One of the oldest parts of the capital, not only does the Grassmarket have an array of colourful shops, bars, restaurants and cafes to satisfy all tastes and budgets, but it offers stunning views looking up to Edinburgh Castle. Bursting with life and colour, while still retaining its historical character, it is one of Edinburgh’s most vibrant and popular neighbourhoods.
Named after the busy agriculture trade fares that took place here from the 14th century, trading in corn, cattle and horses, the area is still a home to a regular weekly market now, although the stalls these days are mostly selling fresh produce, freshly baked goods and local handcrafted gifts.
In what was once the site for public executions, take a walk through this bustling area today and you’ll find a delightful mix of medieval architecture, stunning castle views, lively bars, a great selection of restaurants and a delightful mix of gift, fashion & homeware shops, the majority of which are independently owned.
From the Royal Mile and George IV Bridge, the Grassmarket can be reached on foot within 10 minutes.
Lothian Buses 23 and 27 stop within easy walking distance of the area's main attractions.
One way to experience the area is from the top deck of one of the city bus tours. Edinburgh Bus Tour’s Cobbles' Tour takes in many of the city’s famous sights, including the Grassmarket - all while listening to interesting and entertaining commentary.
A Brief History of the Grassmarket
Part of Edinburgh’s Old Town, which, together with the Georgian New Town, gained UNESCO World Heritage status in 1995, the history of the Grassmarket can be traced as far back as the 14th century, when it was used a market for cattle, horse & corn. The area’s wide open space made it the ideal location for displaying and selling goods.
A focal point for travellers and traders, taverns and inns popped up all over the area. That remains the case even now – today you’ll find dozens of great bars and affordable places to stay.
The darker side of the Grassmarket, and perhaps what it is most famous for, are the public executions which took place here from 1660 to 1784.
One of the most famous stories connected to this period features "Half-Hangit" Maggie Dickson. Sentenced to execution by hanging in 1724, after being found guilty of murder, her family recovered her body from the gallows and took her to nearby Musselburgh for burial. However, on the way a mysterious knocking was heard coming from the coffin, the lid was lifted to reveal that Maggie was indeed alive! Unable to be convicted of the same crime, she went on to live for another 40 years.
Her story lives on in the name of Maggie Dickson's, one of the smallest bars in the Grassmarket, and well worth a visit.
This was also the site where in the 1680s over 100 Covenanters were put to death during a period of conflict between the Kirk and the Crown. The Covenanters Memorial was erected in 1937 and commemorates those that died.