The Royal Mile Edinburgh
Our guide to the Royal Mile – Edinburgh will give you all of the information you need to experience this historic locale. On any given day, The Royal Mile – Edinburgh is likely to be the liveliest neighborhood in Scotland’s capital city. Residents and visitors flock to the ancient quarter where bagpipers and buskers play amid Old Town’s medieval architecture.
Two famous landmarks, Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, bookend The Royal Mile. The one-mile roadway is made up of five streets (Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, Canongate, and Abbey Strand). The route forms the center of Old Town Edinburgh, and is home to many of the city’s most important buildings and monuments. Use our guide to the Royal Mile to plan your day.
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ROYAL RESIDENCES ALONG THE ROYAL MILE EDINBURGH
Castle Rock is a rise of volcanic rock that formed over 350 million years ago. On this rock, Edinburgh Castle was built. Over the centuries, the village bordering the Castle developed eastward down Castle Hill. By the 13th century, the Royal Mile thoroughfare linked the castle to the origins of Holyrood Palace. Visiting the royal residences is one of the best things to do on the Royal Mile.
The Royal Mile Edinburgh Castle
High upon its volcanic ridge, Edinburgh Castle serves as a symbol of Scottish resiliency and might. Over the years, the Castle has served many functions including acting as a palace, prison, and the seat of government. Today, it is both a cultural attraction and active military base. The Castle is open to visit year-round. Visitors can tour the ground's Royal Palace, war museums, dog cemetery, battlements, Great Hall, and more.
The Royal Mile Holyrood Palace
At the lower end of the Royal Mile, an Augustinian Abbey was founded in the 12th century. Later, the Abbey was reimagined as the Palace of Holyroodhouse (aka Holyrood Palace). The Palace is the British Monarch’s official residence while in Scotland. Highlights of the Holyrood Palace tour include the bedchamber of Mary Queen of Scots, State Apartments, Throne Room, Holyrood Abbey, the Palace Garden, and Great Gallery.
THE ROYAL MILE EDINBURGH HISTORY AND ARCHITECTURE
Old Town Edinburgh was a thriving city by 1100. Around 1350, it was recognized as the capital of Scotland. As the city grew, the steep sides of Castle Hill limited where development could occur.
Due to the shortage of real estate, Old Town Edinburgh built upwards. By the 16th century, stone tenements commonly reached heights of 6-12 stories. Between the tenements, winding stone lanes were built off the main avenues. Today, the herringbone pattern of the Royal Mile’s wynds and closes (alleys) is part of what make touring the city so much fun.
The stone tenements of the Royal Mile and Old Town Edinburgh housed a cross-section of Scottish society. The buildings shared a common stairway, but the floors were divided according to status. The very poor lived on the least desirable bottom floor. Wealthier residents lived on the top floors. The tenements of Edinburgh have been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site for their historic and cultural significance.
THE ROYAL MILE EDINBURGH SHOPS
The shops of the Royal Mile are full of artisan craft, textile (tartans, kilts, and blankets), specialty food (haggis, chocolate, and whiskey), and souvenir shops.
After you have seen all the Royal Mile monuments and attractions, retrace your steps. Go slowly to window shop, people watch, and wander the pedestrian lanes that shoot off of the main drag. In this part of town, there are often buskers and street performers to entertain.
THE ROYAL MILE EDINBURGH POINTS OF INTEREST
The Scotch Whiskey Experience (354 Castlehill)
The Scotch Whiskey experience is an attraction located close to Edinburgh Castle. The experience includes a barrel ride through the whiskey producing process and a blending lesson in an 1870s workshop. Also included, is a peek at the attraction’s whiskey collection, and a tasting. This is a popular attraction on the Royal Mile.
St. Giles Cathedral and Parliament Square
St. Giles Cathedral (aka High Kirk of Edinburgh) sits a short distance from Edinburgh Castle. The Cathedral is also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh. St. Giles has been Edinburgh’s main church for over 1000 years. Touring the Cathedral is free. Make sure to see the church’s Gothic nave, crown tower, and Thistle Chapel.
St. Giles Cathedral is a part of Parliament Square. The square is also home to the original Scottish Parliament Building and a statue of the Scottish Philosopher, Adam Smith.
The Real Mary King’s Close (2 Warriston’s Cl)
The Real Mary King’s Close is a tourist attraction in which costumed tour guides reinact 18th century life in Edinburgh. A “close” is a lane or alley that veers off downhill from the Royal Mile. This particular close is completely covered. Mary King was a prominent businesswoman who lived on the close in the 1600’s. Tours run regularly throughout the day.
Gladstone’s Land (5 Cultins Road)
Gladstone’s Land is a 6-story tenement house in Old Town Edinburgh that is now a museum. The restored high rise is one of the oldest buildings on the Royal Mile. The popular tourist attraction is run by the National Trust. Museum exhibits demonstrate life in the 17th century.
John Knox House (High Street)
The John Know House is the oldest original medieval building still standing on the Royal Mile. The house is a museum that depicts life in the 1400 and 1500s. John Knox, a Scottish theologian who was a leader in Scotland’s reformation movement, once lived in the house.
Dunbar’s Close (137 Canongate)
Dunbar’s Close sits in the heart of Old Town Edinburgh. It is a lovely garden that is just right for a quiet moment away from the bustle of the Royal Mile. A plaque in the garden notes the plot was laid out in the character of the 17th century. There are topiaries, seasonal flowers, and quaint stone walls.
The Scottish Parliament Building (Holyrood)
The Scottish Parliament Building is located at the bottom of the Royal Mile across from Holyrood Palace. The parliament makes laws and debates issues of the day. The striking modern architecture of the building is in stark contrast to the nearby Holyrood Palace. Tours of the Parliament building are available. See website for dates and times.
Holyrood Park (Holyrood)
Holyrood park is a free public park located behind Holyrood Palace. At the park there are trails that lead to the summit of Arthur’s Seat (the highest point in Edinburgh) and a 5.5 km circular trail around the park. The circular trail is mostly flat and popular for walking and biking. On the grounds there are also the ruins of a fort and chapel.
Additional Royal Mile Edinburgh Museums
Museum of Childhood (42 High Street): A celebration of childhood.
Museum of Edinburgh (142 Canongate): Exhibits regarding Edinburgh’s history and legends.
People’s Story (163 Canongate): Social history museum featuring oral histories of Edinburgh’s residents through interviews and other records.
Writer’s Museum (Lawnmarket, Lady Stairs Cl): Celebrates three famous Scottish writers: Burns, Stevenson, and Scott.
May your troubles be less and your blessings be more, Laura and Randy
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