Fame and Fortune in Edinburgh

Festivals Edinburgh City View (1)

“Piled deep and massy, close and high; Mine own romantic town”. Marmion (1871) Sir Walter Scott.

With its gothic architecture, rolling hills, rugged coasts – not to mention, friendly folk! – Edinburgh has been an attraction for artists, writers and filmmakers for decades, each keen to preserve their view of Auld Reekie for future generations.

Instrument, paint, pen, camera – whatever the medium, Edinburgh is overflowing with scenes, stories and settings to get the creative juices flowing.

 

The history of literature in Edinburgh

The first in the world to be designated a UNESCO City of Literature in 2004, Edinburgh has a remarkable literary heritage. Not only was it the birthplace of the Scottish Enlightenment, it was also here that the world’s first circulating library was established in 1725 and, in 1768, the first copy of the Encyclopaedia Britannica was published.

The first printed Gaelic book was published in Edinburgh in 1567, as was the first secular Gaelic book (1741) and the first collection of Gaelic poetry (1751).

Today, there are so many ways to explore Edinburgh’s literary scene. Each August the city plays host to the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the largest public celebration of the written word in the world. First held in 1983, it now regularly brings over 800 writers to the city from 45 different countries.

Edinburgh International Book Festival Reading Cr Book Festival

(Image Credit: Edinburgh International Book Festival)

Discover more about The Edinburgh International Book Festival> 

 

For those who really want to follow in the footsteps of their favourite authors and characters, there are an abundance of literary tours across the city. The Edinburgh Book Lover’s Tour spans 500 years of literature and penetrates the capital’s ancient wynds, closes and graveyards; or for Ian Rankin fans, the Rebus Tour which celebrate Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels, are a must.

To see collections of manuscripts, first editions and personal items belonging to Edinburgh’s celebrated writers, make sure to take time to visit some of the city’s fascinating collections, including The National Library of Scotland, Scotland’s largest library; The Writers’ Museum, which celebrates the lives of three of Scotland’s literary giants – Scott, Stevenson, and Burns – and The Scottish Poetry Library, which is housed in the world’s first purpose-built poetry library and home to an unparalleled collection.

Writers Museumwide Shot

For serious bookworms, no trip to Edinburgh is complete without a visit to one of the city’s many bookshops. Loose yourself as you browse through the city’s fantastic collection of antique and independent bookshops. For inspiration, have a look at our guide to Ten of Edinburgh's Best Bookshops. 

 

Literary Giants 

From romantic novelists to budding sleuths, Edinburgh has been home to a number of legendary scribblers for centuries. So, join us as we take a walk through Edinburgh’s historic streets as we get to know some of these famous faces:

 

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

Renowned for his historical novels, plays and poetry, Scott is one of the most successful authors of all time and is the second-most quoted writer in the Oxford English Dictionary after William Shakespeare. Blending fictional dialogue with historical fact, he is regarded as having created the historical novel on the publication of Waverley in 1814, the only book in the world to have a train station named after it.

The Scott Monument was erected in his honour in 1846 and dominates the Princes Street skyline.  A climb up its 287 steps is well worth the effort to view the stunning views stretching across the city.

Scott Monument Old And New

Discover more about The Scott Monument>

 

Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t-Saoir (Duncan Ban MacIntyre) (1724 - 1812)

Plaque To Duncan Ban Macintyre Roxburgh Close Edinburgh

Born in Glen Orchy, Duncan Ban MacIntyre had no formal education, could neither read nor write, yet he became one of Scotland’s most renowned Gaelic poets.

He moved to Edinburgh in 1768 where he joined the City Guard (the police). During his time in the city he composed several prize winning poems and attempted to win the place of Bard to the Highland and Agricultural Society, but narrowly missed out, despite receiving much praise for his poetry.

He was buried in Edinburgh’s Greyfriars Kirkyard and a memorial was erected to his memory several years later. A plaque (pictured) can also be found in Roxburgh Close, where he lived for several years.

 

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

Robert Louis Stevenson spent nearly 30 years in Edinburgh, living in New Town’s Heriot Row as a child. His father Thomas belonged to a family of engineers who had built many of the deep-sea lighthouses around the rocky coast of Scotland.

Edinburgh featured extensively in his works, including locations such as Parliament Square, Calton Hill and the Mound. It is thought that William Brodie, a respectable Edinburgh tradesman and councillor by day, but housebreaker and thief by night, was the inspiration for Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)

 

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930)

Sherlock Montage Capital Collection

(Image Credit: City of Edinburgh Council - Libraries - Capital Collection)

It was whilst studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh that Arthur Conan Doyle met surgeon and lecturer Dr Joseph Bell – a master of observation, logic, deduction, and diagnosis, he is thought to be the inspiration for the author’s famous character, Sherlock Holmes.

 

Dame Muriel Spark (1918-2006)

Muriel Spark

(Image Credit: City of Edinburgh Council - Libraries - Capital Collection)

Muriel Spark grew up in Edinburgh’s Bruntsfield Place, attending James Gillespie’s High School for Girls, which inspired the Marcia Blaine School attended by the Brodie set in her famous work, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961).

In 2018, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the author’s birth, the Vennel Steps, a flight of steps off the Grassmarket were re-named The Jean Brodie Steps, in honour of the novel’s title character. The site is one of several prominent Edinburgh locations used for the 1969 Oscar-winning film, which featured Dame Maggie Smith.  Offering unobstructed views of the castle, the steps are today a popular photo location for both local and tourists.

 

Iain Banks (1954-2013)

Edinburgh-based writer, Iain Banks is best known for his debut novel, The Wasp Factory (1984), set on an isolated Scottish island, which became a mainstream success almost overnight.

Many of his novels are set in Scotland, including his 1986 novel The Bridge, which drew inspiration from the Forth Bridge.

 

Irvine Welsh (1958)

With many of his works are written entirely in the Edinburgh Scots dialect, and feature gritty storylines, it’s no surprise that Welsh’s books have taken on a cult-like following.

His most famous book, Trainspotting is set in Edinburgh and was made into a film in 1996.

 

Ian Rankin OBE (1960)

Ian Rankin Hand Prints

(Image Credit: City of Edinburgh Council - Libraries - Capital Collection)

We were first introduced to the character Detective Inspector John Rebus in Rankin’s Knots & Crosses in 1987. Since then, we have been captivated by stories of the unorthodox policeman, as he solves murders in Scotland’s capital.  The Rebus series is now translated into twenty-two languages and the books are bestsellers on several continents.

Recipient of numerous literary awards, Rankin received an OBE for services to literature, opting to receive the prize in his home city of Edinburgh. In 2019, he donated his archive of over 50 boxes of manuscripts, letters and paperwork to the National Library of Scotland.

Follow in the footsteps of Ian Rankin's famous detective on the streets of Edinburgh in our Guide to Rebus Film Locations in Edinburgh> 

 

JK Rowling (1965)

JK Rowling

The idea of Harry Potter was conceived by JK Rowling in 1990 while sitting on a delayed train from Manchester to London King’s Cross. Over the next five years, the ideas built up and when she moved to Edinburgh in 1993, she brought with her the first three chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

The book was published in June 1997 and the rest was history - the world was captivated by the wizarding world of Hogwarts.

As well as penning some of the world's favourite wizarding stories right here in Edinburgh, several places in Edinburgh are thought to have inspired the tales, from the names on tombs in Greyfriar's Kirkyard to the castle-like George Heriot’s School.

J.K. Rowling has received many honours and awards, including The Edinburgh Award in 2008.

In a lasting legacy to the city, in 2010 she founded the University of Edinburgh’s Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic in memory of her mother, Anne.

Discover more about the Boy Wizard in our Ultimate Harry Potter Guide to Edinburgh> 

 

Alexander McCall Smith CBE (1948)

A prolific writer, Alexander McCall Smith has written and contributed to more than 100 books including specialist academic titles, short story collections, and several children’s books.

His various series of books have been translated into forty-six languages and become bestsellers worldwide. These include the popular 44 Scotland Street novels, which delve into the lives of a quiet Edinburgh neighbourhood and the extraordinary lives of its residents. First published as a serial novel in the Scotsman newspaper, it is now the longest-running serial novel in the world.

So, the next time you feel the urge to put pen to paper, remember, in Edinburgh you’re in good company!

 

Films made in Edinburgh

From city to coastline, medieval to modern, dramatic to domestic, it’s no wonder film makers have been drawn to Edinburgh. The city has played host to worldwide blockbusters and UK television productions, and with a new studio space set to open in the city in the future, Edinburgh’s film and TV industry looks booming.

Join us as we take you on a cinematic trail through the streets of Scotland’s capital and discover some of the productions that feature the delights of Edinburgh:

 

The Railway Man (2012)

Railway Man

Film adaptation of Eric Lomax's bestselling autobiography about his experiences as a POW during the second world war and his struggle to deal with the trauma. Starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth.

Filming took place in North Berwick, Gilmerton House and Cockenzie House in East Lothian.

 

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)

Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie

A headstrong young teacher in a private school in 1930s Edinburgh ignores the curriculum and influences her impressionable 12 year old charges with her over-romanticized world view.

Starring Maggie Smith and filmed at Edinburgh Academy on Henderson Row, it also features scenes at Greyfriars Churchyard, Dalmeny House and Barnbougle Castle.

 

Trainspotting (1996)

Trainspotting

Danny Boyle's 1996 black comedy drama starring Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle, and Kelly Macdonald. Based on the novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh.

Renton, deeply immersed in the Edinburgh drug scene, tries to clean up and get out, despite the allure of the drugs and influence of friends.

The now infamous opening sequence, 'Choose Life' was filmed on location in Princes Street, Calton Road and Hanover Street.

 

One Day (2010)

One Day (1)

After one day together, Dex and Emma begin a relationship that lasts a lifetime.

The film of David Nicholls best-selling novel starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess, eagle-eyed viewers will notice several parts of the city, including Arthurs Seat, Warriston Close, Moray Place/Forres St, Parliament Square, Calton Hill and Victoria Street/Terrace.

 

The Da Vinci Code (2005)

The Da Vinci Code

Based on the Dan Brown novel, a murder inside the Louvre and clues in Da Vinci paintings lead to the discovery of a religious mystery protected by a secret society for two thousand years, which could shake the foundations of Christianity. Starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou, a key scene in is filmed at Rosslyn Chapel, 7 miles south of Edinburgh city centre.

 

Outlaw King (2018)

Outlaw King

A David v Goliath story of the War for Scottish Independence, Chris Pine stars as Robert the Bruce, as he plots to defeat the much larger oppressing English army.

Substantial sets were built and filmed at Historic Environment Scotland’s Craigmillar Castle, which saw village of thatched cottages created in the parkland around the castle and medieval workshops appear within the castle walls. Seacliff Beach in East Lothian also saw some of the action with horseback riders appearing on the beach.

 

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Avengers

The 19th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Avengers (which includes Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Thor, and Black Widow) team up with the Guardians of the Galaxy to battle supervillain, Thanos.

Filmed partly on location in Edinburgh over seven weeks, Avengers: Infinity War was the largest and most complex shoot ever to film in Edinburgh's historic Old Town and city centre.

 

Outlander (2014 – 2018)

Outlander

Adapted from the best-selling book series by Diana Gabaldon, Outlander follows the story of Claire Randall, a married army nurse in 1945, who is mysteriously transported back in time to the year 1743 where she meets warrior, Jamie Fraser, and a passionate relationship between the two begins leaving Claire torn between two different men in two different lives.

Spread over 5 series, Edinburgh largely featured in series 3, where we saw the lecture theatre at Summerhall, Craigmillar Castle (Jacobite gaol), Bakehouse Close and Tweedale Court in the Old Town.

To discover more about Edinburgh on the big screen, check out our Guide to Top Ten Filmed in Edinburgh> 

 

Famous Edinburgh Artists 

Eduardosculpture Capital Collection (1)

(Image Credit: City of Edinburgh Council - Libraries - Capital Collection)

From works of portraiture to landscape, still life and mythology – Edinburgh has been home to, or place of study, for several inspirational and ground-breaking artists, whose work has decorated the walls of galleries worldwide:

 

Allan Ramsay (1713-1784)

(Image Credit: Katherine Hall of Dunglass Portrait by Allan Ramsay - City of Edinburgh Council - Libraries - Capital Collection)

Considered to be Scotland's greatest portrait painter, Edinburgh-born and educated Allan Ramsay toured Italy and settled in London where he became Principal Painter in Ordinary to George III.

With a natural style that conveyed the warmth and personality of his subjects, he was very much in demand as a portraitist of Edinburgh’s elite society.

 

Alexander Runciman (1736 – 1785)

Born in Edinburgh, and trained at the Foulis Academy in Glasgow, Runciman was a landscape painter, who also worked as a stage painter for the Theatre Royal in Edinburgh.

Favouring romantic landscapes and historical scenes, he was responsible for several mural paintings in and around Edinburgh.

He was an important figure in the education of artists, becoming master of the Trustees' Academy, the forerunner of the Edinburgh School of Art.

 

Sir Henry Raeburn (1756-1823)

First apprenticed as a jeweller, Raeburn was almost exclusively a portraitist, and one of the first major Scottish painter to work largely in Scotland itself, mainly in Edinburgh.

He was appointed to the Royal Academy in 1815, and was knighted by George lV in 1822, and soon after appointed 'His Majesty's Limner' (miniature portraitist) for Scotland.

His small full-length portrait of The Rev Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch of about 1784 is probably his most famous work, and today hangs in the National Gallery of Scotland.

 

Alexander Naysmith (1758 – 1840)

Often referred to as the founder of Scottish landscape painting, Naysmith started his career as a pupil and assistant of Allan Ramsay, where he initially first started producing portraits, like his tutor.

It was when he spent time in Italy that he became interested in landscape painting, turning to it more and more after his return to Edinburgh.

One of his most famous works, however, is the portrait of his friend, the poet Robert Burns (pictured).

He was also an accomplished engineer, designing and building several bridges, as well as an influential teacher, inspiring many younger artists, including his own children.

 

Sir David Wilkie (1785–1841)

Born in Fife, the son of a rural minister, Wilkie began his formal artistic training at the Trustees' Academy in Edinburgh when he was fifteen.

He painted a wide variety of genres, including historical scenes, portraits and scenes from his travels to Europe and the Middle East.

Wilkie moved to London in 1805 and became a full member of the Royal Academy in 1811, was appointed Painter to the King in 1830 and was knighted in 1836.

 

Horatio McCulloch (1805 – 1867)

Born in Glasgow, McCulloch’s landscape paintings celebrate the romantic scenery of the Scottish Highlands and were influenced by the work of Sir Walter Scott.

On his election as full Academician of the Scottish Academy in 1838, he settled in Edinburgh and soon became a prominent figure in the artistic life of the capital and a prolific contributor to the Royal Scottish Academy exhibitions.

He also recorded the crumbling houses of Edinburgh's Old Town and was one of the first artists to focus on the urban and industrial landscape of Scotland.

 

Phoebe Anna Traquair (1852 – 1936)

Born Phoebe Anna Moss near Dublin in 1852 but moved to Edinburgh in 1873 after her marriage to Dr Ramsay Traquair, Keeper of Natural History at the Royal Scottish Museum, Traquair was a leading figure within the Scottish Arts and Crafts movement.

She became the first woman member of the Scottish Royal Academy in Edinburgh, reflecting her status as a leading professional designer at a time when art and design were still dominated by men.

She produced an enormous amount of work and was skilled in enamelling, book binding, embroidery, illustrated manuscripts, quilting and mural painting. Her famous mural paintings still adorn the walls of The Mansfield Traquair Centre, St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral and the Royal Hospital for Sick Children.

 

John Duncan (1866 – 1945)

91 Witches Well Hero

A leading representative of the Celtic Revival in Scottish art, Duncan first trained as an illustrator in his native Dundee.

In 1892 he moved to Edinburgh to work with the sociologist, botanist and urbanist Sir Patrick Geddes, painting murals for Geddes's halls of residence at Ramsay Garden. He also became the principal artist for Geddes' 1895-97 seasonal magazine "The Evergreen".

Commissioned by Geddes in 1894, Duncan also designed The Witches' Well (pictured), a commemorative well to over 300 women, burned in Edinburgh for suspected witchcraft

Learn more about the Witches Well> 

 

Anne Redpath (1895 – 1965)

Black And White Checks

(Image Credit: City of Edinburgh Council - Libraries - Capital Collection)

Born in Galashiels and studied at Edinburgh College of Art, Redpath is most well known for her vivid still life’s, painted in rich colours.

She was president of the Scottish Society of Women Artists from 1944 to 1947 and was admitted as an associate of The Royal Scottish Academy in 1947.

In 1955, she was made an OBE for her work with Edinburgh College of Art.

 

Sir Eduardo Paolozzi (1924 – 2005)

Eduardo Paolozzi At Work

(Image Credit: City of Edinburgh Council - Libraries - Capital Collection)

Widely considered to be one of the pioneers of pop art, Paolozzi was born in Leith, the eldest son of Italian immigrants.

He studied in Edinburgh and London and spent two years in Paris from 1947, where he produced enigmatic, bronze sculptures, as well as Dada and surrealist-inspired collages in which magazine advertisements, cartoons and machine parts are combined to form one image.

He was promoted to the office of Her Majesty's Sculptor in Ordinary for Scotland in 1986, which he held until his death and was knighted in 1989.

Today, his Manuscript of Monte Cassino (pictured) depicting an open palm, a section of limb and a human foot can be found at the top of the city’s Leith Walk.

 

Keen to explore more? Read on to discover some of the Top Art Galleries in Edinburgh>

 

Edinburgh stars on stage

Whether gracing the bright lights of Tinseltown, or staying more closer to home, several stars of stage and screen have called Edinburgh home at some point during their career:

 

Sean Connery (1930 – 2020)

Long before he earned superstar status as 007, Sean Connery was employed in a diverse number of professions around Edinburgh, including coffin-polisher, lifeguard at Portobello's open-air pool, brick layer, lorry driver, milkman, doorman at the Palais de Danse Ballroom in Fountainbridge and life model!

 

The Bay City Rollers

26 Bay City Rollers Hero

Initially starting life as The Saxons in the late 1960’s, this Edinburgh band were a pop phenomenon in the mid-'70s, achieving worldwide success with their upbeat, catchy songs.

 

The Proclaimers

Twin brothers Craig and Charles Reid were born in Leith in 1962 and in 1983 formed the highly successful band, The Proclaimers.

Drawing from a diversity of influences, including country, folk and punk rock, their 1987 single “Letter from America” reached No. 3 in the UK.

You’d be hard-pushed to find an Edinburgh local who wouldn’t be able to burst into a few lines of the rousing “Sunshine on Leith”, which has since been made into a stage musical of the same name and film.

 

Fish (1958)

Born in 1958 in Edinburgh, Derek William Dick (aka Fish) was the dramatic lead vocalist for prog rock band Marillion until beginning a solo career in 1988.

 

Harry Lauder (1870 – 1950)

Born in Portobello, Harry Lauder was a singer and comedian who achieved international success and was one of the highest-paid entertainers of his day.

He performed in full Highland regalia - kilt, sporran, tam o' shanter, and twisted walking stick, and sang whimsical Scottish-themed songs, including “Roamin' in the Gloamin' and "I Love a Lassie”.

 

Ewen Bremner (1970) 

Ewan Bremner was born in Edinburgh in 1970 and attended Davidson's Mains Primary School and Portobello High School.

He is probably most well known for playing Daniel "Spud" Murphy in Trainspotting and its 2017 sequel T2 Trainspotting.

 

Ronnie Corbett CBE (1930 – 2016)

Stand-up comedian, actor, writer, and broadcaster, Ronnie Corbett was one part of the famous comedy duo, The Two Ronnies, which he starred in with Ronnie Barker.

Born in Edinburgh in 1930, the son of a master baker, he was educated at James Gillespie's Boys School and the Royal High School in the city.

 

Magnus Magnusson (1929 – 2007)

BBC journalist and presenter of quiz programme Mastermind for 25 years, Magnus Magnusson was born in Reykjavík, but grew up in Edinburgh, where his father, Sigursteinn Magnússon, was the Icelandic Consul.

 

Ken Stott (1954)

Rebus STV

Probably most well known for playing the title character DI John Rebus in the crime fiction-mystery series Rebus, Ken Stott was born in Edinburgh, and educated at George Heriot's School.

Read more about Edinburgh's story >