If you are looking for a walk through the historic Edinburgh Old Town including a panoramic view of the city then read on. This walk will take you to a lot of Edinburgh’s favourite historical sites. I will give you a guided tour along the way with lots of photos of things to look out for.
Start of the Walk
Our walk starts from the front of the Caledonian Hotel. The “Caley” as it is affectionately known is a large red sandstone building situated at the west end of Princes Street.
The Caledonian Hotel
The Caley was built as part of the Caledonian Railway Company’s grand railway terminus opening its doors in 1903. The station and hotel complex was designed by architects John More, Dick Peddie and George Washington Browne. As well as the hotel they created a railway station with 7 large platforms to rival the North British Railway station at Waverley.
The hotel was designed to be the focal point for the entire complex, being built directly above the station, providing street access to the west end of Princes Street.
Sadly Princes Street station was a casualty of the Beeching Cuts in the 1960’s closing in September 1965. All that remains of the station today are the large iron gates on Rutland Street which is now the entrance to the hotel car park. The old station clock still resides in the hotel set at 5 minutes fast to ensure passengers made their trains.
The hotel has attracted a number of high profile celebrities and more recently was where Europe’s politicians drafted the Edinburgh Agreement.
The present owners Hilton carried out an extensive renovation in 2014 and relaunched the hotel as the Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh.
St John’s Church
On the opposite side of the road is the Church of St John the Evangelist. The church was designed by the Architect William Burn at the age of 25. Part of the Scottish Episcopal Church it was consecrated on Maundy Thursday 1818.
One of the features of the church are its stained glass windows originally created by the Edinburgh studio of Ballantyne and Allan in 1857 and 1861. In 1882 Ballantynes son added two further windows and Ballentynes grandson added two more in 1930 and 1935.
The Parish Church of St Cuthbert
Next to St John’s is the Parish Church of St Cuthbert part of the Church of Scotland. Probably founded in the 7th Century the present church buildings were completed in 1894. The large churchyard bounds Princes Street Gardens. The Building’s of Scotland Guide to Edinburgh describes the church’s furnishings as “extraordinary”. Features include large stained glass windows, works of art and a ring of ten bells. Seven of the churches ministers have served as Moderators of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
The churches present work includes ministries among the homeless people and Edinburgh’s business community.
Edinburgh Old Town and The Grassmarket
From the Caly cross the road at the crossing taking a right continuing down Lothian Road. Take a first left into King’s Stables Road past St Cuthberts Church on your left. Walk down the road with a large stone wall on your left and Castle Terrace multi storey car park on your right. Continue under the large stone bridge until you reach the Grassmarket.
Here you will find bars, cafes, small shops, a weekend market, and one of the best ice cream shops in Edinburgh, Mary’s Milk Bar.
The Grassmarket is one of the oldest parts of the city and has always been a bustling marketplace. In the 14th Century the grassmarket hosted cattle fairs, horse fairs and corn was bought and sold.
The Tale of Maggie Dickson
It was also the site for public executions. Thankfully the last was in 1784. A much publicised tale is that of Maggie Dickson or “Half Hingt Maggie”. After being hanged she miraculously came back to life and was allowed to go free. Look out for the pub named pub named after her.
The Wizard of the West Bow
Another gruesome tale was that of Major Weir known as the “Wizard of the West Bow”. Weir was a religious preacher who fell sick and confessed to a secret life of supernatural activities with his sister. The pair were arrested and sentenced to death for witchcraft. Weir was burned at the stake somewhere between Edinburgh and Leith and his sister hanged in the Grassmarket.
The Weir residence remained empty for many years as it was thought to be haunted. The house was eventually demolished in 1829 when Victoria Street was constructed. However many people claimed to have seen the major and his sister riding down Victoria Street in a fiery coach driven by the devil.
Edinburgh Old Town – The Royal Mile
At the top of the Grassmarket you will find a large sone well in the middle of the street known as the West Bow Well. Proceed up Vicoria Street with its cobbles and attractive coloured buildings and shops on the left. At the top of Victoia Street take a left and walk up to the traffic lights. Directly across the road on opposite sides you will see Deacon Brodies Pub and the High Court Building.
Cross the road at the crossing and continue down the Royal Mile with St Giles Cathedral on your right. Behind St Giles is the Court of Session and opposite is the City Chambers. To the left of the City Chambers is Mary Kings Close which is well worth a visit.
St Giles was founded in the 1130’s soon after the founding of the royal burgh in the reign of King David 1.
Look out for the Heart of Midlothian, a pattern of coloured cobbles marking the site of the old Tolbooth which was also used as a prison.
Edinburgh Old Town – John Knox’s House
Continue down the Royal Mile with the Tron Kirk on your right. Cross the road at the crossing and continue toward John Knox’s House on your left. This is one of the oldest houses in Edinburgh, now a museum and well worth a look inside. The Oak Room on the top floor is particularly atmospheric with wood panelling and painted ceiling dating from the 17th century. However the exterior of the house with its timber galleries and outside staircase on to the street below gives it it’s romantic image. These features would have been very common in the Royal Mile in the 16th and 17th centuries.
From John Knox’s House continue down the Royal Mile toward Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament. On your way there are three places which are worth a visit. The Museum of Edinburgh on the right hand side of the Royal Mile is full of historical artifacts. Entry to the museum is free however donations are always welcome. To find out more about the museum click on this link and read our blog.
Fans of Outlander can find Bakewell Close where Jamie’s Print Shop was located. The steps are still there however the rest was filmed in a studio in Cumbernauld! For some more filming shots read our blog “Outlander Exploring the Royal Mile”
Opposite the Museum of Edinburgh is Canongate Kirk attended by the queen when she is in residence at Holyrood. She even has her own special seat.
This was the venue for the wedding of Zara Phillips daughter of Princess Anne to rugby star Mike Tyndall. To find out more about the church click on this link and read our blog.
Edinburgh Old Town – Dunbars Close Garden
Lastly Dunbars Close Garden is a hidden gem that not many people know about unless of course you have lived nearby. It is a lovely spot to rest before the next and final part of this walk.
Holyrood Palace and Holyrood Park.
At the foot of the Royal Mile you will find Holyrood Palace which is the queen’s official residence when she visits Edinburgh. Every year in July she hosts a garden party in the grounds. Opposite Holyrood is the Scottish Parliament Building. For more information about Holyrood Palace, the Parliament Building and the Queens Gallery click this link
Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat.
Proceed into Holyrood Park past the Palace and the Parliament building towards the final part of this walk.
If you are a visitor to Edinburgh you will probably attempt to climb Arthur’s Seat by firstly scaling the path up the west side. In my opinion you are making life difficult for yourself. There is a far safer, easier way to reach the top which is less strenuous and gives you the same spectacular panoramic view over the city.
Edinburgh Old Town – Dunsapie Loch
Follow me, you are in for a treat. Continue walking into the park along the pavement with trees on your left until you are almost at the opposite side of the park. On your right you will see the ruins of St Anthony’s Chapel. There is also a small loch with ducks and swans named St Margaret’s Loch. Take the road up the hill at the side of the loch and follow the path up to Dunsapie Loch. If you are lucky you may see the Otters.
Opposite Dunsapie Loch is the path leading to the top of Arthur’s Seat. As you climb, stop for a while and just admire the view out over the Firth of Forth towards East Lothian and Berwick Law.
At the top you will be treated to a spectacular, panoramic view of the city, the castle and the Firth of Forth. A fitting end to this walk through Edinburgh Old Town.
Other Blogs from 2Edinburgh.com
A Visit to the Palace of Holyrood House
The Royal Mile and The Canongate Attractions
Edinburgh City Centre Walk for First Time Visitors
Thanks go to Edinburgh World Heritage for providing some of the material for this blog.
Thanks also to the Caledonian Waldorf Astoria and St John’s Episcopal Church for historical material.
All photographs are our own and copyright 2edinburgh.com
If you are planning on visiting Edinburgh either for a weekend break or longer here are a few guide books which may help you to decide what to see and do.