The historic district of Edinburgh is a treasure trove of well-preserved buildings and sites. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1995 alongside the New Town. The historic, cobbled streets are best explored on foot. The closes and wynds (small passageways) that branch out from the Royal Mile (also called the High Street) are home to scores of ancient treasures.

You might easily spend a full day exploring this enchanting neighbourhood’s many famous churches, museums, gift stores, and cosy bars. Even though the area is relatively small, there are many stairs and steep streets to navigate.

So, whether you’re a history buff, a photographer, or taking the kids on vacation, exploring Edinburgh’s Old Town will be an experience you’ll never forget.

Edinburgh’s Old Town is the city’s oldest district at over a thousand years old. The city was founded atop a hill with a tapering ridge heading downhill, making for interesting scenery. Edinburgh Castle, built during the reign of King David I (1124-1153), is on a hill above the city and is a prominent landmark. This historic structure has served as a fortress, a royal house, and even a prison during the course of its many centuries of existence. This fortress has been attacked more than almost any other in history.

The rest of the medieval town grew gradually down the ridge, culminating at Holyrood Abbey, which was founded in the 12th century. In the 1500s, Edinburgh served as Scotland’s capital. The unusual pattern of wynds and side lanes between towering, narrow tenements was already in place by the time Mary, Queen of Scots was born in 1542.

The Old Town of Edinburgh is a popular tourist attraction throughout the year. You can get your day started by making your way up the stone stairs of the iconic Edinburgh Castle. From up there, you may take in breathtaking vistas. The firing of the gun at 1:00 p.m., every day (excluding Sundays, Good Friday, and Christmas Day), is a long-standing ritual that you shouldn’t miss. The most famous sights of the city unfold before your eyes as you make your way along the Royal Mile and into the ancient maze.

The Camera Obscura is a 6 story museum full of optical illusions, kaleidoscopes, plasma domes, and more. Visit St. Giles’ Cathedral to take in its stunning architecture, vaulted ceiling, and elaborate tomb. Take a stroll down Victoria Street, the real-life inspiration for Harry Potter’s fictional Diagon Alley.

Visit the National Museum of Scotland to learn about Scotland’s rich history or the Surgeons’ Hall Museums in Edinburgh to learn about the city’s contributions to medicine. The State Apartments, Throne Room, and Palace Gardens are all part of a visit to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh’s official Royal Residence.

There are free or low-cost activities and attractions to enjoy in the Old Town. Both the Writers’ Museum and the National Museum of Scotland are free to enter. One of the various tours available in exchange for a donation is a Harry Potter-themed stroll.  

Have a picnic on the well-kept lawns of Edinburgh’s parks when the weather is nice. Beautiful parks in the area include Princes Street Gardens and Inverleith. Go up to Arthur’s Seat if you feel like taking a long stroll. You can see the city and the castle in the distance after only 45 minutes. The trailhead is located in the parking lot adjacent to Holyrood Palace. 

Travel to Edinburgh in August for the exciting Fringe Festival. The experience will be unparalleled, as this is the largest arts festival in the world. Keep in mind that this is a peak travel time, so everything from bars and restaurants to trains and streets will be crowded.

Edinburgh New Town

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