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Everything You Should Know About Edinburgh's Royal Mile

City Guide October 9, 2023

 

 

The Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland, is a historic and vibrant thoroughfare stretching approximately one mile through the heart of the city's Old Town. This bustling avenue is packed with centuries of history, culture, and attractions, making it a must-know destination for anyone visiting Edinburgh. This comprehensive guide will delve into everything you need about the Royal Mile.

From its iconic landmarks, like the astounding Holyroodhouse and Castlehill, to the myriad discoveries you’ll find along the 17th-century cobbled streets, we've covered all the essential Edinburgh tips to save you time and money. Whether you're a first-time visitor or a returning traveler mingling with locals, this guide, with practical advice from restaurant choices to picking the right souvenirs, aims to equip you with helpful information. It will help you navigate and appreciate the depth and allure of the Royal Mile, from the historic St Giles' Cathedral to the royal residence, more effectively. Whether you wish to taste authentic whisky or explore landmarks like Arthur’s Seat, with this knowledge at your disposal, your journey along this historic stretch in Edinburgh is bound to be more enriching.

Exploring the Royal Mile and its surroundings can be even more enjoyable when you travel light. Nannybag offers convenient luggage storage at Edinburgh train station, allowing you to store your bags securely while you explore the area. This service can be a lifesaver, especially if you have limited time before your train departure or want to explore unburdened.

 

1. The Royal Mile: A Historic High Street

The Royal Mile isn’t just any high street; it’s the pulsating artery of Edinburgh, weaving a tapestry of history and vibrant modern life between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. As you traverse its length, you'll encounter a captivating assortment of attractions, each telling tales of the city’s illustrious past and present.

With its eclectic choice of shops offering everything from traditional Scottish wares to contemporary fashion, restaurants serving up delectable local and international cuisine, and cultural sites echoing the whispers of bygone eras, the Royal Mile is a microcosm of Edinburgh’s enchanting allure.

 

2. St. Giles Cathedral: A Spiritual Gem

St. Giles Cathedral, the illustrious "High Kirk of Edinburgh," is a masterpiece of architectural grandeur and spiritual solemnity. Its soaring spires and intricate Gothic features dominate the skyline, beckoning visitors to explore its sacred confines. Within, the cathedral unveils treasures such as the intricately designed Thistle Chapel and a kaleidoscope of impressive stained glass windows, each a testament to this sacred establishment's artistic and spiritual heritage.

 

3. The Cobbled Streets: A Walk Through Time

The cobbled streets of the Royal Mile aren’t merely paths but historical narratives etched in stone. With every step, visitors tread on centuries-old cobblestones that have witnessed royal processions, historical events, and the everyday lives of countless generations. Walking here is physical movement, a dance with history, and a tangible connection with the past beneath your feet.

 

4. John Knox House: A Slice of History

John Knox House isn’t just a historical residence; it's a portal to the turbulent times of the 16th century. As the home of Protestant Reformer John Knox, this meticulously preserved structure offers a fascinating glimpse into his life and era. With its authentic architecture and period-appropriate furnishings, the house provides a tangible link to the pivotal Scottish Reformation, allowing visitors to explore and reflect on this significant historical period.

 

 

5. The Museum of Edinburgh: A Hidden Gem

The Museum of Edinburgh might be tucked inconspicuously along the bustling Royal Mile, but it is a treasure waiting to be discovered by discerning visitors. Within its walls, the museum unfolds the city's narrative from its earliest days to the contemporary era.

Through its extensive and varied exhibits, visitors can journey through time, uncovering the tapestry of events, people, and artifacts that have shaped Edinburgh into the mesmerizing city it is today. Each exhibit is a chapter of history brought to life, making the museum an essential stop for those interested in Edinburgh's story.

 

6. The Royal Mile and the Edinburgh Festival

The Royal Mile transforms into a pulsating canvas of cultural exuberance during the Edinburgh Festival season, including the renowned Edinburgh Fringe Festival. During this period, every nook and cranny of the street brims with energy, hosting a myriad of street performers, artists, and enthusiastic festival attendees.

It has become a melting pot of talents and audiences from across the globe, offering a front-row seat to the captivating world of performing arts, comedy, and more. Experiencing the Royal Mile during the festival season is akin to immersing oneself in a living, breathing tapestry of art, laughter, and the refreshing spirit of celebration.

 

7. Live Music: The Sound of Edinburgh

Music is the soul of Edinburgh, and this soul reverberates through the enchanting corridors of the Royal Mile. As you meander through, the air will be filled with the tunes of talented street musicians and performers, each providing an impromptu soundtrack to your exploration. From the hauntingly beautiful notes of bagpipes to the vibrant strumming of guitars, the live music scene on the Royal Mile is a harmonious symphony of various genres and styles, mirroring the city's eclectic and inclusive cultural fabric.

 

8. Camera Obscura and World of Illusions: A Visual Feast

Situated on the Royal Mile, Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is not merely an attraction but a playground for the mind and senses. Within its walls, you'll encounter a world where optical illusions defy logic, and interactive exhibits challenge perception. Engage in a delightful exploration of light, vision, and perspective, culminating in the breathtaking panoramic views of the rooftop terrace, presenting Edinburgh's iconic skyline as an unparalleled visual feast.

 

9. Calton Hill: An Iconic Vantage Point

A detour worth taking, Calton Hill is only a short walk from the Royal Mile but offers a priceless perspective. Rising majestically, this hill is a beloved landmark, providing a platform to view the enchanting cityscape of Edinburgh. With its monuments and historical significance, Calton Hill is a vantage point and a testament to the city's historical and architectural heritage, offering both a visual and historical treat for visitors.

 

 

10. The Edinburgh Military Tattoo: A Spectacular Event

The Edinburgh Military Tattoo is not just an event; it's a phenomenon celebrated every August. Hosted on the grand esplanade of Edinburgh Castle, this spectacle is a mesmerizing fusion of music, dance, and military precision, unfolding against the backdrop of the iconic castle. The Tattoo attracts performers and audiences from around the globe, turning the Royal Mile and its surroundings into a stage where tradition, discipline, and artistry come together in a breathtaking display of light and sound.

 

11. Save Money with Edinburgh Tips

Exploring the Royal Mile can be a fantastic experience, but it's essential to keep practical Edinburgh tips in mind to save money and make the most of your visit:

  • Use a city pass: Consider purchasing an Edinburgh City Pass, which provides access to multiple attractions and can save money.
  • Timing is key: To avoid the crowds, visit the Royal Mile in the early morning or late afternoon.
  • Carry cash and credit cards: While many places accept credit cards, having some cash on hand for smaller shops and food stalls is a good idea.
  • Plan: Take the time to learn about the opening hours of attractions and book tickets in advance when possible.
  • Public speaking: Engage with the street performers and artists. They often provide excellent entertainment and are worth a tip if you enjoy their show.

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