1 February 2023

5 Edinburgh buildings with a surprising past

Dovecot Studios
©Mike Wilkinson

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. The Scotch Whisky Experience

Perfect for

Learning more about Scotland’s national drink.

The Scotch Whisky Experience building with welcome team member , The Scotch Whisky Experience

Whether it’s a tour of the 5-star visitor attraction, a visit to the shop or restaurant, or a whisky tasting 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 enjoy a dram or two in the former classrooms, which have been transformed into the cosy Amber Restaurant and Whisky Bar.

The building and all tours have been designed with easy access for mobility impaired visitors and wheelchair users. There are 20 languages on offer via a touch-screen audio-visual handset including British and American Sign Language. A subtitled tour is also available in English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Swedish. 

2. Dovecot Studios

Perfect for

Seeing how beautiful and intricate tapestries are created by Dovecot’s weavers.

Dovecot Studios
Image Credit: Mike Wilkinson

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 Washhouses saw a number of public baths built across the country to provide washing facilities to improve public health. Edinburgh’s Infirmary Street Baths opened in 1887 with two pools, one of which was for ladies only.

Dovecot Studios, which was originally established in 1912 as The Edinburgh Tapestry Company, moved into its current space 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.

The building is fully wheelchair accessible, including the lift which accesses all floors. Stools and folding chairs are available for visitors who have difficulty standing.

3. The Dome

Perfect for

Catching with friends or family for a light bite, a decadent cocktail or afternoon tea.

The Dome

Now a bustling city centre bar and 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 domed roof pouring in light.

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

A platform lift, suitable for manual and motorised wheelchairs as well as freestanding passengers, is located at the main entrance. Internally, a passenger lift in the main foyer provides access to all upper levels.

4. The Standing Order

Perfect for

A refreshing drink or bite to eat after a day’s shopping on George Street.

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!

5. CoDE Pod – THE CoURT

Perfect for

Budget-friendly accommodation just a short distance from several of the city’s key attractions.

Codepod Hostel

For accommodation with a unique history, be sure to check out CoDE Pod Hostels – THE CoURT.

Once a courthouse and jail, this Victorian A-listed building has 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!

Discover the secrets underneath Edinburgh’s streets

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!

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