Based in the Old Town and within a World Heritage site, the area is culturally and historically important to the city and jam packed with things to see and do. A ‘Scots mile’ long, and connecting two royal residences (the Castle and the palace of Holyrood House), it is also home to parliaments old and new, law courts, a cathedral and churches, and a vast range of visitor attractions, walking tours, shops, restaurants, cafes and pubs.
Unsurprisingly, the Royal Mile is one of the most well-known and most visited streets in Edinburgh.
History of The Royal Mile
The Royal Mile certainly has history: when you walk down the street you start at an extinct volcano and continue down a slope that was formed by the retreat of an ice age over 325 million years ago. By the 12th century, this had become the main street of the adjoining burghs of Edinburgh and Canongate.
The Royal Mile is actually made up of four connecting streets: at the top (west) is Castlehill, then Lawnmarket, High Street and Canongate. Dozens of steep pedestrian closes lead off the street, and are worth exploring to find many of the area’s hidden gems. Head down Dunbar’s Close to find a tranquil garden just seconds away from the hustle and bustle of the street.
The Royal Mile features a number of significant landmarks. Edinburgh Castle is a world-famous attraction, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse is still the Queen’s official residence in Scotland.
Opposite the palace is the Scottish Parliament, opened in 2004, and free to visit for tours of the building and its art collection, and of course to see parliament in debate.
Parts of St Giles Cathedral date from the 14th century: inside you can see medieval stonework, Victorian stained glass windows, and take a tour up onto the roof for spectacular views. And just behind the cathedral is the magnificent 17th century Parliament Hall with its hammer beam roof – still used today by lawyers and their clients to discuss cases and also free to visit.
There are numerous attractions that are worth a visit. They include the Camera Obscura, the Scotch Whisky Experience, Real Mary Kings Close, the Museum of Childhood, the Storytelling Centre, the Museum of Edinburgh, the People’s Story Museum, the Canongate Kirkyard, and Our Dynamic Earth which nestles below Arthurs Seat in Holyrood Park.
A variety of walking tours begin on the street, with subjects to suit every taste, from history to ghosts to literature. Read more about Edinburgh's tours >
You will find plenty of opportunities to buy cashmere, tweed, tartan and Scottish specialist food and drink. The street and closes are also home to a number of independent businesses: browse antique jewellery at Royal Mile Curios, or treat yourself to Scottish fare at Cranachan and Crowdie, Scotland’s oldest independent whisky bottler, Cadenheads, or the Cigar Box, or pick up Christmas decorations year round at Nutcracker. Speciality shopping streets such as St Mary’s, Victoria and Cockburn Streets are all just minutes away.
The Royal Mile offers a range of eating out options. There are fine dining establishments such as Wedgwood, Angels with Bagpipes, Cucina at The Radisson Collection Hotel and Michael Neave Kitchen and Whisky Bar.
For something more traditional, try one of the many local bars such as the Royal MacGregor, the Whiski Bar, Monteiths and Kilderkin. For take away food, Oink is a must-visit and if you are feeling particularly naughty, the Clam Shell offers the now legendary deep fried mars bar in batter.
Fancy a picnic? Stock up on Scottish deli products at Cranachan and Crowdie in the Canongate and find a spot in Holyrood Park to enjoy the best of our Scottish larder.
The world famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival – the largest arts festival in the world – has its home on the High Street. During August the street is buzzing with taster performances of shows featuring in the programme, and the spectacular Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo takes place on the Castle Esplanade every night in August too.
Other events take place throughout the year. In September you might see the Riding of the Marches,in October, the Samhuinn Fire Festival and on Hogmanay you can join in the Old Town Ceilidh. There is activity all year round and you are sure to find something unique to see whenever you visit!
Alongside many of the historical and current Royal family visits, Edinburgh was famously the initial developing ground of Scottish Enlightenment with some of the more famous figures of the movement based in the Old Town – these include David Hume, Adam Smith and Robert Burns to name a few.
Represented by a statue outside Canongate Kirk, Robert Fergusson, a widely respected local poet, was born in Cap and Feather Close (which no longer exists) just off the Royal Mile. He is buried in Canongate Kirkyard along with Adam Smith and Nancy Craig, an attractive widow who inspired Robert Burn’s famous poem ‘To Clarinda’ and which is now the name of a local cafe with excellent tray bakes.
Although not a resident, JK Rowling wrote much of her first Harry Potter novel nearby in The Elephant House on George IV Bridge and Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels reference the Royal Mile and it’s closes in many books, particularly ‘Fleshmarket Close’ which is set here.