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Free Self-Guided Edinburgh Walking Tour: Highlights & Overlooked Gems (With Map!)

Self-guided Edinburgh walking tour: View of the buildings of the Edinburgh Old Town, one of the must-see attractions in the city.

Perched atop a series of extinct volcanoes and rocky crags on an inlet from the North Sea (the Firth of Forth), and surrounded by rolling hills, lakes, and forests, Edinburgh is a city with a breathtaking natural setting that is perfect for walking. The Old Town and New Town are replete with elegant streets, cobbled alleys, lovely squares, and narrow closes and boast major sights. An Edinburgh walking tour is one of the best ways to see these sights, important landmarks and soak in the charming atmosphere. This post includes a map for a self-guided free walking tour of Edinburgh. Enjoy your walk! 🙂

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Why Choose This Free Self-Guided Edinburgh Walking Tour?

This free self-guided Edinburgh walking tour itinerary is perfect if you are short on time and trying to save some money. With our free map, you can follow the route quite easily without having to hire an expensive guide for the day.

The tour will take you past the city’s major attractions, landmark public buildings, places of worship, cultural venues, restaurants, and cafes. You’ll also learn a few lesser-known facts about Edinburgh along the way.

The tour will take you through the center of Edinburgh, principally focusing on the attraction studded area of the UNESCO World Heritage Old Town.

Edinburgh Walking Tour Itinerary

The free self-guided Edinburgh walking tour covers a total distance of approximately 6 kilometers (3.7 miles). The tour starts at the Balmoral Hotel and terminates on Calton Hill. Edinburgh is a hilly city and the walking route takes you up and down hilly streets and stairs so be sure to wear comfortable footwear.

Feel free to take a break if you feel jaded along the way. I have included some cafes and restaurants in the map where you can take a breather and grab a bite. On this Edinburgh walking tour, you will see:

  1. Balmoral Hotel
  2. Princes Street
  3. Scott Monument
  4. Princes Street Gardens
  5. Scottish National Gallery
  6. New College, University of Edinburgh
  7. Ramsay Garden
  8. Edinburgh Castle
  9. The Royal Mile
  10. Gladstone’s Land
  11. The Writers’ Museum
  12. Brodie’s Close
  13. Victoria Street & West Bow
  14. Grassmarket
  15. Greyfriars Kirkyard
  16. Greyfriars Bobby Statue
  17. National Museum of Scotland
  18. The Elephant House
  19. Old College, University of Edinburgh
  20. St. Giles’ Cathedral
  21. Heart of Midlothian Mosaic
  22. Cockburn Street
  23. John Knox House
  24. Canongate Tolbooth
  25. Museum of Edinburgh
  26. Canongate Kirk
  27. Scottish Parliament Building
  28. Palace of Holyroodhouse
  29. Calton Hill

1. Balmoral Hotel

Self-guided Edinburgh walking tour: View of the iconic Balmoral Hotel, one of the must-see sights in Edinburgh. C: Kraft_Stoff/shutterstock.com

Kick off your free Edinburgh walking tour at the iconic Balmoral Hotel. This prestigious high-end hotel opened its doors in 1902 as a railway hotel and is now a veritable Edinburgh landmark.

It was known as the North British Hotel for much of the century, though by the 1980s the use of the imperial “North Britain” as an alternative name for Scotland didn’t sit too well with many locals. I was really taken with the Balmoral’s Victorian architecture as well as its beefy clocktower which at 58 meters high, is a prominent feature in Edinburgh’s skyline.

It’s interesting to note that the timepiece on the clocktower is always set two minutes fast in order to encourage passengers to catch their trains at neighboring Waverley Station, the city’s chief train station.

The only day that the clock runs on time is on 31 December (Hogmanay) for the city’s New Year celebrations. Downstairs in the hotel is the elegant Palm Court tea house which is probably the most affordable way to get a taste of the hotel.

Directions

Your next stop is Princes Street (2) which is just beside the Balmoral Hotel. You’ll be walking a distance of 20 m.

2. Princes Street

Shopping in Edinburgh: View of Princes Street, Edinburgh's principal shopping street.

Princes Street is very much the center of Edinburgh and is one of the city’s principal thoroughfares and shopping streets. It was built in the late 18th century during the reign of King George III and was originally called St. Giles street after the city’s patron saint.

The street was later renamed for King George’s sons after its original name was rejected. Many of the original buildings have been destroyed and today much of Princes Street is dominated by unattractive modern storefronts.

Shopping options are aplenty and it is also home to several monuments, statues, and eateries. Princes Street’s saving grace is the uninterrupted views of the Old Town it offers which is certainly one of the most iconic vistas in all of Europe.

Directions

Your next stop is the Scott Monument (3) which lies a little further down on Princes Street. You’ll be walking a distance of 150 m.

3. Scott Monument

Free Self-Guided Edinburgh walking tour: The 61-meter tall Gothic style Scott Monument dominates Edinburgh's skyline and is one of the top attractions in Edinburgh.

The towering Scott Monument is definitely the most outlandish of Princes Street’s mixed bag of sights. Completed in 1840, this Gothic tower reaches a height of 61 meters and is dedicated to prolific author and patriot Sir Walter Scott.

The structure resembles a church spire plucked from a mainland European cathedral, and is one of Edinburgh’s most recognizable landmarks. Not everyone cottoned to the tower after its opening, but it is difficult to imagine Edinburgh’s skyline without it.

The architecture is closely modeled on Scott’s cherished Melrose Abbey, while the rich sculptural decoration displays 64 characters from his novels. At the base of the monument is a statue of Scott with his deerhound Maida, sculpted from a thirty-ton block of Carrara marble.

If you have the vim and vigor, you can climb up the 287 steps of the tightly winding spiral staircase to a narrow platform near the top from where you can enjoy some stunning – if vertiginous – vistas of the city below and hills and firths beyond.

Fun Fact

Sir Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh in 1771 and is regarded as the father of the modern novel. Although he studied law at the University of Edinburgh, he gained fame initially for resurrecting old Scottish folklore and ballads. His works hark back to a time of adventure and chivalry and did much to promote this image of Scotland abroad. Though originally published anonymously, his famous Waverley novels catapulted him to fame, and by the 1820s he was playing a central role in Scottish affairs.

Directions

Your next stop is the Princes Street Gardens (4) which are further down on Princes Street. You’ll be walking a distance of 300 m.

4. Princes Street Gardens

What to do in Edinburgh: View of the Princes Street Gardens, one of the best things to see in Edinburgh while taking a walking tour of the city.

Next up are the Princes Street Gardens, one of the best things to see in Edinburgh. The verdant gardens are easily one of the most picturesque parks I’ve seen and with the Edinburgh Castle looming above in the background, they form the setting for a postcard-perfect image.

The swathes of green lawn, colorful flower beds, and mature trees serve as a green lung for the city’s center.

The gardens are a great spot for a picnic and whenever the sun shines you can join the locals and lounge on its grassy slopes. The gardens’ eastern end is home to an ice rink while the larger western end holds a floral clock and the Ross Bandstand, a popular festival venue.

It’s hard to imagine that the Princes Street Gardens were once the stagnant, fetid Nor’ Loch, into which the effluents of the Old Town flowed for centuries. The gardens were the private domain of Princes Street residents and their well-placed acquaintances, only becoming a public park in 1876.

Directions

Your next stop is the Scottish National Gallery (5) which lies a little south on The Mound. You’ll be walking a distance of 50 m.

Edinburgh Museums: Panoramic view of The Scottish National Gallery that houses the Scottish national collection of fine art including Scottish and international art.

The Scottish National Gallery is one of the best museums in Edinburgh. Scotland’s national haul of historic international art is housed in the two Neoclassical temples which sit beside each other.

Though by no means as extensive as national collections found elsewhere in Europe, the gallery benefits greatly from its series of elegant octagonal rooms jazzed up by imaginative displays.

The Scottish National Gallery is home to a bevy of exquisite works by Old Masters and Impressionists. Take a peek inside if you fancy, it’s completely free.

Directions

Your next stop is the New College, University of Edinburgh (6) which is reached by heading south on The Mound. You’ll be walking a distance of 250 m.

6. New College, University of Edinburgh

Self-guided Edinburgh walking tour: View of the twin towered building of the New College of the University of Edinburgh.

The New College of the University of Edinburgh is one of the architectural gems you’ll encounter on our free self-guided walking tour of Edinburgh.

It is one of the most celebrated centers of higher education learning in theology in Scotland. The imposing twin-towered building dates back to 1846 and its scenographic exterior provides a grand entrance into the Old Town.

Directions

Your next stop is Ramsay Garden (7) which lies to the west of the New College (via Mound Pl & Ramsay Ln). You’ll be walking a distance of 100 m.

7. Ramsay Garden

Edinburgh architecture: View of the elegant Ramsay Garden which is one of the best things to see in Edinburgh.

The Ramsay Garden is not actually a garden but an innovative and elegant set of buildings that date to the end of the 19th century. It is named in honor of the poet Allan Ramsay, whose 18th century home was incorporated into the project.

This sprightly place was the brainchild of Sir Patrick Geddes, a polymath, and city planner, who almost single-handedly revived the fortunes of Old Town, working to rid it of squalid living conditions while saving it from total destruction and redevelopment.

The architecture here is absolutely adorable with a lovely cocktail of Scottish baronial and English cottages, combining elements of fairytale turrets, odd angles, crow steps, and half-timber gable construction. It is naturally one of the best instagrammable locations in Edinburgh.

Directions

Your next stop is the Edinburgh Castle (8) which lies on Castlehill. You’ll be walking a distance of 300 m.

8. Edinburgh Castle

Free self-guided Edinburgh walking tour: The Edinburgh Castle is one of the highlights in Edinburgh.

The Edinburgh Castle is the city’s defining landmark and one of the must-see sights in Edinburgh. It is an assemblage of buildings dating from the 12th to the 20th century. The contrasting styles of the fortifications reflect its changing role as a fortress, royal palace, military garrison, and state prison.

Perched atop the basalt core of an extinct volcano and sheltered by sheer cliffs on three sides it has played an important role in Scottish affairs for hundreds of years. The castle was a favorite royal residence until the Union of the Crowns and later became an ordinance factory.

Today, military barracks are still on the grounds, although it is mainly a tourist attraction. The Castle is now home to the Stone of Destiny (aka the Stone of Scone), a relic of ancient Scottish kings that was seized by the English and only returned to Scotland in 1996.

Fun Fact

In the seventh century, the Angles (the tribe which lends its name to England) attacked and invaded the small fort called Dun Eidyn that was built by the Gododdins (the Celtic speaking of north-east Britain) probably on Castle Rock. The Angles took the name “Eidyn” and joined it to “Burh”, an old English word meaning fort, thus creating the name of Edinburgh. Today, Edinburgh is known by several nicknames such as ‘Auld Reekie’, ‘Athens of the North, and ‘Edina’.

Directions

Your next stop is the Royal Mile (9) which basically starts east on Castlehill.

9. The Royal Mile

Things to do in Edinburgh: The iconic Royal Mile with its historic old buildings, closely packed tenements and shadowy closes is one of the highlights of an Edinburgh walking tour.

No sightseeing tour of Edinburgh would be complete without taking a stroll down the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile has to rank as one of the great streets of the world with its historic old buildings, closely packed tenements, and shadowy closes.

Scotland’s most famous street runs downhill along a ridge from the cliff-skirted castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

It is still possible, among the 66 alleys and closes off the main street, to sense Edinburgh’s medieval past. You’ll encounter throngs of tourists ambling between the sights and souvenir shops.

Fun Fact

The Royal Mile is actually one mile 100 meters in length (1.77 km), measuring from the castle drawbridge to the gates of Holyroodhouse. It has different names at various points along its length. The short, narrow section from the castle to the roundabout outside The Hub is called Castlehill. At this point, it becomes the Lawnmarket. while east of the main junction with the Mound and George IV Bridge it is the High Street. The final section, after the junction with St Mary’s Street, is the Canongate.

Directions

Your next stop is Gladstone’s Land (10) which lies a little further down on the Royal Mile (Lawnmarket). You’ll be walking a distance of 150 m.

10. Gladstone’s Land

Free self-guided Edinburgh walking tour highlights: View of Gladstone's Land, a surviving 17th century high-tenement house situated in the Old Town of Edinburgh.

Gladstone’s Land is a tall, narrow, creaking tenement that looks like a typical canalside house in Amsterdam. The six-floor Gladstone’s Land was named after Thomas Gledstanes, the merchant who built it in 1617.

It is the Royal Mile’s best surviving remnant of a typical 17th-century tenement. The house still has the original arcade booths on the street facade as well as a painted ceiling.

The half-dozen rooms on show provide a window on life in a typical Old townhouse in medieval Edinburgh before overcrowding drove the wealthy inhabitants northwest to the New Town. The house still retains the original arcade booths on the street facade as well as a painted ceiling.

Directions

Your next stop is the Writers’ Museum (11) which can be reached by going down on Lady Stair’s Close. You’ll be walking a distance of 50 m.

11. The Writers’ Museum

Museums in Edinburgh: View of the Writers' Museum, which is dedicated to Scotland’s three greatest literary greats, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Robert Burns. It is one of the best things to see on an Edinburgh walking tour. C: Christian Bickel [CC BY-SA 2.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons.

If you’re a lover of literature, the Writers’ Museum is one of the best things to see in Edinburgh. It is dedicated to Scotland’s three most-celebrated literary giants, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Robert Burns.

It is housed in a fine Old Town mansion constructed in 1622 that was acquired by Elizabeth, Dowager Countess of Stair, in the 1720s and has since been called Lady Stair’s House.

The museum’s collection includes portraits, manuscripts, and showcases filled with odd bric-a-brac and relics associated with the writers – Scott’s walking stick and a plaster cast of Burns’ skull among them.

Directions

Your next stop is Brodie’s Close (12) which lies a little further east, just off of the Royal Mile. You’ll be walking a distance of 200 m.

12. Brodie’s Close

The various small alleyways leading off the Royal Mile throughout its length are known as “Closes”. Taking a stroll through the various closes is one of the best things to do in Edinburgh. Brodie’s Close is one such small stone-floored alleyway off Lawnmarket.

It was named after the well-respected cabinet-making father of the notorious William Brodie, arguably Edinburgh’s most infamous character. Brodie was a respected councilor and deacon of a trades guild by day—but a notorious burglar and roué by night. The money from his crimes was used to maintain his second life, including five children, two mistresses, and a gambling habit.

Unfortunately for Brodie, he was soon captured, brought back to Edinburgh, and in 1788 was hung, ironically, on gallows of his own design. His ruse of trying to cheat death by secretly wearing an iron collar under his shirt failed.

Deacon Brodie is commemorated by a pub of that name that has been around since 1806. Brodie’s double life and apparent split personality reputedly served as the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’.

Directions

Your next stop is Victoria Street & West Bow (13). You’ll be walking a distance of 150 m.

13. Victoria Street & West Bow

What to do in Edinburgh: Victoria Street with its gentle arc and pastel-hued buildings is one of the Edinburgh's must-see attractions.

When exploring Edinburgh on foot, the colorful Victoria Street is one of the best things to see. This historic street once served as the main entrance to get into the city.

Originally known as the West Bow, the street zigzagged up the steep slope from the Grassmarket to Castlehill making it rather difficult to handle for carriages getting up into the city. The street was transformed into its current shape in the early 19th century and in 1837 was renamed when Queen Victoria was crowned.

Victoria Street’s gentle arc and pastel-hued buildings make it one of the most photographed locations in Edinburgh and it has featured in numerous postcards and TV adverts. The street’s northern side is home to some colorful shop fronts featuring an eclectic clutch of unpretentious design, fashion, and vintage shops as well as bars, and restaurants.

Victoria Street’s southern side is home to the street’s oldest buildings that lend a beautiful old-world charm with their ancient stone facades. It’s not hard to see why Victoria Street served as the inspiration for Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter realm.

Directions

Your next stop is Grassmarket (14) which lies at the end of West Bow.

14. Grassmarket

Free Self-Guided Edinburgh walking tour: View of the Grassmarket strip which is home to a bevy of bars and restaurants. C: Walencienne/shutterstock.com

Grassmarket is an open, partly cobbled area girdled by tall tenements. It used to be the city’s cattle market from 1477 to 1911 but is best remembered as the location of Edinburgh’s public gallows until the 1780s, where many Protestant zealots—known as the Covenanters—were hanged.

Today, the Grassmarket strip is home to a bevy of bars and restaurants that have become a focus for many of the stag and hen parties that descend on Edinburgh. From here, you can also enjoy an unexpected view up to the precipitous crags of the Castle.

Directions

Your next stop is the Greyfriars Kirkyard (15). You’ll be walking a distance of 150 m.

15. Greyfriars Kirkyard

Things to see in Edinburgh: The Greyfriars Kirkyard with its fine collection of 17th-century gravestones and mausoleums is one of the highlights of this free self-guided walking tour of Edinburgh.

Greyfriars Kirkyard is one of the eeriest places to visit in Edinburgh. This famous graveyard was built in the 16th century on land which had belonged to a Franciscan convent, though little of the original late-Gothic style building remains.

It has a fine collection of 17th-century gravestones and mausoleums. The graveyard was a popular haunt of J.K. Rowling and you should keep your eyes peeled for the graves of Voldemort, aka Tom Riddle (Riddell), and William McGonagall.

Greyfriars Kirkyard is the final resting place of many prominent Scots such as Robert Adam and James Hutton. However, its most famous resident is Greyfriars Bobby (read below). At the center of the churchyard is the Greyfriars Church, the first “reformed” church in Edinburgh.

Greyfriars is also home to a portion of the Flodden Wall that was built in 1560 to protect the city against an English invasion that never came.

Greyfriars Kirkyard is also notorious for being the most haunted place in Edinburgh due to its gruesome past and graverobbing activity. This has had people spooked to such an extent that many don’t even dare enter the graveyard. Although it does exude an eerie aura, it is perfectly safe to visit.

Directions

Your next stop is the Greyfriars Bobby Statue (16) which lies just outside of Greyfriars Kirkyard on the other side. You can walk through the kirkyard and will be walking a distance of 150 m.

16. Greyfriars Bobby Statue

Free self-guided Edinburgh walking tour: View of the Greyfriars Bobby statue, one of the most famous sights in Edinburgh.

The statue of Greyfriars Bobby has the distinction of being the most mawkish attraction in Edinburgh. In spite of the rich history of Greyfriars Kirkyard, its international renown stems largely from its association with a scruffy Skye terrier, Bobby, who was owned by a police constable named John Gray.

When Gray perished in 1858, Bobby was found a few days later sitting on his grave, a vigil he reputedly maintained until his death fourteen years later. In the process, he became an Edinburgh celebrity and endured himself to the locals, who fed and cared for by locals him and also presented him with a special collar to ensure that he wasn’t impounded as a stray.

A lifesize statue of Bobby was erected soon after his death; it’s located just outside the kirkyard opposite the pub bearing the dog’s name. Naturally, a sentimental story like this was destined to be immortalized and Bobby’s dedication spawned several children’s books and films.

Directions

Your next stop is the National Museum of Scotland (17) which lies directly opposite of Greyfriars Bobby.

17. National Museum of Scotland

Edinburgh Museums: View of the honey-colored sandstone exterior of the National Museum of Scotland, one of the best things to see on this Edinburgh walking tour. C: Claudine Van Massenhove/shutterstock.com

Housed in a contemporary honey-colored sandstone structure, the National Museum of Scotland is one of the best things to see in Edinburgh and is unequivocally the premier museum in the city.

Through a series of interesting displays, it tells the story of Scotland with exhibits on archaeology, geology, technology, science, the decorative arts, and royalty.

Directions

Your next stop is the Elephant House (18) which lies a little further north on George IV Bridge. You’ll be walking a distance of 100 m.

18. The Elephant House

Free self-guided Edinburgh walking tour: View of the facade of the famous Elephant House cafe where JK Rowling spent considerable time penning the first Harry Potter story. It is one of the most popular places to see in Edinburgh: Claudine Van Massenhove/shutterstock.com

Edinburgh is a well-known pilgrimage destination for Harry Potter fans. The Elephant House Cafe is undoubtedly the most famous of the Harry Potter attractions in Edinburgh. J.K. Rowling spent a considerable amount of time at this quaint cafe jotting down the first Harry Potter story.

Being ardent devotees of J.K. Rowling and the Potter books, we were both really excited to see this cafe. The cafe itself is nothing special but the intriguing Harry Potter-themed graffiti in the toilets is worth checking out.

Directions

Your next stop is the Old College, University of Edinburgh (19). You’ll be walking a distance of 450 m.

19. Old College, University of Edinburgh

What to see in Edinburgh: View of the beautiful internal quadrangle of the Old College of the University of Edinburgh, one of the highlights of this self-guided Edinburgh walking tour. C: Su Hongjia [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

The Old College is the oldest remaining part of the University of Edinburgh, having been founded as the “Tounis College” in 1583 by James VI. It’s now Scotland’s largest university, with nearly 20,000 full-time students.

The architecture of the Old College is a marvelous piece of work and was tastefully designed by leading Georgian architect Robert Adam.

The most striking feature of the main building is the dome, added in 1887. It bears a gilded bronze statue of a youth bearing the torch of knowledge and is affectionately nicknamed the ‘Golden Boy’.

The entry arches look quite grand in scale even though they are lack color and detail. To get a better sense of the building, be sure to wander into the internal quadrangle.

Directions

Your next stop is St. Giles’ Cathedral (20) which lies on the Royal Mile (High St). You’ll be walking a distance of 500 m.

20. St. Giles’ Cathedral

Edinburgh architecture: The Gothic St. Giles' Cathedral is one of the best things to see on an Edinburgh walking tour.

The St. Giles’ Cathedral is undoubtedly one of the top 10 sights in Edinburgh. More properly referred to as the High Kirk of Edinburgh, it is a bit ironic that St Giles is often referred to as a cathedral since it has only been the seat of a bishop on two short and melancholy junctures in the 17th century.

St. Giles’ Cathedral holds a special place in Scottish history since it was from here in the 1500s that John Knox directed the Scottish Reformation and uncompromising Protestant reforms. These reforms drove some of his zealous followers to destroy Catholic alters and venerated relics.

The church is a magnificent tour de force of Gothic architecture and its brooding exterior is dominated by the resplendent crown spire. The interior is dominated by stunning ‘Thistle Chapel’, with its rib-vaulted ceiling and carved heraldic stained-glass windows.

Directions

Your next stop is the Heart of Midlothian mosaic (21) which lies on a sidewalk just beside the St. Giles’ Cathedral. You’ll be walking a distance of 25 m.

21. Heart of Midlothian Mosaic

Free self-guided Edinburgh walking tour: View of the Heart of Midlothian mosaic on the Royal Mile.

On the sidewalk just outside St. Giles’ Cathedral, lies the ‘Heart of Midlothian’ – a pattern set in the cobblestones which mark the site of the demolished tollbooth (where taxes were collected) and the entrance to a vile prison.

You might see some Edinburgh locals spitting on it as they walk past since it’s an age-old tradition to do so. However, no one can definitively say how this tradition started.

One theory postulates that it’s a habit that has carried on from when people would spit on the prison door to express their disdain for the prison to ward off the malevolence contained therein.

Alternatively, spitting on the heart is said to bring good luck and the only way to assure you’ll return to Edinburgh again, so give it a go!

Directions

Your next stop is Cockburn Street (22) which can be reached via Byer’s Cl, The News Steps & Market Street. You’ll be walking a distance of 300 m.

22. Cockburn Street

Edinburgh architecture: The wealth of Scottish Baronial architecture on Cockburn Street is one of the top things to see in Edinburgh. C: Jeff Whyte/shutterstock.com

Cockburn Street is one of the main points of interest in Edinburgh and one of my favorite places in the city. It was built in 1856 to improve access to the Waverley railway station and was designed to show how the Old and New Towns should have been linked together.

This iconic serpentine street intersects the old closes and steps that descend precipitously down the hill from the Royal Mile.

The character of Cockburn Street remains very bohemian with a clutch of bars and restaurants, music stores, tattoo parlors, bookshops, and art galleries. Don’t forget to check out the wealth of gorgeous Scottish Baronial architecture while walking up the street.

Directions

Your next stop is the John Knox House (23) which lies on the Royal Mile (High St). You’ll be walking a distance of 300 m.

23. John Knox House

Free Self-guided Edinburgh walking tour: The John Knox House with its distinctive external staircase, clustered high chimneys and timber projections is one of the best things to see in Edinburgh.

Next up on our self-guided Edinburgh walking tour is the 15th-century John Knox House. With its distinctive external staircase, clustered high chimneys, and timber projections, the house gives a good impression of what the Royal Mile was like in its medieval heyday.

Any link to John Knox — the firebrand leader minister who led the Reformation in Scotland and established Calvinist Presbyterianism as the dominant religious force in the country is apocryphal even though the building bears his name. Knox is believed to have lived in the house shortly before his death in 1572 and it is this belief that saved it from demolition nearly three centuries later.

The building was refurbished and opened as a museum in the mid-19th century. The museum still operates today and offers a fascinating insight into what life was like in Edinburgh some 400 years ago and also features displays about the story of Knox’s life.

Directions

Your next stop is the Canongate Tolbooth (24) which lies east on the Royal Mile (Canongate). You’ll be walking a distance of 300 m.

24. Canongate Tolbooth

Things to see in Edinburgh: View of the turreted steeple and box clock of the 16th century Canongate Tolbooth, one of the highlights of this self-guided walking tour of Edinburgh.

The 16th century Canongate Tolbooth is one of the most distinctive landmarks on the portion of the Royal Mile known as the Canongate. It is famous for its turreted steeple and box clock (added in the 1880s), which hangs over the street.

This striking building once served as the courthouse, prison, and center of municipal affairs for the burgh of Canongate. It now contains a pretty mediocre museum called the People’s Story, which celebrates the everyday life and work of Edinburgh’s population from the late 18th century to the present.

Directions

Your next stop is the Museum of Edinburgh (25) which lies diagonally opposite to Canongate Tolbooth.

25. Museum of Edinburgh

Edinburgh Museums: View of the facade of the Museum of Edinburgh that chronicles Edinburgh's history and is one of the highlights of this self-guided Edinburgh walking tour. C: Stefan Schäfer, Lich [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

The historic Huntly House dates to the early 16th century and was damaged during the English raid on Edinburgh in 1544. Having been used as a family townhouse, it was later divided into apartments but by the 19th century, it had fallen into disrepair.

Fortunately, the local authorities bought the property and opened the Museum of Edinburgh in 1932. The small museum serves as the principal collection devoted to the city’s local history and the collection includes quirky exhibits such as Neolithic ax heads, Roman coins, military artifacts.

Directions

Your next stop is Canongate Kirk (26) which is just opposite of the Museum of Edinburgh.

26. Canongate Kirk

What to do in Edinburgh: View of the Canongate Kirk facade with its gracefully arched facade, round windows, and bow-shaped gable. It is one of the highlights of this Edinburgh walking tour.

Canongate Kirk is one of the best places to visit in Edinburgh. It was built in the 1680s to house the congregation expelled from Holyrood Abbey. I really loved the building’s gracefully arched facade, round windows, and bow-shaped gable.

The symmetrical stone frontage bears a large central circular window that is crowned with the royal arms of William of Orange.

The surrounding churchyard is a handsome stretch of green in the heart of the Old Town and accords fine views of Calton Hill. The graves of some notable people are situated here, such as pioneering economic philosopher Adam Smith, and 18th-century poet Robert Fergusson.

Directions

Your next stop is the Scottish Parliament Building (27) which lies further east on the Royal Mile. You’ll be walking a distance of 150 m.

27. Scottish Parliament Building

Things to see in Edinburgh: The interesting design of the new building of the Scottish Parliament, one of the main attractions on this Edinburgh walking tour.

The new Scottish Parliament Building is undoubtedly the most controversial public building to be erected in Scotland post World War II. After much brouhaha over its cost—the better part of £500 million (initial estimates were £40 million) and delays in its construction, the Parliament building opened in the autumn of 2004.

Architecturally, the building is highly unique in its design being the brainchild of Catalan architect Enric Miralles. It consists of six interlinked structures within the complex and the central buildings are petal-shaped in design.

Numerous motifs and odd shapes have been incorporated into the building’s design, including the anvil-like shape which clads the exterior of the building, and the exceptional windows of the parliament member’s offices that are shaped like the profile of a mountain.

You can go on a guided tour of the interior for a better appreciation of the quality and detail of design and allows visitors a peek at the dramatic committee rooms. Regardless of the criticism it cops, the structure is definitely one of the most impressive modern public buildings in the UK.

Directions

Your next stop is the Palace of Holyroodhouse (28) which lies further east at the end of the Royal Mile. You’ll be walking a distance of 150 m.

28. Palace of Holyroodhouse

Free Self-guided Edinburgh walking tour: The Palace of Holyroodhouse, Queen Elizabeth II’s official Scottish residence, is one of the best things to see in Edinburgh.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse is one of the must-see attractions on this self-guided Edinburgh walking tour. The Palace of Holyroodhouse was built by James IV on the grounds of an abbey in 1498.

It was established as Edinburgh’s main royal quarters during the reigns of James V and of his daughter Mary, Queen of Scots. Nowadays, it is famous as Queen Elizabeth II’s official Scottish residence.

The interior consists of royal reception rooms that feature some stunning encrusted plasterwork. Some of the rich tapestries, massive fireplaces, and antiques from the 1700s can still be found here.

Directions

Your next stop is Calton Hill (29) which can be reached via Calton Rd and A1/Regent Rd. You’ll be walking a distance of 1.1 km.

29. Calton Hill

Must-see attractions in Edinburgh: View of the Greek-style National Monument of Scotland.

A visit to Calton Hill is a must when exploring Edinburgh on foot. Calton Hill is the volcanic crag that rises up above the eastern end of Princes Street.

Edinburgh’s longstanding moniker as the “Athens of the North” is nowhere better typified than on Calton Hill. It’s home to a collection of rather peculiar but nonetheless grandiose buildings and monuments,

The most bizarre of these landmarks is a half-finished Parthenon. It was conceived as the National Monument meant to honor the Scottish soldiers killed during the Napoleonic wars. Construction began in 1822 but money ran out and the structure was never finished.

Years of ridicule over its condition (sometimes then referred to as “Edinburgh’s Disgrace”) have given way to affection, as attitudes have softened.

Some other monuments on Calton Hill include the Nelson Monument – which contains relics of the hero of Trafalgar, the old City Observatory, the circular Dugald Stewart’s Monument, and the Burns Monument – which replicates the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens.

Free Self-Guided Edinburgh walking tour: Panoramic view over Edinburgh from Calton Hill.

But Calton Hill and its bizarre collection of structures aren’t just for looking at: it is also one of the best viewpoints in Edinburgh from where you can enjoy the panoramic views of the Firth of Forth and appreciate the city spread beneath it.

Guided Edinburgh Walking Tours

If you are very short on time or simply don’t want to deal with the hassle of a self-guided Edinburgh walking tour, you can also opt to take a guided tour instead.

Edinburgh Guided Walking Tour: This three-hour walking tour of Edinburgh takes you through the heart of the historic Old Town of the most knowledgeable locals possible. Listen to interesting stories and legends as you go past historic landmarks.

What Else to See in Edinburgh

Obviously, there are plenty more things to see and do in Edinburgh than what we have covered in our walking tour. Places like the idyllic Dean Village, the beautiful botanical gardens, the Georgian townhouses of the New Town, Arthur’s Peak, and many more great museums all deserve to be seen.

Where to Stay in Edinburgh

The Old Town & New Town are the best places to stay in Edinburgh as they provide a good base to see all the major sights. There are plenty of good options in or in the vicinity of the Old Town for all budgets.

Hostel: High Street Hostel, cozy hostel in the heart of the Old Town, just around the corner from the Royal Mile and a 10-minute walk from Waverley train station

Budget: Cityroomz Edinburgh, a great budget option just a few meters from Princes Street and a 15-minute walk from Waverley train station

Mid-range: Apex City of Edinburgh Hotel, facing the Grassmarket this hotel enjoys an enviable location, close to many shops and eating places

Splurge: The Balmoral, boasting the best-known address in Edinburgh, this elegant hotel caters to anyone accustomed to the very best in life and has luxurious, tastefully furnished suites and rooms


Now, what do you think? Did you enjoy our self-guided walking tour of Edinburgh? Are there any other stops that we should be adding? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

About Mihir

Hi there, I'm Mihir! I was born in India, raised there and in Australia before spending nearly a decade in Finland. I suffer from chronic fernweh and am always looking forward to a new adventure. Besides traveling, my other loves are my beloved cats, architecture, art, beer, classic movies, history, cricket, and Australian Rules Football. Oh, there's also my partner in crime Jacky who's not too bad either 😉

2 thoughts on “Free Self-Guided Edinburgh Walking Tour: Highlights & Overlooked Gems (With Map!)”

  1. Dear Mihir. Thank you for a lovely virtual tour today. It was a nasty rainy day, so I had a great virtual tour of Edinburgh using your site and Google Earth.

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