Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995, Edinburgh’s Old Town packs historic and cultural attractions within its world-famous Royal Mile and the immediate surrounding area. The neighbourhood has held onto much of its original medieval character and is among the Scottish capital’s top attractions.
The Royal Mile cuts through the heart of the district connecting Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace and its ruined abbey. Other historic highlights in the neighbourhood include the University of Edinburgh’s Old College, St. Giles’ Cathedral, the Scottish Parliament Building, the National Museum of Scotland and the General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland. The serpentine alleys snaking off this main artery are a delight to get lost in, as much an attraction of the area as its famous landmarks.
The Old Town is naturally central to modern Edinburgh, with the city’s main National Rail station located within spitting distance of the Royal Mile. Once in the neighbourhood, it is best explored on foot. There are bus routes available for those dreading the city’s many hills, but traffic is quite congested. A new tram system connects the city centre to Edinburgh Airport.
The layout of Edinburgh’s Old Town owes as much to the area’s geographic history as it does to its political or cultural history. The Royal Mile traces the crag and tail of a ridge downward from Edinburgh Castle’s perch atop an extinct volcano. Receding glaciers in the last ice age created this landscape as they pushed soft soil before being split by a harder volcanic rock.