Fun and Fascinating Edinburgh Facts

10 Interesting Facts About Edinburgh

Our city has a long and fascinating history, and today we have a few interesting facts about Edinburgh for you. Some of which you might not have heard before!

1. Good Auld Edinburgh

The root of Edinburgh’s nickname, ‘Auld Reekie’, is mistakenly believed to refer to the smell coming from the open sewers in medieval times. It is, in fact, loosely translated to ‘Old Smoky’ in Scots. It refers to a time way back when Edinburgh was covered in a haze of smoke coming from the many chimneys throughout the city.

Rooftops of the buildings in Edinburgh's Old Town

2. Where There Is Smoke, There Is Fire

With so many people living in close quarters, one swift fire could spell disaster. Finding a solution to a highly flammable city became a burning issue. And so, in 1824, Edinburgh became the first city in the world to have its own fire brigade.

3. Damned If You Do, Damned if You Don’t

A favourite pastime of many tourists visiting our city, is spending a sunny day in Princes Street Gardens in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle. But this beautiful haven in the heart of Edinburgh once used to be the Nor Loch – a pungent cess-pool full of the city’s waste. It was also the site of hundreds of witch trials. Women suspected of witchcraft were thrown into the belly of the loch. If they swam, they were confirmed witches and executed accordingly. If they drowned, they were presumed innocent, but ultimately met the same fate.

Sunny day at Princes Street Gardens

4. Serving The People On Hands And Knees

Like all old cities, interesting facts about Edinburgh history can be found around just about every corner. Like the 16th century nickname given to the Scottish Parliament. Members of Scotland’s “Creeping Parliament” used to crawl on their hands and knees when attending Parliament. This was in order to avoid gunfire from their enemies on Castle Rock.

5. Mound Over Matter

Edinburgh’s popular Mound is in fact not a mound at all. Unlike Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill, The Mound is an artificial hill that was created in the 1780s using earth from the foundation of Princes Street. Connecting Edinburgh’s New and Old Town, the (fake) Mound is home to some of Edinburgh’s most famous buildings.

The Mound sign on railings in Edinburgh

6. What A Shame

Atop Calton Hill stands an unfinished monument, nick-named Edinburgh’s “Shame”, “Folly” or “Disgrace”. But today, Edinburgh’s National Monument is one of the best-loved Edinburgh attractions. Modelled on the Parthenon in Athens, money ran out mid-construction and the monument was never completed. Despite its bleak history, today it is the site of a number of festivals and a trip up Calton Hill is one of our favourite things to do in Edinburgh. With many monuments to see and spectacular views of the city.

The National Monument on Calton Hill

7. Endless History For Miles Around

The Royal Mile is a famous cobbled street in Edinburgh that connects Edinburgh Castle with the Palace of Holyroodhouse – the official residence of the Queen when visiting Scotland. While it is not exactly a mile long by today’s standards, it was given its name because it was exactly one Old Scots mile long.

The Royal Mile at night with shoppers on the street in Edinburgh

8. Location, Location, Location

One of the most surprising things when visiting Edinburgh is the shear number of buildings around. That’s because Edinburgh has more listed buildings than anywhere else in the world.

9. A Trip To Grassmarket Was A Matter Of Life Or Death

The Grassmarket area in Edinburgh’s Old Town has long been at the centre of trade and commerce. Once one of the main horse and cattle markets in town, today it is a bustling centre of historic attractions, charming pubs and ancient closes. But in addition to being a thriving marketplace, the Grassmarket used to be one of the main sites for public executions. Which is why it comes as no surprise that it also happens to be one of the most haunted parts of the city today.

The Grassmarket in Edinburgh with its rows of shops

10. The Grave Truth Behind Ebenezer Scrooge And Lord Voldemort

For centuries Edinburgh has inspired many literary greats. And one of the most interesting facts about Edinburgh is that our graveyards have given birth to some of the best-loved literary villains of all time. The old bah humbug Christmas-hating Scrooge we all love to hate was in fact inspired by a tombstone of an old corn trader in Canongate Kirkyard – Ebenezer Scroggie. Dickens was mortified by the cold-hearted inscription of “Mealman”, which he mistakenly read as “Meanman”, and so a literary legend was mistakenly born. Similarly, Potter fans flock to Greyfriars Kirkyard in search of Tom Riddle’s grave. Having written much of the first Harry Potter book in a nearby café, the names of more than one of J.K. Rowling’s famous characters can be found in the graveyard.

The gates into Greyfriars Churchyard in Edinburgh

So there you have it. 10 interesting facts about Edinburgh. If you enjoyed finding out more about our favourite city, you may also enjoy these strange facts about Edinburgh and fun facts about Edinburgh Castle.