Edinburgh Old Town: The Best Things to Do

The Royal Mile

Edinburgh Old Town

Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city, is renowned for its rich history and picturesque buildings, with the Old Town area being the notable highlight.

The Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a labyrinth of cobbled streets, narrow alleyways, and hidden courtyards, all centred around the Royal Mile and the Cowgate, Grassmarket, and Holyrood areas.

Located in the heart of Edinburgh, the Old Town stretches along a hill that starts at the looming Edinburgh Castle and finishes at the regal Holyrood Palace, enveloped by the New Town to the north and the sprawling green expanse of Holyrood Park to the south.

Edinburgh Castle, things to do in Edinburgh city centre

The history of the Old Town is as fascinating as its geography. It dates back to medieval times and its layout and architecture are largely preserved from the 16th and 17th centuries, especially on the Royal Mile – the main artery of the Old Town – which is lined with historic tenements, churches, and closes (narrow alleyways).

Geographically, Edinburgh’s Old Town is characterized by Castle Rock, a rugged, steep-sided ridge formed by volcanic activity where the formidable Edinburgh Castle now sits. The Royal Mile slopes gently eastward before the topography rises again in the form of the monumental Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park.

The Old Town is a treasure trove of tourist attractions. Edinburgh Castle offers stunning views of the city while the Royal Mile is home to the 12th-century St Giles’ Cathedral, the Museum of Edinburgh, and the Real Mary King’s Close, a historic underground close preserved almost as it was in the 17th century.

At the eastern end of the Royal Mile is Holyrood Palace, the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland, and across the road is the Scottish Parliament Building, a modern architectural marvel that offers free tours to inquisitive visitors.

Holyrood Palace

Just a stone’s throw away is Holyrood Park and Dynamic Earth which can easily be combined with the National Museum of Scotland and Greyfriars Kirk as well as the Camera Obscura and the Scotch Whisky Experience – all of which are amongst the most-visited tourist attractions in the city.

And let’s not forget the numerous festivals that are staged in the Old Town including the world-famous Royal Military Tattoo and the Fringe Festival which transform the area into a carnival of arts and culture every summer.

Find places to visit and things to do in Edinburgh’s Old Town with these visitor guides.

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