Facts about Edinburgh, Scotland


30 November 2019

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Facts about Edinburgh

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Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland. This beautiful city is full of history and stories which makes it a very interesting place to discover!

Scotland is a land of legends and traditions. There are many interesting facts about Scotland and its capital.

So, are you ready? Let’s discover the most interesting facts about Edinburgh, Scotland.


Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no extra cost for you!


1 – The national animal of Scotland is the Unicorn


When we think of a national animal, we generally expect a real animal. Well, Scotland never quite saw it this way! At the end of the day, who said that it had to be real? Certainly not the Scottish! Which is why they chose the unicorn to be Scotland national animal over 500 years ago.


Back then the unicorn wasn’t exactly as we know it now. No jumping on rainbows or farting glitter for the Scottish unicorn but still, how cool is that?

This fact will give you a good idea of what Scotland is all about.


2 – Edinburgh is formed of two towns: the old and the new town


Edinburgh used to only be what’s now known as the old town. It was founded in 7AD and the inhabitants would stay inside the walls of the town. As a matter of fact, there even was a toll to get in the town. This means that a lot of people never went out. They were born, lived and died within the city walls.

Because of this, it became a very dirty city and health problems started creating a lot of sanitary problems.


In 1706, the Treaty of the Union is signed. The kingdoms of Scotland and England are united to form The United-Kingdom.

This changed a lot of things for Scotland as the merchants started having access to the rest of the British empire. Some people became extremely wealthy and wanted to leave Edinburgh for London so they would get a better quality of life and enjoy their newly acquired money.


In order to keep these wealthy people in Edinburgh, they came up with the idea of creating a new city on the other side of the North Loch (now Princes Street Gardens).

The two towns now form Edinburgh.


3 – Edinburgh New Town design is based on the Union Jack flag


When the idea of creating a new town for the wealthy appeared, The Town Council of Edinburgh, under the leadership of Provost George Drummond, launched a national contest. Architects all around the country were called to submit their design ideas for the new town.

The winning design was based on the Union Flag Jack. This concept was highly symbolic as it was a tribute to the newly formed United Kingdom and the first example of geometrical city design.

The design was eventually a bit modified. The triangles were too awkward to build and very expensive so they were replaced by squares and rectangles.

The creator of this design was actually not an architect but a builder. He submitted his application as an architect by fear of not being taken seriously. Even though his status shouldn’t have allowed him to compete, his sense of rationality enabled him to win!


4 – Edinburgh’s old and new town are classified by the UNESCO


The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage site was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites in 1995. This also means that there are 900 listed buildings in Edinburgh! This is way more than any other UK city, except for London.


5 – Edinburgh’s has the biggest electric blanket in the world (35 km long)


In 1955, a 35km long electric blanket was installed beneath the road surface at the mound. This road goes up-hill and gets frozen during winter. It would have been inaccessible for most vehicles. In order to keep a good and functioning transportation network and infrastructure, they installed an electric blanket beneath the road. This way, the road never freezes!


6 – The Scottish crown jewels were lost for 100 years


The Scottish honours, jewels of the crown of Scotland that were used for the coronation of Queen Mary, were hidden in 1707 for protection. The issue was, they forgot where they hide them. These jewels were lost for over 100 years until Walter Scot, in 1818, discovered them in Edinburgh Castle.


7 – Edinburgh had one of the first concentration camps in the world.


Located in the Greyfriars Kirkyard, the Covenanters Prison was what is now recognised as one of the first concentration camps in the world. This makes the Greyfriars Kirkyard one of the most haunted places in the world.


8 – Edinburgh is one of the most haunted cities in the world


As previously said, Edinburgh didn’t use to be the nicest city in the world. A lot of murders took place in Edinburgh and are today the subject of many ghosts stories. The most famous of them is the Bloody MacKenzie.


9 – Edinburgh is the birthplace of Harry Potter


Although JK Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, is English, she wrote most of the books in Edinburgh. She lived in Porto for a while with her abusive now ex-husband and moved to Edinburgh with her daughter, Jessica, after leaving him. Her sister was living in Edinburgh at the time which was making it the best place to come and simply heal.

Even though she got the idea for Harry Potter on a train from Manchester to London, it’s in Edinburgh that the story took shape. She was extremely influenced by the things she saw in Edinburgh. The streets, the city set up, schools, graveyards, the folklore…

She wrote the first Harry Potter books in cafes such as The Elephant House and finished the last book, over 10 years later, in Balmoral hotel, just above Waverley Station.


10 – The construction of the new parliament building went 10 times over budget


The initial estimates for the cost of the construction of the new Scottish parliament building were between £10 and £40 millions. They ended up spending £414 million.


11 – Prince’s street gardens used to be the dirtiest sewers in Europe named the North Loch


Back in the days, there was a “lake” instead of Princes Street Gardens. It was named the North Loch and was the dirtiest sewer in Europe.

Located downhill from the old town, everything coming from the city would go straight there. Because the old town of Edinburgh is on top of the hill, the people would use the natural element to get rid of their waste (including toilets waste).They would just throw it out in the street and wait for the rain and gravity to take it away down to the North Loch.

This added to the fact that at this time, the witch hunt was going at a spanking pace. A lot of bodies were thrown into the loch. This created a lot of hygiene issues and diseases would spread very quickly. The smell by the North Loch was so bad it would have some hallucinogenic properties!


12 – Edinburgh castle is still a running military building


Due to its ideal location on the height of the city, Edinburgh Castle has always been a military base for the scottish and later on british army. It is still the case today which is why there is the Union Jack flying on top of the castle and not the scottish flag.


13 – The real-life Diagon Alley is in Edinburgh: Victoria Street


Several streets in Edinburgh, London and Porto claim being the inspiration for Diagon Alley however Victoria Street is the closest in my opinion. It’s full of tiny, quirky and colourful shops. There even is a joke shop at the bottom!

Very similar! If you are a fan of Harry Potter, you have to check it out!


14 – Arthur’s seat is a dormant volcano


Yes! There are volcanoes in Scotland and Arthur’s seat is one of them. It is 350 million years old and extinct. No need to worry, it won’t erupt anymore!


15 – The new town is over 200 years old


When we hear the name New Town we expect something more recent that it actually is. However, Edinburgh New Town was built in the 18th century, shortly after the unification of the kingdoms of England and Scotland.


16 – Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland but not the most populous city in Scotland


In 1437, Edinburgh replace Scot as the capital of Scotland. It’s been the capital ever since however it is not the biggest city in Scotland. Glasgow is way bigger and counts almost 200,000 people more!


17 – Bell, who invented the telephone, was from Edinburgh


Alexander Graham Bell is known for inventing and patenting the first telephone was born in Edinburgh. You can see the plaque on the house he was born in in Edinburgh New Town.


18 – Maxwell was from Edinburgh


James Clerk Maxwell was a brilliant scientist that made major contributions to physics and mathematics. He conceptualised the world as we know it. He was also one of the two people Albert Einstein had a photograph of in his office, the second person being Isaac Newton. He also invented the first durable coloured photo. He was born in Edinburgh.


19 – Edinburgh voted massively against Brexit


In 2016, British people were asked to vote on a referendum now known as the Brexit referendum to state if they wanted to stay or leave the European Union. The final result across the whole United Kingdom was very tight (48% wanted to stay, 52% wanted to leave). In Scotland, that wasn’t the case. They were 62% voting to stay. In Edinburgh, 74.4% wanted to stay.

Today, this raises again the matter of the Scottish independence. In 2015, Scotland were granted the right to a referendum stating their wish to be independent from the UK or not. They voted to stay within the United-Kingdom.

At the time, there were 3 main reasons for that:

– The National Scottish party was not clear on the currency matter

– Public expenditure

– Scotland wanted to stay in the EU and independency meant going on a waiting list to join again. Westminster parliament back then made very clear that the only way Scotland could stay in the EU was to conserve their current membership with the UK.

Well, so much for that!


20 – Over 300 “witches” died in Edinburgh


From the 16th to the 18th century, Scotland got completely obsessed with witches. One of the worst witch hunt in history happened in Scotland. They were hunted down and over 300 people died. Mainly women but also men.

Here were some of the criteria that meant you were a witch: having red hair, having a birthmark, being left-handed… Needless to say, a lot of people would correspond to this.

People suspected to be a witch would then be tight up in the shape of a cross (left hand with right foot, left foot with right hand) and thrown into the North Loch. If they would sink that meant they were innocent. However, unfortunately nobody would go to rescue them so they would drown. If they would float, even for a few seconds, they were considered as a witch and picked up to be burned on public place.

You can still see the exact place where all these “witches” died: Castlehill.


We hope you enjoyed these facts about Edinburgh!


You may also be interested in:


Things to do in Edinburgh

The best things to do in Edinburgh in winter
Harry Potter places in the world
Harry Potter in London
Harry Potter gifts for travellers


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20 fun facts about Edinburgh Scotland

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Hi! I’m Pauline, a French expat in the UK!


I’ve lived in several countries and travelled around Australia for a year!


Now I’m sharing all my travel tips and cultural facts with you!