The historic heart of Edinburgh, UNESCO-listed Old Town, is home to the city’s most visited sights. Its central artery is the Royal Mile, which connects Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, and is lined with top attractions including St. Giles Cathedral, Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, and the Scottish Parliament Building.
Most every visitor who sets foot in the city of Edinburgh will spend some time in Edinburgh Old Town, as it’s where many of the must-see landmarks and historic sites are located. Walking tours of the city typically begin on the Royal Mile and cover a wide array of themes, from history, mysteries, and photography to ghosts, Sherlock Holmes, and Harry Potter. Other sightseeing tours of Scotland’s capital, including tours by car, rail, and bus, also stop at Old Town attractions such as Edinburgh Castle and Canongate Kirk.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Edinburgh Old Town is a must-visit for all first-time visitors, especially culture lovers, sightseers, architecture aficionados, and history buffs.
- Wear comfortable shoes as most of Old Town’s streets are cobbled.
- Though steep streets, steps, and uneven surfaces are common, smooth sidewalks and curb cuts—including those on the Royal Mile—and accessible black cabs make large parts of Edinburgh Old Town navigable for wheelchair users and strollers.
How to Get There
Getting to Old Town is simple: take the train to Edinburgh Waverley. From Edinburgh Airport, the Airlink 100 carries passengers to Waverley Bridge, which connects the Old Town and New Town.
When to Get There
The best time to visit Edinburgh Old Town is in summer (June through August), when the Edinburgh Festival, Fringe Festival, and Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo take place. Summer evenings are buzziest, as bars fill and people pour onto the streets. If you’d prefer smaller crowds and don’t mind bundling up for the cold, go in winter instead.
The Closes and Wynds of Edinburgh Old Town
Visitors strolling down the Royal Mile can’t fail to notice the narrow alleys, known as closes, and side streets, known as wynds, leading off from the main thoroughfare. The darkened cobbled closes typically lead to private courtyards and would once have had gates, allowing access only for those with keys. Look out for Brodie’s Close, named after William Deacon Brodie, a respected 18th-century craftsman and notorious thief. Mary King’s Close, situated under the Royal Mile, is now a popular visitor attraction.