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Visiting The Mound, Edinburgh: splendid views of the Castle, and Neo-Classical buildings

Updated on February 10, 2016
Flag of Scotland
Flag of Scotland | Source
The National Gallery Scotland at The Mound, and the Castle in the background, Edinburgh
The National Gallery Scotland at The Mound, and the Castle in the background, Edinburgh | Source
Royal Scottish Academy Building, The Mound, Edinburgh, Scotland
Royal Scottish Academy Building, The Mound, Edinburgh, Scotland | Source
Map location of Edinburgh, Scotland
Map location of Edinburgh, Scotland | Source

A prime site in the downtown area of Scotland's capital city

From The Mound, Edinburgh, Scotland, not far from the historic Scott Monument, are splendid views of Edinburgh Castle. This fortress's imposing, stone walls on their craggy, hilltop situation causes it to loom over much of the Downtown area.

So much of Edinburgh is photogenic, but the castle, when viewed close to either of two of the especially striking neo-Classical buildings, in the herbaceous setting of The Mound, promises the visitor some particularly good opportunities for impressive memories from his or her camera. The Mound is, in fact, both an artificial hill and a road.

National Gallery of Scotland

Set between Princes Street Gardens, one impressive neo-Classical building at The Mound is the National Gallery of Scotland Building. Opened in 1859, its architect was William Henry Playfair.

Outstanding paintings on display at the National Gallery of Scotland include Paul Cézanne's Montagne Sainte-Victoire , Paul Gauguin's Vision After the Sermon , and Sir Henry Raeburn's The Reverend Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch.

The National Gallery also has copious art research facilities, including 30,000 items in its Prints and Drawings Collection. Its Research Library holds about 50,000 items.

Royal Scottish Academy

Another, striking neo-Classical structure at The Mound, at its junction with Princes Street, and adjacent to the National Gallery of Scotland is the Royal Scottish Academy Building. This building was also the responsibility of architect William Henry Playfair.

It has been the headquarters of the Royal Scottish Academy since the 1850s. Founded in 1826, its full name is the Royal Scottish Academy of Painting, Sculpture, Architecture and Printmaking. Its particular emphasis is the promotion of contemporary Scottish art.

Other significant buildings at The Mound

Included among other interesting buildings and institutions at The Mound are: the domed Bank of Scotland headquarters — this bank is a commercial bank rather than a central bank; the General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland, where also the Scottish Parliament formerly met; New College, the School of Divinity linked with Edinburgh University courses; the Free Church College linked with Glasgow University courses; various other groups have what are regarded as prestigious Mound addresses.

Edinburgh castle: place of intermittent habitation for 3000 years

Experts believe that the site of Edinburgh Castle, the wide walls of which overlook what is now The Mound, has been a place of at least intermittent, human habitation for about 3000 years. In the 12th century, however, it became a royal residence to the Kings of Scotland. It was at the Castle that James VI (who became James I of Great Britain in 1603) was born to Mary, Queen of Scots in 1566. The Stone of Scone (or Stone of Destiny) is kept at the castle.

Much of the castle was destroyed in the 16th century, although the oldest building in Edinburgh, St Margaret's Chapel, which has survived from the 12th century, is at the Castle.

So, then, is the castle now mainly a visitor attraction?

Well, first of all, Edinburgh is Scotland's most popular place for paying tourists.

But the military role which the castle has played for nearly 1000 years continues; indeed, the building is owned by the Ministry of Defence, though much of it administered by Heritage Scotland. At Edinburgh Castle is based the 52 Infantry Brigade; a number of regimental museums are also based there. Many visitors to Scotland rightly associate the castle with the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (1).

The Scottish National War Memorial and the National War Museum of Scotland are also at the Castle.


(1) Interestingly, the origin of the name of this celebrated, ceremonial event is rather different from what it may seem to be. During the 18th century's War of the Austrian Succession, British troops stationed in Flanders heard local innkeepers being exhorted to allow their soldier patrons to return to their billets, with no more drinking for the evening, with the words: 'tap toe!', that is, Turn the tap off! This phrase in turn became a military rallying symbol, the customary rendering of which is 'tattoo'. So if you thought that there was some even obscure connection between Edinburgh Castle's prime visitor event and the cutaneous acquisition of art and calligraphy, Edinburgh will disappoint you!

But in probably most other respects, you will think your visit to the city to have been highly memorable!

Also worth seeing

The visitor attractions and cultural treasures of Edinburgh are too numerous to mention adequately; but in brief, some of these are: Princes Street and the towering Scott Monument; The historic Palace of Holyroodhouse, a Scottish residence of The Queen, and the ruins of Holyrood Abbey; John Knox's House museum, tenuously reputed to be linked with the 16th century Reformer for whom it is named; the Royal Mile, with St. Giles Cathedral (or High Kirk) with its remarkable crown tower, Parliament House, and the Tron Kirk, with its own distinctive tower; Greyfriars Kirk; Canongate Kirk and Churchyard; Old College, at the University of Edinburgh; the McEwan Hall; George Heriot's School; George IV Bridge; the Edinburgh Vaults; St Andrew Square; Charlotte Square; St. Andrew's House, Calton Hill and the Dugald Stewart Monument.

Leith (distance: 4 kilometres); home of the Royal Yacht Britannia museum ship.

Forth Rail Bridge (distance: 9.3 kilometres), an engineering marvel, opened in 1890, across the Firth of Forth.

Dunfermline (distance: 28 kilometres) has many associations the Kings of Scotland and with philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, and an impressive City Chambers building.


How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Edinburgh Airport, where car rental is available. However, visitors may prefer to use Edinburgh's excellent public transport services: the airport connects by bus to Waverley Bridge, off Princes Street, in Downtown Edinburgh. Please note that some facilities mentioned may be withdrawn without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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