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Edinburgh World Heritage/University Heritage

University Heritage


A guide for visitors to some of the most significant buildings on the University of Edinburgh’s campus. (Image via Wikimedia)

Starting Point: George Square

Number of stops: 9

Distance: 1.8 miles

Explore on map

A city of learning

Since its foundation in 1583 the University of Edinburgh has been strongly linked to the city itself.

The university’s buildings reflect Edinburgh’s historical and architectural importance, and were often at the centre of events in the city’s and Scotland’s history. Old College was designed by Robert Adam and William Playfair, and the David Hume Tower by Sir Robert Matthew is now regarded as one of the key examples of Scottish Modernist architecture.

Listen to the Stories In Stone podcast produced in collaboration with Edinburgh City of Literature Trust:

Teviot Row House

Many famous and distinguished people have also been associated with the University, including scientists Charles Darwin and Joseph Black, authors Sir Walter Scott, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson, and pioneers for women in medicine Sophia Jex-Blake and Elsie Inglis.

The trail helps to guide visitors around some of the most significant buildings on the University of Edinburgh’s campus, explore the city’s unique heritage and discover the hidden history behind its stone facades.

Among the stories in the trail:

  • The inspiration for Sherlock Holmes
  • The unsolved murder of Lord Darnle
  • A memorable wedding day at Old Moray House
  • The Edinburgh student who helped found a new country

Stops along the way

  1. George Square was the first development on the Southside beyond the old city walls, offering an exclusive setting for Edinburgh’s professional classes.
  2. Teviot Row House was the inspiration of the first student council to be founded in the UK.
  3. The McEwan Hall was purpose-built as a venue for grand occasions such as graduation ceremonies, Rectoral addresses, concerts and public events.
  4. The Old Medical School, a grand public quadrangle with an elaborate carved balcony and bell. A private yard entered from the lane behind allowed for the discreet delivery of bodies to the dissection rooms.
  5. Old College. Currently, the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University has an office here. Old College is also home to the Edinburgh Law School and to the Speculative Society, a debating club founded in 1764.
  6. Old High School. In the 1700s the High School was regarded as the city’s best educational establishment.
  7. Old Surgeons’ Hall. In 1869 Sophia Jex-Blake was one of a group of six Edinburgh students to make history: the first women in the UK to officially study medicine at university. Facing opposition, in November 1870 there was even a riot outside Surgeons’ Hall as the women tried to sit their exams.
  8. Old Moray House. Look out for the original stone balcony with elaborate carving, and ‘strapwork’ decoration above the windows.
  9. New College. The twin Gothic towers are a key feature of the Old Town skyline and frame the spire of the former Highland Tolbooth behind on the Royal Mile.


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