Edinburgh is home to hundreds of historic church buildings. And here, we have everything from the magnificent St Giles Cathedral to the intimate St Margaret’s Chapel. Today, some remain as working churches, and others are now event venues.
St Giles Cathedral
High Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1RE
St Giles Cathedral is a prominent Gothic building on the Royal Mile, about half way between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It’s a working church, also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh. And it’s also a concert and events venue and important Edinburgh landmark. The present building dates from the late 14th century and the church restored it in the 19th century. There is a Crown Spire on top of the tower, a collection of stained glass windows and almost two hundred memorials, which honour soldiers and distinguished Scots. Volunteer guides are on duty each day to welcome visitors, answer questions and conduct guided tours on request. They request a voluntary donation of £3 per person on admission.
1 Greyfriars, Edinburgh, EH1 2QQ
The Kirk at Greyfriars is a parish church, concert venue and important heritage site. It was made famous by the story of Greyfriars Bobby. The church have built and rebuilt the Kirk many times since it first opened in 1620 and it has played a prominent role in Edinburgh’s history. Visitors can learn all about it inside the small museum and they can see many notable artefacts. These include an oil painting of Greyfriars Bobby by John MacLeod and a rare original copy of the 1638 National Covenant. There is also a gift shop open to the public, Monday to Saturday, during the summer months. You can enter for free and the church accepts donations. Many legendary Edinburgh residents are buried in the surrounding Kirkyard. In fact, many believe the area is haunted.
153 Canongate, Edinburgh, EH8 8BN
The Kirk of the Canongate dates from 1691. It’s the parish church of Edinburgh Castle, the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the Scottish Parliament. The Kirk has a Dutch-style end gable and a small doric-columned portico over the entrance and the unusual post-reformation interior is in the shape of a roman cross. The church has renovated it several times. Most recently in 1991, when they converted it into a modern, light and airy space. They installed a new Frobenius pipe organ in 1998. This was the 1000th organ built by the Frobenius company. Guests can visit the Kirk between May and September each year and can access information in several languages. The churchyard is the burial place of many notable locals, including David Rizzio, the murdered private secretary of Mary, Queen of Scots.
St Mary’s Cathedral
Palmerston Place, Edinburgh, EH12 5AW
The Cathedral Church of St Mary is the largest cathedral in Scotland and a prime example of Victorian Gothic architecture. It’s located in the West End of the New Town and dates from 1879. The designers took inspiration from the architecture of early Gothic churches and abbeys of Scotland. You can see the 5000 ton central tower and spire and the twin western spires from miles away. And inside, you’ll discover a window designed by Eduardo Paolozzi, the Rood Cross created as part of the National War Memorial and the stunning central High Alter. Also, the cathedral’s internationally renowned Choir sings the daily services.
Castlehill, Edinburgh, Lothian, EH1 2NE
This spectacular Edinburgh landmark was the General Assembly Hall for the church, dating from 1845. It’s located on the Royal Mile, just below the castle. Notably, its gothic spire is the highest point in central Edinburgh. Although the church stopped using it in the 1980s, renovators restored the interior in the late 20th century. They combined the traditional Victorian features with bold contemporary elements and created The Hub. The Edinburgh International Festival now use it as their central ticket office, and as a venue for concerts and events. Also, there is a cafe inside, open all year round.
St Margaret’s Chapel
Edinburgh Castle, Castlehill, Edinburgh, EH1 2NG
The ancient St Margaret’s Chapel is the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh. A very simple rectangular building with an apsed sanctuary and a nave separated by a decorative chancel arch. It’s part of Edinburgh Castle and dates from the early 12th century. Robert the Bruce ordered most of the original castle buildings to be destroyed in 1314, but they spared the tiny chapel. Over the years, castle residents neglected it, but restorers transformed it in various stages during the 19th and 20th centuries. And today you can visit the chapel as part of the Edinburgh Castle tour. But please note, there is an entry fee for the tour.