Discover Edinburgh the capital of Scotland on a private walking tour
Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, ranks among the top 30 cities globally. It is often considered one of the most handsome in Europe. It is not difficult to see why. The city exudes a confident, cosmopolitan air combining rich medieval charm and attractive Georgian splendour.
Edinburgh falls into two main areas; the medieval Old Town with its charming alleys, narrow closes, atmospheric buildings, and north of the Castle Rock, the New Town - formed after 1767. When wealthy merchants expanded the city beyond its walls that restricted it for so long.
Running between the two is the famous Princes Street, Edinburgh's main shopping street, with its fabulous shops and restaurants. The majority of the city's most famous sights are concentrated in the Old Town and seen in a day. However, ideally, allow at least two to experience Edinburgh in detail. A private guide will help manage your time and entertain you along the way.
A brief history of Edinburgh
People have lived in the area for thousands of years. The easily defended castle rock is a smart place to build a settlement. From the 7th to the 10th Centuries the site was part of the Kingdom of Northumbria. Following Viking raids, the Anglian Kingdom became cut off from remaining Kingdom of Northumbria and after many scraps with their southern neighbours' Scottish Kings filled the power vacuum. By the late middle ages, Edinburgh was described as a capital.
King Robert I (1306-1329 reign) and Independence
During the Wars of Scottish Independence (1296-1328), Edinburgh was controlled by King Edward I of England. The Robert the Bruce's (1274-1329) significant victory over the English at Bannockburn (1314) turned the tide-of-the-war in favour of the Scots.
After a decade of switching sides, battles and politics, Bannockburn's victory established Robert the Bruce as heir to the Scottish throne. His skilful diplomacy brought the acceptance of King Edward III if England and the Pope. King Robert I or Robert the Bruce is a national hero.
Due to the English backed claimant Edward Baillol (1283-1367), again Southern Scotland and Edinburgh came under English control. Edward Baillol was crowned King at Scone in 1332. Events in the war meant that valuable hides, wool and skins were exported out of Leith near Edinburgh. The city prospered and was known to foreigners as the 'Paris' of Scotland - there were probably only 400 or so houses.
The Holyrood King
The Scottish King James II (1460-88 reign) was born in the Abbey at Holyrood, he also got married there and buried. By the 16th Century, King James V (1521-1542 reign) commissioned Holyroodhouse, a lavish home and still the reigning monarch's home today. During this time taxation pushed merchants beyond burghs of Edinburgh spreading the population outwards.
Union of the Crowns
In 1603, King James VI (1603-1625) of Scotland and son of Mary Queen of Scots, also became King James I of England – uniting the crowns, but not the states. King James ruled from London and only returned to Edinburgh once during his reign. The absence of the Royal court allowed Edinburgh's business community to gain power and influence, as wealth enabled social status to rise.
Act of Union
In 1707, both Scottish and English parliaments agreed to unify. The Parliament of the new Great Britain sat in London. Not everyone agreed, and riots raged across Edinburgh.
Prosperity returned, a New Town of elegant townhouses, crescents and grand terraces were under construction from 1767. The neighbourhood has UNESCO World Heritage Status due to it being the largest intact complex of Georgian town planning worldwide. The blend of squares, gardens and classical architecture is beautifully preserved and represents a walk through time.
Despite the growing trade with the world and the city's growth, the old town was still terribly overcrowded, but, strangely a genuine mix of backgrounds with professionals living next door to tradespeople, writers and messenger boys. The multi-storey properties would have layers of people with differing skills and backgrounds. Some historians believe that this style of living in close proximity enabled sharing ideas, which led to the Scottish Enlightenment (late 18th to early 19th Century). This period of the expansion of ideas and scientific achievement is a proud chapter in Scottish history.
The Victorian era
During this period, Glasgow became the industrial powerhouse of Scotland of the Empire. Edinburgh's focus became engineering, pharmaceuticals, and education.
Edinburgh produced an array of renowned writers during the Victorian era. Visit the Writers Museum and discover the life and times of Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894; Treasure Island, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde), Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832; Ivanhoe, Rob Roy) and Robert Burns (1759-1796; Auld Lang Syne, Scots Wha Hae). There are too many writers to list here. Still, we cannot miss Arthur Conan Doyle, born in Edinburgh in 1859, the super detective Sherlock Holmes's creator.
The Two World Wars
We often think of the Blitz as an attack on London only; this is not the case. The German Airforce bombed all major British cities during World War Two. Edinburgh was attacked eleven times, without great loss of life, fortunately. Strangely, more people were injured and killed when German Zeppelins assaulted the city in April 1916. Castle Rock and Grassmarket received hits, and eleven people died and many injured.
Edinburgh is a financial hub; a third of all office space is related to the financial service industry. There is the continued development of old industrial sites and move towards the service sector, which is a similar story of most British Cities. Edinburgh is a hugely important social hub and is rightly famous globally for the highly successful Edinburgh Festival.
Edinburgh Castle stood on an extinct volcano and was built from locally quarried sandstone and has evolved over the years according to changing needs and circumstances. Made in the 6th Century as a fortress by the Northumbrian King Edwin (who gave the city its name), it was modified and altered to become a favoured palace until 1603. At that time King James VI moved to England after the Union of the two crowns.
Subsequent uses have included a period as a military garrison and a state prison. It contains some of Scotland's most prized relics, including The Honours of Scotland. Often referred to as the Scottish Crown Jewels, date from the 15th and 16th centuries (older than the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London) and are the oldest surviving set in Britain. Used in the coronations of Scottish monarchs from Mary I in 1543 through to Charles II in 1651, they are used on State occasions.
Also within the Castle is the Stone of Destiny, the legendary stone throne of Scottish monarchs. A true gem of the city within the castle walls is St. Margarets Chapel, the oldest building in the city with its stunning stained glass window.
The Palace of Holyroodhouse
The Palace of Holyroodhouse is the official Scottish residence of the Queen, it was originally built in 1529 for James V and his wife, Mary of Guise. The Royal Apartments are used for State Banquets and Investitures. It is the official home of HM Queen Elizabeth II while in Scotland.
An opportunity to glimpse aspects of Edinburgh's dark past on a historical picture tour leading to a rooftop terrace with a 360-degree panoramic view of the city.
The painstakingly restored 17th-century Merchants house contains a fascinating array of items that would have been part of everyday life. Before the wealthy merchants left the Old Town, their six to ten storey accommodation style stood on small plots. A step inside is an insight into the world of a prosperous business person of the early 17th Century.
Built-in the 1630s this majestic building is home to the Court of Session and Supreme Court.
St Giles Cathedral
Strictly speaking, it's not a Cathedral (no Bishop has a seat here). Still, it's a fine building and merits a visit to view the impressive rib vaulted roof and carved heraldic canopies. Its distinctive 15th-century tower dominates the Gothic exterior.
Inside see the awe-inspiring Thistle Chapel, with its delicate ribbed vault. The chapel honours the Order-of-the-Thistle Knights through history to the present day.
National Museum of Scotland
For people visiting Scotland with roots here or ancestry, this museum is a must. The purpose-built property houses a collection that tells the nation's story through objects - starting from the very beginning of geological upheaval right up the constitutionally challenging events of today.
In addition to the Scottish galleries, you will find a treasure trove exhibits from around the world. Think of it as a more manageable museum of nature, science and world-culture, much like the highlights of the world.
National Gallery of Scotland
Much like the National Gallery in London, the National Gallery of Scotland has a truly fine collection of British and European art. Scottish works include portraits by Allan Ramsay and Henry Raeburn. Along with local work you can also admire the work of Titian, Raphael and Velazquez.
The New Town
Now well over 250 years old, but is still referred to as new. Its broad, straight streets set it apart from the Old Town's cramped and winding alleys are a wonderful piece of town planning admired by architects globally.
Originally designed as a residential area with fine Georgian architecture, it has evolved into a busy, confident commercial area dominated by shops and offices. The architectural influence of Robert Adam, a man as important to Edinburgh as Christopher Wren was to London, is plain to see in the delightful square, terraces, crescents, and parks.
The Edinburgh Festival
The festival takes place over three weeks every year when the city becomes a crazy and wonderful entertainment centre occupying every available theatre and street corner. It brings together the best in international contemporary art, music, dance, and opera. It's worth attending at least once in your life - expect crowds.
Touring and accommodation
Our Tour-Designers are here to tailor a private tour of Edinburgh for you. There are many options for tours of Edinburgh and day excursions from Edinburgh. For a first time visit choose our Classic tour of Edinburgh; it includes all the famous sights and is flexible on the day, like everything we do.
Edinburgh has a vast choice of accommodation. We look for quality, service and our ability to include complimentary amenities. Stay in the elegant New Town at The Kimpton Charlotte Square Hotel. Enjoy views of Edinburgh Castle from the Waldorf Astoria Caledonian Hotel. There are many options we can discuss you with you. Please contact us for details.
The Capital of Scotland
Discover the Athens of the North
- Tour Edinburgh Castle
- Visit the Royal Yacht Britannia
- St Giles Cathedral
- National Gallery of Scotland
- National Museum of Scotland
Edinburgh by night
Edinburgh buzzing during the festival
Palace of Holyroodhouse