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St Giles’ Cathedral

St Giles’ Cathedral has been at the spiritual heart of Edinburgh for over 900 years.

TravelCurious Tip

Every year during the Hogmanay celebrations, there is a candlelit concert in St Giles’. It’s divine, so book your ticket well in advance

St Giles’ Cathedral has been the heart of Christianity in Scotland for nine centuries. Found on the High Street in Edinburgh’s Old Town, it dominates the city’s skyline, with it’s crowned steeple making a distinctive signature. The current building dates from the 15th century, but there has been a church on the site since early in the 12th.


Although called St Giles’ Cathedral, it is, in fact, not strictly a cathedral at all. Formally, a church is only a cathedral if it serves as the seat of a bishop — something St Giles’ has not done for several centuries. So it really ought to be known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh. That said, its scale and grandeur undoubtedly befits a cathedral.


Birth-place of Valour, country of Worth

St Giles’ grey, massive bulk looms over the High Street, inspiring awe. The interior is understated but impressive. During the reformation the Mary-Bell and brass candlesticks were melted down to be made into guns, and the relic of the arm of St Giles with its diamond ring, among other treasures, were sold. It traded Catholic pomp for Protestant severity.


Indeed St Giles’ was the crucible of the Scottish Reformation. John Knox, the Protestant leader and firebrand preacher, served as minister there from 1559 until his death in 1572. As he was buried Regent Morton uttered, “There lies one who neither feared nor flattered any flesh.” His dour, indomitable spirit persists within the grey stone of St Giles: a bronze statue of Knox now stands in the north aisle.


A kingly flower

Among the many chapels of St Giles’ is the Thistle Chapel, built in 1911 to celebrate the Knights of the Most Ancient & Most Noble Order of the Thistle. The Gothic stonework is exquisite, depicting the helms and arms of the 16 knights, along with an angel playing bagpipes.

Nearby Attractions

See all attractions in Edinburgh
The Royal Mile
The picturesque historic thoroughfare of the Old Town of Edinburgh.
Princes Street Gardens
The lovely Princes Street Gardens lie in a valley previously occupied by the North Loch, drained during the construction of the New Town of Edinburgh.
George Heriot's School
An outstanding example of Scots Renaissance architecture, now known worldwide as a mecca for Harry Potter fans.
John Knox House
Rumoured to have been the home of the 16th century Protestant reformer, this historic house tells the story of the Reformation and life in Edinburgh 400 years ago.
Parliament Square
The historic hub of the Old Town of Edinburgh.
Royal Mile Closes
The Closes of the Royal Mile are historic narrow alleyways named after their owners.

Related Tours

Secrets of the Royal Mile: Two Hour Walking Tour
Explore the cobbled alleyways of Royal Mile, uncovering the culture and history of Edinburgh's Old Town along the way.

  • Meander through the iconic Royal Mile
  • Learn about Scottish history at the Palace of Holyrood House 
  • Hear historic tales at landmark locations such as  St Giles CathedralParliament Square and John Knox House
  • Snap pictures of the looming Edinburgh Castle
  • Explore the vibrant markets of the Old Town 
  • Hear about extraordinary characters, including John Knox and Robert Burns 
Old Town Essentials 

On this walking tour of Edinburgh’s main thoroughfare running through Old Town, from Edinburgh Castle to the  beautiful Palace of Holyrood house, you will feel completely immersed in the rich Scottish history that is ever-present amongst the medieval labyrinth of cobblestone alleyways and tenements. Home to the fascinating St Giles Cathedral, Parliament Square and John Knox House, the Royal Mile is a UNESCO World Heritage site full secrets not to be missed.

Whilst exploring Old Town, one cannot help but notice Edinburgh Castle looming over the city. Your expert local guide will tell you about the fascinating history of this enigmatic fortress, including many of the bloody battles that took place here, such as the War of Independence between Scotland and England in the 14th Century, as well as its present day use as headquarters for the Scottish Division.

Vibrant Edinburgh

Along the way, you will have the pleasure of exploring some key historical and beautiful streets of Old Town, including: Castle Hill and Lawnmarket, originally a vibrant market that traded until the 1700s, Cannongate and Grassmarket, Edinburgh's famous closes and wynds, where you will listen to stories of the extraordinary cast of characters  who were proud to call Edinburgh home. 
A Tale of Edinburgh's Two Cities: Full Day Private Highlights Tour
Discover the history and beauty of Edinburgh's cobbled streets as you explore Medieval Old Town and Neoclassical New Town.

On this tour you will:
  • Walk along the iconic Royal Mile. 
  • Explore the interiors of the imposing St Giles Cathedral and Edinburgh Castle. 
  • Discover the artefacts and artwork of the world-famous National Galleries of Scotland and the Museum of Edinburgh.
  • Step inside the historic John Knox House.
  • Admire the Palace of Holyroodhouse and hear about political controversy outside the Scottish Parliament. 
  • Enjoy a lunch at your leisure - ask your guide for recommendations on the best local fare!
  • Enjoy a breathtaking view from Calton Hill. 
  • Venture into the beautiful neoclassical New Town. 
  • Stroll through the beautiful Princes Street Gardens.
Medieval Old Town 

Walking along the Royal Mile, a remarkable street housing Europe's original ‘skyscrapers’, discover a maze of streets and concealed courtyards. Learn about the city’s ‘closes,’ cramped alleyways, and ‘wynds’ and hear about many characters who lived and died here, including Deacon Brodie, town councilman by day and master thief by night, who inspired Robert Louis Stevenson's novel The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Explore the imposing St Giles Cathedral - the cradle of the Scottish Reformation during the 16th century, pay a special visit to the world-famous National Galleries of Scotland, and to the Museum of Edinburgh. Then visit historic 15th century John Knox House, home to an influential church leader of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland. 

A tour of Edinburgh would not be complete without a visit inside  Scotland’s most famous historic attraction: Edinburgh Castle. Here you will learn about the fascinating history of this enigmatic castle, including many of the bloody battles, such as the War of Independence between Scotland and England in the 14th Century. 

Stop to enjoy a lunch at your leisure (price not included). Your guide will be happy to point out the best place whenever you're ready to give your legs a rest and grab a leisurely bite. 

You will have the chance to view the Scottish Parliament, one of the most controversial buildings in Scotland given its construction going 10 times over budget, and to admire the grand Palace of Holyroodhouse, 16th century home of the ill-fated Mary, Queen of Scots. The breathtaking view from Calton Hill will make you fall in love with the Scottish capital forever.

Neoclassical New Town

Venturing into the beautiful neoclassical New Town, built in the 18th Century, enjoy a true marvel of urban planning. As you walk through the main streets and squares of  Edinburgh's New Town, you will find yourself impressed by the lavish 18th century neoclassical and Georgian architecture. Enjoy a leisurely stroll in the beautiful Princes Street Gardens, which lies at the centre of Edinburgh's World Heritage Site. 
Private Walking Tour of Edinburgh's Highlights
On this four hour walking tour of Edinburgh,  you will discover some of the most important historical sites of Scotland, including the world-famous Royal Mile and a medieval labyrinth of cobblestone alleyways and tenements that comprise this UNESCO World Heritage site.

  • Walk through the iconic Royal Mile, discuss the history of Edinburgh's Old Town
  • Hear about many famous characters like Deacon Brodie and John Knox
  • Explore the imposing St Giles Cathedral
  • Learn the art history behind the masterpieces at the National Galleries of Scotland
  • Stand in awe of the stunning exteriors of Edinburgh Castle
  • Take a stroll down the beautiful Princes Street Gardens, passing by  George Heriot’s School
The Medieval Labyrinth of Old Town

You will follow your expert guide into Old Town’s maze of streets and concealed courtyards, where you will learn about the city’s ‘closes’- cramped alleyways, and ‘wynds’ - narrow lanes between houses. Hear about the many characters who lived and died here, including Deacon Brodie, town councilman by day and master thief by night, who inspired Robert Louis Stevenson's novel The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Edinburgh Castle and Beyond

Explore the imposing St Giles Cathedral - the cradle of the Scottish Reformation during the 16th century - and the world-famous National Galleries of Scotland, which houses many stunning paintings from the Old Masters including Da Vinci, Titian, and Rembrandt.

A tour of Edinburgh would not be complete without learning about Scotland’s most famous historic attraction: Edinburgh Castle. Hear about the fascinating history of this enigmatic castle, including  many of the bloody battles that took place here, such as the War of Independence between Scotland and England in the 14th Century. You will also have the opportunity to stroll the beautiful Princes Street Gardens and pass the gorgeous George Heriot’s School built in 1628, and now a mecca for Harry Potter fans around the world, as it is believed to have inspired Hogwarts.
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