Royal Mile. Road in Edinburgh, Scotland

Royal Mile

Road in Edinburgh, Scotland

Royal Mile, Blue Hour Photo © byronv2

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Royal Mile

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Almost every single one of the world’s most famous cities is home to at least one famous street. In the case of Edinburgh, there are a number of famous streets and a collection of them make up what is known as the Royal Mile.

The Royal Mile, as you would expect, is a mile in length. However, this is a “Scots” mile, which is longer than an “English” mile. The Royal Mile runs through Edinburgh’s Old Town and passes right by many of the city’s most important places. The “Royal” part of the name is due to the fact that it joins together two of Edinburgh’s royal locations: Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace (Wikipedia Article).

Sights on the Royal Mile

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle is arguably one of best sights in the city and the highlight of the Royal Mile. The castle, in one form or another, dates back to the 12th century. It was built during the time of David I and was his royal residence and remained thus until the Union of the Crowns, the event in which James VI acceded to the throne of England and Ireland, resulting in the unification of the nations and the creation of the country of countries that is the United Kingdom.

The Lang Siege in the 16th century resulted in the destruction of most of the castle’s defensive structures and, as a result, most of the structures you see today were built after this time. However, you can always see St. Margaret’s Chapel (Wikipedia Article), which is thought to be one of Edinburgh’s oldest buildings, having been built in the 12th century.

The Castle Esplanade

You can’t technically visit Edinburgh Castle without inadvertently visiting the Castle Esplanade as you need to cross this to get into the castle. This is an open area designed and built in the 18th century. This area is also used for performances as well as previously being used as the area where the castle’s resident troops would parade. Nowadays it plays host to The Military Tattoo, a fantastic spectacle that includes performances from around the world and welcomes nearly quarter of a million people to Edinburgh to witness it.

Witches Well

As you approach Edinburgh Castle and the esplanade, you should make sure to keep an eye out for the Witches Well. You can find it on the west wall and it serves as a monument not to witches, but rather to those who were wrongly accused of being witches and drowned in Nor Loch (Wikipedia Article).

Castle Hill

If you’re not already on the Royal Mile, you can get there quite simply by climbing the Castle Wynd Steps which join the Grassmarket to the Castle Hill right by the top of the Castle Esplanade. There are nearly 200 steps and are rather steep. If you can’t make it up the steps, don’t worry! There are other accessible routes to the Royal Mile.

Cannonball House

This building on the Royal Mile is thought to date back to the 17th century and features a cannonball built in to the wall of the building, supposedly to mark the height of the springs in Comiston, which is about 11 kilometers to the south of Edinburgh. There are also suggestions that this cannonball was fired into the building, though this theory is often dismissed as not being physically possible.

Today you can both visit the outside of the building or, if you feel like going inside, you can dine in the restaurant that now occupies the building.

The Scotch Whisky Experience

What’s a visit to Scotland without a wee dram of whisky? You should note the difference in spelling between the Irish variation which is written as “whiskey”. At The Scotch Whisky Experience you can take a tour that puts you inside a barrel in a replica distillery as whisky makes its way to the bottle.

There is also a restaurant at the experience where you can enjoy fantastic Scottish cuisine and a shop to take home souvenirs.

The Museum of Edinburgh

The Museum of Edinburgh offers visitors to the Scottish capital with the narrative of the city from aeons ago until modern times. The museum includes archaeological finds from Roman times from which you can learn all about the Romans in Scotland 2,000 years ago.

There are also exhibits on Edinburgh from the 18th century as well as essential objects and artifacts from Edinburgh and Scotland’s history.


Scottish Parliament

The Scottish Parliament building you can visit today at the bottom of the Royal Mile has been open for over a decade and was designed by Enric Miralles, a Spanish architect whose design won a competition held in 1998. Sadly, Miralles died in 2000 shortly after construction was started on the Scottish Parliament and did not see his design completed. When the building was finally constructed, it had cost ten times what had been budgeted and was completed three years late!

The completed building was worth the wait as you can see a fascinating example of modern architecture, learn about Scottish history and politics, and see where a number of important political decisions are made in Scotland.

Our Dynamic Earth

Our Dynamic Earth is a great exhibition that covers the story of how the planet we live on began. The museum has been open since 1999 as part of a regeneration project in the area by the bottom of the Royal Mile.

There are a range of interactive exhibits that should engage visitors of all ages and even features volcanoes, icebergs, and rain-forests!

Holyrood Palace

Descending the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle will inevitably lead you to Holyrood Palace, the official residence in Scotland for the British Monarchy. This building dates back to the 17th century and almost all of it was built between 1671 and 1678. However, in the past Holyrood was the site of an Augustinian Monastery that was founded by King David I almost nine centuries ago!

The site of the palace has been home to a long and fascinating history. Mary, Queen of Scots resided in the palace, it was the location where Charles X of France (Wikipedia Article) took refuge after the French Revolution (Wikipedia Article).

For those wishing to visit the palace, it is open between 09:30 and 18:00 from 1 April to 31 October and from 09:30 until 16:30 from 1 November to 31 March. In both cases, the last admission is an hour before closing. The palace is also closed on Christmas Day (25 December) and Boxing Day (26 December) and whenever the Royal Family are using the palace as their residence.

Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat

If you are fond of walking and have already made your way all the way to the bottom of the Royal Mile, you should think about hiking up Arthur’s Seat for some of the best views over Edinburgh. Arthur’s Seat is actually a dormant volcano and makes up the majority of Holyrood Park.

At its peak, Arthur’s Seat is 250 meters above sea level. If this sounds like too much climbing for you, Holyrood Park includes the Salisbury Crags at 46 meters and there are simple walking routes around most of the park. There’s even St. Margaret’s Loch, if you feel a trip to Scotland wouldn’t be authentic enough without seeing a loch.

Statues Along the Royal Mile

If you are walking the length of the Royal Mile, you should make sure you have your camera on you! The Royal Mile features plenty of wonderful statues of historic and famous figures. One of the statues you will pass is a fascinating representation of a reclining David Hume, an 18th-century philosopher.

The Duke of Buccleuch (Wikipedia Article) is also housed in statue form on the Royal Mile. The statue of Walter Francis Montagu Douglas Scott (the 5th Duke of Buccleuch) has been a feature of the Royal Mile since 7 February 1888.

The statue of King Charles II on horseback is a lead cast statue and the oldest in Britain. This statue has been there since 1685, though there were plans to erect a statue of Oliver Cromwell (Wikipedia

The philosopher Adam Smith, who is dubbed the father of modern economics, is celebrated as an important Scottish figure with a bronze statue in his honor looking towards Kircaldy, his hometown.

James Braidwood, an Edinburgh native and fireman who arguably helped found the fire service in the UK, is honored in a statue dedicated to him and to firefighters around the world. This statue was unveiled on Parliament Square on 5 September 2008.

Eating and Drinking on the Mile

With a Scots mile of history, museums, attractions, and heritage, it’s hardly surprising that a number of restaurants, eateries, pubs, bars, and clubs decided to make their way to the mile. There is literally something for everyone on the mile from traditional Scottish cuisine including the famous “haggis, neeps, and tatties” to Mexican food.

Whether you feel like resting your legs and having a coffee or something stronger during an evening in the capital, there are quiet traditional pubs and not-so-quiet pubs where you can be entertained by lively Scottish folk music or modern contemporary music.

Shopping on the Mile

If you are looking for a souvenir to take home with you from Edinburgh, there are plenty of shops offering whiskies, tartans, trinkets, souvenirs, and almost anything you can think of with “Scotland” or St. Andrew’s Cross (or “The Saltire”) emblazoned on it! If you have a sweet tooth you should consider picking up fudge or tablet, a Scottish confectionery similar to fudge but more brittle and even sweeter! Of course, you can even purchase a kilt on the Royal Mile if you’re brave enough to wear one in the sometimes fierce Scottish weather!

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Author: JP_Translation. Last updated: May 06, 2015

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The Royal Mile - iPhone - Photo by Jim Nix

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Royal Mile. Photo by Shawn Chin


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