Edinburgh and the Lothians Sights

High Street

  • Between Lawnmarket and Canongate Map It
  • Old Town
  • Neighborhood/Street

Published 05/04/2017

Fodor's Review

Some of Old Town's most impressive buildings and sights are on High Street, one of the five streets making up the Royal Mile. Also here are other, less obvious historic relics. Near Parliament Square, look on the west side for a heart set in cobbles. This marks the site of the vanished Tolbooth, the center of city life from the 15th century until the building's demolition in 1817. The ancient civic edifice housed the Scottish Parliament and was used as a prison—it also inspired Sir Walter Scott's novel The Heart of Midlothian.

Just outside Parliament House is the Mercat Cross (mercat means "market"), a great landmark of Old Town life. It was an old mercantile center, where in the early days executions were held, and where royal proclamations were—and are still—read. Most of the present cross is comparatively modern, dating from the time of William Ewart Gladstone (1809–98), the great Victorian prime minister and rival of Benjamin Disraeli (1804–81).

Across High Street from the High Kirk of St. Giles stands the City Chambers, now the seat of local government. Built by John Fergus, who adapted a design of John Adam in 1753, the chambers were originally known as the Royal Exchange and intended to be where merchants and lawyers could conduct business. Note how the building drops 11 stories to Cockburn Street on its north side.

A tron is a weigh beam used in public weigh houses, and the Tron Kirk was named after a salt tron that used to stand nearby. The kirk itself was built after 1633, when St. Giles's became an Episcopal cathedral for a brief time. In this church in 1693, a minister offered an often-quoted prayer for the local government: "Lord, hae mercy on a' [all] fools and idiots, and particularly on the Magistrates of Edinburgh."

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Sight Information


Between Lawnmarket and Canongate, Edinburgh, Edinburgh, EH1 1SR, Scotland

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Published 05/04/2017


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