The Flodden Wall in Edinburgh: The Complete Visitor Guide

Created by Craig Smith. Last updated on February 20th, 2021

The Flodden Wall is the often-forgotten protective boundary that once played a pivotal role in the city of Edinburgh’s history. Although many sections of the wall have been demolished there are a few sections that still remain standing.

Flodden Wall

Review of the Flodden Wall

As you walk around the ancient city of Edinburgh you might notice several sections of a fortified wall that seem slightly out of place in relation to the other buildings that stand alongside them.

These walls are the remains of an immense fortification that at one time encircled the entire Old Town area of the city, and their story is a fascinating glimpse into the history of both Edinburgh and Scotland.

The Flodden Wall was built in 1560 as a defensive measure against a potential English invasion, and while you might not believe it when you see the few small sections that are still standing today, it once encased an area over 140 acres in size.

Incredibly, around 10,000 people lived within the confines of the wall, all of whom could only leave by paying a hefty tax at one of the six exit gates. The wall continued to protect (and confine) Edinburgh’s residents until the 18th-century when it began to fall into ruin, and it was eventually almost entirely built over as the city expanded.

One of the most intact sections of the wall can be seen at the far south-western end of the Grassmarket in a narrow close called the Vennel, beyond which is the Telfer Wall, a later extension that continues to Lauriston Place.

These locations are easy to find if you follow Google Maps and take a walk to The Grassmarket which is a few minutes walk from Edinburgh Castle.

Follow this link to go to Google Maps.

Today, there are only a few locations where the Flodden Walls is intact so if you’re unaware of the history of it you might walk past without taking any notice.

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But if you’re curious about the history of Edinburgh and the role these few remaining ruins played this guide will tell you why you should definitely add them to your list of ‘must-see’ city sights.

The Flodden Wall

Things to do at the Flodden Wall

While there are some tours that will take you around all the remaining sections of the Flodden Wall the best way to see it (in my opinion) is to grab a tourist guidebook and explore the streets of Edinburgh for yourself.

If you keep a watchful eye out you might see several brass cobblestones embedded into Edinburgh’s streets which mark the boundaries where the original wall once stood, and searching for them is a fun way to keep the kids occupied while walking through the Old Town.

You’ll be shown these markers if you follow one of the many organized history tours that regularly depart from behind St. Giles Cathedral, but if you want to go on a hunt yourself a good place to start is the road outside the World’s End pub halfway up The Royal Mile (but please take care on the road as it’s not fully pedestrianized).

For a real taste of how big the Flodden Wall was in its heyday you should take a journey to Greyfriars Kirk where one of the last remaining sections can still be seen. You’ll find it by walking past the kirk to a corner that was used in another life as a prison for Covenanters. The Flodden Wall is signed so it’s easy to find and makes an interesting addition to a trip to Edinburgh’s most famous graveyard.

Alternatively, you could walk to the western end of The Grassmarket and look for a set of steps that have a sign that says ‘The Miss Jean Brodie Steps’.

These steps lead to the Vennel which in turn joins Heriot Place and midway between the two is a fairly large section of the Flodden Wall. Again, this section is clearly signed ‘The Flodden Wall’ but it’s also the location of one of the last remaining sections of the Telfer Wall which is a later addition built in the early 17th-century.

It’s incredible to think that at one time such a massive wall completely encircled the city but it’s also sad that so few sections of it still remain intact. Still, searching for the remaining bits of the Flodden Wall is a great way to explore this remarkable city.

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The history of the Flodden Wall

The Flodden Wall was completed in 1560 and was built in response to the Scots army defeat at the battle of Flodden in 1513. There, the armies of King James IV were defeated by the English, and fears of an English retaliation prompted Edinburgh’s councillors to propose a defensive wall to protect the city.

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The wall would also go some way to dealing with the smugglers that were blighting trade in the capital and it would be an important tax revenue for traders who needed to enter and exit the city. But it was the latter point that eventually led to its destruction.

Standing 24 feet tall with walls nearly 4 feet thick, the Flodden Wall enclosed an area of almost 140 acres. But as the population of Edinburgh grew the presence of the wall began to be resented due to the high taxes that had to be paid every time anyone wanted to enter or exit the city.

flodden wall

It’s for this reason that the famously-high tenement buildings of the Old Town were built because without any way to build outwards the architects of the time could only build upwards, so you could say the reason Edinburgh looks the way it does today is thanks to the construction of the Flodden Wall.

Although the impending English invasion never materialised the wall survived and was instrumental in protecting the city for many years, but as with many of the city’s old buildings it slowly became a shadow of its former self.

After the threat from the Jacobite uprising ended in 1746 the Flodden Wall was left poorly maintained and either collapsed or was built over in the ceaseless expansion of the city, so that today only a few small sections can still be seen standing.

But even though it’s difficult to appreciate how impressive this wall must have been when it was first built I think its remains are a bit of a hidden gem in Edinburgh, and one that’s well worth keeping an eye open for.

Discover the history of Edinburgh in my article: Edinburgh – A Thousand Year Story.

The highlights

  • The Flodden Wall is a fascinating piece of Edinburgh’s history. It’s just a shame so few sections are left.
  • It’s a great excuse to get out and explore the city to find those remaining sections of the wall.

Visiting tips

  • The best place to see the wall is at Greyfriars Kirk so combine a visit together with the kirk and wee Bobby’s grave.
  • The National Museum of Scotland is opposite Greyfriars so you won’t get bored in that part of the city.
  • Other sections of the wall can be found along the narrow Vennel leading to the Grassmarket, and running down Drummond Street to the Pleasance. If you’re not sure where to go enter those names in Google Maps.

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Things to do near The Flodden Wall

  • Edinburgh Castle. Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG. Scotland’s most-visited tourist attraction. This 11th-century castle and barracks houses the Scottish crown jewels and is the location for the National War Museum. It also features popular attractions like the Mons Meg cannon and the One O’Clock gun.
  • Greyfriars Kirk. 26A Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh EH1 2QE. Famous church and graveyard known as being the home of the faithful Scots terrier, Greyfriars Bobby. The kirk is open to the public for interior visits, as is the large graveyard which is reputedly haunted.
  • The Grassmarket. Edinburgh EH1 2JR. Historic area of Edinburgh situated between Edinburgh Castle and George Heriot’s School. The Grassmarket was at one time the main cattle market in the city but is now full of traditional Scottish pubs with courtyard seating.
  • National Museum of Scotland. Chambers St, Edinburgh EH1 1JF. A vast museum that covers all aspects of Scottish and international antiquities with a collection of interactive exhibits, exhibitions, natural history displays and priceless relics. One section is housed in a grand restored Victorian arcade and another is housed in a modern building that includes a café, restaurant and gift shop.
  • The Scotch Whisky Experience. The Royal Mile, 354 Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NE. Popular tourist attraction on The Royal Mile that celebrates Scotland’s whisky traditions with tastings, a whisky barrel ride and guided tours.
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Address and map

The remains of the Flodden Wall lie in several areas around the city, and there are various routes you can take to visit them. However, the most visited section lies in Greyfriars Kirk graveyard although it can also be seen where Drummond Street meets the Pleasance, and again on Forrest Road.

Click map for directionsGoogle Map of greyfriars kirk scotland


Tickets and opening times

Pre-book your Edinburgh tour ticket here.

The Flodden Wall is accessible at all times of day and there is no fee to view any of the remaining sections.


Contact details

Website: The Flodden Wall


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Flodden Wall
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Craig Smith

I'm the founder of Out About Scotland. I live in Edinburgh and I love visiting Scotland's tourist attractions... Read more. Follow me on Pinterest, Facebook, and YouTube.