30 Historic Landmarks that tell Edinburgh’s History

Edinburgh’s historic landmarks and places tell the story of the Scottish capital from its origins over 8500 years ago through to the present day. A unique city where the Edinburgh royal, poor and elite lived side by side for many centuries, there are many stories waiting to be told in the historic landmarks, monuments and streets in Edinburgh.

This blog post is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to every aspect of the history of Scotland or Edinburgh, but a look at different elements of the city’s history as told through historic places, landmarks and monuments in Edinburgh. It is ordered in different themes that include beginnings  royalty, politics, religion, city history, historic people and unique stories from Edinburgh’s history. 

Historic Landmarks in Edinburgh to Visit Quick Navigation

Historic Landmarks in Edinburgh: Beginnings

These historic landmarks in Edinburgh explore the beginnings of the city, which date back more than 8500 years. 

Mesolithic Camp in Cramond

This small wooded area in the Edinburgh neighborhood of Cramond make look unassuming, but it’s actually one of the earliest discovered sites of human habitation in Scotland. This historic place in Edinburgh dates back 8500 years and later developed into a Pictish village known as Caer Amon (“fort on the river”), that later anglicized to Cramond. This connection that dates back 8500 years makes Cramond the oldest occupied village in Scotland.

Address: Cramond Glebe Rd, EH4 6NT, Edinburgh, UK

Cost: Free

Hours: 24 hours/day 

Roman Fort and Bathhouse

Roman Fort Ruins in Cramond - Historic Landmarks in Edinburgh
Roman Fort ruins in Cramond, Edinburgh

Located in the seaside Edinburgh neighborhood of Cramond, the Roman Bathhouse harkens back to the times when Roman soldiers occupied this area. Rediscovered in the 1970s, it is believed that parts of Cramond served as a fortress for the Roman soldiers and this bathhouse in turn served the Roman soldiers stationed at this fort.

The bathhouse seems to have been converted into a burial ground of sorts during the Bubonic Plague and possibly during times of conflict. A number of bodies have been found in the bathhouse latrine that date back to the 14th Century. According to studies done on skeletons found in other areas of this historic place in Edinburgh indicate that some of the bodies date back to the 6th century and were possibly royalty that suffered violent deaths.

Address: Cramond Roman Fort, Edinburgh EH4 6NS, UK

Cost: Free

Hours: 24 hours/day

Historic Landmarks in Edinburgh: Royalty

Throughout the UK, royalty has shaped the history, culture and politics of the country. It’s no different here in Edinburgh or Scotland, where the complex royal politics have had enormous impact on the history of the city. 

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle - Historic Landmarks in Edinburgh

One of the most recognizable historic landmarks in Edinburgh, Edinburgh Castle not only stands as a symbol for Edinburgh, but for the overall nation of Scotland. This centuries-old castle sits atop an extinct volcano at the center of the city. The Gododdin people built the origins castle in the early seventh century, a strong hold they called Din Eidyn.

Edinburgh Castle evolved over the years and became a royal castle by the 11th century. Due to its strategic importance, the England and Scottish fought constantly over the stronghold during the Scottish War of Independence in the 13th and 14th Centuries. During this time it changed hands four times.

Eventually, the royal functions of the castle moved down to Holyroodhouse Palace, but the fortress remained an important military stronghold. Today, Edinburgh Castle still boasts strong links to the military. In fact, each year the world-famous Edinburgh military tattoo, a ceremonial military concert, takes place on the Castle esplanade.

Address: Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG, UK

Cost: Adult Advance £17.50 (more information can be found on the website)

Hours: Summer 9:30am-6pm daily; Winter 9:30am-5pm daily 

Website: https://www.edinburghcastle.scot/

Palace of Holyroodhouse

Palace of Holyroodhouse - Historic Landmarks in Edinburgh

This historic landmark in Edinburgh has served as a royal residence for more than 500 years. Originally, the royal residence in Edinburgh had been at the military fortress of Edinburgh Castle at the top of the hill. However, many Scottish sovereigns found the castle cold and bleak. They preferred, instead, to stay in the royal rooms attached to Holyrood Abbey at the bottom of the hill. As time went on, the royal rooms of the abbey increased to accommodate this preferred residence until the palace came into its own being separate from Holyrood Abbey.

The Palace’s most famous inhabitant, of course, is Mary Queen of Scots. After spending her formative years in France, Mary returned to her home in Scotland and took up residence in Holyroodhouse Palace. Here she met and fell love with Lord Darnley and tried to bring her love of culture and music to Edinburgh.

However, that happiness did not last. The country was still reeling from the Protestant Reformation and Mary, herself, was a fervent Catholic, as were many of her advisors. One of the most influential of her advisors was David Rizzio, an Italian musician, who was strongly hated by all of Mary’s Protestant advisors. A group of conspirators that included Mary’s husband plotted to kill Rizzio, stabbing him 54 times.

This plot eventually led to the assassination of Lord Darnley. Though it’s never been historically confirmed, many historians believed the plot was executed by another of Mary’s advisors, Lord Bothwell. Mary would marry Bothwell just three months later, an occasion that would set off Mary’s eventual abdication and imprisonment.

Holyroodhouse Palace became a royal residence once again with the arrival of the Bonnie Prince Charlie during the Jacobite Uprising of 1745. Charles and his Jacobite forces took Edinburgh without a single shot fired in September 1745.

Today, the palace remains a royal residence and the British monarch spends time at Holyroodhouse Palace each year.

Address: Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8DX, UK

Cost: Adult £15.00

Hours: Hours vary depending on the time of year. Check the website for up to date hours. 

Website: https://www.rct.uk/visit/palace-of-holyroodhouse

Royal Yacht Britannia

Royal Yacht Britannia - Historic Places in Edinburgh

The Royal Yacht Britannia served as the British royal family’s boat for more than 40 years.  This historic boat took to the seats for the first time in 1954 as Queen Elizabeth II’s royal yacht and saw over a million sea miles from its launch in 1954 to its retirement in 1997. Today, the boat sits docked at the Ocean Terminal in Leith, Edinburgh. During a visit to this historic landmark in Edinburgh, you can see five of the ship’s decks and then treat yourself to a tea fit for the royals.

Address: Ocean Dr, Edinburgh EH6 6JJ, UK

Cost: Adult £16.50

Hours: Daily 9:30am-4:30pm

Website: https://www.royalyachtbritannia.co.uk

Historic Landmarks in Edinburgh: Political Places

These historic landmarks and political places explore some of the most important political events that took place in Edinburgh. 

Moray House

Summer House at Moray House - Historic Places in Edinburgh
Summer House at Moray House

This historic aristocratic house right off the Royal Mile dates back to the 17th Century. The house is named for Margaret, Countess of Moray and has seen its share of historic political moments.

In 1650, a wedding party took place at this house, celebrating the union of the Marquis of Argyll’s son to the daughter of Lord Morary. The wedding party stood upon the balcony just as one of Lord Argyll’s enemies, the Marquis of Montrose, was being led to his execution for supporting Charles I. The wedding party and guests jeered and spat at Montrose as he walked by, but he gained major sympathies with the surrounding crowd for his bravery and courage in spite of those taunts.

Ironically, Argyll also walked by this spot on the way to his own execution 11 years later for his support of Oliver Cromwell (who stayed at the Moray House twice – once in 1648 and then again in 1650). His head sat upon the exact same spike as Montrose’s.

A tiny little shed-like house attached to Moray House also saw one of the most important moments of Scottish history – the historic Acts of Union of 1707. The Acts of Union united Scotland and England as one. The ratification of these acts took place in the Moray House Summer House, as the Scottish Parliament hid from the mobs in the city that opposed the union. The Summer House is generally not open to the public.

Today, the Moray House belongs to the University of Edinburgh and focuses on educating teachers. Here, J.K. Rowling completed her training course to become a teacher in 1996, the same year she received a publishing deal for the very first Harry Potter book.

Address: Moray House, Holyrood Rd, Edinburgh EH8 8AQ, UL 

Cost:  Not open to the public 

Hours: Not open to the public 

Queensberry House

Queensberry House - Historic Landmarks in Edinburgh

Queensberry House, now part of the Scottish Parliament complex, once played home to James Douglas, the second Duke of Queensberry. His claim to fame comes from the fact that he staunchly advocated for the Acts of Union of 1707 in order for Scotland and England to be united as one. Historians believe that London supplied Queensberry with a hefty sum to be used to sway the votes of members of Parliament.

He also formally closed the Scottish Parliament upons the acts ratification in 1707. Scottish mobs stormed around the city before and after the ratification of the Acts of Union and targeted Queensberry in particular. Shortly after, he fled Edinburgh and left Queensberry House since the mob threatened to burn it to the ground.

It’s rumored that on the day the Scottish Parliament ratified the Acts of Union, Queensberry’s insane son escaped from his room to kill and eat one of the servant boys that worked in the house. The ghost of this murdered servant boy still reportedly haunts the property.

Address: Edinburgh EH8 8BS, UK

Cost: Free 

Hours: Monday, Friday Saturday 10am-5pm; Tuesday-Thursday 9am-6:30pm; Sunday Closed 

Website: https://www.parliament.scot/visitandlearn/15921.aspx

Scottish Parliament

Scottish Parliament - Historic Places in Edinburgh

The Acts of Union of 1707 dissolved the Scottish Parliament for almost 300 years, leaving representation of the Scottish people up to the overall United Kingdom Parliament based in London. However, in 1997 the Scottish people voted on a referendum for devolution of a number of political powers from the Westminster government in London. This included the founding of a new Scottish Parliament in 1999.

After its founding, it became clear that the Scottish Parliament needed a new headquarters. Construction on this modern parliament building wrapped in 2004 and was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in that same year.

Address: Edinburgh EH99 1SP, UK

Cost: Free 

Hours: Monday, Friday Saturday 10am-5pm; Tuesday-Thursday 9am-6:30pm; Sunday Closed 

Website: https://www.parliament.scot/visitandlearn/9983.aspx

Historic Landmarks in Edinburgh: Religious Places

Religion has always been a central aspect of Scottish life. These religious places and historic landmarks in Edinburgh tell the impact of religion in the city. 

St. Giles’ Cathedral

St Giles' Cathedral - Historic Landmarks in Edinburgh

For centuries, St. Giles’ Cathedral stood as the only parish church in Edinburgh. Built in the 1130s, the church technically does not have the qualifications of a cathedral but given its important role in Edinburgh life and history over the last few hundred centuries the title of cathedral has been retained.

The saint for which the church is named is Giles, known as the hermit saint. Giles lived in the woods near Nimes, France with a deer as a companion. One day, the king of the Visigoths accidentally shot Giles with an arrow in the hand (he was aiming for his deer companion) during his prayer.

Giles persevered through the pain to finish his prayers and refused compensation from the king for his injuries. After much insistence, Giles finally accepted an offer to create a monastery near Nimes. He became known as the patron saint for lepers, beggars and those in solitude, as well as the patron saint for the city of Edinburgh as a whole.

The church became a Protestant delegation after the reformation in the 16th Century with the famous reformer John Knox heading up the first ministry at St. Giles (more on John Knox in the next historic landmark in Edinburgh).

St. Giles also saw the beginnings of the Covenanter Movement of the 17th Century when a fiery merchant named Jenny Geddes threw a stool at a bishop during a service, who was introducing a new Episcopalian liturgy. This outburst set off a series of events that would shape Scottish and English history for the next century.

The Covenanter Movement sought to retain the ability to practice Presbyterianism in Scotland. They pledged to retain their chosen form of church governments and worship practices. The 1636 National Covenant led to the abolishing of the Episcopalian Church in Scotland and to the Bishops’ Wars in 1639 and 1640 that fought to retain their own religious liberties.

Many of the financial difficulties associated with these wars ultimately contributed to the beginnings of the English Civil War that would rock the entire United Kingdom. To continue their ability to practice their chosen form of religion, the Scot Covenanters pledged their assistance to the parliamentarian side of the Civil War. However, when Charles II returned to restore the throne in 1660, the Covenanters fell out of power and were persecuted and tried for their allegiances for decades after.

Address: High St, Edinburgh EH1 1RE, UK

Cost: Free

Hours:  Monday to Saturday 9am-5pm; Sunday 1pm-5pm 

Website: https://stgilescathedral.org.uk/

John Knox House

John Knox House - Historic Landmarks in Edinburgh

Sitting on the Royal Mile stands a beautiful 15th Century house that once housed Protestant Reformer John Knox. John Knox’s writings worked to inspire the Protestant Reformation in Scotland that led to the attempt to wipe out Roman Catholicism in the United Kingdom.

Beyond that, he also insisted on social reform along with this religious transformation of the country. Each kirk (church), per his instruction, should have a teacher for children in the kirk’s delegation and the kirk should care for the poor as well.

However, his role and impact in history does not come without controversy. He held very uncompromising views and insisted that any practice of Catholicism should be outlawed as he saw “one mass [as] more dangerous than ten thousand enemies.” This even applied to Mary Queen of Scots, who upon her return to Edinburgh recognized the Protestant faith on the condition that she should be allowed to practice her own faith privately. Knox took extreme issue with this both publicly and privately.

He also took enormous issue with women in power, arguing that a woman as sovereign went against the law of nature (even though he lived under two sovereign queens – Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I).

Knox’s legacy continued to influence Scotland for centuries after his death. His account of the History of the Reformation in Scotland covers one of the most crucial periods of history for Edinburgh, Scotland and the UK and remains a valuable source of information on those events even today.

Address: 43-45 High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1SR, Scotland

Cost: Free 

Hours: Daily 10am-6pm 

Website: http://www.scottishstorytellingcentre.com/john-knox-house/

Historic Landmarks in Edinburgh: City History

How the city has been shaped tells important stories about how the city functioned and how the people of Edinburgh approached their everyday life. These historic landmarks explore how the shape of the city has influenced its history. 

Flodden Wall

Flodden Wall - Historic Landmarks in Edinburgh

Inhabitants of Edinburgh constructed the Flodden Wall in 1513 to provide defense incursions from the English. While other defensive walls had been built previously, the Flodden Wall marked one of new size and scale. It surrounded a mile and a half of the city and stood five feet thick and 25 feet tall. Six gates (or ports) marked entry and exit to the city, with tolls being collected at each of these six ports (more on two of these in the next two historic places in Edinburgh).

For over 250 years, the Flodden Wall (and its extension of the Telfer Wall) marked the city borders of Edinburgh. This means the city did not expand outwards outside of these walls. Instead, tenements were built so that expansion headed upwards instead of outside of the walls.

Though much of the original Flodden Wall no longer stands in the size and scale that it once boasted, there are still places where you can see this historic landmark in Edinburgh. The best place to see the Flodden Wall is in Greyfriars Kirkyard (another historic place in Edinburgh mentioned farther on in this article). You can also see portions of it along the Vennel stairway off Grassmarket. 

Canongate Tolbooth

Canongate Tollbooth - Historic Landmarks in Edinburgh

Recognizable by the giant clock that hangs off the building, the Canongate Tolbooth marks one of the oldest standing buildings in Edinburgh, with its age dating back to 1591. The city of Edinburgh used to be surrounded by walls with toll-monitored gates allowing entry and exit into the city. One of these toll collection points was on the Canongate here at this building known as the Canongate Tolbooth.

The Tolbooth’s main claim to fame, though, is the infamous prison that once inhabited part of the building here. It has also served as a council chamber and a workhouse. Today this historic landmark in Edinburgh houses the People’s Story Museum.

Address: 163 Canongate, Royal Mile, Edinburgh EH8 8BN, U

Cost: Free 

Hours: Daily 10am-5pm  

World’s End Public House

World's End Public House - Historic Places in Edinburgh

This Old Town pub marks what was literally the end of the world for the poorer residents of Edinburgh. Walls surrounded the Old Town of Edinburgh, with entrance and exit into the city monitored by toll booths at the different gates. One of these gates, the Netherbow Port, stood near the World’s End Public House. Since the poorer residents of Edinburgh would have been unable to afford the toll in and out of the city, many never actually left the city of Edinburgh so their world ended at the gates of the Netherbow Port and this historic landmark in Edinburgh.

Address: 2-8 High St, Edinburgh EH1 1TB, UK

Cost: Free; food and drinks come at a price 

Hours: Monday-Friday 11am-12am; Saturday & Sunday 11am-1am 

Website: https://www.facebook.com/worldsend.edinburgh/

Mercat Cross

Mercat Cross - Historic Monuments in Edinburgh

The Mercat Cross marked the heart of the city as the location where public proclamations rang out and merchants met to discuss their business. For centuries, this location was the heart and soul of the city of Edinburgh as prominent people of the day would meet here to hear and discuss business. Even after the Chamber of Commerce was built across the street, merchants still preferred to meet at the Mercat Cross to conduct their affairs.

The original Mercat Cross (known as the Old Mercat Cross) sat just off the Royal Mile. Today it sits adjacent to St. Giles’ Cathedral.

Address: High St, Edinburgh EH1 1RF, UK (near St. Giles’ Cathedral)

Cost: Free

Hours: N/A

Mary King’s Close

Mary King's Close - Historic Landmarks in Edinburgh

The original layout of Edinburgh consisted of a single main street with different alleyways shooting off of it. The layout of each alleyway determined its name. A court would have an open courtyard. A wynd provided enough space for a horse and cart. While a close indicated private property and thus were closed for public access. Each of these alley types often were named for a notable resident (i.e. Mary King’s Close) or type of business (i.e. Bakehouse Close) within that alley.

Many will bill Edinburgh as having an underground city made up of these closes. While this is not entirely true, the towering buildings above these alleyways certainly do give the appearance of being underground. In truth, for a very long time Edinburgh’s expansion went up instead of out, creating towering tenements that often extended over these alleyways.

Mary King’s Close provides a well-preserved example of one of these closes. Hundreds of people once called this underground alleyway home. However, when the bubonic plague struck the close in 1645, many of the residents died.

Local stories have it that the town council tried to board up the close with bricks to prevent the outbreak from spreading to the rest of the city. Though, the truth in that is unknown, Mary King’s Close certainly developed a sinister reputation after the plague outbreak and many of the properties within this underground close were never again occupied and access to the area was closed off to the public. Because of this, many areas within the close remain perfectly preserved for nearly 200 years.

Today, Mary King’s Close is a tourist attraction that you can visit and learn about the residents that lived on this infamous close. You may even see a ghost or two as the close is believed to still be haunted by those who perished here.

Address: 2, Warriston’s Close, High St, Edinburgh EH1 1PG, UK

Cost: Adult  £16.50

Hours: Open daily, though hours vary depending on the time of year. Check website for up to date times. 

Website: https://www.realmarykingsclose.com/

Grassmarket

Grassmarket - Historic Places in Edinburgh

Today, the Grassmarket is associated more with parties, night outs and tourists trying to get a selfie with the view of Edinburgh Castle at the bottom of the rectangular street. However, this area of the city has served many important social and political purposes since it took shape in the 12th Century.

Most importantly for the city was the fact that a number of markets called the Grassmarket home for centuries. Farmers and meat sellers set up to sell their stocks here and provide a source of food for the inhabitants in the city. Even today, a market sets up shop here each Saturday to sell food and crafts.

More notably, though, hundreds of executions took place at the top of the Grassmarket. In fact, you’ll notice that the stones on the ground here have been shaped to resemble the gallows that once stood upon this spot. Public executions began here in the mid-17th century and continued through the 18th century. Despite the ending of public executions at this spot towards the end of the 1700s, the gallow tree remained until 1823.

Address: Grassmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2HJ, UK

Cost: Free

Hours: N/A

Gladstone’s Land

Gladstone's Land - Historic Landmarks in Edinburgh

Located just outside Edinburgh Castle’s gates, this 500-year-old tenement building stands as one of the oldest buildings in Edinburgh. Originally owned by a merchant by the name of Thomas Gladstone, this building was divided into lavishly decorated apartments to attract wealthy tenants.

Once New Town opened in the mid-1800s, only Edinburgh’s poor remained in the Old Town. Because of this, the tenement building fell into disrepair until the National Trust for Scotland acquired it in 1934. They restored it to its former glory and created a museum that explores the lives of former tenants of this once opulent tenement and the history that this building has witnessed over the centuries.

Address: 477B Lawnmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2NT, UK

Cost: Adult £7.00

Hours: Daily 10am-6pm  

Website: https://www.nts.org.uk/visit/places/gladstones-land

Georgian House

Georgian House - Historic Landmarks in Edinburgh

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, the wealthier classes of Edinburgh left the Old Town and moved to the other side of the ravine known today as Princes Gardens. This new neighborhood was creatively named New Town and featured a number of grand Georgian townhouses.

 A visit to the Georgian House on Charlotte Street can take you back to this time of grandeur and luxury for the Scottish elite. Originally owned by John Lamont, a chief of the Lamont Clan, you can explore the everyday life and luxury of this wealthy family. The National Trust of Scotland restored this magnificent house to mirror a typical Edinburgh New Town House in the Georgian era, with every bit of the house reflecting the social and economic aspects of the Lamonts’ time in the house.

Address: 7 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh EH2 4DR, UK

Cost: Adult £8.00

Hours: Varies depending on the time of year, check website for up to date hours 

Website: https://www.nts.org.uk/visit/places/georgian-house

Historic Landmarks in Edinburgh: Historic People

Edinburgh boasts no shortage of historic people who boast worldwide recognition. These historic landmarks in Edinburgh dive into the historic people that have shaped the city, country, and world. 

Panmure House – Adam Smith

Panmure House - Historic Landmarks in Edinburgh

Panmure House marks the last and only surviving home of Adam Smith, the famous economist known as the “father of capitalism.” Smith wrote a number of works on economics, but is most famous for The Wealth of Nations. In this critique of the British trade policy of mercantilism, Smith argues for free trade. This seminal work influenced economic policy around the globe during the 19th Century.

Thomas Jefferson, a founding father and third president of the United States, described Smith’s book as “the best book to read on money and commerce.” Though not an Edinburgh native, Smith lived out his final days in Edinburgh while he served as commissioner of customs.

Address:  Lochend Cl, Edinburgh EH8 8BL, UK

Cost: Not currently open to the public (under restoration)

Hours: Not currently open to the public (under restoration)

Website: http://www.panmurehouse.org/

Canongate Kirkyard

Canongate Kirkyard - Historic Landmarks in Edinburgh

Located just off the Royal Mile, Canongate Kirk and its corresponding Kirkyard were built when James IV converted the nave of Holyrood from the parish church into a chapel for the Order of the Thistle. A new parish church sprung up on Canongate and became known as Canongate Kirk. The surrounding graveyard includes graves of many historic and world-famous Edinburgh residents.

Famous graves within this historic place in Edinburgh include: 

  • Adam Smith – father of capitalism and author of The Wealth of Nations
  • Robert Fergusson – famous Edinburgh poet
  • John Ballantyne – Sir Walter Scott’s publisher 
  • Agnes Craig – former (married) lover of poet Robert Burns, she inspired many of his love poems 
  • Dugald Stewart – Scottish Enlightenment philosopher and mathematician  
  • David Riccio – Italian musician and secretary to Mary Queen of Scots. He was murdered and stabbed 56 times by a group of conspirators that included Mary’s husband. 
  • Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie – name inspiration for Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

Address: 153 Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8BN, UK

Cost: Free

Hours: Daily 11am-4pm 

Website: https://www.canongatekirk.org.uk/kirkyard/

Scott Monument

Scott Monument - Historic Monuments in Edinburgh

The Scott Monument stands tall and imposing on Princes Street in Edinburgh. This historic monument in Edinburgh honors famous Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott. Scott is credited with creating the historical fiction novel and his series Waverly is lauded as one of the best works of Scottish literature. His writings sparked a larger interest in Scottish culture and history not just in the United Kingdom, but around the world.

Born and bred in Edinburgh, Scott also made enormous efforts to put Scottish culture back in the hands of the people. Through a friendship with King George IV, he opened up the crown jewel room in Edinburgh Castle to the public and even brought back Mons Meg, a historic canon that once sat upon the castle ramparts. The canon had been seized by English forces after the Jacobite Uprising of 1745 and sent to London to sit on the Tower of London.

The Scott Monument recognizes this legendary Edinburgh citizen for his cultural contributions to Edinburgh and Scotland as a whole. You can even climb to the top of the monument to get sweeping views of the city.

Address: E. Princes St Gardens, Edinburgh EH2 2EJ, UK

Cost: Adult £8.00

Hours: Daily 10am-4:30pm

Website: https://www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk/venue/scott-monument

39 North Castle Street – Home of Sir Walter Scott

Sir Walter Scott Home in Edinburgh - Historic Landmarks in Edinburgh

Since Sir Walter Scott spent much of his life in Edinburgh, there are many places that boast being his home throughout the city. His favorite, though, was a Georgian townhouse in the New Town section of Edinburgh at 39 North Castle Street. He designed and ordered construction on this house before living there for nearly 20 years.

In 1826, two of Scott’s publishers went bankrupt. Since Scott invested heavily in both of these publishers and through the insolvency lost  £120,000. However, instead of declaring bankruptcy himself, he pledged all future earnings from his published works to the creditors. Given these financial challenges he was forced to sell 39 North Castle Street and to rent accommodations elsewhere in the city.

Address: 39 North Castle St, Edinburgh, EH2 3BG, UK

Cost: Interior not open to the public, free to view out front 

Hours: Not open to the public

Greyfriars Kirkyard

Greyfriars Kirkyard - Historic Landmarks in Edinburgh

Greyfriars Kirkyard marks one of the most historic and most visited graveyards in Edinburgh. Franciscan monks set up a monastery on these grounds in the 15th Century. The monastery came to be known as Greyfriars, due to the color of the robes that the monks wore. They provided services and medical care for the poor until the Scottish Reformation in 1559 forced them to emigrate to the Netherlands.

With their departure, Mary Queen of Scots donated the garden of the monastery to the people as a public burial ground as the churchyard burial site at St. Giles was overflowing. The kirkyard was used for over 100,000 burials over the years, though you won’t see nearly as many gravestones as that on the grounds.

Some famous graves in this historic landmark in Edinburgh include: 

  • George Heriot – founder of the Heriot School 
  • George Buchanan – writer and tutor to Mary Queen of Scots 
  • James Craig – architect of the New Town neighborhood in Edinburgh 
  • Walter Scott – father of Sir Walter Scott, the famous writer
  • James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton – Regent to James IV as a child, ordered the murder of Mary Queen of Scots’ secretary 
  • James Hutton – father of modern geology 
  • Sir George Mackenzie – infamous prosecutor of criminals and Covenanters, it’s believed his tomb is haunted by a poltergeist 
  • John Porteous – controversial Edinburgh figure that was lynched by a public mob after ordering fire at rowdy crowd during an execution 
  • John Gray – Greyfriars Bobby owner 

In addition to housing bodies of historic residents in Edinburgh, Greyfriars Kirkyard also provided inspiration for J.K. Rowling while she wrote the Harry Potter series. You can find names that inspired her among the gravestones, including Tom Riddle, Professor McGonagall and more. For more on Harry Potter locations in Edinburgh, check out this blog post.

Address: 26A Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh EH1 2QE, UK

Cost: Free 

Hours: 24 hours 

No. 17 Heriot Row – Childhood Home of Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson Childhood Home - Historic Landmarks in Edinburgh

No.  17 Heriot Row, a stone townhouse in the New Town neighborhood, marks the location of Robert Louis Stevenson’s childhood home. Stevenson is one of Scotland’s most famous and well-known writers. He penned Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Suffering from sickness from the time he was a child, Stevenson often sat confined to his room and wrote by lamplight. When he was older he sought more temperature conditions to live and relocated to the Samoan Islands where he died at 44 years of age.

Address: 17 Heriot Row, Edinburgh, EH3 6HU, UK

Cost: Interior not open to the public, free to view out front 

Hours: Not open to the public

No. 14 South Charlotte Street – Childhood Home of Alexander Graham Bell

Alexander Graham Bell Childhood Home - Historic Landmarks in Edinburgh

Tucked away in the Edinburgh neighborhood of New Town stands the childhood home of Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. Located at Number 14 South Charlotte Street, Bell lived here with his family until he left school and Edinburgh.

Bell’s mother was deaf and this condition profoundly impacted his life and research throughout his career. He spent many years researching and experimenting on ways to help the deaf, which ultimately led to his invention of the telephone in 1876.

Address: 14 S Charlotte St, Edinburgh, EH2 4AX, UK 

Cost: Interior not open to the public, free to view out front 

Hours: Not open to the public

Historic Landmarks in Edinburgh: Unique Histories

Every city has its own unique stories to tell. These historic landmarks dive into the out of the ordinary stories that give light to different aspects of Edinubrgh’s history. 

Victoria Street

Victoria Street - Historic Landmarks in Edinburgh

Though often famed for its possible connection to Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, Victoria Street boasts its own former sorcerer that lived on this colorful street. Major Thomas Weir lived on this street with his sister, Grizel. Weir was well-known in Edinburgh and well-respected as he was a passionate Presbyterian and served as an officer in the town guard.

When he fell ill in his older age, he shocked Edinburgh society when he regaled others with his tales of incest, murder and sorcery. After being tried for his proclaimed crimes, Weir was sentenced to death by strangulation and burning. His sister, Grizel, later died by hanging. She also fed into Weir’s stories claiming that a fiery chariot visited her one night and gave her dark powers.

The tales of Weir siblings haunted Edinburgh for years and the Weir House at the top of Victoria Street (then known as the West Bow) sat empty for over a century. Locals believe Weir still haunts the street, though, appearing at night on a headless horse that leaves behind a stream of fire as it gallops away.

Address: Victoria St, Edinburgh EH1 2HG, UK

Cost: Free

Hours: N/A 

Greyfriars Bobby

Greyfriars Bobby - Historic Monuments in Edinburgh

On the corner of Candlemaker Row and George IV Bridge stands an adorable brass statue of a dog. This historic landmark in Edinburgh celebrates a famous Skye terrier, known as Bobby, who guarded his owner’s grave for 14 years after his owner died.

Bobby belonged to John Gray, a night watchman in Edinburgh. When Gray died in 1858, Bobby returned to his master’s grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard each day. A local restaurant owner, John Traill, fed Bobby each day and even advocated for Bobby when the city of Edinburgh required a license for dogs or else they’d be put to death. His campaign for Bobby sparked tourist interest in the dog who guarded his owner’s grave and even led to the Lord Provost of Edinburgh himself paying for Bobby’s license.

When Bobby died, he was buried in the graveyard next to his owner and John Traill. It’s rumored that after his death, local business owners brought in a succession of Skye terriers for years afterwards to keep the tourist flow going. If you walk by his grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard (mentioned above), you’ll often find sticks and other tokens left for this world-famous pup.

Address: 30-34 Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh EH1 2QE, UK

Cost: Free

Hours: Open 24 hours/day

West Port

West Port- Historic Places in Edinburgh
Street in the West Port area of Edinburgh.

Just off the Grassmarket is a road known as the West Port. In the 19th and 20th centuries, this area was heavily saturated with slums. Its notoriety, though, comes from two infamous individuals from Edinburgh’s past – Willaim Burke and William Hare.

Burke and Hare were among the many Irish immigrant families that came to Edinburgh in search of construction work and lived in the slums of the West Port. However, instead of seeking jobs in construction, the pair worked to make their money by selling dead bodies to a Dr. Robert Knox.

The first body they sold was of an older man who died of natural causes, but seeing the money they earned from that body, the pair of Williams decided to turn to whatever means they needed to do to get bodies for Dr. Knox. In 1828, the pair killed at least 16 people before being caught.

Hare managed to escape death by giving evidence against Burke. Burke was hanged on the Lawnmarket before medical students dissected his body. His skeleton still remains on display in the Anatomical Museum in Edinburgh.

Known as the West Port murderers, the main place they haunted to kill in the slums was near Hare’s lodgings in the now demolished Tanner’s Close. The approximate location today is where Argyle House meets King’s Stable Lanes.

Address: King Stables Road and Argyle House, Edinburgh EH3 9DR, UK

Cost: Free 

Hours: N/A

National Monument of Scotland

National Monument of Scotland - Historic Monuments in Edinburgh

Known at its best as the National Monument of Scotland, this historic monument in Edinburgh also goes by the names of “Edinburgh’s Disgrace,” “Scotland’s Folly,” “the Pride and Poverty of Scotland, or “Edinburgh’s Folly.”  Why you may ask can a monument dedicated to the Scottish soldiers and sailors who died in the Napoleonic Wars be nicknamed with such negativity?

Well, this monument was never fully finished. Construction began on Calton Hill 1826 for this monument to resemble the Parthenon in Athens. However, construction ceased in 1829 due to lack of funds and this historic monument in Edinburgh has sat unfinished since that day.

Address: Calton Hill, Edinburgh EH7 5AA, UK

Cost: Free 

Hours: Open 24 hours/day 

Tweeddale Court

Tweeddale Court - Historic Places in Edinburgh

Tweeddale Court, an unassuming court that leads up to a house of the same name, once witnessed one of the most infamous crimes committed in Edinburgh. In 1806, an unknown killer (or killers) cornered bank porter William Begbie, stabbed him to death and stole the £4,000 on his person. A year later , £3,000 from the robbery was found in the wall of a garden in Leith. However, despite this discovery, the robbers/killers still remain unknown.

Address: Tweeddale Court, Edinburgh EH1 1TE, UK

Cost: Free

Hours: N/A 

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