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15 Cool Facts about Edinburgh | Places of Interest

Updated on April 8, 2014

Edinburgh is the historical capital of Scotland, lies along the south shore of the Firth of Forth in southeastern Scotland. It is one of the four largest Scottish cities -second only to Glasgow in size- and, like the other three, it has county status as a "county of city." It is also a royal burgh, a district, and the administrative center of the Lothian region. Edinburgh is about 40 miles (65 km) east of Glasgow and 344 miles (553 km) northwest of London. The life of the city is dominated by the professions. Edinburgh is the seat of the Scottish supreme courts and headquarters of the Church of Scotland. It has long been famous as a scholastic and medical center.

Here are 15 interesting and cool facts about Edinburgh, mostly about its places of interest.


1. Leith is Edinburgh's seaport on the Firth of Forth. From this point the land rises irregularly to the top of Castle Rock, which is 445 feet (125 meters) above sea level. Beyond lie the nearer slopes of the Pentland Hills.

2. The "old town" section of Edinburgh occupies the top and sides of a natural ridge, dropping gradually to the east between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. North, across a deep ravine is the "new town" based on Princes Street.

3. The picturesque old town gives an impression of a medieval city because of its narrow passageways, which are known as "pends" and "closes," its many-storied dwellings called "lands," and its quaint stairs, turrets, and crow-stepped gables.


4. The new town, built like the older one of locally quarried stone, is in many respects the finest example of 18th-century town planning in the world. Except for prestige buildings, most new construction since 1918 has been of brick -particularly the suburban housing.

5. Much the most ancient and conspicuous building in Edinburgh is the castle, of which the oldest part is St. Margaret's Chapel, a tiny Romanesque church dating probably from early in the 12th century. David II's tower, a massive defensive work, was built in the 14th century.

6. Other castle buildings in Edinburgh include the banqueting hall, with its magnificent hammerbeam roof, and the private apartments occupied in the 16th century by the Scottish royal family. These include the room in which Mary, Queen of Scots in 1566 was delivered of her son, James VI of Scotland, who became also King James I of England. Opposite the banqueting hall is the Scottish National War Memorial commemorating Scotland's part in World Wars I and II.

7. The broad street leading from the castle eastward to Holyrood Palace is known at the castle end as Lawnmarket; then it becomes High Street and, approaching the palace, Canongate. Nearly a mile long, this link between castle and palace is popularly called the Royal Mile.


8. Holyrood Abbey, near Holyrood Palace, was founded by David I in 1128, although its ruined church dates mainly from the 13th century. Holyrood Palace includes a 16th-century tower where Mary, Queen of Scots lived. Charles II added to this tower a century later and thus created a massive quadrangle.

9. The medieval timbered houses of the burghers in the High Street and Canongate have disappeared, but thanks partly to recent refurbishing, much of the 16th- and 17th-century character of the old town remains.

10. John Knox's House (about 1550) and Gladstone's Land (16th century, rebuilt 1620–1634) are perhaps the best-known dwellings. St. Giles Cathedral, the original parish church, is easily recognized by its 15th-century openwork lantern tower.

11. The finest individual building in the new town is certainly the General Register House designed by Robert Adam in 1772 to be the public record office of Scotland. Perhaps the most notable of the numerous buildings erected since 1945 are those housing the University of Edinburgh around George Square.


12. Charlotte Square, planned by Adam in 1791, is the most admired and least altered of many squares and crescents. Much the most extensive park is the Queen's Park, which stretches from Holyrood across the 823-foot (250-meter) summit of the hill called Arthur's Seat to Duddingston, where there is a bird sanctuary. In the center of the town the whole area between Princes Street, which is open to the south, and the castle is occupied by public gardens.

13. In East Princes Street Gardens is the handsome memorial to Scotland's great novelist and poet Sir Walter Scott. The Scott Monument, erected in the early 1840s, has a graceful 200-foot (60-meter) Gothic spire above a statue of Scott and his dog Maida.

14. Separating the East and West Princes Street Gardens is the Mound, formed from excavations for the new town, providing a connection between the old town and the new. At the north end of this street are two art galleries, the gallery of the Royal Scottish Academy and the National Gallery. The latter has a distinguished collection of paintings of the Dutch, French, British, and Italian schools.

15. The Edinburgh Zoo, where animals are housed as far as possible in natural conditions, covers a large area. The Botanic Gardens, with newly rebuilt hothouses and a famous arboretum and rock garden, lie to the north of the new town.


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