St. Giles Cathedral has been a focal point for religious activity in Edinburgh for over 900 years, although the structure we see today can trace its roots back to the 14th century. Due to its central location on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh’s historic Old Town, St. Giles has become a popular tourist attraction, as it’s an ideal stop-off point between excursions to Holyrood Palace and Edinburgh Castle.

St Giles Cathedral
Address:High Street,
Opening Hours:Monday – Friday 10:00am – 6:00pm
Saturday 9:00am- 5:00pm
Sunday 1:00pm-5.00pm
Admission Price:Free
Contact:0131 226 0677
Facilities:Shop, guided tours, audio tour
Photos:Virtual Tour
YouTube Video


If you’ve ever researched Edinburgh on the internet, you’ll likely have seen a photo of Saint Giles Cathedral dominating The Royal Mile. The cathedral’s distinctive 15th-century crown steeple is one of the most-viewed features of any building in Edinburgh, and it sits alongside Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace as the top attractions in the city.

The cathedral (like most in Scotland) is covered from floor to ceiling with detailed carvings and ornate stonework, and while not quite up to the standard of British icons like York Minster, it can comfortably hold its head up high when placed against its sister cathedral in Glasgow.

St. Giles is still an active place of worship so entrance might not be possible during times of prayer but during the week tourists are free to enter and explore the interior and wee chapels that line the north and south sides of the building.

There are five services every Sunday and another fourteen acts of worship during the week, often with the choir singing in full voice. The choir is acclaimed throughout Europe and America, and they’ve released several albums that can be purchased from the on-site gift shop.

St Giles Cathedral

As you walk around the enormous nave, you’ll notice four substantial 12th-century central pillars that are the oldest parts of the entire structure. Records show that a fire gutted the majority of the cathedral in the 14th century, and those gargantuan pillars are all that remains of the original stonework.

Interestingly, although St. Giles has been officially designated as an A-listed building, it’s not, in the truest sense of the word, an actual cathedral. As the Church of Scotland does not officially have either bishops or cathedrals, St. Giles is usually referred to in its much older title as the ‘High Kirk’, which means a place where a congregation of the Church of Scotland worships.

If you’ve explored some of the other historic buildings that lie along the length of The Royal Mile you’ll likely have visited John Knox’s house which lies just a short distance from the cathedral in the direction of the palace.

The link between the two sites is due to the fact that John Knox was a minister at St. Giles, and it was where he preached his famous sermons against Mary Queen of Scots. Today, the legacy of the Scottish reformer is told through a magnificent 19th-century stained-glass window at the south end of the cathedral, where he forever stands preaching to the masses at the High Kirk.

St Giles Cathedral

The Highlights

1: This is one of the most distinctive buildings in Edinburgh. Visitors can marvel at the beautiful stained-glass windows, the impressive stone pillars, and the famous crown spire that has become an iconic part of Edinburgh’s Old Town silhouette.

2: The cathedral is free to enter, although donations are welcome, and there are free guided tours if you get there between 10.30 and 14.30 midweek.

3: Within St Giles’ Cathedral, the Thistle Chapel is a highlight not to be missed. It’s the home of the Order of the Thistle, Scotland’s chivalric company of knights chosen by the monarch. The chapel is relatively small but exquisitely detailed, with elaborate wood carvings and beautiful stained glass windows.

Visiting Tips

1: Due to its central location, St. Giles’ Cathedral is easily accessible from other historic attractions on the Royal Mile, such as John Knox House and the Real Mary King’s Close, making it a convenient addition to any sightseeing tour of Edinburgh.

2: If you can, I recommend joining one of the cathedral’s free guided tours, which will give you a fascinating glimpse into its history. The guides occasionally do rooftop tours as well, so ask at the information desk when you arrive to see if there are any running that day.

3: Due to its central location on The Royal Mile, St. Giles Cathedral gets very busy at the weekend, especially in summer. Take a tip from a local – visit mid-week and get there as early as possible to avoid the crowds.

St Giles Cathedral

Tourist Information

This is a historic attraction that absolutely has to be visited if you’re in Edinburgh for a city break. You’ll find it around half a mile south of the castle, between (but on the opposite side of) the Edinburgh City Chambers and the High Court of Justiciary.

Before you make your way through the main doors, I suggest taking a quick walk around the outside of the building to marvel at its architecture. It’s an impressive sight, so you might like to take a camera with a zoom lens to capture the spire and other decorative stonework. Towards the back of St. Giles is a car park that looks nothing out of the ordinary, but in it, you’ll find a brass marker on the ground that denotes the final resting place of John Knox.

On entering the building, you’ll find a guide and an information desk in front of you. There are also disabled ramps leading into the nave, which is the main part of the cathedral. This part of St. Giles is famous for its statues, memorials, tapestries, organ, and, of course, the iconic blue vaulted ceiling.

If you get the chance, you might consider joining one of the free guided tours that are organised throughout the day, as they’re by far the best way to learn about Edinburgh and the role the cathedral played in its history.

If a tour isn’t running when you arrive, you’ll still have an enjoyable visit, although without knowing about the points of interest, you’ll be in and out in around half an hour. So to make the most of your visit, I recommend first heading to the gift shop on the left side of the cathedral and picking up a guidebook, which will explain the many historic features inside the building.

Unlike many historic attractions in Scotland, this one allows you to take as many photos as you like, but you might be asked to turn off the flash in confined areas like the Thistle Chapel. You’ll find more information about the Thistle Chapel, as well as upcoming events, on the official website.

St Giles Cathedral

Things to Do

Explore the Thistle Chapel: A visit to St. Giles Cathedral isn’t complete without stepping into the elaborate Thistle Chapel. This small, ornate chapel is dedicated to the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Scotland’s foremost order of chivalry. The intricate woodwork featuring heraldic symbols and effigies is a sight to behold.

Attend a Service: Whether religious or not, attending a service at St. Giles Cathedral is a unique cultural experience. The beautiful music from the choir and the grandeur of the building create an atmosphere that’s unmatched anywhere else in the city.

Climb the Rooftop: If you’re looking for a unique take on Edinburgh, consider climbing to the rooftop of St. Giles Cathedral. The views from the top are breathtaking, with a panoramic vista of Edinburgh, the Pentland Hills, and the Firth of Forth. Joining a rooftop tour is one of the best ways to capture memorable photos and truly appreciate the city’s stunning architecture.

Marvel at Stained Glass Windows: St. Giles Cathedral boasts some of the most beautiful stained glass windows in Scotland. The windows depict various biblical scenes and are renowned for their vibrant colours and intricate designs. Try to visit on a sunny day when the light cascades through each window in a multicoloured display.

Participate in a Guided Tour: Guided tours are a great way to learn about the cathedral, its architecture, and its role in Edinburgh’s history. The guided tours offer insights into the cathedral that you might not find if you were to explore it on your own.

St Giles Cathedral

Things to Do Nearby

Real Mary King’s Close. Warriston’s Close, 2, High St, Edinburgh EH1 1PG. 1-minute walk.
An underground historic attraction that takes visitors on a subterranean guided walk through a 17th-century preserved street. It features educational displays, a shop and a café.

The Royal Mile. 1-minute walk.
Historic street in Edinburgh that connects Holyrood Palace to Edinburgh Castle. The Royal Mile is famed for its medieval architecture and narrow closes and wynds. Contains a wide selection of tourist attractions, shops, restaurants and cafés.

John Knox House. Scottish Storytelling Centre, High St, Edinburgh EH1 1SR. 5-minute walk.
A 15th-century preserved townhouse that is believed to have been the home of the Protestant preacher John Knox. Includes historic displays and exhibitions that can be viewed on a self-guided tour. Joins onto The Scottish Storytelling Centre which features a café and gift shop.

Camera Obscura and World of Illusions. Castlehill, Royal Mile, Edinburgh EH1 2ND. 4-minute walk.
A Victorian tourist attraction that displays a collection of optical illusions across multiple floors. Directly opposite The Scotch Whisky Experience.

The Museum of Childhood. 42 High St, Edinburgh EH1 1TG. 4-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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What denomination is St Giles Cathedral?

St. Giles Cathedral’s current denomination is the Church of Scotland. It was previously Roman Catholic.

When was St Giles Cathedral built?

St Giles Cathedral was built in 1124 AD. It is 196 feet long, 125 feet wide, and 52 feet high.

Where is the grave of John Knox?

The Scottish reformer John Knox is buried in the car park behind St Giles Cathedral. A commemorative brass cobblestone marks the burial site.

What is St Giles the patron saint of?

St Giles is the patron saint of people with disabilities. He was originally the patron saint of lepers.

Who is buried in St. Giles Cathedral?

St. Giles’ Cathedral, also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh, is a historic church located in Edinburgh. It is not typically a place where people are buried as it is an active place of worship and a tourist destination, although there were a few notable St Giles’ Cathedral burials in the past.

These included James Stewart 1st Earl of Moray, John Knox, Archibald Campbell 1st Marquess of Argyll, John Napier, and James Graham 1st Marquess of Montrose.

Craig Neil

Craig Neil is the author, photographer, admin, and pretty much everything else behind Out About Scotland. He lives near Edinburgh and spends his free time exploring Scotland and writing about his experiences. Follow him on Pinterest, Facebook, and YouTube.