The Old Town is built upon the crag and tail rock formation that sprouts up from the surrounding land which now makes up Edinburgh’s city centre. This was created during the last ice age when receding glaciers were split by the immovable volcanic rock, upon which the castle now sits. What remained were the steep-inclined dormant volcano (crag) and a long, gentle slope down one side of the hill (tail).
The crag was one of the first parts of Edinburgh to be inhabited, chosen for its suitability as a defensive fortress. Those attributes would be desperately needed over the following centuries, as Edinburgh became a town beset by war and challenges to its leadership. Relative prosperity came to the area in the 1300s, aided by the growth of the castle and the nearby Port of Leith, and the 15th century brought about the move of the Royal Court (and title of Scottish capital) from Stirling to Edinburgh. The city began to grow, with buildings erected down the length of the Royal Mile (the tail of rock).
Much of the original architecture still exists today, although redevelopments of Old Town were prompted by the Scottish Reformation in 1560 and the Great Fire of 1824. Notable additions to this part of the city over the years were St. Giles Cathedral, the University of Edinburgh, City Chambers, Parliament House, the Royal College of Surgeons, General Assembly Hall, and the renovation of Holyroodhouse. All played their part in the expansion of the town and, by the 18th century, the population of the Old Town had swelled to 80,000. This growth, together with the limited space available on the hill, had incited the building of high tenement houses; inspiration for the modern-day skyscraper.
The array of beautiful old buildings and their place in Edinburgh’s rich history makes the Old Town a fascinating place to visit. There are a mass of tourist attractions, making use of the original infrastructure to tell tales of the Edinburgh of old. Newer developments such as Our Dynamic Earth, the National Museum and the Scottish Parliament Building can also be found in the Old Town and are certainly worth a visit.
A real highlight of the old town is the Royal Mile; a collection of streets that join to connect Edinburgh Castle with the Palace of Holyroodhouse, two of Edinburgh’s most popular sights. It is on this road, that you will find many other places of interest, including tourist attractions, souvenir shops, cafes and pubs. It makes a very pleasant walk (downhill especially) and in the summer it is a hive of activity, jam-packed with street entertainers and people promoting events in the Edinburgh Festival. Off the Royal Mile run a number of stunning and sometimes rather sinister-looking winding streets and narrow alleyways. They have inspired many a local author and are quite unique to the city of Edinburgh.
A Mecca for tourists during the day, the Old Town is a hedonistic paradise by night. A walk around here after dark feels very atmospheric and you will be spoilt for choice by the amount of great eating out options. Many of the city’s most revered bars and clubs are to be found here, benefiting from the character-filled buildings that house them.