Love visiting Edinburgh but don’t know much about it? We’ve compiled a list of the top 13 most fascinating facts about Scotland’s capital.
1. Historical Fact: Edinburgh’s nickname, Auld Reekie (Old Smoky), marks an era when the city’s buildings and crowded homes burnt a lot of coal and wood for heat and the chimneys emitted columns of smoke into the air.
2. Geological Fact: The rock on which Edinburgh Castle is built is the plug of an extinct volcano and following glacial erosion it formed a crag and tail formation. The crag is the Castle Rock and the tail is the Royal Mile.
3. Street Name Fact: The Royal Mile is called this because it’s a mile long street with two royal buildings on each end – Edinburgh Castle and Holyroodhouse Palace. Viewed from the air it resembles a fish bone!
4. Supernatural Fact: Edinburgh is said to be one of the most haunted places in Europe, and for good reason. It’s most infamous ghost is the Mackenzie Poltergeist, the uneasy spirit of a 17th century lawyer responsible for the deaths of hundreds; he now haunts Greyfriars Kirkyard.
5. Creepy Fact: The city served as the killing ground for the 19th century body snatchers Burke and Hare, who murdered at least 15 people to sell their cadavers to the University of Edinburgh’s anatomy department. Burke’s skeleton can be viewed at the university’s Anatomy Museum. Take a peak at the serial killer’s death mask and a wallet made from his skin at the Surgeons’ Hall Museums.
6. Heartwarming Fact: One of the most photographed monuments in Edinburgh is Greyfriars Bobby, a bust of a 19th century Skye terrier who spent 14 years guarding his master’s grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard. Its sits at the corner of Candlemaker Row and the George IV Bridge.
7. Embarrassing Fact: The National Monument on Calton Hill, a memorial to those who died fighting in the Napoleonic Wars, is often referred to as Edinburgh’s Folly or Edinburgh’s Shame. Modeled on the Parthenon in Athens, the monument was never completed due to a lack of funds which shut down construction in 1829. Legend says that the rival city of Glasgow offered to pay for the rest but Edinburgh was too proud to accept the offer.
8. Over-the-Top Fact: Edinburgh’s new Scottish Parliament building finally opened for business in 2004. Although celebrated for its unique and abstract design, construction finished three years late and ten times over budget. Nevertheless, it has since won several architecture awards.
9. Glittery Fact: The Honours of Scotland– the Royal Crown, Sceptre and Sword of State – are on display in Edinburgh Castle’s Crown Room. Tourists can also view the Stone of Destiny, otherwise known as Stone of Scone or the Coronation Stone, upon which Scottish monarchs were crowned before the Stone was taken to London by King Edward I’s English army in 1296. Seven hundred years later in 1996, England returned the stone to Scotland under the condition that it would be transported to London for all future coronations.
10. Hidden Fact: Edinburgh’s Old Town is composed of several narrow lanes, known as wynds and closes, running out of the Royal Mile. One of the most famous is the Real Mary King’s Close, an underground series of streets that was built over as the city’s population increased. Although closed to the public for many years, it is now a commercial attraction where tourists can learn about the city’s 17th century history, including how the black plague affected residents’ living conditions. Not surprisingly, the close is also said to be haunted.
11. Weird Fact: From 1477-1911, the Grassmarket was the site of one of Edinburgh’s main horse and cattle markets. It was also the location of public executions. It was here where Maggie Dickson, a fishwife from Musselburgh, was hanged in 1728. But as her body was carried back to Musselburgh, she miraculously arose from her coffin. Since Scots Law defined her as legally dead Maggie could not be hanged again. Tourists can ruminate on this weird tale while visiting the Maggie Dickson’s pub here. The Grassmarket is now the site of many popular theme pubs and restaurants.
12. Celebrity Fact: J.K. Rowling penned some of the first novel in her Harry Potter series at the Elephant House cafe on George IV Bridge, which serves fine Arabica coffee and teas and offers picturesque views of Castlehill. Her final novel, however, was written in a suite in the five-star Balmoral Hotel on Princes Street. She is said to have signed the back of a marble bust in the room with the words: “JK Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room (552) on 11th Jan 2007.” Some tour guides will also tell you that George Heriot’s School on Lauriston Place was the inspiration for Hogwarts Academy.
13. Festive Fact: Every August thousands of tourists swarm upon the city for the Edinburgh Festival, which is composed of several different arts and cultural festivals including the hugely popular Edinburgh Fringe and the Edinburgh International Festival. In 2010 the Edinburgh Fringe broke box office records with nearly 2 million tickets sold for more than 40,000 performances. The festival season is the highlight of any summer trip to Edinburgh.