Scotland has a plenitude of ancient curiosities and historic sites that sing to the soul, and Edinburgh is no different. Lurking around every corner stands a unique landmark attached with a story. From the iconic to the downright hypnotic, explore our guide to the most historic landmarks in Scotia’s darling seat.
The Golden Gate Bridge of Scotland, the Forth Bridge is an integral component of Edinburgh’s heritage. Since the grand opening of this UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1890 and up until 1917 when Canada’s Quebec Bridge arrived, all 8,094 feet of the Forth Bridge made it the longest single cantilever bridge span in the world. This steel beast of a structure is featured across the board, from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film The 39 Steps and the 1959 remake to Irn-Bru adverts, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and a documentary about a French free runner, to name a few. The saying ‘like painting the Forth Bridge’— meaning it never stops — is still used today.
Loved by bookworms, architecture aficionados and sticklers for a superb view, the Scott Monument, the world’s largest monument commemorating a writer, is yet another embellishment lining the main thoroughfare that is Princes Street. Created to honour the great Scottish author Sir Walter Scott, this towering Victorian Gothic monument made from Binny sandstone boasts 68 figurative statues, multiple viewing platforms, 287 drastically narrow spiral steps and unrivalled views of Edinburgh. Inaugurated in 1846, the magical Scott Monument design is the vision of self-taught architect George Meikle Kemp, who unassumingly entered into the competition.
David Hume Statue
Celebrated for his empirical stance on philosophy and uncanny sense of reason, Scottish philosopher David Hume is immortalised through his life’s works — and famous statue in Edinburgh! The craftsmanship of master Scottish sculptor Sandy Stoddart, the prominent Hume statue attracts eager crowds of thinkers, and has done so ever since it arrived on the Royal Mile. Despite Hume being as rational as they come, it’s now fashionable to touch the statue’s big toe — the aim, of course, to reap some extra wisdom and enlightening knowledge. Basking proudly on a 15ft plinth, good old Hume is a local legend.
The landmark of all landmarks, Edinburgh Castle is a sight for sore eyes. This magnificent brooding fortress sits atop the remnants of an extinct volcano, which acquired its prominent shape from ages of erosion by glaciers. The castle is home to St Margaret’s Chapel, the 12th-century Holy Place and oldest standing building in Edinburgh. A prime defensive location, this iconic landmark has withstood the tests of Robert the Bruce, changed multiple hands over the years and even served as a jail for pirates and prisoners of war. And yet, so many more stories will no doubt remain concealed within the stone walls for all eternity.
St Giles’ Cathedral
St Giles’ Cathedral is striking enough to catch your eye amidst the many alluring attractions dotted down the Royal Mile. The historic City Church of Edinburgh, this architectural wonder lures people in with its crown spire that decorates the city skyline. Although it underwent a restoration project during the 19th century, the church dates back to the late 14th century and has served as an epicentre of spirituality in Edinburgh for around 900 years, and still counting. Dedicated to the city’s patron Saint, Saint Giles (who is also the saint of cripples and lepers), the slew of stained glass, angelic sculptures and intricate detailing on the Chapel Of The Order Of The Thistle are mesmerising.
Palace Of Holyroodhouse
Guarding the end of the Royal Mile, the Palace of Holyroodhouse has some famous landmark neighbours — The Scottish Parliament Building and Arthur’s Seat. Opulent and breathtaking in nature, this royal abode has served as the home of Scotland’s kings and queens since the 16th century. Built between 1671 and 1678, specific parts of the palace, such as the State Apartments and the 16th century Historic Apartments of Mary, Queen Of Scots, are open to the public. The tell tale sign of when the Queen or other royals are in residence is when the flags are at full mast.
The Georgian House
A stunning example of the prominent architecture present during the Georgian era in Scotland, The Georgian House is an impeccably preserved 18th century townhouse located in the dapper area of Charlotte Square. This masterpiece by renowned architect Robert Adam hosts a splendid collection of furniture, silver, porcelain and glass dating back to the late 18th to early 19th centuries. Aesthetically pretty and intrinsically intriguing, the mix of artworks and paintings by acclaimed Scottish artists like Sir Henry Raeburn, Allan Ramsay and Alexander Nasmyth are an added bonus.
A source of perpetual inspiration, Arthur’s Seat is both a landmark and the perfect viewing platform for admiring the city’s other landmarks! At around 350 million years old, the very existence of this enchanting hill is all thanks to an extinct Carboniferous age volcano system that was eroded by a glacier. Attached to various historical narratives, Arthur’s Seat was considered a potential site for Camelot since the 15th century, with the mountain’s name rumoured to have derived from legends surrounding King Arthur. What’s more, the ‘Father of Modern Geology’, James Hutton, formed his pioneering theories that helped render geology a legitimate science, around the Seat’s famous Salisbury Crags.
Greyfriars Bobby Statue
Located on George IV Bridge near Greyfriars Kirkyard, the Greyfriars Bobby memorial is perhaps the most loved statue in the city. A heart-wrenching, timeless tale documenting the bond between a man and his dug, Bobby famously guarded his master’s grave for 14 years until he himself passed on. Created by William Brodie and funded by a wealthy local, the life-size statue, which dates back to 1873, was originally designed as a drinking fountain for dogs and humans. Interestingly, wee Bobby is the smallest listed building in Edinburgh. Sadly, he has experienced a loss of colour on his nose due to an increasing number of people rubbing it for luck. For the love of Bobby — don’t touch it!
The National Monument Of Scotland
Designed between 1823 and 1826, The National Monument Of Scotland sits hovering atop Calton Hill. A Scottish acropolis in the ‘Athens of the North’, this Parthenon-inspired structure commemorates the Scottish soldiers and sailors who lost their lives fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. As the inscription states, it was scheduled to be ‘A Memorial of the Past and Incentive to the Future Heroism of the Men of Scotland’. However, it became known as ‘Edinburgh’s Shame’, ‘The Pride And Poverty of Scotland’ and ‘Edinburgh’s Folly’. Why? Because it was left unfinished due to insufficient funding. Today, the incompleteness makes this landmark all the more fascinating.