John Knox House dates back to 1470 and can be found on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile in the Old Town. Although it is named after the Presbyterian preacher John Knox it was also the home of James Mossman, a goldsmith who was loyal to Mary Queen of Scots.
The building is now a public museum that depicts the story of the Scottish Enlightenment and the battles between Knox, Mossman, and Queen Mary through a series of information displays and restored artefacts.
|Opening Hours:||Monday-Sunday: 10 am-6 pm
Last admission 5 pm
|Admission Price:||Adults: £6 (£5 Conc)
Children over 7: £1
Children under 7: Free
|Contact:||0131 556 9579|
|Facilities:||Shop, toilets, cafe|
|BUY TICKETS||Click here to purchase|
One of the periods in Auld Reekie’s history (Auld Reekie is the historic nickname for Edinburgh) that’s particularly interesting is the 16th-century Reformation. During this time, the Church split into two religious factions – Catholic and Protestant – which eventually ushered in the Age of Enlightenment in Scotland.
Many influential people took part in this religious upheaval, but one of the leading figures was John Knox, a firebrand preacher who is perhaps best known for his battles against Mary Queen of Scots.
Several tourist attractions in Edinburgh mention John Knox, but none explains his story quite as well as the John Knox House in the middle of The Royal Mile.
This historic building is the former home of the Protestant reformer and it’s also the location of a museum devoted to the man and the events that forged Scotland into the country it is today.
Although John Knox only lived in the house for a short time his legendary status meant the medieval building ended up being known as ‘Knox’s House’. In fact, it’s his association with it that prevented it from being demolished in 1840 when many others were being pulled down as part of the city’s attempt to drag itself into the modern era.
It’s quite amazing that the house was built in the 1470s considering it’s in such good condition, and both it and the adjoining Moubray House are the only surviving medieval buildings on The Royal Mile.
Today, John Knox House is known for its museum exhibits which include time capsules from the 1840s, restored artworks from the 15th century, and fascinating displays that explain the political events of Scotland during the time Knox was alive.
Whether Knox spent much time in the house is a matter of debate because the house was also owned by the wealthy Catholic James Mossman, so it’s unlikely the Protestant Knox would have chosen to set up a home there.
But even so, the building would have been well known to Knox due to the fact it’s located close to St. Giles Cathedral where he spent his later years preaching sermons.
While John Knox’s House is a great place to learn about Edinburgh and the Reformation, his long-term home lies further up The Royal Mile in Warriston Close which is today owned by the New Free Church.
Visitors to Edinburgh can also discover the story of Knox at St. Giles Cathedral and Edinburgh Castle, and there are artefacts from the time on display at the National Museum of Scotland.
1: The museum is focused on education and you’ll learn a lot during your visit. It’s also remarkably well-preserved for such an old building.
2: Visiting this attraction is an interesting way to while away an hour in Edinburgh and as John Knox House is so centrally located you can easily combine it with all the other Royal Mile attractions.
3: The house is a genuinely interesting place to visit and the operators have crammed a lot into such a small space. In addition, the shop is also excellent and has one of the best collections of books that I’ve seen in a tourist attraction.
1: Get reasonably priced food at the Scottish Storytelling Centre café where you’ll be able to hide from the majority of Edinburgh’s noisy tourists. Who needs Starbucks anyway?
2: It won’t take more than an hour to view this attraction so plan other activities if you’re visiting the city centre such as Mary King’s Close located a short distance up The Royal Mile. Check out my Edinburgh guides for more ideas.
3: Want a cheap ticket to John Knox House? Take a look at Groupon as they often have discounts.
Although the main event is exploring the house you’ll only really get a feel for Edinburgh during the 14-1500s by exploring The Royal Mile (so-called because it’s a mile from Holyrood Palace at the bottom to Edinburgh Castle at the top).
Most of the buildings in this part of the city are hundreds of years old and there’s no better way to experience the Old Town than to get lost in its maze of wynds and closes.
After you’ve soaked up all that history you should return to John Knox’s House, but not before stopping at the old stone water fountain that sits abandoned on the pavement a few yards up the street.
This fountain was in use for many years as one of the few clean drinking water fountains in the city, a fact that can be seen in the worn-away step where the people of Edinburgh used to rest their feet as they filled their buckets.
Take a closer look at the step and you’ll notice one side of it is more worn than the other. The reason is that Edinburgh’s women were under constant scrutiny by the church, and it was well-known that witches always preferred using their left hand over their right.
In response, any woman using the fountain made sure they operated it with their right hand so they put their left foot on the fountain step for balance. Hence the reason it’s more worn away on that side.
Back at the house, you can see that it has many features that were popular amongst the wealthy residents of Edinburgh in the 15th and 16th centuries, with a beautiful wooden gallery and ornate hand-painted ceilings (now faded but with colourful recreations dotted about the museum).
During a visit, you can walk around the house at your own pace without having to join a tour and you’ll see lots of information panels, original furniture, first-copy books and detailed paintings as you explore the wood-panelled rooms.
From the entrance, visitors pass through a souvenir shop into a small area that explains the backstory of John Knox and James Mossman before heading up a winding staircase to two restored rooms that contain a collection of manuscripts, artefacts, and artworks from the time they were alive.
There are information panels in each area that aren’t quite up to the standards of most Historic Environment Scotland sites, but they’re interesting nonetheless.
There are also more paintings and period-piece household decorations than you might expect for a 550-year-old building, but they’re unlikely to have been commissioned by a religious man like Knox. Instead, it’s more likely they were installed by the 16th-century goldsmith James Mossman who was a loyal supporter of Mary Queen of Scots and who owned the building from 1556.
You’ll find as much information about Mossman during your tour as you will about John Knox – possibly because he lived an equally (if not even more) interesting life. Although he was a successful and very wealthy man he got caught up in the religious turmoil of the reformation and eventually lost his job as master of the Royal Mint before losing all his possessions and being charged with treason in 1571.
Things didn’t really improve for him after that and in 1573 he was hanged at the Mercat Cross near St. Giles Cathedral and then drawn and quartered as punishment for creating counterfeit coins during the ‘Lang Siege’ at Edinburgh Castle in 1573.
After Mossman’s death, the house was handed over to James VI of Scotland and was subsequently inhabited by a succession of wealthy residents until it gradually became derelict. Thankfully, Knox’s association with the building led to the Church of Scotland taking ownership and a program of restoration in the mid-19th century saw it begin a new life as a museum in 1853.
There’s a lot to like about this attraction, not just because it’s so atmospheric, but because you’ll discover so much history inside.
Bear in mind that John Knox House is quite small so you’ll struggle to make your visit last much more than half an hour, but on the other hand, the admission price is reasonable for a city centre attraction, so even though your visit will be short it’s still good value for money.
Along with a visit to The Royal Mile’s People’s Museum, Museum of Childhood, and Police Museum, John Knox House is a great way to discover the events and people that forged Scotland into the country it is today.
Discover more places to visit in Edinburgh with: The Best Places to Visit in Edinburgh – Ultimate Visitor Guide.
Things to Do
Historical Tours: Embark on a self-guided tour of John Knox House, a historic building dating back to the 15th century. Learn about the life and work of John Knox, a leader of the Protestant Reformation, and explore the fascinating architectural features of the house.
Audio Guide: Experience Scotland’s turbulent history through audio guides that you can download to your mobile device. Hear the dramatic events of the 16th century come alive and gain a deeper understanding of the religious conflicts that shaped the nation.
Storytelling Performances: Enjoy captivating storytelling sessions at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. These performances, often led by costumed actors, offer an engaging and entertaining way to learn about Scotland’s past.
Cafe: Have your lunch at the Scottish Storytelling Centre’s cafe. The cafe offers a range of light bites in a setting that’s often missed by the crowds that fill the Royal Mile in the peak tourist season.
Bookshop Browsing: Don’t miss the museum’s well-stocked bookshop which offers a range of interesting reads about Scotland’s history. Whether you’re looking for in-depth academic texts or lighter historical novels, you’re sure to find something to remember your visit by.
Things to Do Nearby
The Royal Mile. 197 High St, Edinburgh EH1 1PT.
A famous medieval high street that joins Holyrood Palace to Edinburgh Castle. Known for its closes and wynds that join the road along its length. It features a variety of shops, bars and restaurants.
St. Giles Cathedral. High St, Edinburgh EH1 1RE. 6-minute walk.
A grand Gothic-style medieval cathedral also known as ‘The High Kirk’, it was the place of worship where John Knox preached. Free to visit and guided tours are available. Shop and café on site.
Edinburgh Vaults. South Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1QR. 4-minute walk.
Underground chambers with a ghostly history. Guided tours take visitors through the subterranean rooms while explaining the story of Edinburgh.
The Museum of Childhood. 42 High St, Edinburgh EH1 1TG. 1-minute walk.
A free-to-visit museum which celebrates childhood through displays of toys from recent memory to the 1800s. Set in an 18th-century building on The Royal Mile with five galleries inside.
The Museum of Edinburgh. 142-146 Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8DD. 4-minute walk.
A museum that serves to inform and educate visitors about the history of Edinburgh, from its industrial heritage to the people who made the city into what it is today. Free entry.
Frequently Asked Questions
Did John Knox live in John Knox House?
John Knox, a leading figure in the Scottish Reformation, is believed to have lived in John Knox House in Edinburgh. However, it’s worth noting that there’s some controversy around this claim as some historians argue that he may have lived in a different house in Edinburgh.
What was John Knox known for?
John Knox was one of the leading figures of the Scottish Reformation when Scotland broke away from the Papacy and developed its Presbyterian religion. Knox was also well known for his bitter opposition to Mary Queen of Scots.
Where is John Knox’s grave?
John Knox is buried under the car park next to St. Giles Cathedral on The Royal Mile in Edinburgh. The grave site is marked with a brass cobblestone.
What did John Knox say to Mary Queen of Scots?
John Knox, a leader of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland, had several contentious meetings with Mary, Queen of Scots, who was a Catholic. Knox was opposed to the idea of female rule and was particularly critical of Mary’s Catholic faith and her personal life.
During their first meeting in 1561, Knox famously defended his religious beliefs and criticized Mary’s Catholicism. He said, ‘I am in the place where I am demanded of conscience to speak the truth, and therefore the truth I speak, impugn it whoso list’. This roughly translates to, “I am in a place where my conscience demands that I speak the truth, and so I will speak the truth, let whoever wants to challenge it.”