History in Edinburgh & The Lothians

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Edinburgh boasts a rich and intriguing history which can be uncovered as you explore the city. Atmospheric cobbled streets, wonderful architecture, old closes and wide avenues allow you to imagine yourself transported back in time. The Lothians is also steeped in fascinating history, filled with castles, stately homes and battle sites.

Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, grew around its Old Town until the late 18th century and this area of the city still has a distinct character from the iconic castle at the top of the Royal Mile to the Grassmarket below, where public hangings formerly took place. The Nor Loch acted as a natural defence for the city at this time before it was drained and converted into the beautiful Princes Street Gardens in later years.

During the Victorian era, Edinburgh earned itself a nickname as ‘Auld Reekie’ due to the smoke from the steam engines and the pollution of the industrial revolution.

After 1583, the city was also a hub for educational and professional development since the world-famous university was founded. The University of Edinburgh still stands today as a symbol of the knowledge and intellectual talent to be found in the city. Many new ventures occurred, marking Edinburgh as a financial capital by the end of the 20th century.

1707 saw the Act of Union, which joined Scotland and England together politically, and moved power from Edinburgh's old parliament to London's Westminster. Tenements were an identifying feature of the city by the late 18th century, when the population was expanding rapidly to around 35,000. The rich lived on the desirable upper and middle floors of these buildings while the poor were relegated to the lower levels.

Living conditions were not good at this time and many wealthy residents moved to London. Eventually a competition to design a new part of the city was put in place to try to attract the wealthy back to Edinburgh. James Craig won this contest and his ideas and influences are still visible in the grid pattern of the streets of the Georgian New Town.

Today, Edinburgh combines both modernity and tradition. Modern architecture such as the Scottish Parliament sits alongside wonderful baroque buildings including the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Each community is individual, giving you a unique sense of the past and present as you explore.

In East Lothian, visit attractions such as the stately homes of Newhailes and Lennoxlove House, and museums like Prestongrange, a site of major importance in the Scottish Industrial Revolution, and the National Museum of Flight, where you can climb aboard Concorde.

West Lothian’s rich heritage includes castles, prehistoric burial sites and a famous palace. Follow the Linlithgow Heritage Trail to the evocative ruin of Linlithgow Palace.

Midlothian’s must-see attraction, Rosslyn Chapel, lies within the peaceful village of Roslin, close to Roslin Glen. Visit Arniston House, a wonderful Palladian style mansion, which has been home to the Dundas family for more than 400 years. The whole family will enjoy a day out at the National Mining Museum Scotland where Multi Media Tours bring the attraction to life.

  • Preston Mill and Phantassie Doocot - one of the oldest working watermills in Scotland, East Linton
    Preston Mill and Phantassie Doocot, East Linton © Kenny Lam
Preston Mill

Historic attractions

Discover the fascinating history of Edinburgh & The Lothians through the region’s outstanding historical attractions.

A couple gaze out over Edinburgh from Calton Hill

Architecture

Edinburgh is a city steeped in history and its stunning rich architectural heritage is now recognised as a World Heritage Site.

The city of Edinburgh from Calton Hill

Timeline

Follow the history timeline of Edinburgh from the beginnings of the city when volcanic activity shaped the rocks.

Swans, gulls and ducks gather on Linlithgow Loch

Linlithgow Heritage Trail

Follow the Linlithgow Heritage Trail Which takes in 44 of the the Royal Burgh's historical and architectural sites of interest.

Edinburgh Castle and the Ross Fountain, Princes Street Gardens

Castles

Explore castles in Edinburgh & The Lothians. Every castle has a different story to tell, whether it’s about the Stone of Destiny, the difficult life of Mary Queen of Scots or one of Scotland’s most powerful families, the Crichtons.