9 Best Things to do on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh

What to do on Edinburgh’s most famous street

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  • 21 October 2019
  • • 7 min read

Planning a city break to Edinburgh this year? The Royal Mile is one street you’ll find yourself walking down a fair few times when wandering around the medieval city. Unlike its name, the Royal Mile is actually longer than a mile running all the way through Edinburgh’s Old Town. Connecting Edinburgh Castle, a landmark perched high on an ancient volcanic rock, to Holyrood Palace, the Queen’s official royal residence, you’ll find plenty of fun things to do on the Royal Mile. From Scottish pubs, St Giles Cathedral, museums and Scottish parliament, these are the best things to do on Edinburgh’s most famous street...

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1. Edinburgh Castle

A must-see landmark for any tourist visiting Edinburgh is the iconic Edinburgh castle, which is a historic fortress sitting high on Castle Rock (an extinct volcano). The castle is open to the public seven days a week where you can learn about the long history of the site which was once a royal palace, torture prison, fortress and military base. Walk inside the Great Hall, explore St Margaret's Chapel and explore underground prison vaults of the famous Edinburgh landmark. Today, the castle is also home to some of the oldest crown jewels, war exhibitions, the Scottish National War Memorial and Mons Meg gun. Every day you will hear the 1 o’clock gun shots from the castle if you’re within close enough distance. The firing of the gun at Edinburgh Castle dates back to 1861.

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2. Palace of Holyroodhouse

When the Queen visits Edinburgh for official engagements, she stays at her home, the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Located on the opposite end of the Royal Mile, this royal palace is full of Scottish history and it’s simply fascinating. You can purchase a ticket to take a look inside and get a glimpse of Royal life and the history of the Scottish monarchy. One of the most famous Royal monarchs who used to live here from 1561-1567 was Mary Queen of Scots. Venture to the oldest section of the palace and walk inside her bed chambers and check out the supper room where she used to dine. Other highlights include access to the Throne Room, the State Apartments, the Palace Gardens and the 12th century Holyrood Abbey (which was once the grandest medieval abbey in Scotland). Tickets are £15 for adults and £13.50 for students.

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3. St Giles Cathedral

This Parish church in Edinburgh stands tall on the Royal Mile, just a 4 minute walk from Edinburgh Castle. Founded in the 12th century , St Giles Cathedral welcomes visitors from all over the world to come inside and join worship services or to simply take a look around. A prime example of Gothic architecture in the city, the cathedral is a working church that plays host to events, concerts, lectures, civic ceremonies and exhibitions. It’s also home to the beautiful Thistle Chapel. Guided tours of the church take place every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon from 2.30pm where a guide will talk you through the history of the cathedral for £5.50. You can even take a guided tour of the rooftop for £6 per person.

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4. Drink at The Scottish Whisky Experience

Whiskey is Scotland’s staple drink so you have to sample some Scottish whiskies while you’re in Edinburgh. One of the best places to do that is on the Royal Mile at the Scottish Whiskey Experience, the perfect place for both whiskey newbies and aficionados to learn more about the national drink. On the whisky tour you can learn about the whisky making process, sample different malts and see how the drink is made. There are different tour packages available, starting at £16 per person.

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5. The Real Mary King’s Close

This historic close is hidden deep beneath some buildings on the Royal Mile, where you’ll find a whole underground world made up of alleyways, houses and streets that date back to the 17th century. We included this stop in our article because this unique award-winning attraction if full of myths and mysteries from the past. Here, you can take a journey back in time and head underground to learn about the former residents who worked, lived and died on The Real Mary’s King’s Close. This is Edinburgh’s only preserved 17th century underground street and you walk through it and see how people once lived.

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6. Scottish Parliament

While Edinburgh is an old, medieval city, the Scottish Parliament buildings at the foot of the Royal Mile are surprisingly modern and contemporary. Just opposite Holyrood Palace, the Scottish Parliament is open to visitors six days a week who can check out the building where key decisions for the country are made. There are also events and exhibitions that take place at Scottish Parliament that are worth checking out. You take a one hour guided tour of the building (which you should book in advance) or walk around it yourself.

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7. Scottish Storytelling Centre

Love writing, poetry, theatre and stories? Then this will be your new favourite place on the Royal Mile. The Scottish Storytelling Centre is a hub for culture and arts in Edinburgh where you can hear amazing stories about the city from famous Scottish storytellers. Hosting regular story-telling nights, this is one of the cutest things to take part in where you will hear some of Scotland’s greatest and most-loved stories either acted out on stage or read out loud. You can even explore inside the John Knox  House (the oldest medieval building on the Royal Mile) where you’ll find a bookshop housing Scottish novels, both fiction and nonfiction. Inside, you’ll also find a Storytelling Cafe where you can fill yourself up on yummy food and drinks in between workshops and stories.

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8. Camera Obscura 

Looking to get off-the-beaten-track in Edinburgh? Camera Obscura is a tourist attraction on the Royal Mile specialising in illusions, tricks and puzzles. Set over five floors, there are over 100 different illusions to confuse your mind. Perfect for a rainy day in Edinburgh, this place will keep you entertained (and dry) for hours. Camera Obscura is all about testing your mind, where you’ll get to play with 21st century tech and historic science, whilst getting hands-on with some of the mind boggling exhibits. You’ll also get some of the best views of the city from the Camera Obscura Rooftop. Tickets are £16 for adults and £14 for students if they have a valid ID.

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9. Eat at traditional Scottish Pubs

If you’re looking to eat and drink Scottish food in an old medieval pub, then look no further than the Royal Mile. The street is home to several traditional pubs where you can get a proper Scottish dining experience. Try haggis, hearty pies, fish and chips, sticky toffee pudding, scotch eggs, Scottish breakfasts, local ales and whiskies as well as delicious malts. Our favourite Scottish pubs on the street include the Royal Mile Tavern, the Tolbooth Tavern, the World’s End Pub, Jolly Judge, Ensign Ewart, Whiski Bar and The Royal McGregor. All of these pubs are local favourites where you’ll be served big portions of comfort food - and they will make you feel like you’ve entered a scene from Harry Potter.  

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