toggle menu

Edinburgh World Heritage/Jacob’s Ladder

The ancient wynds and pathways of Edinburgh are an important part of our rich cultural heritage

Adam Wilkinson - Edinburgh World Heritage Director

Jacob’s Ladder

Jacob's Ladder

A historic route through the city, this project aimed to improve the physical appearance of the pathway and preserve it for future generations by removing graffiti, repairing historic rubble walls and adding new signage and interpretation.

Jacob's Ladder

Restoring a historic route

Edinburgh’s Jacob’s Ladder is a steep pedestrian pathway and steps, carved into the volcanic rock of Calton Hill.

It is an important, historic and atmospheric pedestrian route linking the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh. It provides a useful shortcut between Calton Road and Regent Road, giving access to Waterloo Place, Calton Hill, St Andrew’s House and the old Royal High School. By 2018, the route had become neglected, overgrown and covered in graffiti. It was also completely unlit. These issues were making people wary of using the route, and footfall was decreasing.

Supported by the New Waverley Community Fund, Jacob’s Ladder was a partnership project between Edinburgh World Heritage (funded partly by Historic Environment Scotland) and the City of Edinburgh Council.

What is Jacob’s Ladder?

The story of ‘Jacob’s dream’ and a stairway to heaven appears in various sacred texts and works of art, perhaps most notably by William Blake (1757–1827) and the façade of Bath Abbey. There are a number of steep pathways known as ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ in countries throughout the world, including Australia, New Zealand and the island of St Helena.

Edinburgh’s Jacob’s Ladder first appears on a map in 1784, though it probably existed long before then, and its route appears to have changed over the years. Originally, it led all the way to the Old Calton Burial Ground and was used as a funeral processional route. It was altered to accommodate the creation of Regent Road, and the building of the Old Bridewell Jail (now demolished) in 1791. The construction of the railway line in the mid-1800s led to further changes.

The project

Image (c) Tom Duffin

Supported by the New Waverley Community Fund, Jacob’s Ladder was a partnership project between Edinburgh World Heritage (funded partly by Historic Environment Scotland) and the City of Edinburgh Council. It improved the physical appearance of the pathway, and preserved it for future generations by carrying out extensive repair and conservation work, including:

  • Removing vegetation and plant roots
  • Cleaning graffiti from walls and adding an anti-graffiti coating
  • Rebuilding and repointing of rubble walls with lime mortar
  • Renovating the tarmac footpath
  • Minor repairs to steps
  • Installing new bulkhead lighting and stainless steel LED handrail
  • Repairing and repainting cast iron metalwork
  • Installing new interpretation board and signage

Sensitively designed lighting of the route was included for the first time, making it use-able outside daylight hours. The growing residential community in the area was able to benefit from the resulting increased sense of safety and security. Better connectivity within the area also encouraged greater footfall generally, thereby reducing anti-social behaviour.

The project was also used to provide a valuable training opportunity for apprentice stonemasons from St Mary’s Cathedral Workshop.


Everything you need to know about Edinburgh’s newly-refurbished ‘stairway to heaven – Edinburgh Evening News.

Historic Jacob’s Ladder set to reopen in Edinburgh today after major improvements – Edinburgh Live

Edinburgh’s Jacob’s Ladder to be reborn after £150,000 makeover – The Scotsman

“The restoration of this historic pedestrian route has made it a much more attractive and accessible path for those enjoying the city by foot. I would encourage anyone able to manage the 140 stairs to go and check out the spectacular views and hidden stories from the past that make this such a great short cut down to the Old Town from Regent Road. This project is a great example of the preservation work carried out by Edinburgh World Heritage and I’m really pleased that we chose to support the restoration through the New Waverley Community Fund.”

Councillor Neil Gardiner

Planning Convener, Councillor for Pentland Hills

Historic Jacob’s Ladder re-opens

Reconnecting the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh

Jacob's Ladder re-opened on 26th February 2019 - read our full statement on the works carried out


Sign up to our newsletter

Get the latest updates on our work in the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage site, plus news, events and exclusive offers.