5 Edinburgh Buildings with a Surprising Past

05 January 2022

They’re part of the fabric of Edinburgh’s architecture, but there are several buildings in the city whose current use is in complete contrast to their original purpose.

From swimming baths to court houses - come with us as we take a wander through Edinburgh and discover some of the buildings that have taken on a new lease of life. Their histories might surprise you!

1. Dovecot Studios

Dovecot Tapestry Studio Image By Shannon Tofts

(Image Credit: Shannon-Tofts)

Today it houses Dovecot Studios, a leading international tapestry studio, but this vast space in Infirmary Street was once one of Edinburgh’s first public baths.

The 1846 act of the Establishment of Public Baths and Wash-houses saw a number of baths built across the country in order to provide washing facilities to improve public health. The Infirmary Street Baths opened in 1887. The baths had two pools, one of which was for ladies only, complete with a separate entrance and changing area.

Dovecot Studios, which was originally established in 1912 as The Edinburgh Tapestry Company, moved into Infirmary Street in 2008. Today, the Ladies Bath is used as an event space, while the large bright space which was once the swimming pool, is now a tapestry studio.

10 Infirmary Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1LT

2. The Scotch Whisky Experience

Scotch Whisky Experience Forever Edinburgh

Whether it’s a tour of their 5 star visitor attraction, a visit to their shop or restaurant, or a whisky taking event, The Scotch Whisky Experience at the top of the Royal Mile has been enthralling visitors about the story of Scotland’s whisky production for over 30 years.

And, quite aptly, this building started life as a place of education.

Castlehill School opened in 1888 and at its peak taught up to 800 pupils, before eventually closing in 1951.

Visitors can now enjoy a dram or two in the former classrooms, now transformed into the cosy Amber Restaurant and Whisky Bar.

354 Castlehill, Edinburgh, EH1 2NE

3. The Dome

The Dome Festive Foyer

Now a bustling city centre bar & restaurant, The Dome on George Street started life in 1845 as the head office of the Commercial Bank.

Step through the impressive entrance, past the enormous classical columns and you’ll find the Grill-Room, once the main banking hall, with its impressive domed roof flooding light into the room.

The bank’s coat of arms can still be seen in mosaic on the floor and in stained glass windows at the back of the building.

14 George Street, Edinburgh, EH2 2PF

4. The Standing Order

In keeping with the banking theme, further along George Street can be found another bank which has taken on a new purpose.

Dating from the 1870’s, The Standing Order bar was previously the home of the Union Bank of Scotland.

An original vault can still be seen in one of the bar’s dining areas!

62–66 George Street, Edinburgh, EH2 2LR

5. CoDE Pod - THE CoURT

Code Pod The Court

For somewhere with a unique history to lay your head at night, be sure to check out CoDE Pod Hostels – THE CoURT.

Once a courthouse and jail, this Victorian A-listed building has now been transformed into a comfortable hostel. In keeping with the history and character of the building, the oldest part of which dates to 1693, guests can choose to stay in either a holding cell (private room) or the courtroom (sleeping studio with pod beds).

Hopefully, it's the closest you'll ever come to a night in the cells!

1A Parliament Square, Edinburgh EH1 1RF


From underground streets frozen in time to abandoned railway tunnels, many of Edinburgh’s stories are hidden deep underground – you may have walked over them for years and never given them a second thought! Find our more in our guide to The Secrets Underneath Edinburgh’s Streets >