First impressions of the Royal Mile might lead you to the conclusion that the most famous thoroughfare in Scotland is just one long street encouraging swarms of tourists to part with their hard-earned money on buying ‘Tartan Tat’, but scratch below the surface and it will soon become apparent why this spinal cord that joins Edinburgh Castle with Holyrood has played such an important part in Edinburgh’s – and Scotland’s – history.
The history goes back a long way too – about 340 million years in fact. This was around the time when volcanic activity, followed by glaciers during the ice age, helped to form a classic example of what geologists call a ‘Crag and Tail’. Obviously, the crag is where the castle sits, and the tail is the ridge that has become known as the Royal Mile.
This famous artery is not just one street but five – Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, Canongate and Abbey Strand, and if you’ve not been here before it helps to know where each one is and what it has to offer.
It’s worth mentioning though that the city grew down from the castle, and up from the Abbey of Holyrood and eventually met somewhere in the middle. This will help to explain how the different streets evolved.
The busiest end is the top half from the High Street, through the Lawnmarket and up to Castlehill. Excluding the Castle and the Palace of Holyrood House, there are still plenty of places to visit up and down here, so it’s best to try and work out in advance what interests you most before you start out.
Each of the streets are lined with tall tenement buildings interspersed with ‘Closes’. These courtyards and alleyways are an integral part of old Edinburgh and abound with stories that will make your hair curl and a dream location for ghost tours.
The Royal Mile has everything from history, architecture, attractions, shops, and pubs, so don’t expect a quiet time here. You probably won’t have time to see everything so it’s worth having a bit of a plan to make sure that you see what you want to – and then head for the shops, pubs and ‘Tartan Tat’.