The Grassmarket


The Grassmarket, Edinburgh

The history of The Grassmarket

The Grassmarket, set in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, is a place of rich history and its layout retains a historic character. Dating back to medieval times, it has witnessed a great deal of history, including markets, riots, and even public executions. Today, it thrives as a lively area complete with charming shops, restaurants, and a vibrant atmosphere.

Cultural significance

The Grassmarket is culturally significant as a place of bustling commerce and historic events, and its layout reflects its medieval heritage. By the early 20th century, the Grassmarket had become known as ‘Little Italy’ due to an influx of Italian immigrants in the 1880s. The area’s more recent transformation into a hub for dining, entertainment, and shopping mirrors its historic character as a lively market place.

Why is it important to Edinburgh?

The Grassmarket is a popular destination for both locals and visitors. Its central location, with the Castle as its backdrop, makes it a popular starting point for exploring the Old Town. The diverse range of shops, eateries, and pubs contribute to its reputation as a dynamic and inviting neighbourhood.

Key Features

Market Heritage: The Grassmarket’s name reflects its historical role as a bustling marketplace. It was a hub of trade and commerce in medieval Edinburgh, and today, it continues to thrive with an array of shops and vendors.

Castle Views: The Grassmarket provides a stunning vantage point for views of Edinburgh Castle. Its proximity to this iconic landmark adds to the marketplace’s unique charm and appeal.

Cultural Hub: The Grassmarket is a lively centre for cultural activities, with a variety of shops, restaurants, and pubs. It is an excellent hub for exploring the city.

Key events

Marketplace and Public Gatherings (15th — 18th Century)
The Grassmarket was historically a bustling marketplace and a central gathering place in Edinburgh. It hosted markets, fairs, and public events, drawing crowds from all walks of life. It also witnessed political gatherings, public proclamations, and even public punishments, giving it a dynamic and dramatic historical character.

Public Executions (16th — 18th Century)
The Grassmarket gained a sombre reputation as the site of numerous public executions during the 16th to 18th centuries. The gallows stood here, serving as a grim reminder of justice in those times. Many notable figures, including Covenanters, were executed there.

The Grassmarket Riots (1736)
In 1736, the city saw protests and riots in response to the Porteous Riots. Captain John Porteous, responsible for the killing of rioters, was initially sentenced to death but was controversially reprieved. This led to public outrage and subsequent disturbances in the Grassmarket area.

Additional information

The Grassmarket’s origins can be traced back to the medieval period, with records dating as far back as the 14th century.
The Grassmarket has been an important gathering place for over 500 years, overlooked by Edinburgh Castle. Some of the city’s oldest hostelries are located here, and past visitors include Robert Burns, William Wordsworth and Burke and Hare.
The Grassmarket is situated to the south of the Edinburgh Castle esplanade.

↪ Find on Google Maps

You can help protect the UNESCO World Heritage Site by joining Edinburgh World Heritage, by donating to us directly, or by attending one of our events.

For more information about how to support us, please use the links below.

If you would like to know more about the topic above, please contact us directly.