Touring Edinburgh’s history

Every step in Edinburgh is a journey into the past. Few European cities have preserved their history as well as Scotland’s capital – a northern destination that attracts visitors with the grandeur of its legacy.

The cobbled streets, the castle, the Roman remains, the medieval masterpieces, the mixture of Renaissance and Gothic elements – this is a city that has defied centuries of turmoil to remain undeniably handsome.

Visit the Athens of the North and delve deep into the history of this fascinating city at these popular attractions.

A royal appointment

Perched high on Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle is an iconic monument in Scottish history. The city of Edinburgh grew around this central structure after it was built around the 12th century. A bold and imposing fortress looking out to the North Sea, its weathered walls have hosted kings, queens and armies.

The history of the castle is one of civil conflict, with central involvement in the Jacobite rebellion and the wars of Scottish independence. Today, its role is purely touristic and it’s one of the city’s best attractions. Take a tour of its stately rooms, come for a concert or watch the traditional grandeur of the military tattoo.

The subterranean city

Happily, much of Edinburgh’s past has remained intact and is open for visitors to explore. Mary King’s Close is one such example – a medieval part of the city that was built over in the 18th century to accommodate the City Chambers and Royal Exchange.

Instead of demolishing the alley, it was simply sealed off. It wasn’t until 2003, hundreds of years later, that this atmospheric close was opened to the public. It has an eerie feel – dark and dank – but take a tour with a costumed player and you’ll get a compelling insight into 17th-century Edinburgh.

The capital's kirk

Canongate Kirk, a church completed in 1690, is one of the lesser-known treats in Auld Reekie – the nickname for the city. The church itself was built with monies bequeathed by a merchant and has seen numerous revisions and additions over the years. Despite that, it retains an elegance and simplicity which is unusual for churches built during the Stuart period.

There’s no elaborate decoration, but it’s a fine place to find peace during even the busiest tourist months. The kirkyard outside hosts a number of graves, both famous and common, with poets, muses and the noted economist Adam Smith all interred here.

Incholm perfect

Only a few miles from the city, Inchcolm is a glorious island in the Firth of Forth waters. Its natural beauty is remarkable, but the main reason to come here is to see the 12th-century abbey, which was built by Augustinians in 1123.

The short ferry journey to get here is well worth the effort. Climb to the top of the tower for spectacular views, or stay on terra firma to see seals, puffins and fortifications from both world wars. On a sunny day, there are few finer places for a picnic.

Delve into Edinburgh’s incredible history and you’ll have still only scratched the surface of this wonderful city. With an arts scene the envy of the world, sensational street food and high-end dining, and buildings that bring the past to life, car hire in Edinburgh or Edinburgh Airport will ensure you make the most of your time here.