A visit to Edinburgh is not complete without a walk along its most charming street, the Royal Mile. The essence of Edinburgh’s ‘Old Town,’ the Mile connects two of the city’s biggest attractions: Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace.
The busiest tourist street in Edinburgh also boasts scores of pubs, restaurants and shops. And whilst it does have its share of ‘tourist traps’, there are also plenty of genuine, local hotspots to give you a true taste of Scotland. To help you find your way around, here’s our local guide to the Royal Mile:
The Royal Mile, which actually covers a distance of 1 mile and 107 yards, has been in existence at least since the reign of King David I in the 12th Century. An open air trading market at the time, the Mile was where residents came together to barter and negotiate on goods and services. Timber buildings were constructed over time, and the space between the buildings, now the enchanting closes we see today, housed livestock.
With around 70,000 people living on the Royal Mile in the mid-1600s, it was in desperate need of organisation. Town leaders and planners revamped the overcrowded street over the next two centuries, modernising buildings and side streets, including connecting picturesque Cockburn Street to the train station, as it remains today.
Heart of Midlothian – If you spot a local spitting onto this heart-shaped stone mosaic, don’t worry – that’s normal! The stones sit where the 15th-century Old Tollbooth prison once stood, a site of public executions. Spitting was originally done to show contempt for the prison although today it’s done simply for good luck.
St. Giles Cathedral (or the ‘High Kirk of Edinburgh’) – Situated in the middle of the Royal Mile, just opposite the CIty Chambers, this stunning 14th-century Church of Scotland Cathedral is one of the city’s most exquisite pieces of architecture. Named after the patron saint of Edinburgh, the Cathedral has played a significant role in the city’s religious history. The iconic building also famously houses a unique wood carving of an angel playing bagpipes.
Mary King’s Close – Once a cramped and bustling medieval neighbourhood, this 17th century labyrinth of narrow streets and tenements is considered one of the most haunted placed in Edinburgh. It was buried below the city for centuries, but was reopened in April 2003 and is home to one of the city’s scariest ghost tours, The Real Mary’s King Close.
Writers’ Museum & Makar’s Court – This Royal Mile museum is dedicated to sharing the stories of three beloved Scottish authors (and former Edinburgh residents) – Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Burns. It’s located in Makar’s Court, which itself is an ever-expanding tribute to the city’s literary heritage. Across the Court are stones inscribed with the words of Scotland’s greatest writers, novelists and poets.
Despite what you may have heard, battered sausages and deep-fried Mars bars are not what most Edinburgh locals would consider a proper meal. In fact, Edinburgh’s cuisine scene has really matured in recent years, and there’s never been a better time to be a foodie in Auld Reekie. Some of the city’s best restaurants are located on the Royal Mile, or just off of it.
For unparalleled ambiance and a quintessential Edinburgh dining experience, head to The Witchery on Castlehill. If you’ll all about the food, try the gourmet vegetarian offerings of David Bann or ‘2013 Scottish Restaurant of the Year’ award winner Ondine. For (arguably) the most delicious Scottish pub food in the city, it’s hard to beat the World’s End – situated just at the edge of where the medieval city walls once stood.
> Our complete Royal Mile dining guide is coming soon
Acoustic David – When our guests ask us where to go for live music, we always recommend Acoustic David. Dave is a talented guitar player with a unique, soulful voice that lifts the songs you already love to a whole new level. He performs regularly at The Scotsman Lounge and the Royal Mile Tavern. Visit his Facebook page to find out when and where he’s playing during your visit.
The Devil’s Advocate – Just off the Royal Mile, down Advocate’s Close, this cocktail bar is a local favourite. Specialising in whisky cocktails (including one that contains an entire egg), this trendy late-night hangout is the ideal place to celebrate Scotland’s beloved spirit of choice. With a classy-yet-rustic interior and a tasty food menu, it’s a fantastic dinner option too. For more details, read our review.
The Canons’ Gait – Located at the quieter end of the Royal Mile, the Canons’ Gait pub is the perfect spot for beer and whisky connoisseurs. If you’re looking to enjoy a quiet pint (in a chilled glass), there’s no better spot along the Royal Mile than the Canons’ Gait. The pub also offers free comedy shows during the Fringe, so be sure to check it out if you’re visiting Edinburgh during the Festival.
The Royal Mile may be a major tourist attraction, but it still plays a central role in local city life. Nestled among the more generic souvenir shops are plenty of independently-owned shops and boutiques. From locally-distilled bottles of whisky to handcrafted jewelry, there are many unique treasures to find along the cobblestone thoroughfare.
If you’re in the market for a high quality kilt, Gordon Nicolson Kiltmakers, located on the Cannongate section of the Royal Mile has a good reputation among locals. For traditional and contemporary Scottish jewellery, The Tappit Hen is known for its beautiful gold, silver and pewter creations. And if you’re intrigued by illusions, gadgets and the downright bizarre, the Camera Obscura gift shop is certainly worth a visit (as is the Camera Obscura itself).
> Our complete Royal Mile shopping guide is coming soon
The apartment’s light, spacious sitting room features views of the Scott Monument, plus a flat screen TV, DVD player and iPod docking station to help you feel at home.It’s also just a stone’s throw away from Edinburgh Castle.
Perfect for a girls weekend, this spacious accommodation is perfectly situated for exploring both Old and New Town, with countless shops, pubs, restaurants and nightclubs nearby. With luxury 400 thread count bedding, fluffy towels and White Company toiletries, you might just be tempted move in permanently!
Perfect for a couple’s getaway, this recently renovated apartment even features a ceiling painting believe to date back to the painting believe to be Jacobean.