Grassmarket & Victoria Street
An intriguing web of historic streets
The Grassmarket and Victoria Streets are only two of the interesting streets that form the Old Town of Edinburgh. The area is tucked away behind Edinburgh Castle and this historic maze is, unfortunately, often missed by tourists.
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The area once knew decay and poverty as the New Town was built on the other side of Princes Street but today it's the most colourful and fashionable part of the Old Town.
The buildings in this historic square were built in order to accommodate the weekly market, an important focal point in Edinburgh Old Town for nearly 500 years. The architecture of the Grassmarket is a most unusual mix with styles ranging from the 17th to the 21st century.
Old Town buildings have been restored and turned into self-catering flats, fashionable pubs and specialist shops while new buildings such as the Apex Hotel have been built to breath new life into the area.
Famous Grassmarket stories
The area was also site for regular hangings, with many of the stories still being told on tours of the Old Town today. One of the most famous stories linked to the Grassmarket is the public hanging of the Captain of the Town Guards by an angry mob.
During the public hanging of Andrew Wilson, a smuggler who had become something of a folk hero, John Porteous had ordered his men to fire their muskets to drive back the mob who would reach for the body. Six people were killed and a further 20 injured.
John Porteous had been found guilty of the events that took place in the Grassmarket but his execution was cancelled by royal order. The people of Edinburgh, enraged, sought to do their own justice. A mob of 4,000 people broke in the Tolbooth on the Royal Mile where the captain was snatched out of, dragged to the Grassmarket and then brutally hanged.
Another story linked to the this area of Edinburgh Old Town is that of Maggie Dickson, who was unsuccessfully hanged and literally rose from the dead while being carted for burial. A pub is now named after her in the Grassmarket.
A plaque in the Grassmarket also commemorates the 17th century hangings of more than 100 Covenanters, many of whom are buried just a few yards south, in Greyfriars Kirkyard.
The Grassmarket has retained its medieval feel but managed to shed its associations to horrific events of the past and has become one of the best places to eat and drink in Edinburgh Old Town.
The north side of the market is lined up with colourful pubs, beautifully decorated with flowers and outdoor eateries and cafes, while the south side features hotels and shops.
Victoria Street was built in the 18th century as an access route to the Royal Mile and the Old Town from the west of Edinburgh. It is in a shape of a steep Z connecting the Grassmarket to George IV bridge. The colourful shops on Victoria Street form one of the most distinguishable facades in Edinburgh.
Above Victoria Street there's Victoria Terrace with a lovely mix of pubs and open-air cafes from where the Royal Mile can be accessed via a series of steps leading into the Upper Bow. Victoria Terrace is so picturesque as a backdrop that BBC Scotland uses it regularly for interviews.
Shops in the Grassmarket and Victoria Street
The shops in the Grassmarket and Victoria Street have a wide range of goods and simply going in the many boutiques in the area gives you the sense of being in the medieval part of Edinburgh. You can find second hand bookshops, jewelry, antiques, vintage clothing, costumes, specialist cheeses, Latin-American goods, brushes and many other types of handcrafted goods.
Visiting the Grassmarket and Victoria Street
Victoria Street is quite a steep street though that ads greatly to its charm. The best way to walk through this part of Edinburgh Old Town is to take a left turn from the Royal Mile onto George IV bridge and then walk down Victoria Street and into the Grassmarket.
After walking around the Grassmarket and nearby streets you have the choice of going up Castle Wynd which climbs Castlehill and takes you to the Esplanade or walk along King Stable's Road and enter Princes Street Gardens from the west.