pm (last admission 3.30pm). Closed June/July and December. The Skeleton of William Burke is on display. Together with William Hare he killed at least 16 people in 1828 and provided them for dissection. The museum also shows life and death masks from famous scientists, politicians and murderers. Free entrance.
- The Reid Museum of Instruments. Sat 10:00-13:00 and Wed 15:00-17:00. Closed around Christmas and New Year. Additional opening times during the International Festival: Mon-Fri 14:00-17:00. Displays about 1000 instruments from Britain, Europe and other places. Free entry.
- Talbot Rice Gallery, University of Edinburgh, Old College, South Bridge, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Tue-Fri 10am - 5pm, Sat 12 - 5pm. A gallery with changing exhibitions of cutting edge modern art. Even if the art is not to your taste, it is worth visiting due to its location in the Old College of Edinburgh University, a fine building built between 1789 and 1827 by Robert Adam and Henry Playfair. The Georgian Gallery has a Playfair interior and a mixture of old masters and modern installations. Free entry to all exhibitions.
- Fruitmarket Gallery, 45 Market Street (behind Edinburgh Waverley Rail Station), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Mon-Sat 11:00-18:00, Sun 12:00-17:00. The Fruitmarket Gallery aims to find the most appropriate way to bring artists and audiences together. It is a not-for-profit organization and a registered charity. Always free.
- Surgeons' Hall Museums, Nicolson Street (opp. Festival Theatre), ☎ +44 131 527 1711/1600, e-mail: email@example.com. Closed until September 2015 for renovations. The permanent exhibitions comprise of The Pathology Museum, The History of Surgery Museum and the Dental Museum.
- City Art Centre, 2 Market Street (across the road from Fruitmarket Gallery), ☎ . Mon - Sat 10am - 5pm, Sun noon - 5pm. Four-floor gallery run by the city council with changing exhibitions. Charges for some exhibitions, but usually one floor is free.
- The Peoples' Story Museum, 163 Canongate, ☎ . Mon - Sat 10am - 5pm; Sun: closed (except during the Edinburgh Festival: 12pm - 5pm). A museum giving the local's view of life in Edinburgh over the last 200 years. Free.
- Museum of Childhood, 42 High Street, ☎ . Mon - Sat 10am - 5pm, Sun noon - 5pm. See if you can find your old toys in the collection, or maybe the ones that your grandparents had. Free.
- Museum of Edinburgh, 142 Cannongate, ☎ . Mon-Sat 10:00-17:00, Sun closed (except in Aug: 12:00-17:00). Museum of Edinburgh's history. Free.
- The Writers' Museum, Lady Stair's Close (near the top of The Mound), ☎ . Mon-Sat 10:00-17:00, Sun closed (except in Aug: 12:00-17:00). Museum about famous Scottish authors, focussing on Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. Free.
- National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, ☎ . Exhibitions: Mon-Fri 10:00-20:00, Sat 10:00-17:00, Sun 14:00-17:00. A permanent exhibition of works from the John Murray archive and changing temporary exhibitions, usually about historic literature. The main library is a copyright library and you need to apply in advance to access the reading rooms. Free.
- 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.
- Holyrood Park. Walk around in the 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, three lochs: St Margaret's Loch with nearby remains of an old chapel, Dunsapie Loch along Queen's Drive with great views of the sea in the background, and Duddingston Loch (see East), and the stunning Salisbury Crags.
- Arthur's Seat. The extinct volcano to the east of the city centre offers fantastic views from its summit - and at only 251 m high the ascent isn't too strenuous. If a lighter stroll is in order, a traverse of Salisbury Crags, just below the hill, offers similar panoramas of the city.
- 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.
- Take a tour through the South Bridge Vaults which date back to 1788.
- Free Tour of Edinburgh. Daily 10:00, 11:00 and 14:00. There are free walking tours that set off periodically from the High Street Starbucks. They are in a variety of languages and take about 2-2.5 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.
Music and Theatre
- Usher Hall, Lothian Road, ☎ . (Box office)The concert hall in Edinburgh which regularly features The Royal Scottish National Orchestra. It was completed in 1914 and funded by a donation from Andrew Usher.
- Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh, 30b Grindlay Street, ☎ . (Box office)One of Scotland's largest producing theatre company. The theatre building dates back to 1883.
- Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street, ☎ . (Box office)The Traverse theatre company is dedicated to new works.
- King's Theatre, 2 Leven Street, ☎ . (Box office)Mostly hosts major touring drama.
- Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street, ☎ . (Box office)Home of the Scottish Ballet and Scottish Opera. It also hosts contemporary dance and ballet events and musicals.
- Reid Concert Hall, Bristo Square, ☎ . The Reid School of Music (University of Edinburgh) offers free lunchtime concerts (usually starting at 1:10 pm and lasting for about one hour and taking place at the Reid Concert Hall) at irregular intervals. Check the calendar for details on these events and additional concerts. Free.
- Cameo Cinema, 38 Home Street (in Tollcross), ☎ . Mainstream & alternative films, in remarkable surroundings. A much-loved venue that's well worth a visit.
- Filmhouse, 88 Lothian Road, ☎ . Edinburgh's (and Scotland's) largest venue for arthouse and foreign language films. Great café and bar, and hub of the annual International Film Festival.
- Odeon Cinema, 118 Lothian Road, ☎ . Mostly mainstream movies.
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.
- Red Door Gallery, 42 Victoria Street. Some of the quirkiest (and best) gifts in Edinburgh can be purchased here.
- Armstrongs, 83 The Grassmarket. A local institution, has all the vintage clothing you could ever want.
Cockburn Street (pronounced "co-burn") has many small alternative shops.
- Avalanche Records, Cockburn Street. One of the city's best independent music stores. Support your local record shop!
- Route One, 29 Cockburn Street. A great skate/alt clothing store.
- Whiplash Trash, 53 Cockburn Street. As the name suggests, is one of the Old Town's more risque stores.
- Beyond Words, Cockburn Street. A brilliant bookstore specialising in photographic titles. You will not be disappointed.
- Underground Solushn, 9 Cockburn Street. A great little record store dealing mainly in dance/electro music.
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. However there are also good exceptions:
- Cadenhead's Whisky Shop, 172 Cannongate. An independent bottler of whisky.
- Focus, 270 Canongate. A skatewear/skateboard store situated at the lower end of Royal Mile.
Other great shopping opportunities are the following ones:
- Edinburgh Farmers Market, Castle Terrace. Every Saturday 9:00-14:00. A variety of delicious food like freshly made burgers, hog roasts and local bakery products is offered, as well as Scottish produce such as cheese, beer, fish, meat and fruits/vegetables.
- Pine Tree Bakery, 64 Home Street, ☎ . A very good Polish bakery, which offers a variety of loaves of bread and sweet pastries.
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.
You can find plenty of nice and affordable food options along and around South Bridge, Nicolson Street and (South) Clerk Street (which really is all one long street).
- Kebab Mahal (Smarter than your average Kebab Shop - and an Edinburgh institution), 7 Nicolson Street. "Diner" type establishment which serves kebabs as well as curries. 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.
- Tempting Tattie, 18 Jeffrey Street. Baked potatoes (tatties) are also a Scottish staple. Some say the best in town can be found here. A tattie stuffed with enough fillings for a family of 4 can be had for under 5 pounds.
- The Baked Potato Shop, 56 Cockburn Street. 4.40£.
- Oink, 34 Victoria Street (and also 82 Cannongate). 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 getting you a sandwich and a drink.
- Edinburgh Central Mosque Kitchen, 50 Potterrow (just off George Square). A classic student hangout, with meat and vegetable curry available for around £5.
- Kampong Ah Lee - Malaysian Delight, 28 Clerk Street. Tasty Malaysian dishes such as Roti Canai, Satay, Nasi Lemak, Laksa, Rendang, etc. Most main dishes around £6-8.
- Rotato Potato, Buccleuch Street (Below Press Coffee at the corner to Buccleuch Place). Mo-Fr 11:30-15:30. Very good baked potatoes with nice toppings to choose from. Less than £5.
- The Piemaker, 38 South Bridge, ☎ . Has a wide range of delicious pies and pastries (mostly savoury). Well below £3.
- Chang Thai Restaurant, 29 Cockburn Street, ☎ . Restaurant that offers a complete Thai dining experience.
- The Everest, 52 Home Street, Tollcross. This restaurant offers very good Nepalese and Indian food at moderate prices around £7 mains (excluding rice or bread).
- 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, toll-free: . Imaginative and tasty vegetarian food. Some courses are suitable for vegans. Main courses cost about £11-13.
- 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! Offers a £6 lunch menu.
- Thai Orchid, 5a Johnston Terrace. 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.
- The Elephant House, 21 George IV Bridge. One of Edinburgh's more famous cafes, which shamelessly cashes in on being where J.K. Rowling wrote much of the first Harry Potter book.
- 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 Back Stage Bistro. Small, so book ahead. BYOB - "Scotmid" Store right across the road.
- 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.
There are many famous "traditional" pubs on the Grassmarket. Beware, however, many of 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. 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.
- The Jolly Judge, 7 James Court (Close to Lawnmarket, Royal Mile, near the Castle), ☎ . Open daily, mid-afternoon until 11:30PM (later on weekends). Very small pub with a good selection of beer and whisky. One of the few pubs on Royal Mile worth visiting. Has free Wi-Fi.
- Doctors, 32 Forest Road. Offers good ales and pub food in a relaxed atmosphere.
- Sandy Bells, 25 Forest Road. 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.
- Bennets Bar, 8 Leven St (Right next to King's Theatre), ☎ . A good old fashioned pub that satisfies with cold beer on tap and tasty cheap food. Bennets also has a good range of real ale and the selection changes weekly.
- Usher's of Edinburgh, 32b West Nicolson Street (Right next to the Pear Tree). Large changing selection of mostly keg and cask ales. They recently started brewing their own beer on site.
- The Kilderkin, Canongate. On Mondays they offer very good £1 pizza if ordered with a drink (one pizza per person only) from 17:00 until stock lasts. They have a changing selection of four cask ales and a good range of whiskies (including some from the independent bottler Cadenhead's).
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.
- The Bongo Club, 66 Cowgate. 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, 36-38 Blair Street. One of the city's most respected clubs, and also hosts regular gigs. Club nights are eclectic and cater to all tastes.
- Opium, 71 Cowgate. 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.
- Dragonfly, 52 West Port. 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.
- Villager, 49 - 50 George IV Bridge. Lounge brought to you by the same people who own Dragonfly (see above).
- Around George IV bridge you will find another selection of cool lounges including Vodka Revolution, and Bar Kohl.
- Wash Bar, 11-13 North Bank Street (On the cusp between the Old and New Towns, 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 Liquid Room, 9c Victoria Street. Is one of Edinburgh's most established nightclubs. 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".
- The Jazz Bar, 1A Chambers Street (just off South Bridge), ☎ . 3AM 7 nights. Edinburgh's famous, quadruple award-winning live music venue has a lovely warm internal ambience and wide-ranging audience demographic. Featuring a lot more than 'jazz', there's multiple back-to-back gigs a day, seven nights a week, with acoustic, jazz, funk/soul and other good music, to 3AM every night. A popular weekly feature is their Monday night 17-piece Big Band.
- The Forest, 141 Lauriston Place, Tollcross, ☎ . Open daily 10AM-11PM. Volunteer run arts cafe. Has Wi-Fi.
- Budget Backpackers Edinburgh, 37-39 Cowgate. Regularly voted top 5 in the world due to its cheerful and friendly staff and modern amenities. It's a bit crowded and don't expect the internet to work. Dorms from £16, twin rooms from £27 per person.
- Euro Hostel Edinburgh, Kincaid's Court, Guthrie Street, ☎ . In Cowgate, open every summer from the beginning of June until the beginning of September. Budget accommodation in 43 apartments used as student residences during term time. £19-50 per person per night.
- Brodies Hostels, 93 High St, ☎ . Perfect location on the Royal mile. Clean, safe and friendly. Dorms from £8 (linen included, towels extra).
- Edinburgh Metro (SYHA Hostel), 15 Robertson's Close (Near Cowgate), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Open in July and August only taking over Edinburgh University’s halls of residence during the semester break. From £22.
- Riego Street, 1-15 Riego Street, Tollcross, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Offered by Edinburgh Napier University during summer only (semester break). Used as student accommodation throughout the rest of the year. Send an email or call for booking requests. Between 4 and 5 single rooms in one shared apartment. Linen, towels and WiFi included.
- Ten Hill Place Hotel, 10 Hill Place, ☎ . 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 4 stars too. From £68 per night.
- The Sheraton Grand Hotel, 21 Festival Square, ☎ . Against the backdrop of majestic Edinburgh Castle, the Sheraton Grand Hotel and Spa combines city centre convenience with warm Scottish hospitality.
- Radisson Blu Hotel, 80 High St, ☎ . The Royal Mile. Less than a five-minute walk from major shopping and business districts, and the Edinburgh International Conference Centre is only a short taxi ride away.
- Hotel Missoni, 1 George IV Bridge, ☎ . Situated on the Royal Mile and designed by Rosita Missoni.
- Central Library, George IV Bridge (opposite the National Library of Scotland), ☎ , fax: +44 131 242 8009. Mon-Wed: 10:00-20:00, Thu-Sat: 10:00-17:00, Sun: closed. The Learning Centre at the Central Library has 16 computers with free internet access, also MS Office applications. If there is no PC free when you visit it's possible to reserve a slot later that day. Free (Charge for printing), free WiFi.