10 Best Historic Sites in Edinburgh: Step Back in Time and Explore the Past

It’s not easy to know where to start when you visit Edinburgh. The city is steeped in a history so rich you can feel its echoes to this very day. The center of the city is very compact so it’s ideal for walking around and exploring, but there is an awful lot to see. The medieval Old Town and the Royal Mile, culminating in Edinburgh Castle, and the Georgian New Town were named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. That was in recognition of the unique and mesmerizing architecture on display.

We discussed a possible historical itinerary for Edinburgh before, suggesting a few unmissable attractions for visitors with an interest in the past. This time we are going to run through a top ten list of the best historic sites in Edinburgh. If you’re going to spend a couple of days or more in the city then you should make sure you see them all.

Once called the “Athens of the North” Edinburgh has fascinated tourists for centuries. We know there has been a settlement here as far back as the Bronze Age and the city has grown in a layered fashion with an exciting mixture of structures pointing back to various points in the past. So, get those comfortable walking shoes on, cameras at the ready and umbrellas on standby, as we take a look at some of the wonderful historic sites Edinburgh has to offer.



In 1688 King James VII of Scotland (also King James II of England) ordered the construction of the Kirk of the Canongate and it was completed in 1691. Residents nearby had been using the Abbey Church but the King wanted to us that as a Chapel...  Read More



The neo-Gothic St. Mary's Cathedral is a striking building set in large grounds. Designed by George Gilbert Scott, it was consecrated in 1879. St. Mary's is the largest ecclesiastical building to be built in Scotland since the Reformation. St....  Read More

Outside the City


Inchcolm Island is a few miles East of the Forth Rail Bridge and is often called the Iona of the East. The well-preserved, Inchcolm Abbey dates back to the 12th Century. It was founded by King David I, after his brother King Alexander I was...  Read More



The Palace of Holyroodhouse was built in 1128 and served as the main residence for the Kings and Queens of Scotland from the 15th century onwards. It is in fact still the Queen's official residence when she visits Edinburgh. When she is not...  Read More

St. Giles' Cathedral
Photo courtesy of Colin Smith


There has been a church on the site of this cathedral since the 9th century. St. Giles' Cathedral was built in 1120, and it has served an important role in Scottish religion as the Mother Church of Presbyterianism. John Knox led the Scottish...  Read More



Greyfriars Kirk is a beautiful sixteenth century church located in the heart of Edinburgh's Old Town. It is surrounded by a churchyard in which over 80,000 people have been interred since it was dedicated in 1561. One of its most famous...  Read More



Discover how the wealthy lived in 18th century Edinburgh. This stunning townhouse was designed by the supremely talented architect, Robert Adam, in 1791. Charlotte Square was an exclusive New Town address and it has been carefully restored by...  Read More

Outside the City


Rosslyn Chapel is a beautiful and fascinating fifteenth century church situated in the town of Roslin, just south of Edinburgh. The church was founded in 1456 by William Sinclair, who had been the protector of James I of Scotland and was both...  Read More



One of Edinburgh's most renowned monuments is this Victorian Gothic structure completed in 1844. It honors the world famous writer Sir Walter Scott. This structure consists of a spire that is over two hundred feet tall. Sitting inside the spire...  Read More



Edinburgh Castle was a royal residence until the late 16th century and Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI there (he went on to be James I of Britain). The 12th-century, Norman-style St. Margaret's Chapel still stands in its original...  Read More


Meet Simon Hill

Simon has lived in various corners of Edinburgh over the last 18 years. He fell in love with the city as a small child after visiting the castle and returned to study Scottish History.

After...  More About Simon