Thistle Street

Thistle Street

Thistle Street, Edinburgh

The history of Thistle Street

Thistle Street, tucked away in the heart of Edinburgh’s New Town, was named after Scotland’s national emblem, the thistle, and originally built as affordable homes. However it was not long before shops started opening up, offering luxury goods to the residents of the New Town.

Cultural significance

Thistle Street is culturally significant as a microcosm of Edinburgh’s independent spirit. Its intimate scale and historic architecture provide a unique backdrop for a thriving community of local businesses. The street’s boutique shops, stylish cafes, and artisanal offerings make it a favoured destination for those seeking a taste of Edinburgh’s entrepreneurial and creative energy.

Why is it important to Edinburgh?

Thistle Street is a significant surviving part of the original fabric of Edinburgh’s New Town, one of the most important and best preserved examples of urban planning in Britain. Built in 1767, two pairs of modest semi-detached houses facing one another across a garden in Thistle Court are the oldest buildings in the New Town. 


Key events

Madam Tussaud’s waxworks

In 1803, 28 Thistle Street saw the UK premiere of one the world’s most famous attractions. Madame Tussaud set up her exhibition at number 28, known at the time as Bernard’s Rooms and used for teaching dancing to Edinburgh’s middle-classes. Her ‘Grand European Cabinet of Figures’ included life-sized models of the French royal family, only recently executed, and an Egyptian mummy said to be 3299 years old.

All the King’s Horses

In August 1822 the scene in North East Thistle Street Lane would have caused much excitement in the city, as the royal coach horses arrived to be stabled – proof that the king himself was about to arrive. King George IV’s visit in 1822 was the first by a monarch since the 17th century, and Edinburgh was at a fever pitch of excitement. The first sign that he was on his way was the arrival of the royal coach and horses, under the care of coachman Mr Billings. They were kept here at Smith’s Stables, for easy access to Leith where the king was to land.

Additional information

Thistle Street was planned in 1767 as part of James Craig’s design for the New Town and built between 1790 and 1800.
Thistle Street was built as plain, craft worker dwellings and workshops and has survived with few significant alterations.
Thistle Street is nestled within Edinburgh’s New Town, offering an escape from the bustling main streets.

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