Top historic sites in Edinburgh

St Giles' Cathedral

A parish church was established in Edinburgh as early as 854. This first church, a modest affair, was probably in use for several centuries before a new one was founded in the 1120s. The 12th-century church was part of an effort of the Scottish royal family, especially David I (1124-1153), to spread Catholic worship throughout the Scottish lowlands. This church was probably quite small, Norman (Romanesque) in style, like ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle is a historic fortress which dominates the skyline of the city of Edinburgh from its position on the Castle Rock. Archaeologists have established human occupation of the rock since at least the Iron Age (2nd century AD), although the nature of the early settlement is unclear. There has been a royal castle on the rock since at least the reign of David I in the 12th century, and the site continued to be a r ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Edinburgh Old Town

Edinburgh Old Town has preserved much of its medieval street plan and many Reformation-era buildings. The 'Royal Mile' is a name coined in the early 20th-century for the main artery of the Old Town which runs on a downwards slope from Edinburgh Castle to both Holyrood Palace and the ruined Holyrood Abbey. Narrow closes (alleyways), often no more than a few feet wide, lead steeply downhill to both north and south ...
Founded: | Location: Edinburgh, United Kingdom

National Museum of Scotland

The National Museum of Scotland is one of the Top 10 UK visitor attractions, and in the Top 20 of the most visited museums and galleries in the world. The museum houses a spectacular array of over 20,000 fascinating artefacts. The National Museum incorporates the collections of the former National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, and the Royal Museum. As well as the national collections of Scottish archaeological finds ...
Founded: 1861 | Location: Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Calton Hill

Calton Hill in central Edinburgh is included in the city's UNESCO World Heritage Site. Views of, and from, the hill are often used in photographs and paintings of the city. Calton Hill is the headquarters of the Scottish Government, which is based at St Andrew's House, on the steep southern slope of the hill; with the Scottish Parliament Building, and other notable buildings, for example Holyrood Palace, lying near the f ...
Founded: | Location: Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Holyrood Palace

The Palace of Holyroodhouse, commonly referred to as Holyrood Palace, is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland. Located at the bottom of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, at the opposite end to Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace has served as the principal residence of the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 16th century, and is a setting for state occasions and official entertaining. Queen Elizabeth spends ...
Founded: 1671-1678 | Location: Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Holyrood Abbey Ruins

Holyrood Abbey was founded in 1128 by King David I. The original abbey church of Holyrood was largely reconstructed between 1195 and 1230. The completed building consisted of a six-bay aisled choir, three-bay transepts with a central tower above, and an eight-bay aisled nave with twin towers at its west front. During the 15th century, the abbey guesthouse was developed into a royal residence, and after the Scottish Reform ...
Founded: 1128 | Location: Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Edinburgh New Town

Inspired by the lofty ideals of the Scottish Enlightenment, the neat and ordered grid of the Edinburgh New Town provides an elegant contrast to the labyrinthine design of the Old Town. Its broad streets boast spectacular neoclassical and Georgian architecture, with a wealth of beautiful buildings perfectly preserved since their construction in the 18th and 19th centuries. Visitors are treated to a glimpse of how the city ...
Founded: 18th century | Location: Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Royal Botanic Garden

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) is a scientific centre for the study of plants, their diversity and conservation, as well as a popular tourist attraction. Originally founded in 1670 as a physic garden to grow medicinal plants, today it occupies four sites across Scotland — Edinburgh, Dawyck, Logan and Benmore — each with its own specialist collection. The RBGE"s living collection consists of mor ...
Founded: 1670/1820 | Location: Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Craigmillar Castle

Craigmillar is one of Scotland’s most perfectly preserved castles. It began as a simple tower-house residence. Gradually, over time, it developed into a complex of structures and spaces, as subsequent owners attempted to improve its comfort and amenity. As a result, there are many nooks and crannies to explore. The surrounding gardens and parkland were also important. The present-day Craigmillar Castle Park has fascina ...
Founded: c. 1375-1425 | Location: Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Lauriston Castle

Lauriston Castle is a 16th-century tower house with 19th-century extensions overlooking the Firth of Forth. The castle stood on this site in medieval times but was almost totally destroyed in the raids on Edinburgh in 1544 by the earl of Hertford. A tower house was re-built around 1590 by Sir Archibald Napier of Merchiston, father of John Napier, for his younger son, also named Archibald. Later, it was the home of John L ...
Founded: c. 1590 | Location: Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Forth Bridge

The Forth Bridge is a cantilever railway bridge over the Firth of Forth. It is considered an iconic structure and a symbol of Scotland, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was designed by the English engineers Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker. Construction of the bridge began in 1882 and it was opened on 4 March 1890 by the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII. The bridge spans the Forth between the villages ...
Founded: 1882-1890 | Location: Queensferry, United Kingdom

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Porta Nigra

The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.

The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.

In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.

In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.

After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.

In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.

In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.