Royal Mile Walking Tour, Edinburgh (Self Guided)

The Royal Mile is not in fact a street, but the name given to a succession of streets forming a thoroughfare at the heart of Edinburgh's Old Town. The thoroughfare is about a mile long and runs between the famed Edinburgh Castle and the Holyrood Palace. The Mile is home to the Courts, St. Giles Cathedral, the City Chambers, John Knox's house, and also numerous shops and restaurants. Take the following tour and explore the famed Mile at your own pace!
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Royal Mile Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Royal Mile Walking Tour
Guide Location: Scotland » Edinburgh (See other walking tours in Edinburgh)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 14
Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.9 km
Author: Helen
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Royal Mile

1) Royal Mile (must see)

The Royal Mile is a chain of streets which form the main access through the Old Town from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Abbey. It is longer than an ordinary mile because at the time it was used by royalty going from the castle to the abbey, the Scottish mile was longer than the English one.

The Mile is full of shops, restaurants, pubs, monuments, museums and other buildings of interest, so it’s not surprising that it is the busiest tourist street in the Old Town. In the order that the streets run from the castle to the abbey, they are: Castle Esplanade, initially a parade ground and where the annual Military Tattoo takes place. Note the cannonball, fired by mistake from the castle, lodged in the wall of Cannonball House.

Castlehill is the home of The Hub building, which was once the Tolbooth Highland St John’s Church. Along this street, you will also find Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, the oldest tourist attraction in the city. Castlehill is followed by Lawnmarket which was once a linen market. You will see a new hotel here whose controversial design was won it the “Carbuncle Award” since 2009.

The next section of the Mile, the High Street is the main focal point for the Edinburgh Festival and is full of street entertainers and musicians. It is in this part of the Mile where the Heart of Midlothian is to be found. After the High Street comes Canongate, with the beautiful Moray House and the former Canongate Tolbooth, now the People’s Story Museum.

Finally, you will reach Abbey Strand approaching the ruins of Holyrood Abbey. Next to the Queen’s Gallery, the remains of the Holyrood Palace gatehouse can be seen and the coat of arms of King James IV of Scotland are set into the wall.
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St. Giles' Cathedral

2) St. Giles' Cathedral (must see)

You will find St Giles’ Cathedral, or the High Kirk of Edinburgh as it is also known, on the Royal Mile and you shouldn’t miss a visit to this beautiful church.

The first church to be built on the site was put up in the 12th century but was destroyed by fire and only the central pillars remain. The second church was built in 1385 and over a period of time, many chapels were added, giving the church a rather haphazard appearance. At one time the church boasted over 50 side altars, called aisles.

In 1466 the cathedral became a collegiate church and the lantern tower in the form of a crown was added in 1490. During the Reformation in 1560, most of the church’s treasures were removed, stolen or sold, including the most precious relic – St Giles’ withered arm and hand which had a diamond ring on one skeletal finger. The church was separated into numerous preaching halls by partition walls during this period.

Although called a cathedral, it was only one for two short periods of time during the Bishop Wars in the 17th century, so its statute of High Kirk is more important. It was restored in the 19th century, the partitions were removed and several chapels were pulled down. The most beautiful of all remaining ones is the Thistle Chapel, built in 1911 in a 15th-century High Gothic style. The wood and stone carvings are marvelous; it is filled with heraldry banners and has a breath-taking delicately carved vault.

Among the memorials here, you will see a bronze relief plaque dedicated to Robert Louis Stevenson in the Moray Aisle, a marble sculpture of James Graham, the 1st Marquis of Montrose, in the Chapman Aisle and another dedicated to Archibald Campbell, the 1st Marquis of Argyll, in the St Eloi Aisle. These two men, deadly enemies at the end of their lives, were the main signatories of the National Covenant in 1638.

Why You Should Visit:
Quiet, architecturally very special, and with such a wealth of spectacular stained glass that one cannot be anything else but awed.

Tip:
Entry is free or by donation, but if you want to take pics, you'll need to fork over £2 for a "permit".
Best to get onto a tour as there's much you could miss just wandering on your own. A rooftop tour (£6) is also worth it.
Don't miss the café downstairs. The food is great and it is really cute.
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Royal Mile Whiskies

3) Royal Mile Whiskies

What to buy here: Malt Scotch whisky.

Looking for a bottle of whisky as a gift for your friends or family? The malt Scotch whisky is exactly what you need. The finest whisky selection from Scotland's best distilleries with a quality that speaks for itself. Capturing rarity and exclusiveness in a glass, this Scottish alcoholic drink captivates curious and discerning whisky lovers from all corners of the globe.

The Single Malt Scotch Whisky is made exclusively from malted barley and it represents the Scotland's biggest export. Edinburgh is considered the home of the Malt Whisky Society, stocking the world's largest whisky collection. Prices vary between $20 and $340.

Operation hours: Monday - Saturday: 10:00 am - 6:00 pm; Sunday: 11:00 am - 6:00 pm
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Heart of Midlothian

4) Heart of Midlothian

While you are exploring the Royal Mile in Edinburgh you might see some of the locals taking part in a rather disgusting ritual as they pass one spot near the west door of St Giles Cathedral. Drawing closer, but being careful to keep out of range, you will see that they are spitting on the Heart of Midlothian.

This is a heart-shaped mosaic set in the cobbled-stone pavement, marking the entrance of a building that was demolished 195 years ago, but which still remains in the memories of the people who grew up in the area, which is why they spit – for good luck.

The building was the Old Tolbooth, which was a medieval customs house, also used for meetings by the Estates of Scotland for a short time. In 1640 it housed the Court of Session the principal jail of the burgh, where prisoners were often tortured before being taken out for public execution in front of the entrance.

According to legend, Edinburgh’s petty thieves and not-so-petty criminals spat on the door as they passed to bring them luck against the day when they found themselves being taken through it.

The building was demolished in 1817 and the heart set into the cobble stones to remind the population of the misery and torture carried out behind the ancient walls.
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Royal Mile Curios

5) Royal Mile Curios

Established in 1875, Royal Mile Curios is situated right on the famous Royal Mile, Edinburgh Old Town. This small and gorgeous antique shop deals silver, gold and other decorative items, as well as unique and elegant Scottish jewellery that is often more than a hundred years old.
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Real Mary King's Close

6) Real Mary King's Close (must see)

If you are a fan of ghost stories and haunted houses, you’ll love Real Mary King’s Close, which is reputed to be one of the most haunted places in Edinburgh and which can be visited deep under the Royal Exchange building.

The close is a series of winding streets and tenement houses that were used as the foundations of the Royal Exchange, many years after they had been closed off during the Great Plague that struck the city in 1645.

The plague, which came from Europe, was carried here by the fleas on the merchant ships’ rats and infested the poorer parts of the city, where hygiene was minimal, to say the least. Carried by flea bites, the plague spread and many of the poorer tenement areas were closed off as urgent quarantine measures.

Mary King’s Close was one of the areas and according to legend, the people left inside the streets and buildings were bricked in and left to die either of the plague or of starvation. Their ghosts, and particularly one of a small girl, named Annie, are supposed to haunt the place.

The area was uncovered during renovations to the building over it and was opened to the public in 2003 as a tourist attraction. Guides in costume dress will lead you through the underground streets, which have been restored to 17th-century designs, and tell you the history of Mary King the master seamstress after whom the close was named, and about Annie.

You can leave a toy or make a small donation to the poor little spirit who wanders the streets looking for her favourite doll. All these gifts are in turn given to the hospital for sick children and other charities.
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Crest Of Edinburgh

7) Crest Of Edinburgh

What to buy here: Scottish crest badge.

This heraldic badge showing honor and loyalty towards an individual or membership in a specific Scottish clan constitutes a great gift for your family or friends. It represents a crest embodied with a motto and is most often worn by representatives of Scottish clans.

Crest badges are made of silver or white metal and constitute an important accessory of the Scottish traditional dress. Women tend to wear it as a brooch, usually on the left side. Even though clan crests are often bought and sold, the heraldic crest and slogan correspond only to the chief and never to the individual clan member. Price: $20 - $150.
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Tron Kirk Church

8) Tron Kirk Church

While you are in Edinburgh, you will surely take a walk along the Royal Mile between Edinburgh Castle and the Holyrood Abbey. On one side of this famous street you will find the Tron Kirk Church.

This once beautiful church was built in the 17th century on the orders of King Charles I. It’s Palladian and Gothic design had a Dutch influence, inspired by its architect, John Mylne who had been impressed by the “Architectura moderna” churches designed by Hendrick de Keyser.

The original building was T-shaped to conform to modern 17th century religious practices, but it was re-designed in 1787 when the South Bridge was built. In 1820 the wooden spire was destroyed in a fire and the stone spire you will now see was built in 1828.

The building was de-consecrated in 1952 and has been used for various purposes since then, including a tourist information centre and Black Heart Entertainment who organised ghost tours around the city.

In the nineteen seventies, excavations carried out in the crypt discovered remains of Marlin’s Ward including the cellars of an ancient building a part of a paved street. These can be viewed when the building is open to the public.

For several years the church has been the subject of a lively debate. Some want to knock it down, while others want it restored. In the meantime, it gets a little more dilapidated while people fight over its fine architecture and it would be a shame if this well-known landmark disappeared.
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Carrubbers Christian Centre

9) Carrubbers Christian Centre

You will find Carrubbers Christian Centre in Edinburgh’s High Street. It is not really a church in the strict sense of the word, but rather an Evangelical Mission and is a friendly, lively place to visit.

The Carrubbers Close Mission was founded in 1858 but members had no hall of their own, so they met in a meeting house that once was used by a group of Atheists. In 1883 the American Evangelist Dwight Lyman Moody and the Gospel singer Ira David Sankey visited the town and through fund-raising sermons managed to gather enough money for the Carrubbers members to build their own centre.

The mission helps other churches with their fund-raising, Bible classes, giving alms to the poor, visiting the sick and counselling addicts. The board of directors that manage the Centre are members of various churches in the city.

The Centre was renovated in the nineteen nineties and enlarged to make a bigger main meeting area. It hosts several different activities that are well attended: prayer meetings, a play-group for little children, a Youth Club for the 11 to 18 year olds that engages the kids in games, crafts and Bible stories. They organise outings to the local skating rink, football stadium and the Pizza Hut.

On Saturday nights the Centre holds fund-raising rallies and on Sunday mornings they offer a free breakfast to the homeless. The Centre has an excellent café open to everyone, which serves snacks, pastries, soft drinks, tea and the “best coffee in Edinburgh”.
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Geoffrey Taylor Kiltmaker

10) Geoffrey Taylor Kiltmaker

What to buy here: Kilt | Tartan Scarf.

- People adore the comfort and practicality of kilts as well as the style, heritage, and courtesy that comes with wearing them. This knee-length item with pleats at the rear has originated in the Scottish Highlands during the 16th century, it being often labeled as “the national dress of Scotland”.

The originality of design, construction, and convention of the Scottish kilt make it different from other garments fitting the overall description.

This traditional dress for men and boys is highly appreciated throughout the world, it being considered a sacred symbol of patriotism and honor for a true Scotsman. Prices vary based on size and texture between $40 and $450, or more.

- Whether you wear it for style or warmth, the tartan scarf will definitely add splash to any outfit you decide to put on. It shows off the Scottish pride and constitutes a great accessory for both, men and women. These stunning scarves come in a variety of options, including wool, silk and cashmere and are often used as a sash for children. They feel soft and fuzzy, serving as a great highlight to your overall look. Their length allows you to wrap them in a variety of ways. An ideal gift for someone special or yourself! Prices vary based on length and texture between $10 and $200, or more.

Opening hours: Monday – Saturday: 09:00 – 17:30, Sunday: 10:00 – 17:00
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Museum of Childhood

11) Museum of Childhood (must see)

If your kids are a bit fed up with visiting ancient monuments and galleries, it’s time to take them to the Museum of Childhood on the Royal Mile.

In the early 1950s, Patrick Murray, a member of the Edinburgh Council, realized that a lot of children weren’t very interested in the museums their parents took them to on cold, wet days. He began to think about a museum dedicated to children and everything that centers around kids – their education, their health and, of course, their toys and games. In this way, he hoped to amuse and educate both children and adults. In 1955 he founded the Museum of Childhood.

It is really a great place for everyone; the exhibits are spread out in five galleries over five floors and deal, as Mr. Murray hoped, with every aspect of childhood. In the Education section, your children can learn about how schools were run between 1950 and the present day and see photos of classic classrooms. Different uniforms are on display as well as the famous “birch rod”, used to discipline unruly pupils.

There are wonderful hands-on activities with a dressing-up room and a puppet theatre. And of course, there are toys all over the place! The children will see and learn about the toys and games that kept you and your parents happy long before video games were ever thought of. They can play with dolls and teddy bears, tin soldiers with cannons that fire match-sticks, numerous board games, train sets and other toys from all around the world.

The museum has a wonderful toy shop, where you’ll quickly find that your kids will be choosing a special toy to take home – and where you can perhaps buy a replacement for that favourite teddy you cuddled up with when you were a child.

Why You Should Visit:
To step back in time – this place is not just for families. There are all sort of interesting toys & games on display, some dating back centuries, others from recent past decades.

Tip:
Free entry, but there are donation boxes as well as funny things and souvenirs you can buy on the ground floor.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5pm
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John Knox House

12) John Knox House

House museums are always interesting to visit, not only because you get a fascinating insight into the lives of the building’s former owners, but also because you can see what fashions were like in the owner’s day. John Knox House is no exception.

The house was built in around 1490 and is the oldest house on the Royal Mile. It has wonderful hand-painted ceilings, oak beams and wooden galleries. Today it is owned and managed by the Church of Scotland, but once it belonged to James Mossman, who was a royal goldsmith. He fashioned the crown for Mary, Queen of Scots and later, the crown for her son, King James VI of Scotland.

Whether John Knox, the 16th century Protestant Reformer, actually ever lived there is debatable, but the house, which had become badly dilapidated, was saved from demolition in the 18th century by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, who put about the rumour that this had been Knox’s home before he died.

The house museum is a great place to visit for anyone who is interested in religious history as there are many manuscripts and artefacts from the Reformation, including papers placed in a time capsule by Knox.

The museum is part of the Scottish Story-Telling Centre and the history of Knox, Mossman and life Edinburgh before and after the Reformation are related by guides in dress costume. There is a special room for children, full of puzzles and where they can dress up as John Knox.

Hours: Monday-Saturday 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
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Heritage of Scotland

13) Heritage of Scotland

What to buy here: Sgian-dubh.

Whether buy it as a gift for a special person or for yourself, sgian-dubh represents an exclusive work of art, something to wear with pride and pass as a legacy to future generations.

It represents a small, single-edged knife worn as a piece of the popular Scottish Highland dress together with the kilt. The knife is usually worn so as only the upper segment of the hilt is noticeable, the rest being tucked into the top of the kilt hose. It is used as a cermonial item of dress, not as a self-defense weapon, much more for cutting purposes. Price: $50 - $450, or more.

Operation hours: Monday - Saturday: 9:00 am - 6:00 pm; Sunday: 11:00 am - 6:00 pm
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The Royal Mile Gallery

14) The Royal Mile Gallery

Dealing in antique maps, books, and old and new prints, the Royal Mile Gallery is located in Edinburgh's historic Old Town, on Canongate. Offering a variety of old prints for sale, including representations of the Edinburgh's streets, churches, universities, hospitals and other buildings in times past, as well as modern pictorials, you can also find an array of dog breed lithographs here. An extensive selection of its inventory can be viewed online on its official website. Victorian prints of old paintings can be found here as well.

Operation Hours Monday - Saturday: 11 am - 5 pm; Sunday: 12 pm - 3 pm

Walking Tours in Edinburgh, Scotland

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Travel Distance: 3.7 km
Cannongate Walking Tour

Cannongate Walking Tour

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Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.3 km

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip


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Tips for Exploring City on Foot at Your Own Pace

Whether you are in Edinburgh for a quick stopover or have a few days to see the city in more detail, exploring it on foot, at your own pace, is definitely the way to go. Here are some tips for you to save money, see the best Edinburgh has to offer, take good care of your feet while walking, and keep your mobile device – your ultimate "work horse" on this trip - well fed and safe.

Saving Money with City Passes


To save yourself time and money visiting Edinburgh's multiple sights, you may want to resort to the so-called city passes, such as the Historic Scotland Explorer Pass and Edinburgh City Pass.

A city pass combines all or multiple Edinburgh's top highlights, tours and experiences in one prepaid attractions pass, using which you can save incredible amounts on general admission fees as compared to purchasing tickets separately. Often, a city pass also allows you to skip the lines at major attractions, thus saving you precious time.

Staying at Walk-Friendly Hotels


Since you're keen on exploring cities on foot (we assume that you are, and this is why you're here), it is important that you stay at a hotel close to the city's major attractions. It saves you time and energy. Here are a few of Edinburgh hotels that are conveniently located, but at the same time, also not so ridiculously expensive: Radisson Collection Hotel - Royal Mile Edinburgh, Royal Mile Suites by the Castle, Grassmarket Hotel.

Taking Care of Your Feet


To ensure ultimate satisfaction from a day of walking around the city as big as Edinburgh, it is imperative to take good care of your feet so as to avoid unpleasant things like blisters, cold or overheated soles, itchy, irritated or otherwise damaged (cracked) skin, etc. Luckily, these days there is no shortage of remedies to address (and, ideally, to prevent) these and other potential problems with feet. Among them: Compression Socks, Rechargeable Battery-Powered Thermo Socks for Cold Weather, Foot Repair Cream, Deodorant Powder, Shoes UV Sterilizer, and many more that you may wish to find a place in your travel kit for.

Travel Gadgets for Your Mobile Device


Your mobile phone or tablet will be your work horse on a self-guided walk. They offer tour map, guide you from one attraction to another, and provide informative background for the sights you wish to visit. Therefore it is absolutely essential to plan against unexpected power outages in the wrong place at the wrong time, much as to ensure the safety of your device.

For these and other contingencies, here's the list of useful appliances: Portable Charger/External Battery Pack, Worldwide Travel Charger Adapter, Power Converter for International Travel Adapter, and Mobile Device Leash.

Exploring City on Guided Tours


We have a strong bias towards exploring a city on foot, at your own pace, because this is how you get to see things up close with a maximum freedom. You decide how much time you wish to spend at each attraction and don't have to worry about following a crowd. That said, however, we also understand that some of you may want to go with a guided tour. If that is your case, here are some guided tours to consider. Be ready to fork out a bit of money, though, as a guided tour of Edinburgh typically costs somewhere between US$15 and US$40 or more per person:

- Board a hop-on hop-off double-decker to enjoy sightseeing of Edinburgh from the open top of the bus, listening in the headsets to the commentary provided in a variety of languages, and be able get on and off at any of the stops along the route. The ticket is valid for one day (24 hrs).

- No sightseeing of Edinburgh is imaginable without a visit to the imposing Edinburgh Castle dominating the city skyline from atop a hill that was once a volcano. A 2-hour tour of the castle will give you an insider’s view of Edinburgh's no.1 attraction, revealing some of its secrets and wicked stories.

- Join a guided walk led by a highly knowledgeable local resident to explore the cultural, historical and architectural treasures of Edinburgh learning, en route, the secrets of its past, stories of its famous personalities and other interesting facts presented in a rather entertaining and witty manner.

- Summon your bravery and curiosity to explore the ghastly side of Edinburgh on a ghost walk set to reveal the stories of treason and torture, bring light to the darkest corners of the Scottish capital and prepare you to hear the tales of its supernatural past and present.

- Come see the places that once inspired J.K. Rowling to write her world-famous Harry Potter series on a Harry Potter tour of Edinburgh visiting the prototype of the Hogwarts school of magic and other locations closely associated with the witches and wizards of Edinburgh.

Day Trips


If you have a day to spare whilst in Edinburgh, why not use it to explore some of the out-of-town destinations like Loch Ness and the Highlands, West Highlands, St Andrews and Fife, Rosslyn Chapel and Stirling Castle, or the Da Vinci Code places and Scottish Borders. For as little as circa US$40+ to US$60+ per person you will get a chance to step inside a nature documentary, relive a history show, and explore the postcard-inspiring UNESCO World Heritage sights comprising breathtaking medieval ruins, misty castles, sparkling lochs, quaint coastal villages with sweeping views, heather-clad mountains, and other impressive and mysterious locations. For any of these tours you will be picked up straight from your hotel in Edinburgh and transported by a comfortable air-conditioned coach/minibus to the destination of your choice and back again.