The primary emotion that washed over me once the hissing doors of the Airport shuttle bus closed behind my back and my feet hit the wet pavement was pure adoration.
Edinburgh is a ridiculously good-looking city and there is plenty to stimulate the senses as you meander between Edinburgh’s Old Town attractions and the elegant Georgian New Town squares and some of the city’s neighbourhoods.
You’ll find plenty to discover at any time of the year – spring arrives with the trees flaunting their pretty gowns, summers come with an abundance of world-famous festivals, autumn is a storytelling and harvest time and winter offers Christmas magic.
Having visited 90+ cities and towns around the world, I can confidently say that there aren’t many streets in the world that are tourist attractions in their own right but Edinburgh’s Royal Mile easily takes that title on account of its fascinating mix of architecture, tourist attractions and plenty of history on display.
When visiting Edinburgh you’ll likely find yourself on the Royal Mile at some point and I can’t imagine a better introduction to the city than a walk straight down the spine of the old town.
As you meander up and down the gently sloped road and take in the medieval high-rise tenement buildings, pop in the museums and lose yourself in its dimly lit alleyways known as closes, you’ll get a chance to get a glimpse of the city’s Medieval architecture and its fascinating past.
Fun Fact: The hill of the royal mile is actually an extinct volcano and the slope was formed by the retreat of an ice age over 325 million years ago.
A Short Guide to The Best Attractions Along The Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland
If you are planning a trip to Scotland’s capital and wondering about what this beautiful European city has to offer, keep on reading!
After spending three days in Edinburgh, our hearts and souls were happy, and we came up with a couple of things worth seeing on its famous Royal Mile. Below is the list we managed to complete while exploring it and can recommend every single of them to make your visit more fun!
It doesn’t matter whether you visit Edinburgh in spring, summer or in December for its famous Christmas markets, one thing is for sure, you’ll have a great time!
What is the Royal Mile?
In short – the Royal Mile is Edinburgh’s most famous street that runs through the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town. While most visitors see it as simply a means to walk between the castle and the palace, the road has plenty of history and is an integral part of Edinburgh’s heritage.
There is also a variety of shops, pubs and restaurants that sell the best merchandise and food that Scotland has to offer such as genuine Scottish cashmere, Harris Tweed clothing and premium Scotch whisky.
The Royal Mile is divided into six areas, each very different from the others.
It starts with Castlehill and Castle Esplanade, located closest to Edinburgh Castle which is the oldest part of the Royal Mile being where the city was originally founded.
It then continues on to Lawnmarket, High Street, Canongate and Abbey Strand which connects the end of Canongate, where Parliament Square is located, to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
Things to know before you go
How long is the Royal Mile | Peculiarly, its length which measures 1.81 km is approximately one Scots mile long, which is longer than an English mile but hasn’t been used since the eighteenth century?
Where does the Royal Mile start and end | The Royal Mile Edinburgh starts at the entrance to Edinburgh Castle, an impressive fortress on top of Castle Hill. And at the other end, ends at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which is the official residence of Her Majesty the Queen in Scotland.
Best way to visit | While you can easily walk down the mile on your own, you could consider a guided tour to learn more about the history. The tours are reasonably priced and are a fantastic way to discover many stories of the murders, plagues and riots that were part of everyday life in the Old Town in years gone by.
How long does it take | You can easily spend half a day up to a full day on this road – depending on how many attractions you wish to visit.
What to bring | Bring good walking shoes as Edinburgh is a super walkable city and easy to get around on foot. Also – it can be quite chilly in the city, even sometimes in summer. No matter what time of year you visit, pack a cosy cardigan.
Top Tourist Attractions
The Royal Mile is Edinburgh’s most famous street where some of the city’s most popular tourist attractions can be found.
Start your day at Edinburgh Castle, the city’s symbol and the most visited attraction, that’s located at the top of the Royal Mile and can take up to three hours to explore. explore its fourteen chambers that are linked to the sad story of Mary Stewart, see the crown jewels and hear the one o’clock gun
At the Camera Obscura, visitors can experience six floors of interactive displays with exhibits that showcase optical illusions including holograms, a mirror maze and a spinning vortex tunnel. This attraction is great for families of all ages and there is also a rooftop terrace to enjoy 360-degree views of the city.
The Real Mary King’s Close | unveils the dark history of Scotland. It’s almost like taking a step back in time and hearing the stories from the people themselves. You can venture beneath the streets of Edinburgh into an underground maze where the stories of the city’s past residents are showcased through a series of exhibits and displays.
Palace of Holyroodhouse | is filled to the rafters with priceless works of art and royal memorabilia and also features a separate art gallery from the royal household as well as a superb café and gift shop.
The Scotch Whisky Experience | a very popular tourist attraction on The Royal Mile that celebrates Scotland’s whisky traditions with tastings, a whisky barrel ride and guided tours.
Scottish Parliament | Constructed from a mixture of steel, oak, and granite, the complex building sits at the foot of Edinburgh’s famous Royal Mile in front of the spectacular Holyrood Park and Salisbury Crags.
Secluded Gardens and Alleyways
While many of the main attractions are on the main street, it is worth it to break off and check out the little alleyways known as closes. Peaking into dimly lit back alleys and side lanes, it’s easy to imagine Edinburgh in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Many of them are very narrow and you can walk right by them if you’re not paying attention.
Closes were usually named after a memorable occupant of one of the apartments reached by the common entrance, or a trade plied by one or more residents – you can often find bronze plaques on a wall that will explain the name of a close, which might go under variant names such as “wynd” or court.
Brodie’s Close | named after Deacon Brodie, who was a respected citizen by day and burglar by night. Deacon Brodie was the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”.
Mary King’s Close | during a plague outbreak in the middle of the 17th century, Mary King’s Close was used as a quarantine to contain the spread of the disease. The ghosts of those who died here are said to still haunt the place.
Advocate’s Close | is particularly popular with tourists due to the fantastic views it offers of the Scott Monument and some of Edinburgh’s central buildings.
Some of the best things to do on the Royal Mile are the incredible museums along the way.
The People’s Story Museum is about the working class in Scotland from the 18th century through the 20th. This museum is unique because the exhibits are formed from oral and written history by the people themselves.
The Childhood Museum is great for children of all ages. It’s a mixture of toys and hands-on exhibits to enjoy. The collection was originally established by Patrick Murray, an Edinburgh Councilor who was a passionate collector of toys and childhood memorabilia.
If you’re interested in learning more about the city of Edinburgh, then the Edinburgh Museum is for you. You will see Greyfriars Bobby’s collar and feeding bowl and the National Covenant, signed by leaders of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland in 1638.
The Writers Museum housed in the beautiful mansion called Lady Stair’s House, Museum commemorates the lives and works of three of the greatest Scottish writers: Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson.
The printing press on which Sir Walter Scott’s novels were printed, his dining table, Robert Burn’s writing desk and Stevenson’s fishing rod and smoking pipe are among some of the important objects housed in the museum.
John Knox House | a fascinating mediaeval building constructed in 1470 and named after the famous Protestant reformer John Knox who lived there for a short period of his life
Heaps of History
Though much of the Royal Mile is now a touristy mall filled with tartans, shortbread, and restaurants catering to tourist needs, it’s still packed with history as it has retained many historic buildings for visitors to explore – Gladstone’s Land, The Writers’ Museum, Mary King’s Close, the Tron Kirk, John Knox House and the Museum of Edinburgh.
Founded in the 12th century, bordering a marsh and clustered around its castle fortress for safety, Edinburgh in its early days built upward instead of out — creating a crowded warren of five- or six-story apartment dwellings, many of which still exist for visitors to see.
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 Flodden Wall – built in 1560 as a defensive measure against a potential English invasion – once stood. Searching for them is a fun way to keep yourself occupied while walking through the Old Town.
While you try to locate the remains of the wall, keep an eye out for the Heart of Midlothian, a pattern of coloured cobbles, which mark the place where the old Tolbooth stood, also used as a prison.
Churches and Cathedrals
The modest Canongate Kirk was founded for the residents of Canongate that had previously worshipped in the Abbey Church until King James II converted the Church into a Chapel for the Order of the Thistle. It’s the Royal Family’s favourite church. When they stay in Edinburgh, you’ll see them in attendance, on the front rows that are reserved for them.
The Canongate Kirkyard – home to some of the most fascinating parts of the city’s history – is the last resting place of many famous and interesting people and it was favoured by the infamous Burke and Hare who dig up the fresh graves and sold the corpses to the medical school.
Across the street from The Real Mary King’s Close is the St. Giles’ Cathedral which was founded in 1124 by King David I. Saint Giles is the patron saint of lepers and cripples, and of Edinburgh. St. Giles’ cathedral, a place of worship for all the Scottish, is where you can find the beautiful Thistle Chapel with its adorned tower.
Edinburgh is a city full of bars and pubs where you can always have a refreshing beer, a whisky or something quick to eat and there are plenty of them set on Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile.
The World’s End Pub | which is sited on the border of the infamous Flodden Wall. The pub is a nice wee place to stop off for a quick dram or two before crossing the road and exploring John Knox House next to the Scottish Storytelling Centre.
Deacon Brodie’s Tavern | just a short walk from Edinburgh Castle, Waverley Station and George IV Bridge, the wonderful tavern is spread over two floors with a restaurant occupying the upper floor.
The tavern is named for William Brodie, the prototype of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde character. Born in 1741, Brodie led a dual life – a deacon and respectable man by day, and by night, a passionate gambler and criminal who was eventually apprehended and hanged in 1788.
The Mitre Bar | Inside this traditional bar is much larger than you think it is from the outside; as you enter, you can see it stretched way back into the building, leaving sufficient space for everyone to find a comfortable spot to park themselves. The place is so full of character and, just as any other respectable venue in Scotland, has a ghost of its own, in the cellar.
Although the Tolbooth building has been in place since 1591, the actual tavern was established here only in 1820. The whole complex underwent renovation in 1879 and what it looks like today was created back then. This is yet another pub that looks smaller on the outside than it is inside until you actually pass through the door to find it stretched way into the back.
Where to stay on Royal Mile
After a day of exploring what’s new, rediscovering what’s old, and making unforgettable memories, take comfort in knowing you have a great place to stay in one of the hotels or hostels along the way.
From modern luxury and family-friendly hotels to quiet bed and breakfast and budget-friendly hostels, you have the option to choose from the dozens of hotels in the heart of the city.
Or you can choose to stay in comfort and live like a local in one of the unique vacation rental properties like we did during our stay.
… … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … …
Now, over to you!
Have you been to Edinburgh? Let us know in the comments below!
Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Edinburgh and have travel-related questions!