Not packed in a bus. Not herded with a group. Self guided walk is the SAFEST way to sightsee!

Cannongate Walking Tour (Self Guided), Edinburgh

The Canongate district takes its name from the main street called the "Canongate" and forms the lower, eastern half of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh's historic Old Town. It contains some other notable public buildings, including Huntly House (now the Museum of Edinburgh) and the historic Canongate Tolbooth (now housing the People's Story Museum), as well as the Canongate Kirk and the new Scottish Parliament building.
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Cannongate Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Cannongate Walking Tour
Guide Location: Scotland » Edinburgh (See other walking tours in Edinburgh)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.1 Km or 0.7 Miles
Author: Helen
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Holyroodhouse
  • Palace of Holyroodhouse
  • Holyrood Abbey
  • Queen's Gallery
  • Scottish Parliament Building
  • Our Dynamic Earth
  • Dunbar's Close Garden
  • Kirk of the Canongate Chapel
  • Museum of Edinburgh
  • People's Story Museum
  • Gordon Nicolson

1) Holyroodhouse (must see)

A visit to Holyroodhouse on the Royal Mile should be on everyone’s “must” list when they are in Edinburgh as it is an important part of Scotland’s history. It is the official residence of the United Kingdom’s monarchs and once the home of Mary, Queen of Scots.

King David I founded the abbey in 1128 and in 1501 the palace was built next to it, but today, only a small part of the original gatehouse remains. A “palace” was a rather grandiose title for what was a large house, but it was enlarged in 1532 and 1536. It was renovated in 1633, but during Cromwell’s time it was used as barracks for his soldiers and it was badly damaged during a fire.

In the 1670s it was rebuilt by Sir William Bruce and the abbey chapel became the Chapel Royal and it was used until 1768 when the roof fell in. The chapel and the house were restored again in 1822 and once more during the reign of King George V and Queen Mary. They also had indoor bathrooms and loos put in.

The house is open to the public when the “Royals” aren't in residence; you can admire the delicate stucco-work on the ceilings in the Royal Apartments and look your fill at the portraits of Scotland’s kings, both real and legendary, painted by Jacob de Wet.

The highlight of the visit is the Royal Collection which consists of armor, books, ceramics, clocks, drawings, jewelry, manuscripts, maps, paintings, prints, sculpture, silverware and weapons collected by kings and queens over a period of 500 years and held in trust for the nation by the Crown.

If you are lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the ghost of Agnes Sampson who has haunted the house since 1592 when she was tortured and put to death for witchcraft.
Palace of Holyroodhouse

2) Palace of Holyroodhouse

The Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence in Scotland of Her Majesty The Queen, who lived here between 1561 and 1567, and stands at the end of Edinburgh's Royal Mile. It was built under the orders of James IV in 1498, who enlarged an existing guest house of the nearby abbey. Today, the Palace is the setting for State ceremonies and official entertaining. There are many other intriguing stories in the Palace's history and plenty more things to see including the Great Gallery.
Holyrood Abbey

3) Holyrood Abbey (must see)

Holyrood Abbey was constructed by King David I and is located close to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It is surrounded by Edinburgh's largest park, Holyrood Park. Located atop the 250 meter-high Arthur's Seat, it offers a beautiful view of the city. This is a great place for biking, hiking or a picnic. Its many rocky crags, loch and meadows guarantee visitors an unforgettable time in Edinburgh.
Queen's Gallery

4) Queen's Gallery

The Queen's Gallery was founded in 2002 and is located next to the Scottish Parliament and Holyrood Park. There is a café bar next to the gallery where visitors can rest. It hosts exhibitions of artwork, jewelery and furniture.

Hours: ( 1 November- 31 March) Monday- Sunday: 9:30 am- 4:30 pm; (1 April- 31 October) Monday-Sunday: 9:30 am- 6 pm.
Scottish Parliament Building

5) Scottish Parliament Building

The Scottish Parliament Building has been at the centre of some controversy since it opened. The Scots either love it or hate it, so do go along and visit it to see which side you are on. It is best to take the guided tour, because rooms are open to tour guides that are closed to individual visitors.

It stands on 1.6 hectares in Holyrood Road at the foot of Arthur’s Seat. It consists of a campus of several buildings designed by Euric Miralles, who died before the building was completed.

Miralles’ idea was that his building would represent both the national identity of the people and the land, so it has many aspects that link it to nature, such as the Garden Lobby’s leaf-shaped skylights, which are made of stainless steel with the glass covered by a lattice of oak struts.

The huge windows in the Debating Chamber, Tower Building and Committee Rooms let in natural light and afford wonderful views of Holyrood Park, the Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat. The walls and floors are made from Scottish rock and the furniture is oak and sycamore.

The gardens are open to the public and are full of wildflowers, shrubs and trees. There is a large pool with water features, green lawns, footpaths and bicycle paths.
Our Dynamic Earth

6) Our Dynamic Earth

Our Dynamic Earth is a great place for an instructive, interesting day out for both adults and children. It is located at the foot of Arthur’s Seat, not far from the Scottish Parliament building.

O.D.E. is an earth science museum, which opened in 1999, funded by the Millennium Commission. It is housed in the William Younger Conference Centre, a modern building consisting of a thin steel skin stretched over a steel skeleton, and looking a little bit like a circus big top.

The museum is an educational adventure voyage through time and space, with smells, sound effects, visual displays and interactive workshops. The journey starts in the present, where you see the world as we know it.

Then you step into the “time machine” and you are whisked into space at the time of the Big Bang. You’ll follow the creation of the planets, the forming of Earth and the movement of the tectonic plaques and the glaciers. You’ll learn about the power of volcanoes and earthquakes.

From the beginning of the Earth, you’ll be taken to the evolution of species where there is a section that explains why some species became extinct, why the dinosaurs died and why the mammals survived.

Coming back to the present, you will discover the savannahs and mountains, deserts and tropic rain forests and take a quick trip to the North and South Poles. The visit ends in the Future Dome which shows how the future will be and what you can do in the present to preserve it.

Winter Opening Hours (From December - June):
Wednesday - Friday: 10.00am - 4.00pm;
Saturday - Sunday: 10.00am - 5.30pm;

Summer Opening Hours (July - August):
Monday - Sunday 10.00am - 5.30pm.
Dunbar's Close Garden

7) Dunbar's Close Garden

Shopping and sightseeing in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile can be tiring, so if you don’t feel like having lunch in a crowded pub or restaurant, take a pack lunch or pick up a sandwich and take it to Dunbar’s Close Garden near the Canongate Kirkyard.

Dunbar’s Close is one of the 80 narrow lanes left over from medieval times and the garden there is like stepping back in time. Truly a secret garden, even a lot of local people don’t know of its existence, so you will be able to enjoy your lunch in peace.

The garden is surrounded by high ancient brick walls; it is long and rather narrow, its three quarters of an acre are laid out in a 17th century design, with gravel paths and flowers beds neatly bordered by ting hedges. The beds are filled with herbs, flowers, shrubs and conical-shaped bushes. Mature trees, including fig and sycamore, give a welcome shade over the stone benches.

The garden was created by Sir Patrick Geddes, a biologist, who wanted to make many other gardens like it, but sadly he died shortly after Dunbar’s Close Garden was finished. At the beginning of the nineteen seventies the garden was neglected and overgrown, but was taken over by the Mushroom Trust, a charity that promotes the creation of urban gardens. They commissioned the landscape architect Seamus Filor to clean the garden up and then in 1977, the Trust gave it to the City of Edinburgh Council, who opened it to the public in 1978.
Kirk of the Canongate Chapel

8) Kirk of the Canongate Chapel

The Kirk of the Canongate Chapel is located on the Royal Mile and is the church attended by monarchs when they are in residence at Holyrood Palace. Visitors are always surprised by the contrast of the chapel’s plain exterior and its beautiful interior.

The chapel was built in the late 17th century by James Smith, a master mason. It is a rectangular building with a Dutch-style end gable and a Doric columned portico. Outside the gate you will see a bronze statue of Robert Fergusson, the 18th century poet.

The chapel is the official church of the Order of the Thistle; although the chapel dedicated to the Order is to be found in St Giles Cathedral, investitures and ceremonies have been held at the Kirk of Canongate on even years since the reign of King James II of Scotland.

The church was remodelled in 1882 when a central pulpit and galleries were added, but these were removed and the apse re-opened during restoration work between 1946 and 1954. A new pipe organ was installed in 1988.

The interior of the chapel has a cruciform layout and is light and airy, with white walls and sky-blue pews, woodwork and fittings. The cushions on the seats in the apse are rainbow-coloured. The carpet is red and brightly coloured banners hang from the ceiling.
Museum of Edinburgh

9) Museum of Edinburgh

Don’t miss a visit to the Museum of Edinburgh, which you will find in the 16th century Huntley House on the Royal Mile.

This wonderful museum is all about the origins, the history and the legends of the city. The house once belonged to the Guild of Hammermen and there are many fine silverware objects on display.

There is also a collection of beautiful glassware, engraved in nearby Canongate, fine Scottish pottery, magnificent grandfather clocks and a Sedan chair. There is an interactive area with workshops, quizzes and you can dress up in costumes that represent fashion in different centuries. Each item in the museum is clearly named and has a short history about its origins.

You can admire relics from a 1st century Roman settlement found during excavations in Cramond, a small village to the north-west of the city where the River Almond empties into the Firth of Forth.

You will also find the original copy of the National Covenant, James Craig’s designs for the New Town and Greyfriars Bobby’s dog dish and collar. There is a “rogues’ gallery” of sorts, where you will meet Deacon Brodie, who was a cabinet maker by day and a house-breaker by night, or Burke and Hare, the infamous body-snatchers who sold their gruesome merchandise to Dr Robert Knox of the University of Medicine.

Hours: Monday- Saturday: 10 am– 5:00 pm; Sunday: 12 pm - 5 pm.
People's Story Museum

10) People's Story Museum

Learning about Scotland’s royalty and nobility is all very interesting, but sometimes you might ask: what about the ordinary people, how did they live? The answer is to be found in the People’s Story Museum.

Housed in Canongate Tolbooth, built in 1591 and once a customs house and jail, the museum tells the history of Edinburgh seen through the eyes of the people who lived and worked there, from the 18th century to the present.

A written and oral presentation, backed up with photographs, drawings and artefacts, will take you through their day to day lives, both at work and in the home. You will visit beautifully recreated replicas of a bookbinder’s shop, a pub, a prison cell, a tea-room and a war-time kitchen, all filled with copies of the original objects once used by people like you and me.

In the Edinburgh Life section you will see how communities helped each other; how they protested against injustice and the meetings and rallies they held. Working in Edinburgh will show you how books, beer and cakes were made in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Leith Collection focuses on work in the shipyards, how ships were built, repaired and unloaded in the docks. The Newhaven Collection covers working and day-to-day life in a small fishing community, and At Home in Edinburgh displays household items such as furniture, crockery, cutlery, domestic appliances, record players and toys.

It is a fascinating museum and the kids will love it and it will give you the chance to show them how you managed in life without a mobile phone or an MP4 player! The museum shop sells books and gift items related to the objects on display.
Gordon Nicolson

11) Gordon Nicolson

What to buy here: Sporran.

This traditional item of the Scottish Highland dress constitutes a great gift for your family and friends. It often takes the place of pockets on the pocketless Scottish kilt and serves as a great place to store keys, money and other personal items.

The pouch is usually made of leather or fur and comes in a wide variety of designs. The ornamentation of the sporran is induced by the formality of dress worn with it. There are several types of sporrans, such as: dress sporrans, day sporrans, animal mask sporrans and horsehair sporrans. The prices vary between $15 up to $650, or more.

Operation hours: Monday - Saturday: 9:30 am - 5:30 pm; Sunday: 12:00 pm - 4:00 pm

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