Roam cobbled streets, gaze at the beautiful architecture, and uncover hidden alleyways. Visiting the Old Town is like stepping back in time, as you retrace streets walked by thousands before you.
The Origin of Edinburgh
As the name suggests, the Old Town is how Edinburgh began, hundreds of years ago! It has built, destroyed, and rebuilt countless times over the years, so there are buildings dating from many different time periods, the oldest now being from the 12th century.
Edinburgh was built using the landscape, which is known as a ‘crag and tail’ formation. The crag is Castle Rock, the extinct volcano on which Edinburgh Castle is built. The tail is the Royal Mile, the glacial ridge running downhill to Holyrood Palace at the far end.
The rest of the Old Town spills out around the Mile, and for centuries, was surrounded by a city wall. The space inside became increasingly crowded, with everyone wanting to live inside the city, where it was safest. This resulted in the tall buildings, and unusual street layout we see today! Because of the contrast with the New Town’s design, the two areas became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.
Sightseeing & Attractions
Given its historic significance, it should come as no surprise that the Old Town is home to many of Edinburgh’s most famous sights. As well as Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace, both once home to Scottish royalty, you can see the Scottish Parliament, the Mercat Cross, and the John Knox House, attractions covering all aspects of Edinburgh’s history.
There are several beautiful churches – or ‘kirks’ in Scots – in the area, most notably St Giles’ Cathedral, in the middle of the Royal Mile. Others include Canongate Kirk, Tron Kirk, Greyfriars Kirk, and The Hub, which was formerly the Highland Tolbooth Kirk. Each has a unique design, and its own history to discover!
The Old Town has many of the city’s interesting, free museums, the biggest and most popular being the National Museum of Scotland. There’s also the Museum of Edinburgh, the Writers’ Museum, the Museum of Childhood, and the People’s Story, covering a range of topics to interest all!
You can find some more unique experiences in the area too, with exciting and interactive features, such as Surgeons’ Hall Museums, Dynamic Earth, Camera Obscura, and the Scotch Whisky Experience.
Shopping, Eating & Entertainment
Once you’ve exhausted yourself with history and culture, you’ll find plenty of options for relaxing in the Old Town as well. There’s dozens of great restaurants to choose from, whether for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, many of which offer traditional Scottish dishes.
Shopping is a fun activity in the Old Town too, as you’ll find lots of small, independent retailers in the area. The Royal Mile is good for souvenirs, but try Cockburn Street and Victoria Street for some more unusual items!
And when night falls, head down to Grassmarket and Cowgate to experience the pubs and clubs. Here you’ll find everything, whether it’s live folk music, traditional ceilidh dancing, locally brewed drinks, or modern nightclubs, often in unusual underground venues!
The Old Town continues to be the heart of Edinburgh, and is one of the most popular areas for visitors to explore. With dozens of attractions to see in the area, you’ll be immersed in Scotland’s culture and history!
Want to learn more about the Old Town? Join us for the Edinburgh Free Tour!
Due to the natural landscape of the area, be prepared to walk a lot in the Old Town, including plenty of sloping streets and steep staircases going up and down the hillside!
The Old Town is the city centre, south of Princes Street. It covers the length of the Royal Mile, from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Park. It then stretches from Market Street on the north side, to Lauriston Place and Holyrood Road on the south.