Travel | Posted 13 Aug 2013

Edinburgh is one of the UK's most beautiful historical cities, home to countless stunning buildings and wonderful attractions to explore. It should come as no surprise that the best way to get around here is on foot.

We're going to give you a suggested walking tour between just three of Edinburgh's beautiful churches. The route we're recommending also leads you past several of the city's other top attractions, so take your time and enjoy this journey of discovery.

Starting point: St Mary's Cathedral

Palmerston Place

St Mary's Cathedral is one of the iconic sights on Edinburgh's skyline, with its three spires making it easy to find. This has the honour of being the largest ecclesiastical building in Scotland and it's a spectacular example of Victorian architecture.

Take some time to admire the spires towering above you and its impressive facade before venturing inside. There are a few features to look out for in the cathedral, including the Lorimer Rood Cross (a national war memorial created in 1922) that hangs above the Nave Altar and the Paolozzi Window - a beautiful stained glass piece based around the Ascension that was designed by Sir Edward Paolozzi.

It's worth noting that the cathedral opens its doors at 07:30 every day, so if you want to get an early start on your walking tour you won't have to skip the treasures inside.

Next stop: Greyfriars Tolbooth and Highland Kirk

Greyfriars Place
Walking time without stops: approximately 30 minutes (1.2 miles)

From St Mary's Cathedral, head south-east down Palmerston Place and cross over the A8, following Torpichen Street. Continue on the road as it curves south and merges into Morrison Street. Keep walking along this road, you'll pass an Odeon Cinema on your right just before you cross the A700 and find yourself on Bread Street.

Continue straight on and take a slight left on to West Port. This street leads you to Grassmarket, an excellent place to have a break before you move on to Greyfriars Tolbooth and Highland Kirk.

Grassmarket is a charming old market area that's now home to a range of independent stores, quaint cafes and outstanding restaurants. There are several great pubs here, too, with some - such as The Last Drop and Maggie Dickson - boasting names that allude to the square's history as a place for public executions.

Aside from the shopping, food and drink, another reason to pause in Grassmarket is for the wonderful views of Edinburgh Castle, which is clearly visible above the buildings to the north of the square. If you want to get a closer look at the castle, detour just before you enter Grassmarket - take a left on to King Stables Road, you can always retrace your steps to get back to the main route.

Once you've finished exploring Grassmarket, make your way on to Cowgatehead. You'll reach a roundabout very shortly and you need to bear right on to Candlemaker Row. There are several restaurants along this street - including the aptly-named Greyfriars Bobby Bar - at the bottom of the road, turn right on to Greyfriars.

Greyfriars Tolbooth and Highland Kirk

Greyfriars Tolbooth and Highland Kirk has the distinction of being the first church to be constructed in the city following the Reformation, with the current building dating from 1620. In addition to the church, there's also a museum detailing the site's history.

In the museum you can learn about worship at the Kirk throughout the centuries and see a number of important artefacts, including an original copy of the National Covenant, which was signed in 1638.

You can also learn about the story of Greyfriars Bobby, a dog who waited faithfully by his master's grave for years. There's even a statue erected in his honour opposite the gates of the church.

The Kirk and museum are only open to the public between April and October, from 10:30 to 16:30 Monday to Friday and from 11:00 to 14:00 on Saturdays. One of the great things about visiting this site, though, is the volunteers who are more than happy to take you on a tour and regale you with stories of its past.

Next stop: St Giles' Cathedral

High Street
Walking time without stops: approximately five minutes (0.3 miles)

It's a nice, short walk from Greyfriars Tolbooth and Highland Kirk to the final stop on our walking tour - St Giles' Cathedral. Wander back up Greyfriars to Candlemaker Row and follow it to its end, where it meets George IV Bridge.

Turn left on to this street and follow it straight along - unless you fancy another detour. Just after you turn on to George IV Bridge, you'll reach the National Museum of Scotland on the right-hand side of the road.

There is a lot to see in this museum, with its extensive exhibits spread over 36 galleries. The temporary exhibitions regularly change so check what will be on when you're travelling to Edinburgh in case there's anything that particularly appeals to you. Among the permanent displays are artefacts relating to Scottish history (six galleries are dedicated to this subject) and a series of exhibits about the natural world.

Once you've had your fill of the museum's astounding collections, walk to the end of George IV Bridge and turn right on to High Street. Just over halfway down this road you'll find St Giles' Cathedral on the right.

Final stop: St Giles' Cathedral

St Giles' Cathedral was founded in the 1120s and although little of this original structure remains, what you can see is a wonderful example of 15th century Gothic architecture. Its crown spire is its most noticeable external feature, while inside you'll discover beautiful stained-glass windows and vaulted ceilings. There are also several ornate tombs within the cathedral for important historical figures, such as James Graham, Marquess of Montrose and Archibald Campbell, Marquess of Argyll.

The cathedral is open all year round, although it does close early in the winter months (at 17:00 between October and April, as opposed to 19:00 between May and September). Entry is free, but a small donation of £3 is suggested.



Jurys Inn Edinburgh

Jurys Inn Edinburgh is roughly a 25 min walk along Princes St. to the starting point at St. Mary's Cathederal, when you've finished the tour at St. Giles' Cathederal it's a short 8 min walk back to our hotel in Edinburgh.

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