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Language: English / Gàidhlig

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Plan your visit

All visits to the Scottish Parliament are free.

You are welcome to visit the building any time it’s open. You do not need to book.

Explore the public areas, take a guided tour ,  watch business  taking place or see what's on . Share your experience with us on Twitter and Instagram .

Opening times

Our current opening times are:

Monday, Friday and Saturday (including public holidays) –

  • 10am to 4:45pm (last entry 4.30pm)

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday –

  • 10am to 6pm (last entry 5:30pm)

These times change during recess .

How to get to Parliament

The Scottish Parliament building is located in the Holyrood area of central Edinburgh at the foot of the Royal Mile, on Horse Wynd, opposite the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

Getting to Holyrood by cycle

The nearest public cycle racks are located next to the Holyrood Lodge house building on Horse Wynd.

Getting to Holyrood by bus

Visitors can use the Lothian Buses service number 35. The nearest stop is outside our building, called Scottish Parliament, and is located on the Royal Mile in the Canongate.

There are also several open top tour buses which make regular stops at the Parliament.

There are a number of other bus routes a short walking distance away. You can find details of all local bus services from Traveline Scotland .

Getting to Holyrood by train

The Parliament building is a 15-minute walk or a short taxi ride from Edinburgh Waverley train station. Information about train services to and from Edinburgh is available from National Rail .

Getting to Holyrood by road

Our postcode is EH99 1SP.

The Parliament sits on boundary of the Edinburgh Low Emission Zone . Please be aware before driving your vehicle here.

The nearest car parks are St John’s Hill or adjacent to Waverley Station, via New Street .

Disabled person's parking

A small number of public parking spaces are reserved for disabled people on Horse Wynd. These parking bays are for visitors to the Holyrood area in general, not just for visitors to the Parliament. These parking bays are owned and managed by the City of Edinburgh Council and can be used by all blue badge holders. There is, therefore, no guarantee that a space will be available. You may wish to contact the City of Edinburgh Council for further information about these spaces.

Parking for people with a disabled person’s parking permit is permitted on single yellow lines and these are available near to the Parliament building.

Pick up and drop off points for visitors with mobility access needs

If you require to be dropped off or collected when visiting the Scottish Parliament you can use the turning circle at Dynamic Earth. It may be possible to use the parking bays on Horse Wynd as a drop off and pick up point, but waiting in the bays is not permitted and the usage of the bays for this purpose is subject to their availability. Please contact the City of Edinburgh Council for further information about these spaces.

Coach drop off and pick ups

Coach drivers must use the turning circle in front of Dynamic Earth on Holyrood Road for drop off and pick up of passengers. Coaches may stop here for up to 15 minutes. This is the only facility for coaches to drop off and pick up passengers.

Coach parking is available at Regent Road. It is a short walk to the Parliament's public entrance from Dynamic Earth. Visitors should turn right as they come out of the turning circle and use the walkway through the landscaped area to reach the public entrance on Horse Wynd.

Low Emission Zone

The  boundary of the Edinburgh Low Emission Zone (LEZ)  includes Canongate, the Dynamic Earth turning circle and the entrance and exit of the Parliament underground car park. It does not include Horse Wynd, Holyrood Gait or Holyrood Road.

If you drive a vehicle which is not compliant into the LEZ you will be subject to a penalty charge. Any penalty charges for using the Low Emission Zone will be a personal matter with any costs met by individuals affected.

If you are travelling on a private hire coach or in a hired car, you should check with your hire company that their vehicle is compliant with the LEZ, and who is responsible for payment if the vehicle is not compliant.

  • Please see the City of Edinburgh Council website for more information: Low Emission Zone (LEZ) – The City of Edinburgh Council
  • You can find out if your vehicle is compliant by visiting the City of Edinburgh Council website: Vehicle Checker (

If you are a Blue Badge holder, your vehicle may already be compliant. If not, you can apply for an exemption through the low emission zone Scotland website: Blue Badges (

There is also information about sustainable travel to the Parliament in our  Sustainable Travel Plan .

As we are a working Parliament, it is necessary to pass through security to enter the building. Usually, this should only take a few minutes (we recommend arriving 20 minutes before the event time - or 1 hour if it's for FMQs).

This short video explains what you can expect on arrival.

( Watch this video with BSL )

Please note that opening hours, guided tours, exhibitions and access to parts of the building may be changed at short notice due to Parliamentary business.

Visitor behaviour policy

Please remember that this is a working parliamentary building and, as such, you are expected to behave as set out in this policy. We reserve the right to remove visitors who breach this policy and apply a period of exclusion from our public galleries and parliamentary business.

For all visits, please:

  • follow all instructions from parliament staff, including any requests to bring ID with you
  • do not leave your bags and personal belongings unattended
  • do not smoke in the building
  • do not eat or drink, except in the restaurants
  • if given one, wear your visitor lanyard and pass at all times. Return it when asked or when leaving
  • collect any items retained by security as you leave
  • note that protests are not allowed inside the building. Banners, flags and political slogans are forbidden

Read our protest policy for more information about demonstrations and protests

Read our privacy notice on preventing business disruption from protest

The Parliament’s Standing Orders  cover public access to parliamentary business. They allow the Presiding Officer to set reasonable conditions, and exclusions if these are not met.

For visits to see parliamentary business, please:

  • enter, sit in and leave the galleries quietly and as requested by parliamentary staff
  • switch all electronic devices off, and secure them as instructed by parliamentary staff
  • do not cause a distraction or disruption to parliamentary business. If there is a disruption in the Chamber, the Presiding Officer can ask visitors to leave
  • note that people who wilfully disrupt may face a period of exclusion from future visits
  • do not applaud or shout out during meetings
  • do not take photos, videos or recordings during meetings
  • obtain prior permission to paint, sketch or draw
  • follow the instructions of parliamentary staff on when and where to sit and to leave. For First Minister’s Questions, this includes remaining seated for the entire session. If you need to leave before the session ends, please speak to the nearest member of Parliament staff

The Scottish Parliament is an accessible building. We offer services and facilities to assist you with your visit. Please see our guide for more details.

Read our accessibility guide here

Lockers and baggage storage is available if you want to leave bags and coats while you explore the building.

We have accessible toilets and a Changing Places toilet with a hoist and changing bench. There's also baby-changing and feeding facilities.

There's a free water fountain in the Main Hall. There's also a Scottish Water Top Up Tap outside the building.

If attending FMQs, all electronic devices should be stored securely. These will be returned after FMQs.

Visitor map

You can pick up a visitor map from the Main Hall when you arrive, or download a digital map ahead of your visit from the list below.

Please note that some of the opening hours printed on these maps are currently inaccurate, while we reintroduce our services in phases. Please always refer to this website page for the most up-to-date opening hours.

We have maps available in the following languages:

British Sign Language (BSL)

English (2MB, pdf) posted 20 June 2022

French (1MB, pdf) posted 20 June 2022

Gaelic (1MB, pdf) posted 20 June 2022

German (1MB, pdf) posted 25 July 2022

Italian (1MB, pdf) posted 20 June 2022

Simplified Chinese (1MB, pdf) posted 20 June 2022

Spanish (1MB, pdf) posted 20 June 2022


Accessibility guide, keep safe initiative.

Keep Safe is a national network of places where people can go if they feel lost, scared or vulnerable when out in the community. All Keep Safe places have been checked and approved by Police Scotland and staff have received Keep Safe awareness training. Free Keep Safe cards are available to anyone who would like one. These cards hold information about your health, communication requirements and emergency contacts. If you are needing support, you can hand your Keep Safe card to an emergency services worker or staff within a Keep Safe place.

The Scottish Parliament is one of over 900 Keep Safe places across Scotland.

keep safe logo

Parliament Café

The Parliament Café is open to all visitors.

Find out more about the café here .

Opening hours 

Monday, Friday and Saturday, including public holidays –

  • 10am to 5pm (last orders 4.45pm)

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, when parliament is sitting –

  • 9am to 6pm (last orders 5.45pm)

Parliament Shop

The shop has a range of Parliament-branded gifts and souvenirs for all ages.

Find out more about the shop here . 

  • 10am to 5pm (last entry 4.30pm)
  • 9am to 6pm (last entry 5.30pm) 

Contact Information

Email: [email protected] Telephone: 0131 348 6350

There is a crèche in the building, available for visitors to use for free.

Crèche staff can provide childcare for children aged 6 weeks to 5 years.

Spaces are available on a drop-in basis or can be pre-booked, up to 9 hours across a week.

It is open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. 

Contact Details

To pre-book a space at the crèche please contact:

0131 348 6192 [email protected]

Find out more details about the crèche here

COVID-19 safety

Face coverings.

The wearing of face coverings is no longer a law in most indoor public settings. But, the Scottish Government continues to recommend them where there's a higher transmission risk. For example, in crowded, busy, congested spaces and areas with poor ventilation.

Thus, we encourage everyone at Holyrood to wear a face covering when moving around indoors. We encourage this in busy and congested areas especially. This is a personal decision, but it's recommended for the safety of the whole parliamentary community and beyond. Signage in the building reflects the government guidance.

Physical Distancing

Changes in the law around face coverings have also affected physical distancing rules. Physical distancing is no longer a law, but rather, encouraged. Please maintain at least 1 metre physical distancing where possible. It's especially important to consider physical distancing:

  • in congested areas like entrances and exits
  • where people queue, like catering outlets and the shop

Distance aware

We recognise and support the  distance aware  scheme.

If you want more information about visiting us, feel free to get in touch.

  • Email: [email protected]
  • Telephone: 0131 348 5000
  • Freephone: 0800 092 7600

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The Scottish Parliament

Visit the award-winning Scottish Parliament building in the heart of the Edinburgh Old Town World Heritage Site. Open Monday to Friday, admission free.

The Scottish Parliament is open to all visitors, Monday - Friday.  Free to visit.  Tours, Shop and Parliament Café.

Visit the home of Scottish democracy - enter the Debating Chamber and see parliament in action (usually Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays) or enjoy a free guided tour of the building (Mondays and Fridays).  During recess dates, tours are usually available Monday - Friday, but visitors should contact us to check before arriving.

  Entry to the Parliament building and Guided Tours is free. Tours last approximately 45 minutes and include aspects of the parliament's architecture and design, how parliament works and some of the art collection.  The Scottish Parliament is usually currently open to visitors Monday to Friday .  If you are short of time, join one of our regular 10 Minute Talks in our Main Hall - a great introduction to the Parliament.  We also host a series of events and visiting exhibitions every year - full details can be found on our website.

During our February recess and over the Christmas period, the building will be closed to the public.  If you are planning to visit around this time it is advisable to contact us to check the dates.  Parliamentary events may mean some services are not available.  We strongly recommend booking in advance for our very popular tours, as these can become fully booked very quickly.

Our Accessibility Gu ide can be found here .  Changing places toilet and hoist and accessible tours available .  Contact Visitor Services for further details.

(The images used on this page are courtesy of The Scottish Parliament - © Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body 2005).  

Transport and Parking

  • On Public Transport Route
  • Taxi rank nearby
  • Public Parking Nearby


  • Hearing Loop
  • Lift or stairlift
  • Large print, braille or audio
  • Ramp to main entrance
  • Wheelchairs or mobility aids provided
  • Level access to all public areas
  • Partially suitable for visitors with limited mobility
  • Suitable for visitors with limited mobility
  • Level access to main entrance
  • Accessible Parking Or Drop-off Point
  • Level access to dining room, cafe or restaurant
  • Tactile route for visitors with visual impairments
  • Level Access
  • Level access from entrance to reception
  • Accessible toilets
  • Access guide

Dietary Options

  • Baby Changing Facilities
  • Public Toilet Facilities
  • Lunch Available
  • Picnic Area
  • Cafe or Restaurant
  • City Centre

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What's Nearby

Accommodation, attractions, food & drink, terms and conditions.

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Advanced Search

  • Business Bulletin
  • Official Report
  • The Chamber
  • Motions, Questions and Answers
  • Research Briefings and Fact Sheets
  • Parliamentary Procedure
  • Recess Dates 2018 and 2019
  • Weekly eBulletin
  • Latest Publications
  • Current MSPs
  • Previous MSPs
  • Ministers & Law Officers
  • Register of Interests
  • Cross-Party Groups
  • Members' Expenses Scheme
  • MSP Salaries and Pensions
  • Election Results
  • Constituency Maps
  • Code of Conduct for MSPs
  • Visiting The Parliament
  • Events and Exhibitions
  • Gaelic service
  • Information resources
  • Environment and Sustainability
  • Calendar of Events
  • How the Parliament Works
  • Explore Parliament
  • Parliament on social media
  • Current Consultations
  • Guide for Committee Witnesses
  • Organising a protest
  • Parliament TV
  • Media Resources
  • Corporate Governance
  • The Parliamentary Service
  • The Presiding Officer
  • The Parliament at home and abroad
  • Data Protection
  • Visit & Learn

How To Find Us

  • What You Can Do
  • Visits & Tours
  • Tickets for Parliament Debates
  • Tickets for Committee Meetings
  • Parliament Café
  • Opening Times
  • Accessibility information for visitors
  • Art Collection
  • Parliament Shop
  • Visitor Code of Conduct

The Scottish Parliament building is located in the Holyrood area of central Edinburgh at the foot of the Royal Mile, on Horse Wynd, opposite the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

The map below shows the location of the Parliament building.  Selecting 'View Larger Map' will open Google Maps which has the option to get directions from your current location to the Parliament.

Getting to Holyrood by bus

Visitors can use the Lothian Buses service numbers 300 (nearest stop Canongate) and 6 (nearest stop Horse Wynd). 

There are a number of other bus routes a short walking distance away. Details of all local bus services can be obtained from Traveline .

Getting to Holyrood by train

The Parliament building is a 15-minute walk from Edinburgh Waverley train station. Information about train services to and from Edinburgh is available from National Rail .

Getting to Holyrood by road

Our postcode is EH99 1SP.

The nearest car parks are St John’s Hill or adjacent to Waverley Station, via New Street.

A small number of public parking spaces are reserved for disabled people on Horse Wynd . Please note that these parking bays are for visitors to the Holyrood area in general, not just for visitors to the Parliament. These parking bays are owned and managed by the City of Edinburgh Council and can be used by all blue badge holders. There is, therefore, no guarantee that a space will be available. You may wish to contact the  City of Edinburgh Council  for further information about these spaces. 

Parking for people with a disabled person’s parking permit is permitted on single yellow lines and these are available near to the Parliament building. 

if you are attending a parliamentary event and require further information about parking arrangements please get in touch with the event organiser

Coach drivers must use the turning circle in front of Our Dynamic Earth on Holyrood Road for drop off and pick up of passengers. Coaches may stop here for up to 15 minutes. This is the only facility for coaches to drop off and pick up passengers. Coach parking is available at Regent Road. It is a short walk to the Parliament's public entrance from Our Dynamic Earth. Visitors should turn right as they come out of the turning circle and use the walkway through the landscaped area to reach the public entrance on Horse Wynd.

Pick up and drop off points for visitors with mobility access needs

If you require to be dropped off or collected when visiting the Scottish Parliament you can use the turning circle at Dynamic Earth. It may be possible to use the parking bays on Horse Wynd as a drop off and pick up point, but waiting in the bays is not permitted and the usage of the bays for this purpose is subject to their availability. These parking bays are owned and managed by the City of Edinburgh Council and can be used by all blue badge holders. There is, therefore, no guarantee that a space will be available You may wish to contact the City of Edinburgh Council for further information about these spaces.

Getting to Holyrood by cycle

The nearest public cycle racks are located next to the Holyrood Lodge house building on Horse Wynd.

Contact Visitor Services

For information about visiting, tours and booking tickets for debates email [email protected]

0131 348 5200 or freephone 0800 092 7600

Transport options

  • Lothian Buses
  • Traveline Scotland
  • National Rail
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Scottish Parliament Building Visitor Guide

Scottish Parliament Building

The Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh’s Old Town is one of the most controversial and fascinating places in the city. The building is located in a prime position in the city centre, opposite Holyrood Palace, where it commands a striking view of Holyrood Park and the Royal Mile. Discover the history of the Scottish Parliament building along with an overview of what it’s like to visit with this complete visitor guide.

scottish parliament building pin

The Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh is home to the Scottish government and is also a fascinating example of modern architecture. Situated at the bottom of The Royal Mile on 4 acres of land, the building is in an unparalleled location for the seat of Scottish politics, with the stunning royal palace of Holyroodhouse directly opposite and the monumental peaks of Holyrood Park just a few minute’s walk away.

Even though it’s a relatively new addition to Edinburgh’s 1,000 years of history, it has one of the most intriguing stories anywhere in the capital.

The Parliament of Scotland has been making legislation for hundreds of years, from the time when the old Scottish Parliament building was located in the chamber of the Court of Session on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. The 1707 Treaty of Union, which combined the parliaments of England and Scotland with a central government based in London, however, interrupted the work of the Scottish Parliament.

This movement of power from Edinburgh to London lasted 290 years until a public referendum in 1997 approved the reinstatement of the Scottish Parliament which, in turn, led to the creation of the new Scottish Parliament building we see today.

Although it’s a working place for the government, visitors are welcome to view the interior on free guided tours that explain how the building is used, its architect, and how the design reflects Scotland’s proud history and its place in the modern world.

Scottish Parliament Building

The Highlights

1: Scottish Parliament building tours are free and allow visitors to see parliamentary business taking place while learning about the history of the building, its design, and how it is used by MPs. It’s also possible to see the interior of the building on a self-guided tour.

2: Visitors can watch live debates in progress from the balcony of the debating chamber. The actual content of the debate may not be of interest to many visitors but it’s worth spending a few minutes to see how debates are run.

3: Aside from the fact that entry and tours are completely free, the location of the Scottish Parliament building means it’s worth adding to every Edinburgh sightseeing itinerary. Within a few minutes walk are Holyrood Palace and Holyrood Park – two of the city’s top attractions.

Visiting Tips

1: Entry to the public can be cancelled at a moment’s notice for security and other concerns, so it’s best to check the Scottish Parliament website for updates before leaving home.

2: Speaking of security, it’s very tight at the Scottish Parliament building so be prepared to be searched and have your belongings checked before entering.

3: The facilities are very good and include a café, a shop, and even a crèche, and there are lots of information booklets to read through in addition to the helpful tour guides. As far as the café is concerned though, the one across the road at Holyrood Palace is a wee bit nicer for tourists.

holyrood parliament

Tourist Information

The Scottish Parliament building is in use daily with more than 1000 permanent staff assisting 129 MSPs, and it’s one of the few places where the public can experience the inner workings of a nation’s government.

Visitors enter via a security gate at the entrance opposite Holyrood Palace, after which they are free to either explore the building or join a free guided tour. The tours are highly recommended as they explain the architecture, art, and history of the building before viewing the main debating chamber, which has a separate gallery seating area for 300 members of the public.

The debating chamber is arguably the highlight of a visit as it’s an amazing space – especially the roof which manages to span 100 feet without requiring a single supporting column – and is a testament to Scotland’s engineering prowess.

However, from the very beginning there was a lot of controversy about the building’s unusual architecture as well as its budget which soared to a ten-fold increase on its original estimate, partly due to the choice of location.

Initially, three sites around Edinburgh were considered, but a last-minute entry from the Scottish and Newcastle brewery eventually won favour with the city council due to its position in the heart of Edinburgh’s UNESCO World Heritage Site .

This location perfectly sums up Scotland, with the natural beauty of Holyrood Park to one side and the historic Holyrood Palace directly opposite, bordered by The Royal Mile which eventually leads to Scotland’s biggest tourist attraction at Edinburgh Castle.

On non-sitting days (usually Monday, Friday, and weekends), visitors can view the main hall, the public galleries of the debating chamber, and the main committee rooms, while guided tours offer access to the floor of the main hall, the garden lobby, and committee rooms.

Scottish Parliament Building

The History of the Scottish Parliament Building

The general public initially approved of the Scottish Parliament building’s location but not its design. The building began with an international competition in 1998 to find a suitable architect, and the Spanish designer Enric Miralles was eventually chosen.

Although many people were in favour of Miralles’ abstract designs, the Scottish Parliament building costs spiralled from an initial estimate of £40 million to a staggering £430 million by the time it was finished in 2004 – three years behind schedule.

Sadly, Miralles died in 2000, so he didn’t live to see his creation opened to the public, but he would no doubt be happy to know that in the first 6 months, over a quarter of a million people visited the Scottish Parliament building, and today it’s one of Edinburgh’s most-visited attractions.

Scottish Parliament Building

Things to Do

Visit the public debates : Watch public debates and committee meetings from the public gallery to get an insight into Scotland’s political procedures. Observe politicians as they discuss and make decisions on the issues affecting Scotland.

Explore the architecture : Marvel at the unique structure of the Scottish Parliament Building. The structure, which Enric Miralles designed, incorporates symbolic depictions of Scotland’s history, people, and landscape.

Join a guided tour : Take a free guided tour to learn about the function and history of the Scottish Parliament. Guided tours provide in-depth information about its role, its day-to-day operations, and the architecture of the building.

Check out the Exhibition : Visit the Parliament’s exhibition to learn more about its history and how politics has helped to shape Scotland into the country it is today. The interactive displays make it an interesting visit for all ages.

Relax in the Parliament Cafe : After exploring the building, relax in the Parliament’s café. It’s a good place to enjoy a cup of coffee before heading back outside to view the nearby Holyrood Park and Holyrood Palace.

Scottish Parliament

Things to Do Nearby

Holyrood Park . Edinburgh EH8 8AZ. 2-minute walk. One of the largest city parks in the world, Holyrood Park covers an area of more than 650 acres. The highest point in the park is Arthur’s Seat which is a long-extinct volcanic plug. Popular areas to visit are Salisbury Crags and Duddingston Loch.

Holyrood Palace . Palace of Holyroodhouse, Canongate The Royal Mile, Edinburgh EH8 8DX. 1-minute walk. Holyrood palace is HM The Queen’s official residence in Scotland. The palace is open to visitors who can explore the royal rooms on a self-guided tour. Tickets include a visit to The Queen’s Gallery and Holyrood Abbey.

Calton Hill . Edinburgh EH7 5AA. 17-minute walk. One of the most popular free attractions in Edinburgh. Calton Hill offers superb views across the city and is home to the recently renovated observatory and restaurant. There are several monuments on Calton Hill including Nelson’s Monument – a tower that can be climbed – and the National Monument of Scotland.

The Royal Mile . 1-minute walk. Historic street in Edinburgh that connects Holyrood Palace to Edinburgh Castle. The Royal Mile is famed for its medieval architecture and narrow closes and wynds. The Royal Mile is home to a wide selection of tourist attractions, shops, restaurants, and cafés.

Dynamic Earth . Holyrood Rd., Edinburgh, EH8 8AS. 4-minute walk. A family-oriented science-themed attraction that aims to educate and entertain visitors with a collection of displays and exhibits. There is a café on-site, a 360-degree cinema, a café, and more.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where is the scottish parliament held.

The Scottish Parliament is held in the Scottish Parliament building in the Holyrood area of Edinburgh, Scotland. Address: Edinburgh, EH99 1SP.

What style is the Scottish Parliament building?

The Scottish Parliament building was designed in the Deconstructivist style. The structure was built using steel, oak, concrete and granite. It was designed to look like it’s growing out of the land and the first drawings took inspiration from a tree branch.

Who designed the Scottish Parliament building?

Enric Miralles, a Catalan architect, was in charge of creating the Scottish Parliament building. The first design was created in 1998, but the building didn’t open until 2004. Enric Miralles died in 2000.

How much did the Scottish Parliament cost?

The original estimate for the construction of the Scottish Parliament building was between £10 million and £40 million. The final cost exceeded the estimate by 10 times at £414 million.

Is the Scottish Parliament free to visit?

There is no entry cost to visit the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh. Visitors must adhere to security checks upon entering after which they can walk around part of the building to see the debating chamber and other areas. There are also free guided tours that can be joined throughout the day.

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Craig Neil is the author, photographer, admin, and pretty much everything else behind Out About Scotland. He lives near Edinburgh and spends his free time exploring Scotland and writing about his experiences. Follow him on Pinterest , Facebook , and YouTube .

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Scottish Parliament

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Discover the modern Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh

Scotland’s devolved parliament.

When visiting the UK, you might be surprised to discover that Scotland has its own parliament in Edinburgh , separate to the British parliament in Westminster.

This is because in 1997, a referendum was held asking the Scots if they wanted a devolved parliament , allowing them autonomy over certain political decisions, and they voted yes!

Useful Information

Mon-Sat 9am-5pm

Scotland used to have its own parliament, until the Act of Union in 1707 merged it with England’s.

The old building is in Parliament Square , off The Royal Mile , and you can still visit the debating chamber inside, but it now houses the Supreme Courts, so a new building was commissioned after the 1997 referendum.

Scottish Parliament building

Modern architecture

If you’re a fan of modern architecture , you will be fascinated by the building, which is actually a complex of connected spaces, whose shapes and forms were inspired by traditional elements of Scotland , but come together to create a contemporary design.

It was designed by architect Enric Miralles, who sadly passed away before he could see his plans completed. It was rather controversial when it was approved , as the modern style doesn’t fit in with the rest of Edinburgh’s Old Town , but it has also won several awards for its design!

It’s also interesting to note that for several years, the new Scottish Parliament held their debates in the General Assembly Room, in New College on the Mound, while waiting for the new building to be completed.

It ended up being finished 3 years late, and cost ten times its initial budget, a grand total of £400 million.

Scottish Parliament building

Visiting the new building

As well as admiring its unusual exterior, you can also go inside the parliament , and visit the main rooms of the building.

The highlight is the debating chamber, which you can see empty on days when there are no sessions, or you can go along to attend a debate yourself , which take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

You can also sign up online for a free guided tour of the building , which covers both the architecture of the building, and the history and work of the Parliament itself , or one of their special interests tours.

The parliament building also hosts cultural events and exhibitions throughout the year - check out their website to book a tour, and for details of upcoming events.

Scottish Parliament building

If you want to know more about Scottish politics and specially if you are an architecture lover, you should pay a visit to Scottish Parliament . On top, you will be able to visit other interesting places around, like the Palace of Holyrood .

You can find the new parliament building the at lower end of the Royal Mile , on the Canongate section, opposite Holyrood Palace and next to Holyrood Park.

Get directions to the Scottish Parliament.

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A-Z of Secret Edinburgh: Parliament Hall

Parliament Hall. Photo by Kim Traynor

Forget the crowds descending on that “modern carbuncle” further down the High Street and visit the original Scottish Parliament building instead – Parliament Hall.

This magnificent 17th-century hall, with original oak hammer-beam roof, is where the original Scottish Parliament met before its dissolution in 1707.

Parliament Hall is now part of the Court of Sessions complex and is used by lawyers and their clients as a meeting place. However, although it’s not widely publicised, Parliament Hall is open (free of charge) to the public.

The scene has not changed in hundreds of years

Parliament Hall is at 11 Parliament Square – there’s a sign outside saying ‘Parliament Hall; Court of Session’. As you enter, you’ll see the reception desk in front of you – Parliament Hall is through the double doors, immediately on your right.

The scene you can see inside has not changed in hundreds of years, as advocates pace up and down discussing their cases. And remember to check out the magnificent stained glass South Window, which dates from 1868 and cost £2,000 which is around £300,000 at today’s prices.

Parliament Hall is now also a Fringe venue.

Parliament Hall, 11 Parliament Square, EH1 1RQ. Open 10am-4pm, Monday-Friday. Admission free.

Description derived from Pocket Edinburgh, 3rd edn., 2014 © Lonely Planet Publications.

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Parliament Square, Edinburgh

An exploration of the painting "The Parliament Close and Public Characters of Edinburgh"

Parliament House

The main building on the left (west) side of the  Painting  is the Parliament House, which at that time was the home of the Scottish Parliament and Law Courts. In its early years the Scottish Parliament had a rather nomadic existence meeting in various locations including Perth, Stirling and Linlithgow.  From 1449 its usual meeting place was in Edinburgh in very unsatisfactory and cramped accommodation in the Old Tolbooth which it shared with the Court of Session.  When the Old Tolbooth was condemned by Queen Mary in 1561, Parliament was rehoused in still inadequate quarters in the New Tolbooth and in the Outer Tolbooth created within St Giles itself. [1]   

By 1632 it became apparent that the New Tolbooth was totally inadequate for its several functions which included accommodating Parliament, the Court of Session and the Privy Council. Charles I requested that the Town Council should provide a better alternative. A Town Council minute dated 13 March 1632 records that:

The lack of convenient and fit rooms within the burgh for keeping of Parliament Session, Council House and other public meetings may procure the same to be abstracted furth of the burgh to the great loss and prejudice of the whole inhabitants. [2]  

This threat compelled the Council to provide a new Parliament House. Raising the necessary funds was to be a constant problem.  The cost of the new building was £11,630 sterling or £127,000 Scots, (about £30 million today) which was borne by subscriptions from the citizens of Edinburgh and a large loan which remained a burden on the City’s finances for many years. This was the source of a great deal of protest from the citizens. Maitland wrote [3] : 

…. this is an affair probably not to be paralleled that a national building for the service of the Kingdom, should be erected at the expense of the Edinburgers without the least assistance from Parliament, for whose use and accommodation it was built.

The building, designed by Sir James Murray, Master of Works to His Majesty, was built during the years 1632-40. The first meeting of the Parliament in the new building was held on 12 August 1639 – just before the final completion. The seating was borrowed from St Giles.

visit edinburgh parliament

The site chosen for the new Parliament House was the west side of St Giles graveyard, which involved the demolition of three houses of the canons of St Giles. It was built over the upper part of the steep slope leading downwards towards the Cowgate. The style, described as Scottish Gothic, was similar to that of St Giles Cathedral. The main building consisted of a long hall measuring 122 by 49 feet (40.1 by 12.8 meters) designed to accommodate Parliament and the Outer House of the Court of Session and an L-shaped extension to the east known as the Treasury which housed the Inner House of the Court of Session on the lower level and the Treasury Chambers and Privy Council above.  

visit edinburgh parliament

The changing role of Parliament Hall

Inevitably, as had happened with the Old and New Tolbooths and with St Giles itself, the functions to which these buildings were put altered from time to time according to the requirements of the age. The original purpose of the building, as its name suggests, was to accommodate the Parliament of Scotland. The first Scottish Parliament to be held there was on 12 th  August 1639 and the last on 28 th  April 1707.  Following the Union of Parliaments in 1707 it was no longer required for this purpose and the Law Courts, which had shared the building since its foundation, became the sole occupants.

The Outer House, which remained as the main occupant of the Hall, contained the courts conducted by the Lords Ordinary, which were concerned with relatively minor issues.  Three such courts could be conducted at the same time in the Hall which was open to the public. The judge sat in one of three niches in the East wall attended by advocates and spectators.  John Gibson Lockhart ( Peter’s Letters vol 2) gives a vivid description of the situation.

Here is a perfect world of eagerness and activity – every face alert, and sharpened into the acutest angles. Some I could see were darting about among the different bars, where pleadings were going forward, like midshipmen in an engagement, furnishing powder to the combatants. They brought their great guns, their advocates to bear upon one judge and sometimes upon another; while each judge might be discovered sitting calmly, like a fine piece of stonework amidst the hiss of bombs and roar of forty pounders.

At one bar there was a “mass of eager, bent-forward, listening admirers, assembled to do honour to some favourite speaker of the day”, already smiling at an expected joke or concentrating on his cunning reasoning.  Meanwhile, at the bar of another judge there is no audience.  There stood “some wearisome proser, to whom nobody listens except from necessity… thumping the bar before him in all the agonies of unpartaken earnestness, his hoarse clamorous voice floating desperately into thin air, ‘like the voice of a man crying in the wilderness whom no man heareth’ ”

This unsatisfactory situation remained until the mid-nineteenth century when new courtrooms were built in the developments taking place in the south side of Parliament Square and the 200 year old custom of holding court hearings in the open Hall was abandoned in 1844.  Thereafter the splendid Hall remains as it is today – a meeting place for lawyers and their clients and a waiting room for those attending the many adjacent courts. It has become an essential attraction for tourists who can absorb some of the history of the building from its architecture and artefacts which include many statues and portraits of distinguished jurists who once functioned there. 

Occasionally the splendid Hall has been used for state occasions such as banquets to welcome visits to Edinburgh by royalty. Thus Charles II was entertained in August 1650 and George IV during his visit on 24 August 1822 when he was regaled with Scottish dishes of hodge-podge, haggis and sheep’s heid.

visit edinburgh parliament

Musical Festivals were held in the Hall in 1815, 1819, and 1824. The Great Fire of 1824 occurred one month after the Festival of that year and was regarded by some as Divine retribution although why that should be so was hard to understand for much of the music performed consisted of religious works such as Handel’s Messiah.

Robert Louis Stevenson described the functioning of the Hall in his day (1878) with reference to aspiring advocates seeking employment: [5]

A pair of swing doors gives admittance to a hall with a curved roof, hung with legal portraits, adorned with legal statuary, lighted by windows of painted glass, and warmed by three vast fires.  This is the  Salle des pas perdus  of the Scottish Bar. Here by ferocious custom, idle youths must promenade from ten till two.  From end to end, singly or in pairs or trios, the gowns and wigs go back and forward… Intelligent men have been walking here daily for ten or twenty years without a rag of business or a shilling of reward.  In process of time, they may perhaps be made sheriff substitute and Fountain of Justice at Lerwick or Tobermory….to do this day by day and year after year, may seem so small a thing to the inexperienced, but those who have made the experiment are of a different way of thinking, and count it the most arduous form of idleness.

In the Inner House which occupied the ground floor of the adjoining building all fifteen judges of the Court of Session sat together to adjudicate on the more important cases. Cockburn described it as:

….being so cased in venerable dirt that it was impossible to say whether it had ever been painted: …A huge fire-place stood behind the Lord President’s chair, with one of the stone jambs cracked, and several of the bars of the large grate broken.  That grate was always at least half full of dust. It probably had never been completely cleared since the institution of the Court in the sixteenth century. …Dismal though this hole was, the old fellows who had been bred there never looked so well anywhere else and deeply did they growl at the spirit of innovation which drove them from their accustomed haunt. [6]

Cockburn also commented on the absurdity of a bench of fifteen judges deliberating on a cause. ‘Each acting independently was tempted to stand up for every particle of his own notion; and a love of victory, display, and refutation was apt to supersede the calm feelings appropriate to the judgment seat.’ [7]  This arrangement was altered in 1808 when the Court of Session was split into two Divisions. 

The Laigh Hall

Because of the steep slope on which the building was erected, a large space existed beneath the floor of the southern part of the Parliament Hall and the Treasury. This useful space, known as the Laigh (low) Hall, was to be put to various uses over the years.  Thus the Laigh Hall served as the store of the National Archive until Register House was opened in 1788 and as the Advocate’s Library until its own splendid building was opened in 1818. Space was also found there for storage of civic furniture such as the gallows, the Maiden [8] , street lamps and the leather buckets and flambeaux used by the firemen. [9]

During the Commonwealth, Cromwell held 32 Scottish prisoners in the Laigh Hall but thirty of them managed to escape by cutting a hole in the ceiling of their cell. Cromwell’s commissioners replaced the judges in the Court of Session from 1650 to 1661

visit edinburgh parliament

Stevenson describes it: [10]  (p56)

As the Parliament House is built upon a slope, although it presents only one story to the north, it measures half-a-dozen at least upon the south; and range after range of vaults extend below the libraries.  Few places are more characteristic of this hilly capital.  You descend one stone stair after another, and wander, by the flicker of a match, in a labyrinth of stone cellars. …. A little farther and you strike upon a room, not empty like the rest, but crowded with  Productions from bygone criminal cases; a grim lumber: lethal weapons, poisoned organs in a jar, a door with a shot hole through the panel behind which a man fell dead. I cannot fancy why they should preserve them. 

The demand for shop space within the cramped confines of the Old Town, coupled with the City’s constant need of revenue, resulted in the northern part of Parliament Hall being partitioned off to provide spaces for shops selling books and hardware and even taverns. Henry Cockburn states that by 1792 the bookstalls had been replaced by jewellers and cutlers. He recalled buying his first pair of skates there [11] .  During public occasions such as banquets and musical festivals the commercial area with its flimsy partitions, could be removed and the Hall opened up in all its glory [12] . The shops were finally removed by 1805 and the law courts remained in sole occupation.

The early illustrations of Parliament Hall, prior to the addition of the new facade in 1824, show that the main entrance to the Hall was on its east wall. Appropriately for the entrance to such an important building, the imposing doorway was framed by carved stones and on the pediment above the door were two statues standing on either side of the city arms.  

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The original entrance to the Parliament Hall with its imposing pediment. (From Wilson D. p99)

The two allegorical statues represented Justice and Mercy .  Justice carries scales in her right hand and Mercy holds a crown against her heart – the seat of pity and compassion. The statues were unceremoniously removed from the wall in 1824 during the refacing of the east wall of the Parliament House. Their subsequent fate and recovery is described in the section on Statues in the Square.  Also removed with the statues was the original pediment stone depicting a crown surmounted by a cross, and bearing the date 1636. This stone has been replaced over a doorway in the new façade of Parliament Hall and is the only external reminder of the original gothic frontage.  The original Royal Coat of Arms which at one time graced the entrance to the Parliament Hall had been removed together with those on Mercat Cross and on the Kings Seat in St Giles by the Commissioners of the Commonwealth Parliament in 1652.

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The statues of Justice and Mercy had been sacrificed in order to allow the new frontage of Parliament House to be built. These alterations which were carried out by the architect Robert Reid during 1807-39 are discussed more fully in the section entitled  The Close becomes the Square .  

visit edinburgh parliament

The modern facade attracted a great deal of criticism. Henry Cockburn in his memorable  Letter to the Lord Provost on the best ways of spoiling the beauty of Edinburgh  wrote:

I doubt if it be forty years since th e Parliament House  stood, venerable in its old gray hue, and with its few, but appropriate, ornaments; – the very type of an ancient legal temple.  What is it now? For the modernising of it, who ever heard the shadow of a decent pretence?…That there were paltry wrecks beside it, which it was impossible to save, was only an additional reason for leaving this entire and well placed historical structure as it was.  It dignified the whole vicinity, and would have earned the greater reverence, as what was near it got newer. [13]

visit edinburgh parliament

The shaded area shows the footprint of the original Parliament House and its relationship with the surrounding legal offices today.

[1]  The Outer Tolbooth was created by partitioning off the west end of the nave of St Giles. In 1563 first Parliament attended by Queen Mary was held in St Giles.

[2]  Cited in  Edinburgh 1329-1929  p5

[3]  Maitland p186

[4]  Find ref

[5]  Stevenson, R L loc sit   p53-4

[6]  Cockburn, H  Memorials  pp101-2

[7]  Ibid pp232-3

[8]  The Maiden was Scotland’s version of the guillotine, used for beheading the better class of wrongdoers such as the Earl of Murray and the Duke of Argyle for whom hanging would be demeaning. 

[9]  Maitland p186 details the uses to which the space under the floor of Parliament Hall was put.  

[10]  Stevenson R L  Picturesque Notes on Edinburgh  p56

[11]   Memorials  p100 

[12]  Cullen p11 records that the Town Council provided an annual celebration in the Hall on 4 June, the birthday of George III.  These became rather rowdy occasions, and it was with relief that they were discontinued in 1812 ‘on account of His Majesty’s disposition.’ 

[13]   Memorials  Appendix p327

Scottish Parliament

  • Top Attractions
  • Monuments and Tourist attractions

Scottish Parliament

The Parliament is situated on the bottom of the Royal Mile , on the land previously owned by the brewing company Scottish and Newcastle. 

Located beside the Palace of Holyroodhouse and built in 2004, the new Scottish Parliament building represents the recovery of the legislative power by the Scots after three centuries of union with the United Kingdom.


The new Scottish Parliament building was opened on 7 September 2004 after over five years of construction. The Parliament was designed by the Spanish architect, Enric Millares who died four years before it was inaugurated.

The creation was criticised for numerous reasons, principally because its final cost was ten times higher than initial estimates . Another aspect which displeased many citizens, media and politicians was the modern design of the building, making it stand out on the Royal Mile.

Visiting the Scottish Parliament

Depending on when you go, it is sometimes possible to get a guided tour of the building or attend Parliament debates from the public gallery of the Debating Chamber.

A guided tour of the Parliament is available from Monday to Saturday in the morning (from 10:30 am to 12 noon) and in the afternoon (2 pm – 3 pm) . During this guided tour, you will visit the Debating Chamber, the dramatic vaults of the Main Hall and other interesting rooms. If you are interested, we recommend booking in advance on the Scottish Parliament official website because tours are subject to availability.

As well as visiting the main rooms of the Parliament, by yourself or with a guide, tourists can also visit the Parliament shop, café and Parliament Exhibition.

If you have enough time

Although the Scottish Parliament building is free and unique, we recommend only visiting this attraction if you have enough time and have seen Edinburgh's top monuments and attractions first. 

Scottish Parliament

Horse Wynd, at the foot of the Royal Mile

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday: 9 am – 6:30 pm Monday, Friday and Saturday: 10 am – 5 pm Monday to Saturday: 10 am – 5 pm (When Parliament is in Recess) Public holidays: 10 am – 5 pm

Buses : Scottish Parliament , 36; Abbeyhill Crescent , 35.

Nearby places

Our Dynamic Earth (178 m) Palace of Holyroodhouse (191 m) Museum of Edinburgh (311 m) The People’s Story Museum (330 m) Calton Hill (585 m)

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At 200 feet (61 meters) tall, the Scott Monument is the largest monument in the world dedicated to a writer.

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Full Suitcase Travel Blog

Visiting Edinburgh for the First Time: 17 Tips & Tricks

By Author Jurga

Posted on Last updated: April 23, 2024

Visiting Edinburgh for the First Time: 17 Tips & Tricks

Traveling to Edinburgh in Scotland for the first time and not sure where to start? Planning a trip to Edinburgh might be overwhelming indeed and especially so if this is your first time in the city!

With its rich, fascinating history, culture, and ancient architecture coupled with its modern arts scene and world-famous festivals, Edinburgh is a city with something for everyone.

But if you’re visiting Edinburgh for the first time, there are so many options that deciding where to stay and what to do can be difficult… When to visit Edinburgh? What are the best places to stay? How to save time and money and still see the best that the city has to offer?

So to help you plan your first trip to Edinburgh, we selected some of the best tips for visiting Edinburgh . This practical guide will help you get the very most from your stay, with advice on getting around the city, how to save money, the best time to visit, and lots more! Take a look!

1. Book in advance

When it comes to visiting Edinburgh, planning is key! This Scottish capital is one of the UK’s most beautiful cities and attracts more than 3 million visitors per year. For a relatively small city, that’s a lot of people!

The result, of course, is crowds – particularly in the summer – and long lines to visit Edinburgh’s main attractions .

For this reason, it’s essential to plan ahead . This includes booking your accommodation, your tickets to attractions, and – if you want to dine at a specific restaurant – even making reservations for dinner. Some of Edinburgh’s best restaurants are highly popular and can be booked for weeks in advance.

Another advantage of booking online ahead of time is that it drastically cuts down on queuing! It’s not uncommon to wait in line for well in excess of an hour to buy tickets for Edinburgh Castle, for example.

TIP: If you feel overwhelmed, join a guided tour (tours include skip-the-line tickets for the castle). And if you don’t feel like joining the masses at Edinburgh Castle, a great alternative is to visit Holyrood Palace instead . Not only is it quieter, but some people even argue that it’s even more interesting, with State apartments, a Throne Room, the Great Gallery, and its beautiful Palace Gardens to explore!

Holyrood Palace – which had connections with Bonnie Prince Charlie and Mary Queen of Scots – is today used by the Queen when she has official engagements in Scotland. The palace is also open to visitors the whole year round.

The Balmoral hotel in Edinburgh

2. Stay close to Waverly

If you want to make the most of your trip to Edinburgh, stay in the city center ! Any accommodation within walking distance of Waverley railway station will be in the heart of the city, with all the main sights and attractions right on your doorstep!

Here are some of the most popular and best-rated centrally-located Edinburgh hotels:

£££££+ The Balmoral – one of the most luxurious 5* hotels in Edinburgh. £££££ The Scotsman – luxury 4* hotel in the Old Town. ££££ Hilton Edinburgh Carlton – a more affordable luxury. £££ Old Waverley Hotel – a very popular 3* hotel. ££+ Fraser Suites Edinburgh – a beautiful mid-budget hotel in the Old Town.

In addition to the major hotels, you will find many B&Bs sprinkled throughout the city. Staying in a bed and breakfast will often give you the opportunity to get to know a local family as well. You’ll find the Scots extremely friendly and more than happy to share information about the city of which they’re so rightly proud.

The best budget hotels are Motel One – Royal and Motel One – Princes .

If you’re on an even lower budget , there are some great options in Edinburgh too. For hostels, try the High Street Hostel or the Castle Rock Hostel .

TIP: Using the map below, you can also compare hotels, apartments, and privately rented accommodations in Edinburgh. Simply insert your travel dates and group size, and you’ll see the best deals for your stay. Check it out!

3. Explore Edinburgh on foot

One of the most wonderful things about visiting Edinburgh – particularly if you only have time for a brief visit – is its small size. It’s easy to explore the nicest areas of the city center on foot.

In fact, walking is absolutely the best way to see the Old Town , with all its little secret courtyards, mysterious staircases, and tiny side streets concealing vintage shops and independent boutiques.

All the main attractions are within walking distance of each other. Only the Botanic Gardens are located outside the main part of the city and the Royal Yacht Britannia. For these places, you could either take a hop-on hop-off bus or rent a bike.

Cycling is a really good option for places that are located a bit further away. In the past, Edinburgh had a convenient cycle-sharing system, but it has now stopped due to vandalism. So if you want to explore the highlights of the city by bike, you can look for a cycle hire or opt for a bike tour .

If you decide to take public transport , be sure to have the correct money for your fare – change will not be given on the bus. Alternatively, pay using a contactless card or smartphone, or buy unlimited adult, child, or family travel tickets using the Transport for Edinburgh bus app . This app also provides a real-time schedule and useful route maps. It’s also a good idea to let your driver know your destination as you board and sit close by, so that you can check if you are close to your stop. Most stops are not announced and it’s very easy to miss your destination!

Good to know: Edinburgh’s traffic is heavy, so it can often take longer to reach a destination by bus or taxi than it would on foot. Not to mention the fact that taxis – and even Ubers – are expensive.

We don’t recommend hiring a car either. Many of the best areas are inaccessible by car and parking is hard to find and expensive. If you hire a car, do it only for the days when you are exploring outside of the city. Remember that they drive on the left in the UK and the majority of cars in Scotland use manual transmission, with the gear shift located on the left.

TIP: For the airport transfer to the city, you can take this convenient (and cheap) bus .

Cobbled street in Edinburgh old town

4. Enjoy Edinburgh’s FREE attractions

Edinburgh has a lot of amazing free attractions. There are some really nice things to do at absolutely no cost whatsoever (although donations are always welcome).

The National Museum of Scotland is not to be missed, with exhibits that celebrate the natural world, art and design, science and technology, world cultures, and Scottish history. It’s one of the musts in Edinburgh!

There are also free guided tours of the Scottish Parliament .

Other free attractions include the Museum of Edinburgh , the Peoples’ Story Museum , the Museum of Childhood , the Writers’ Museum , and the stunning Botanic Gardens and the Princes Street Gardens.

There are many free walking tours available , which give you a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the city from someone who knows it well! We recommend taking a walking tour at the start of your visit. That way you can go back and explore the things that interest you most later on. Although the tours are free, it is customary to tip your guide.

You might also want to take a stroll through some of Edinburgh’s fascinating graveyards ( kirkyards ), where you’ll find interesting monuments and burial sites. These include a statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Old Calton Burial Ground, the grave of Adam Smith in the Canongate Kirkyard, and a memorial for Robert Louis Stevenson in Princes Street Gardens.

Dolly the Sheep at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh

5. Save money with the Royal Edinburgh Ticket

Once you’ve exhausted all the free attractions, another good way to save money is to purchase an Edinburgh Royal Ticket .

This ticket includes top-3 of Edinburgh’s Royal sights (Edinburgh Castle, Royal Yacht Britannia, and Holyroodhouse) and unlimited travel on a hop-on-hop-off bus. It’s valid for 48 hours and – if you are planning on visiting all these attractions – offers really good value.

6. View the city from above

Some of the best views of Edinburgh are those from a higher ground, where you can enjoy a sweeping panorama encompassing both a modern cityscape and a historic skyline.

Some of the most popular spots that offer an excellent vantage point include Calton Hill , the top of the Scott Monument, and the rooftop terrace of the National Museum . Or you can also book a rooftop tour of St Giles Cathedral .

Alternatively, go to the top of the Camera Obscura attraction, where you’ll find telescopes for an even closer view out to the horizon.

If you feel like hiking, the views from Arthur’s Seat are incredible. From here, you can see the Firth of Forth estuary, Edinburgh Castle, and Holyrood Palace. Whilst not overly strenuous, this is a 2-hour hike up the remnants of an extinct volcano and requires a reasonable level of fitness (and plenty of water!). But the reward when you get to the top is definitely worth the effort!

TIP: Edinburgh’s sunsets are gorgeous! If possible, try to get to a high point during the golden hour in order to take some truly stunning photographs.

Calton Hill views of Edinburgh

7. Dress for Edinburgh’s weather!

Edinburgh is a curious place where it’s almost possible to experience all four seasons in one day! The rule of thumb is to expect the unexpected and dress accordingly .

Ideally, you should dress in layers. Sometimes, you may leave your hotel on a sunny morning in just a T-shirt, only to find the temperatures plummeting as soon as the sun disappears an hour later!

And the city is, of course, notorious for its rain which comes down often… and heavily!

Waterproof clothing is a must, but umbrellas aren’t always the best solution. Not only will negotiating Edinburgh’s crowded streets with an umbrella make you unpopular with other pedestrians, but the wind will likely turn it inside out within minutes! On the other hand, when it pours and you have nowhere to hide, it can be a lifesaver!

Make sure you wear comfortable, waterproof footwear. You will be doing lots of exploring on foot and many of the streets and walkways in the Old Town are cobbled. You might even want to consider lightweight walking boots which will give extra support to your ankles when walking on uneven surfaces.

Edinburgh in the rain

8. Visit in May-June or September-early October

Late spring and early fall is a great time to visit Edinburgh. The weather is (generally) relatively warm and it is light until around 9 to 10 pm, giving you extra time to enjoy the sights. I say generally because we once visited in June and it was quite cold and pouring all the time. You just really never know in Edinburgh.

Another good thing about visiting in the shoulder season is that it’s far less busy than in the peak months of July and August. Accommodation is also (usually) more affordable. I say usually because all the affordable hotels were booked when we visited in June (yes, that same cold and wet visit I talked about above :)) and it was practically impossible to find anything decent under £350 for 2 people per night.

Good to know: October can be particularly beautiful, with the striking colors of the autumnal foliage. But do bear in mind that many seasonal businesses and accommodation providers close around the middle of the month.

Edinburgh in May

9. Avoid festival season (unless you want to visit a festival, of course!)

The population of Edinburgh virtually doubles in August, when the Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and Edinburgh Military Tattoo all take place. Celebrating a mixture of music, theatre, comedy, and dance, these events are globally famous and attract visitors from all over the world.

They are also incredibly cool and well worth a visit should you be willing to face the crowds. As an extra bonus, the weather in August should be the best of the year, with pleasant temperatures and (usually) less rain.

However, the streets are packed with people, accommodation is hard to find, restaurant reservations are like gold dust, and the price of EVERYTHING goes up. So unless you plan to attend the festivals or related events, we would strongly recommend avoiding the city center throughout the entire month of August.

You can, however, take advantage of August’s better weather by staying outside the more popular areas. Stockbridge – with its quaint cafes and trendy pubs – is within walking distance of the city center, as is Leith, the vibrant port district with its waterfront seafood bistros. Both are also well connected to the center of Edinburgh by bus.

Another busy time for Edinburgh is Hogmanay – Scotland’s famous celebration of the New Year. It’s one of the world’s largest New Year’s parties in the world. Tens of thousands of people pack the streets to enjoy live music, torch-lit processions, and fireworks. Unless you plan to take part in the festivities, it’s not an ideal time to visit Edinburgh!

Edinburgh Festival Fringe fireworks

10. Try local food

No visit to Scotland would be complete without a taste of its national dish – haggis .

Traditionally made with a mixture of sheep offal (heart, liver, and lungs), onions, spices, oats, and fat – all stuffed into a sheep’s stomach – it is served with ‘neeps and tatties’ (mashed turnips and mashed potatoes). You can find it on menus across the city, although modern-day recipes are rarely traditional (and the sheep’s stomach is often omitted!). Nevertheless, this is a tasty dish and perfect for giving you a warm glow to face the Edinburgh chill!

Other traditional foods to look out for are stovies (a potato dish), black pudding , and Scottish salmon . Cullen skink , a delicious soup made with smoked haddock, potatoes, and onions is also a must-try!

A less well-known Scottish delicacy is the battered sausage – a regular sausage deep-fried in crispy batter! Head over to the City Restaurant on Nicholson Street for the best-battered sausage in town. They also serve excellent fish & chips and you can also try another one of the region’s specialties – deep-fried, battered Mars Bar !

TIP: Save money by dining at pubs rather than restaurants. Many pubs sell exceptionally good food, often providing a more authentic taste of Scottish culture than many restaurants. And at a far lower cost!

If you forget to book a table for dinner, it’s still worth a visit to see if the restaurant can accommodate you. Some restaurants set aside tables specifically for walk-ins (the most notable is Dishoom, the famous Indian restaurant that originated in London) and you may also find some that will take your number and be happy to give you a call when a table becomes free.

READ ALSO: Best Traditional Dishes to Try in the UK

Haggis, neeps and tatties traditional Scottish dish in Edinburgh

11. Try Scotch whisky

Not all Scottish delicacies are the edible kind – the country has two famous drinks too!

The first, of course, is Scotch whisky , for which the country is known across the world. You can learn more about its history and how it’s made at The Scotch Whisky Experience , which also includes a tasting session. Alternatively, try one of Edinburgh’s many pubs on a quiet afternoon and ask for recommendations. Most bartenders are happy to chat with you about their favorite whiskies and share a little of their history!

But there’s another Scottish beverage that you may not be quite as familiar with, and that’s Irn Bru . This carbonated soft drink contains caffeine, sugar, and 32 secret flavors. It was invented at the start of the 20th century as a replacement for beer for Glaswegian Steel Workers.

It was originally called ‘Iron Brew’ and became famous across the UK following an ad campaign that used the slogan ‘Made in Scotland, from girders’. Its name changed to Irn Bru after advertising watchdogs decided it couldn’t be called Iron Brew because it wasn’t actually brewed from iron! Nevertheless, it remains an important part of Scottish culture and is offered to children as an alternative to whisky on tours of distilleries!

TIP: If you are a whisky enthusiast, take a look at this 3-day tour leaving from Edinburgh . My husband did it a few years ago and is still talking about it as one of the best experiences ever.

READ ALSO: Scotland Whisky Tour from Edinburgh

12. Be souvenir savvy!

The most popular area for souvenir shopping is the Royal Mile , which runs from Edinburgh Castle down to Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament. But the shops here are expensive. And whilst you may think you are buying genuine Scottish tartan and locally made arts and crafts, chances are you are actually taking home imported goods, mass-produced for the tourist market.

There are a couple of notable exceptions. Ragamuffin – a store situated on a corner around halfway along the Royal Mile – sells the finest quality Scottish knitwear. It’s the perfect place to buy a lasting memento of your Edinburgh visit. And for fine, authentic Scottish whisky, visit Cadenhead’s Whisky Shop . This is Scotland’s oldest independent bottler and is located just a couple of minutes further along the Royal Mile as you approach the Castle.

Alternatively, break away from the Royal Mile and check out the independent boutiques and galleries at The Arches , which can be accessed from East Market Street. You can also find cheap but high-quality woolen items and kilts at Armstrongs Vintage , a second-hand shop in the Grassmarket.

If you are visiting Edinburgh on a Sunday morning, check out Stockbridge Market . Located next to the bridge over the Water of Leith – just a 20-minute walk from Edinburgh Castle – this market sells a variety of locally made items including jewelry and hand-made soap. It’s open from 10 am to 4 pm.

Cheap souvenirs on Royal Mile in Edinburgh

13. Be smart when exchanging your money

If you need to use an ATM during your stay, opt to be charged in local currency and do not allow the machine to convert the charge to your home currency. This is because it allows the ATM provider or bank to set the exchange rate, pushing up your fees considerably.

Keep this in mind when paying by credit card as well. Every time you pay, you’ll be presented two choices – pay in your currency or in pounds sterling. Always – ALWAYS – choose to pay in pound sterling. This is one of those common – and sadly, legal – scams that can cost you a lot of money. I once lost about 16% in currency exchange at an ATM in London by choosing my own currency. Lesson learned.

Good to know: Scottish banknotes are quite distinctive and feature Scottish heroes such as poet Robert Burns and famous writer Sir Walter Scott. But don’t be surprised to be given English money during your stay in Edinburgh. Scottish and English money may look different, but they all represent the same currency, which is pounds sterling. You can use either note in both England and Scotland.

British pound sterling coins and notes

14. Be prepared for men in skirts (or kilts, to be precise)!

Originating from the plaid cloaks historically worn in highland Scotland, the modern kilt dates back to the 19th century. Also today, the kilt is sometimes worn by Scottish men.

Accompanied by a frilled shirt and pouch called a ‘sporran’ that hangs in front to replace pockets, kilts are thick pleated skirts made of wool. They usually have a tartan pattern, which traditionally represented a particular ‘clan’ or family.

These days, Scottish kilts are mainly worn for special occasions like weddings, or by busking bagpipers near the Castle. But if you’d like to take home an authentic kilt as a very special memento of your stay, head to Gordon Nicolson Kiltmakers near the Royal Mile. They’ll even show you how to wear it properly!

Scottish Bagpiper in a traditional kilt in Edinburgh

15. Explore the areas outside the city

Whilst Edinburgh offers plenty to do, there are also a couple of attractions a short distance from the city that are well worth a visit as well. In addition, there are lots of spectacular places in Scotland that you can visit as a day trip from Edinburgh .

TIP: This highly-rated Loch Ness, Glencoe & the Scottish Highlands Tour is the most popular day tour from Edinburgh and is well worth your time! There are also some really nice multi-day tours that allow you to see more of Scotland without having to plan much.

Just near Edinburgh are the 3 bridges of Firth of Forth : the Forth Road Bridge, The Forth Bridge, and the new Queensferry Crossing. There are various boat cruises that allow you to enjoy magnificent views of Edinburgh and Fife’s coastlines and the iconic bridges.

Alternatively, visit Rosslyn Chapel , just 7 miles south of the city. Founded in 1446, this chapel was made famous by Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code”, which explored its mysteries. The building is filled with strange geometric patterns which many insist are otherworldly – or alien – in design. Bizarre carvings are everywhere, believed to be symbolic in nature and giving rise to various myths and legends.

The building itself is surrounded by gorgeous scenery, making this a great and quirky place to visit away from the bustle of the capital’s center. There are also quite a few tours that visit here .

Gilmerton Cove is another interesting place near Edinburgh. It’s a very unique, 300-year-old subterranean attraction consisting of 7 underground rooms, a well, a fireplace, a blacksmith’s forge, tunnels, and even a chapel. The rooms feature furniture hewn from rocks. And the strange thing is that no one has any idea who created them, or why! Just be sure to check if it’s open because there have been talks about renovating the place.

16. Learn some local words

In addition to the very strong Scottish accent, some of the local terminology may leave you scratching your head!

Here are a few great words to learn when visiting Edinburgh:

  • Haar = the chilly fog that sometimes blankets the city.
  • Scran = food.
  • Loch = lake.
  • Law = hill.
  • Burn = stream.
  • Greet = cry (not say hello!).
  • Kirk = church (which is why you will see kirkyards rather than churchyards throughout the city).
  • Dram = a shot of whisky (or other spirit).

Dram of Scotch whisky

17. Bonus tips

  • If you want to hear the sound of real bagpipes , head to the Royal Mile, particularly the end nearest the Castle. There will invariably be a busker or two in full Scottish dress entertaining the crowds. They are usually happy to pose for photos too (just remember to put a donation in the bucket or hat).
  • Visiting Edinburgh Castle? Get there early and head straight to the Honours of Scotland (the crown jewels) before visiting anything else. They are the most popular part of the Castle and the queues to see them become very long throughout the day.
  • Don’t offend the locals by suggesting that Scotland is part of England – they are two distinct countries. Both are, however, part of the United Kingdom, which also encompasses Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • Looking for a fun night out in true Scottish style? Then find yourself a ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee)! Traditionally a highland Gaelic form of entertainment, a ceilidh is basically an evening of fiddle music, dancing, singing, and storytelling. There are opportunities to experience them all over Edinburgh.
  • Use public free wifi throughout the city, with no restrictions on time. Just look for ‘EdiFreeWifi’ in your available networks and log in using either Facebook or by providing basic details.
  • Whilst many hotels and attractions of Edinburgh are well equipped to accommodate wheelchairs , the cobbled streets, narrow roads, inclines, and winding staircases of the Old Town would make a visit challenging for someone with limited mobility.

Ross Fountain and Edinburgh Castle

So, these are some of the most important practical tips you should know when traveling to Edinburgh for the first time.

T IP: If you are wondering what to see and do in the city or how to plan a short first visit to Edinburgh , take a look at our detailed guides via the links below:

  • What to see: Best things to do in Edinburgh
  • With just 1 day: How to see the best of Edinburgh in one day

More travel inspiration for the UK:

  • Glasgow: One Day in Glasgow
  • Isle of Skye: Isle of Skye Itinerary
  • Liverpool: Best Things to Do in Liverpool & Liverpool Beatles Attractions & Liverpool Day Trip from London
  • Yorkshire: Best Day Trips in Yorkshire
  • Manchester: Best Things to Do in Manchester & Manchester 1-Day Itinerary
  • Cornwall: Best Places to Visit in Cornwall & Where to Stay in Cornwall
  • Blackpool: Best Things to Do in Blackpool & Where to Stay in Blackpool

London travel inspiration:

  • Tips for Visiting London
  • Best Tourist Attractions in London
  • Hidden Gems of London
  • Best Day Trips from London
  • 1 Day in London
  • 2 Days in London
  • Best London Views & Viewpoints
  • Things to Do in Greenwich
  • London with Kids
  • Camden Market

If you found this post useful, don’t forget to bookmark it and share it with your friends. Are you on Pinterest? Pin this image!

Traveling to Edinburgh for the first time - tips and tricks for your visit

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How to spend an eclectic weekend in Edinburgh

F rom the medieval tenements, vennels and wynds of the Old Town to the elegance and grace of the Georgian New Town, Edinburgh thoroughly deserves its reputation as one of the most beautiful and fascinating cities in the world.

Built on a human scale and easily navigated, Edinburgh readily gives up its secrets but has more to offer than just history written in stone. It’s a cosmopolitan city too, with Michelin-starred restaurants, a thriving café culture, vibrant and varied nightlife, great shopping and a strong contemporary arts scene.

Of course, you can’t think of Edinburgh without thinking of the International Festival and Fringe, but it’s not just a summer city. As the days shorten it lights up for Christmas and Hogmanay celebrations, but with festivals – from film to jazz to food and beyond – happening every month of the year, there’s no off season in Edinburgh.

For further Edinburgh inspiration, see our guides to the city's best hotels , restaurants and cafes , nightlife , pubs and bars , shopping , things to do and things to do for free . Plus, for a city notoriously hard to park in, see our guide to the best Edinburgh hotels with parking .

In this guide

How to spend your weekend, insider tips.

When should I visit Amsterdam?

Where to stay in Amsterdam

What to bring home

Essential information: what to know before you go

Get off to a ghoulish start in the Grassmarket, having found the shadow of a gibbet on the paving where public hangings used to take place, before raising your spirits with a visit to Hawico  for the most exquisite cashmere in the city. From there, head up Instagram-ready Victoria Terrace, taking the steps halfway along up to the Lawnmarket for Edinburgh Castle (be sure to book your tickets online in advance on the website ).

By the time you’ve finished at the castle you might want to rest your feet, so head downhill to the elegant Signet Library in Parliament Square for a coffee, making a quick detour into the historic Great Hall at Parliament House, home of the high courts of Scotland. You’ll see barristers in wigs and gowns pacing up and down between the fireplaces (lit in winter), conferring with their clients. Remember to look up at the impressive hammer beam roof; there are some very fine paintings, too.

Move on to St Giles Cathedral across the Square and don’t miss the Thistle Chapel where you’ll find a carved angel playing bagpipes. If you’ve a head for heights, book a rooftop tour.

At this point you’re not far down the Royal Mile, but you will want to take a look at Gladstone’s Land to see how a wealthy Edinburgh merchant’s family lived 500 years ago.

By now you’ll be hungry, so if the day is fine grab a picnic from Mimi’s Little Bakehouse (250 Canongate) and eat it in the delightfully hidden (you’ll have to keep a sharp eye out to spot the entrance) Dunbar’s Close Garden (137 Canongate). If the weather’s disagreeable don’t despair, console yourself with champagne and oysters at The White Horse Oyster and Seafood Bar (266 Canongate).

Finish your tour at the Queen’s residence  Holyrood Palace , not forgetting the Queen’s Gallery, as well as the impressive ruins of Holyrood Abbey. The café does a nice tea and the  Scottish Parliament  is just across the road.

Come late afternoon, work your way back through the Grassmarket to The Timberyard  for an early dinner. An Edinburgh pioneer adopter of Scottish-Nordic cooking, it’s long been one of the most innovative restaurants in the city, sporting a shiny Michelin star to prove it. 

Afterwards, consider catching a production at the  Royal Lyceum Theatre  just around the corner. With a strong reputation for drama – both home-grown and international – it also has a house ghost, said to be of the great Shakespearean actress, Ellen Terry.

If that all sounds a little too staid, return to the Cowgate to The Cabaret Voltaire , a friendly if cacophonous underground warren of techno and dance music.

A more leisurely second day begins at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art  (actually there are two galleries, facing off on either side of Belford Road). Seeing one of the best collections of Surrealists and Dada in the world at the Modern One will change the way you look at the world forever.

The grounds of both galleries are charming (look out for the allotments), but do seek out the gate round the back of the Modern Two leading into the fascinating Dean Cemetery – the epitaphs are both absorbing and amusing and the colours magnificent.

Exit at the opposite end of the cemetery and follow the road down to picturesque Dean Village on the Water of Leith . Follow the pretty riverside pathway past St Bernard’s Well (if you’re lucky, it might be open) to Stockbridge , a city village with a popular Sunday market and a great selection of quirky, independent shops – you can buy anything from the best cheese in the city  to a paraffin lamp.  

Carry on to the Royal Botanic Garden  for lunch in the Gateway Restaurant (ask for a table on the terrace if the sun is shining).

If you aren’t keen on green, wander over to Dundas Street where you will find fine art galleries and eccentric antiques shops, as well as a delicious (and organic) lunch at the  Archipelago Bakery .

Head back to uphill via Moray Place past the New Town’s finest architecture to the National Trust Georgian House , or carry straight on down George Street to St Andrew Square and Harvey Nichols . Then walk 10 minutes further east to climb Calton Hill for the money shot of sunset over the city.

Come evening, grab a taxi for a 10-minute ride to  Leith  where you can choose from glittering Michelin stars:  The Kitchin  or  Martin Wishart ; or, for something that won’t melt your credit card, try  The Ship on the Shore , a long-standing local favourite. Round off the evening at the  Port O’Leith Bar , an old-school boozer with a heart of gold.

Neighbourhood watch

Explore Leith Walk (before it’s too gentrified) for everything from a Hornby train-set shop to street art, carnitas to cocktails.

A  Historic Environment Scotland  pass gives free entry to any of their 78 paid-entry properties around Scotland, including Edinburgh Castle and Craigmillar Castle. 


Need to catch your breath? Take time out from the city centre at Jupiter Artland , an extraordinary sculpture park set in soothing woodlands. Kids will love it, there’s a good café and you can book a swim in a pool that’s an exhibit. No car? The First Bus X23 will drop you a short walk from the gates.

Did you know?

Keep your eyes peeled for the re-purposed police boxes scattered across town providing coffee, crepes, curries, costumes and much more.  

As if parking in Edinburgh weren’t enough of a nightmare, the city centre low emission zone will be enforced from the 1st June 2024. Public transport is good so consider leaving your car in a park and ride  and save yourself a headache (and some money).

Thinking of staying longer than a week? Try the  CoDE Co-living  penthouse with lots of space, a good kitchenette and a roof terrace with a fantastic (and private) view of the Festival and Hogmanay fireworks. 

Edinburgh’s population is said to double in August, while Edinburgh’s Christmas and Hogmanay (New Year) celebrations feel nearly as crowded with Christmas markets, rides and attractions, ice skating, bright lights and the famous fireworks and street party. But really, there is no truly quiet season for Edinburgh. Just remember, you do not come to Edinburgh for the weather, so think like a boy scout and be prepared. Autumn and winter are my favourite times of year; the cold clear light highlighting the austerely beautiful architecture and the shorter days making all those pubs with cosy fires even more appealing.

A bright and breezy spring day is delightful as the blossom rushes out in all the parks and squares and the city seems to sparkle. Summer is always busy in the build-up to the festival frenzy of August, but walking down the Mound in the never-ending twilight of a late summer’s evening is a bit of magic everyone should experience at least once.

Where to stay

Luxury living.

Hidden in lush grounds a short drive from the city centre Prestonfield House is the swankiest, most swoon-some country house hotel imaginable. It's riotously rococo, with bedrooms straight from the pages of bodice-ripping romance plus one of Edinburgh’s favourite restaurants.

Boutique bolthole

There's nothing stuffy about The Roseate Edinburgh , its comely original features tenderly preserved in a design-led transformation to sleek boutique. With stylish bedrooms and a classy bar serving modest food all day, all just a 10-minute bus ride from the city centre, it's a handsome dark horse.

Budget beauty

There is nothing subtle about the buzzing Grassmarket Hotel , old on the outside but fun-central inside. Surrounded by the shops, bars, restaurants and clubs of the Grassmarket, Cowgate and Old Town, its all about imaginative but comfortable fun where you flop – shrinking violets need not apply.

Got an urge to splurge? Consider 21st Century Kilts . Not just national dress, but an achingly stylish bespoke traffic-stopper. Be warned, hearts will flutter. Arrange an appointment in advance.

Don’t leave town without some of Iain Mellis ’ fabulous Scottish cheeses. With three locations in the city you’re never far from a ‘Blue Murder’ (which is what you’re fellow passengers might be thinking about if you’re travelling by public transport).

Know before you go

Essential information.

  • Tourist information:  The VisitScotland website ( ) is a useful source of information on where to stay and what to do while you are in Edinburgh. The main Edinburgh VisitScotland Information Centre is at 249 High Street, EH1 1YJ.
  • Emergency numbers:  Police, Ambulance and Fire – dial 999. To reach the police in a non-emergency situation, e.g. to report a theft, dial 101.
  • Tipping: As a general rule, people do not tip taxi drivers in Edinburgh, although some people will round up to the nearest £1 and occasionally tip 10-15 per cent if a driver has been particularly helpful. Similarly it is not usual to tip bar staff. Some restaurants have a service charge (which will be indicated on the menu); otherwise, 10-15 per cent of the bill is usual. It is also worth remembering that locals almost always thank the driver as they get off the bus.
  • Currency: British sterling – Euros are accepted in some shops and hotels. Banks in Scotland print their own notes, so you will see a bit of variety in the appearance of the currency, but don’t worry, it is all good (although you might occasionally have difficulty spending Scottish banknotes in England). If you need to convert Scottish notes to English, the Royal Bank of Scotland West End office (142/144 Princes Street EH2 4EQ) has a cash machine that dispenses only English banknotes.

Weather: Take a sweater and an umbrella, no matter what it looks like outside the window in the morning.

Somewhere between New Town ladette and Old Town doyenne, Linda has a passion for tunnock’s teacakes and a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde personality, making Edinburgh her perfect city.

Play The Telegraph’s brilliant range of Puzzles - and feel brighter every day. Train your brain and boost your mood with PlusWord, the Mini Crossword, the fearsome Killer Sudoku and even the classic Cryptic Crossword.

A weekend in Edinburgh has more to offer than just history written in stone - Kenny McCartney

The 25th anniversary of the Scottish parliament

The first meeting of the Scottish parliament took place on 12 May 1999. Since then there have been seven first ministers, with John Swinney taking office earlier this week.

visit edinburgh parliament

Scotland reporter @Jenster13

Sunday 12 May 2024 06:10, UK

Scotland's old and new first ministers. Pics: PA

The Scottish parliament is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

The inaugural meeting took place on 12 May 1999, less than a week after Scots went to the polls to vote in the first Holyrood election.

First Minister John Swinney was one of the 129 MSPs elected into the new parliament all those years ago.

Holyrood has had seven first ministers since 1999: Donald Dewar (1999-2000), Henry McLeish (2000-2001), Jack McConnell (2001-2007), Alex Salmond (2007-2014), Nicola Sturgeon (2014-2023), Humza Yousaf (2023-2024) and John Swinney (2024-present).

First Minister John Swinney outside Bute House with his newly appointed cabinet. Pic: Reuters/Lesley Martin

Alison Johnstone MSP, presiding officer of the Scottish parliament, told Sky News that reaching 25 is a "significant milestone" for Holyrood.

She added: "And it's right that we take this opportunity to both reflect on achievements and look forward to the future.

"In its relatively short life, the parliament has become firmly established at the centre of Scottish public life. That is something we should be proud of.

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"The parliament has always sought to stay true to its founding principles of openness, accessibility, sharing power and equal opportunity.

"Recognising that Scotland is a very different place to what it was in 1999, we must continue to evolve and reflect that."

King Charles III with Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament Alison Johnstone during his visit to receive a Motion of Condolence at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh. Picture date: Monday September 12, 2022.

As presiding officer, Ms Johnstone would like to use the anniversary to "continue a conversation with the Scottish people about their hopes for their parliament for the next 25 years".

She added: "I want to see a parliament that remains relevant and responsive and reflects the people it serves.

"I want to see a parliament for all and one in which people's voices are represented.

"We have good foundations on which to build and I look forward to the future with optimism."

The Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood in Edinburgh

Key dates in the Scottish parliament's history:

6 May 1999: The first election to the devolved Scottish parliament is held with Tom McCabe the first member elected. Labour form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, with respective leaders Donald Dewar and Jim Wallace taking up the first minister and deputy first minister positions.

Donald Dewar takes the oath and is sworn in as First Minister and keeper of the Scottish Seal at the Old High Court Building in Edinburgh. * Pull up of 274928-189

12 May 1999: The first meeting of the Scottish parliament is held. Presiding, SNP MSP and party stalwart Winnie Ewing famously pronounces the parliament "reconvened" after the Parliament of Scotland had previously been adjourned and dissolved in 1707 following the ratification of the Treaty of Union between Scotland and England.

1 July 1999: Official opening of the Scottish parliament by Queen Elizabeth II.

13 September 1999: The Mental Health (Public Safety and Appeals) (Scotland) Act becomes the first Scottish parliament bill to receive royal assent. The new act closed a loophole used by convicted killer Noel Ruddie to be released from the State Hospital at Carstairs.

13 January 2000: The very first First Minister's Questions (FMQs). Alex Salmond is the first to put a question to Mr Dewar.

3 May 2000: The first official state visit from overseas by president of Malawi Dr Bakili Muluzi.

11 October 2000: First minister Mr Dewar dies at the age of 63 after suffering a brain haemorrhage following a fall.

8 November 2001: First minister Henry McLeish resigns following a scandal about his expenses.

9 October 2004: Queen Elizabeth II officially opens the new Scottish parliament building, known as Holyrood. Enric Miralles, the Catalan architect who designed the building, died in July 2000 before its completion. Holyrood would go on the following year to win the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Stirling Prize for the UK's best new building.


24 August 2009: A special sitting of the Scottish parliament takes place following the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al Megrahi, who was sent back to Libya on compassionate grounds due to his terminal prostate cancer diagnosis. A full debate on the decision is later held at Holyrood on 2 September 2009. Opposition parties unite to condemn the decision but stop short of enforcing a vote of no confidence in then justice secretary Kenny MacAskill.

18 September 2014: A referendum on Scottish independence is held. With more than two million people voting no (55.3%) and 1.6 million voting yes (44.7%), Mr Salmond later steps down as first minister following the result and is replaced by Nicola Sturgeon .

First Minister Alex Salmond with First Minister-in-waiting Nicola Sturgeon, as he chairs his final cabinet meeting as First Minister at Bute House in Edinburgh, ahead of resigning in a statement to Holyrood later on today.

9 April 2020: FMQs take place virtually for the first time due to the COVID pandemic and lockdown.

16 January 2023: The controversial Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill becomes a constitutional dispute after Westminster takes the unprecedented step of using a Section 35 order to stop it from receiving royal assent and becoming law. The Scottish government has since dropped a legal battle against the decision.

15 February 2023: Ms Sturgeon announces she is stepping down as SNP leader and first minister.

28 March 2023: Humza Yousaf is elected as first minister. He is the youngest to hold the job and the first Muslim leader of a Western nation.

Humza Yousaf speaks during a press conference at Bute House.

29 April 2024: Mr Yousaf announces he is stepping down as SNP leader and first minister amid two votes of no confidence following the ending of the Bute House Agreement with the Scottish Greens.

8 May 2024: John Swinney is legally sworn in as Scotland's seventh first minister.

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• Since the Scottish parliament building opened in 2004, there have been almost 5.5 million visitors passing through its doors - including around 170,000 school pupils.

• Notable visitors to Holyrood have included Queen Elizabeth II, the Dalai Lama, former US president Donald Trump, legendary James Bond star Sir Sean Connery, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

28th August 2003..Sir Sean Connery pictured today receiving a guided tour of the new Scottish Parliament building from the Presiding Officer George Reid...This afternoon's two hour tour began at the bottom of Holyrood Road in the Parliament Building Information Centre. Later, on site, Sir Sean's tour took in views of the Parliament's dramatic glazed public foyer area, the new Debating Chamber, the Committee Rooms and a 5th floor MSP's office...The idea for the tour was suggested to Sir Sean by his friend, film-maker Murray Grigor. Mr Grigor's film on the work and aspiration of Catalan architect, Enric Miralles can be viewed at the new Parliament Information Centre...Photograph-Craig Westwood..(c) Scottish Parliament Media Affairs Office..Tel: 0131 348 5000..PHOTOGRAPH(C)2003 SCOTTISH PARLIAMENTARY CORPORATE BODY.

• The parliament's cafe has sold around 570,700 cups of tea and coffee, and around 123,360 slices of homemade shortbread have been served up via the cafe and hospitality service, including at VIP events.

• To date, 2,019 petitions have been considered by MSPs.

• The youngest petitioner has been Callum Isted, who in 2021 at the age of just seven, called on Holyrood to urge the Scottish government to provide every primary school child in Scotland with a reusable water bottle. The petition is currently under consideration and can still be signed.

• Other petitions over the years have led to a life-prolonging bowel cancer drug being made available on the NHS, as well as the introduction of legislation to allow women affected by painful transvaginal mesh procedures to seek reimbursement for private surgery undertaken to remove the mesh.

• A total of 356 bills have been passed to make new laws or change existing laws - 290 Scottish government bills, 32 members' bills, 22 private bills, 10 committee bills and two emergency bills. A total of 53 bills have fallen or been withdrawn.

The Scottish parliament chamber. Pic: Katielee Arrowsmith/Scottish parliament

Milestone legislation:

• MSPs voted in 2000 to abolish clause 28 of the Local Government Act, the law that banned the promotion of homosexuality in schools.

• In 2002, the Community Care and Health (Scotland) Act introduced free personal care for over-65s, regardless of income or whether they live at home or in residential care. In 2013, Amanda Kopel brought forward a petition to extend the free care to those under 65 after her husband, footballer Frank Kopel, was diagnosed with dementia at the age of 59. Legislation to enable this was passed by the parliament in 2018 and came into force in 2019.

• The Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Act - which was passed in 2005 and came into effect in 2006 - prohibits smoking in virtually all enclosed public places.

• The Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act was passed in 2012, with Scotland in 2018 becoming the first country in the world to ban retailers from selling alcohol below 50p per unit. MSPs recently voted to increase the minimum unit price (MUP) to 65p in a bid to tackle deaths and hospital admissions linked to alcohol harm. The increase will come into force on 30 September.

• In 2014, the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act allowed same-sex couples to marry.

• The Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Act - which was passed in 2019 and came into force in 2020 - protects children from all forms of physical punishment, including smacking.

• In 2020, Scotland became the first country in the world to pass legislation making period products freely available to all. The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Act - which came into force in 2022 - was unanimously backed by MSPs and puts a legal duty on local authorities to ensure that free products are available in their facilities, including schools.

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Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross was at the official opening of the parliament in 1999.

He was a Forres Academy pupil at the time and was one of a group of students from Moray chosen to take part in the procession.

He wore a kilt for the event and walked the route alongside several senior politicians, including then chancellor of the exchequer Gordon Brown.

Mr Ross told Sky News: "We also lined up on The Mound as the late Queen walked in to officially open the parliament.

"I'd never seen a member of the Royal Family before, so it was a real honour to see the Queen and be part of such a special occasion."

Mr Ross noted that although his party didn't support the smoking ban at the time, he stated that legislation like that has made a difference to people's lives.

He said: "It's easy to forget what it was like before this became law, but you would leave a restaurant or pub with your clothes reeking of smoke.

"There have been a few transformative pieces of legislation like that, which have delivered a massive change to our lives."

Mr Ross said winning a bet against rival Ms Sturgeon has been one of his highlights in parliament.

He said: "I don't often gamble, but I was delighted Children's Hospices Across Scotland were the recipients of my successful £100 bet with Nicola Sturgeon on which one of us would step down first as our party leader.

"Since then, I have seen off another first minister, Humza Yousaf, though he was not quite as confident at outlasting me as his predecessor was when she agreed to the wager in 2021."

Mr Ross said it's "hard to believe" Holyrood is now 25.

Thinking ahead to the next 25 years, he said: "As my own children grow up, I want them to see a Scottish parliament that fulfils its potential and uses the extensive powers at its disposal.

"All too often since I have been a member, debates have been dominated by the constitution, rather than the real priorities of Scotland."

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar arrives for First Minster's Questions at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh. Picture date: Thursday May 4, 2023.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar highlighted how devolution was delivered all those years ago by a Labour government.

He told Sky News: "The Labour-led campaign for a Scottish parliament united the country and now two-and-a-half decades on the parliament is at the heart of modern Scottish society.

"In that time the Scottish parliament has delivered many progressive reforms that have modernised Scotland - from same-sex marriage to the smoking ban.

"But after 25 years it is clear that the politicians in power are now holding Holyrood back from fulfilling its true potential.

"For too long, the Scottish parliament has been an economics-free zone - meaning that there is less and less money to support our public services.

"And at the same time, there has been less transparency and more sleaze - damaging the precious link of trust with the Scottish people.

"It falls to Scottish Labour - the party that delivered devolution - to reset and restore devolution to its guiding principles and make it work for Scots."

Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for the Edinburgh Western, who has called for stronger protections for women at abortion clinics, including the ability for local authorities to set up buffer zones. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday June 6, 2019. Power to protect women attending abortion clinics should be given to local councils, the Scottish Government has been told. Under current rules, Scottish councils have to appeal to the Government for permission to restrict anti-abortion protests outside clinics. See PA story SCOTLAND Abortion. Photo credit should read: Tom Eden/PA Wire

Alex Cole-Hamilton, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said he is "proud" to have played a part in the successes delivered by the Scottish parliament.

He told Sky News: "In government, the Scottish Liberal Democrats delivered pioneering legislation like the abolition of upfront tuition fees, the introduction of free personal care and the smoking ban.

"We also legislated for the building of the Borders Railway, gave communities the right to buy land, made dental and eye tests free, introduced free bus passes, and opened up the business of government to proper scrutiny through freedom of information law."

As a youth worker, Mr Cole-Hamilton helped to shape an amendment to Scottish parliamentary legislation that changed the age of leaving care in Scotland from 16 to 21.

He said: "Since I became a parliamentarian in 2016, Scottish Liberal Democrats have secured £120m extra for mental health in budget negotiations, and pushed parliament to declare a mental health emergency.

"We won the argument on the importance of funded childcare and ensured that the SNP eventually delivered a pupil premium, learning from the success of the policy elsewhere in the UK.

"We also successfully forced a government U-turn on their proposals to abolish jury trials during the coronavirus pandemic.

"As party leader I am proud to have been ahead of the curve, raising issues like long COVID, dodgy concrete in the roofs of our schools and hospitals, sewage in rivers and the rise of synthetic opioids long before these became mainstream concerns."

In the future, Mr Cole-Hamilton hopes the Scottish parliament will back colleague Liam McArthur's assisted dying bill.

He also wishes for a government that will take action to "boost local health services" and "recognise the importance of accessible, high-quality care for all, close to home".

Mr Cole-Hamilton added: "I also want to see more devolution within Scotland, with councils given longer-term funding deals and more powers over economic development."

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  1. Visit

    Monday, Friday and Saturday (including public holidays) -. 10am to 5pm (last entry 4.30pm) Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday -. 9am to 6.30pm (last entry 6pm) Please remember to follow our visitor behaviour policy . The Scottish Parliament at Holyrood is the home of Scottish democracy. We are open throughout the year and offer the opportunity ...

  2. Plan your visit

    The Parliament building is a 15-minute walk or a short taxi ride from Edinburgh Waverley train station. Information about train services to and from Edinburgh is available from National Rail. Getting to Holyrood by road. Our postcode is EH99 1SP. The Parliament sits on boundary of the Edinburgh Low Emission Zone. Please be aware before driving ...

  3. The Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh

    The Scottish Parliament is open to all visitors, Monday - Friday. Free to visit. Tours, Shop and Parliament Café. Visit the home of Scottish democracy - enter the Debating Chamber and see parliament in action (usually Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays) or enjoy a free guided tour of the building (Mondays and Fridays).

  4. Visiting The Parliament

    A summary of what you can do when visiting The Scottish Parliament. Find out what there is to do on a particular day of the week or find out about guided tours and watching Parliament in action. Visits & Tours. Discover the Scottish Parliament. Visitors are welcome to explore the public areas of the building 6 days a week or take one of our ...

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  6. How To Find Us

    The Scottish Parliament building is located in the Holyrood area of central Edinburgh at the foot of the Royal Mile, on Horse Wynd, opposite the Palace of Holyroodhouse. ... If you require to be dropped off or collected when visiting the Scottish Parliament you can use the turning circle at Dynamic Earth. It may be possible to use the parking ...

  7. Scottish Parliament Building Visitor Guide

    Discover the history of the Scottish Parliament building along with an overview of what it's like to visit with this complete visitor guide. Address: The Scottish Parliament. Edinburgh. EH99 1SP. Opening Hours: Monday and Friday and public holidays (including Spring bank holiday) -10am to 5pm (last entry 4.30pm).

  8. Scottish Parliament Building Holyrood

    Address: Holyrood, Edinburgh, EH99 1SP. The iconic Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood is home to the Parliament of Scotland. The building opened in 2004 to mixed reactions, due to its high cost and modern architectural design. Politicians make many of Scotland's important decisions here. It is also open to the public as a visitor ...

  9. Parliament House, Edinburgh

    Parliament House (Scottish Gaelic: Taigh na Pàrlamaid), located in the Old Town in Edinburgh, Scotland, is a complex of several buildings housing the Supreme Courts of Scotland.The oldest part of the complex was home to the Parliament of Scotland from 1639 to 1707, and is the world's first purpose-built parliament building.. Located just off the Royal Mile, beside St Giles' Cathedral ...

  10. The modern Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh

    Opening hours: Mon-Sat 9am-5pm. Entry price: Free. Scotland used to have its own parliament, until the Act of Union in 1707 merged it with England's. The old building is in Parliament Square, off The Royal Mile, and you can still visit the debating chamber inside, but it now houses the Supreme Courts, so a new building was commissioned after ...

  11. PDF Information for guests attending events at the Scottish Parliament

    Travelling to the Parliament Train The Parliament building is a 15-minute walk from Edinburgh Waverley train station. You can find information about train services to and from Edinburgh from National Rail or Scotrail. Website: Website: Tel: 03457 48 49 50 Tel: 0344 811 0141 Bus

  12. A-Z of Secret Edinburgh: Parliament Hall

    Forget the crowds descending on that "modern carbuncle" further down the High Street and visit the original Scottish Parliament building instead - Parliament Hall. This magnificent 17th-century hall, with original oak hammer-beam roof, is where the original Scottish Parliament met before its dissolution in 1707.

  13. Visit

    We run a programme of talks and events throughout the year on a range of subjects including Big Ben and how UK Parliament works. Visitors are welcome to watch debates and committee hearings in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The Parliamentary Archives are open again and free to access but you will need to book an appointment.

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  16. Scottish Parliament

    Visiting the Scottish Parliament. Depending on when you go, it is sometimes possible to get a guided tour of the building or attend Parliament debates from the public gallery of the Debating Chamber. A guided tour of the Parliament is available from Monday to Saturday in the morning (from 10:30 am to 12 noon) and in the afternoon (2 pm - 3 pm ...

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    15. Explore the areas outside the city. Whilst Edinburgh offers plenty to do, there are also a couple of attractions a short distance from the city that are well worth a visit as well. In addition, there are lots of spectacular places in Scotland that you can visit as a day trip from Edinburgh.

  18. Scottish Parliament Building in Edinburgh

    This tour covers the great collection of art displayed on the Parliament building walls. Also available is a History Tour: Scotland's Stories at the Scottish Parliament and a Literature Tour - Language and the Land. Tickets for the tours are free but need to be booked in advance. Visitors can also enjoy the Parliament store and the café.

  19. How to spend an eclectic weekend in Edinburgh

    The main Edinburgh VisitScotland Information Centre is at 249 High Street, EH1 1YJ. Emergency numbers: Police, Ambulance and Fire - dial 999. To reach the police in a non-emergency situation, e ...

  20. The 25th anniversary of the Scottish parliament

    The Scottish parliament is celebrating its 25th anniversary. The inaugural meeting took place on 12 May 1999, less than a week after Scots went to the polls to vote in the first Holyrood election.

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