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More than just a castle

Edinburgh is a melting pot of historical sites, architectural styles, and cultural influences. From the medieval Old Town – home to Edinburgh Castle, St Giles Cathedral, John Knox House and hundreds of other Edinburgh landmarks – to the avenues of the Neo-Classical New Town, almost every stage of architectural history is represented within our city.

We’ve picked 10 of our favourite facts about our city’s buildings, all of which you can walk to within 20 minutes from the Central Campus.  Click on the map below to locate each site within the city.

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1. Calton Hill

While not a building in its own right Calton Hill is home to Edinburgh’s most famous non-building. The Scottish National Monument was intended to be a replica of the Parthenon but unfortunately funding ran out before it was completed, leaving an odd row of columns on the peak of the hill.

2. Edinburgh Castle

Although most of the castle you see today dates from the 16th century, archaeologists have found evidence of habitation on the site of Edinburgh Castle as far back as the 2nd century AD.

3. McEwan Hall

Usually home to University of Edinburgh graduation ceremonies, McEwan Hall’s huge dome dominates the skyline in the south of the city centre. The building’s elegance is at odds with its history, with the building donated by William McEwan using profits from his brewery!

4. Waldorf Astoria – The Caledonian

The Caledonian’s striking red sandstone façade is a defining feature of the West End of Princes Street. However, did you know it used to be a railway hotel? Princes Street Station closed in 1965, with the tracks replaced by major new road route into the city.

5. John Knox house

One of the most recognisable buildings on the Royal Mile is John Knox House, named after the Protestant reformer. However, there’s no evidence that Knox actually lived in the building, a rumour popularised long after his death.

6. Scottish Parliament

Although the design – and massive budget overspend – of the Scottish Parliament building caused much controversy during its construction, the building went on to win the Stirling Prize for architecture in 2005, a year after it was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II.

7. National Museum of Scotland

On Chambers Street, a bridge can be seen linking the National Museum to the University’s Old College. This was created as many of the original Museum exhibits were provided by the University. However, as students regularly ‘borrowed’ the exhibits, the bridge was permanently closed in the late 19th century.

8. Old College

While it was included in the original design, the famous dome of Old College was only added in 1887, around 60 years after the rest of the building was completed. It was left off to reduce the cost of this ambitious building.

9. Waverley Railway Station

If you travel Edinburgh via train, you will likely arrive into a unique train station. Waverley is the only railway station in the world named after a book: Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley, which also gave the name to the rest of his Waverley series.

10. Holyrood Palace

While she often visits Balmoral, the Queen’s official residence in Scotland is actually Holyrood Palace. The Royal Standard can be seen flying from the Palace if a member of the Royal Family is in residence.


Want to learn more about the architectural history of Edinburgh and wider Europe? Art and Architecture through the Ages: Edinburgh and Beyond will introduce the evolution of western architecture using explorations throughout the city.

If you’re interested in the more practical aspects of Architecture, our two studio based courses of Architecture and Urban Design 1 (3 weeks) and Architecture and Urban Design 2 (5 weeks) give you the opportunity to build on your own experience and strengthen your portfolio for your architectural career.