The Royal Mile

Edinburgh, Scotland

Contributed by Project for Public Spaces

Leading up to Edinburgh Castle, this mile-long cobblestone road is surrounded by mazes of alleys.

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Why It Works

Because of its attractions and variety of users, the Royal Mile is a true cultural and physical center of the city of Edinburgh. The street is filled with retail stores, pubs, cafes, churches, museums, and historical sites, in addition to homes. Traffic is slow and quite compatible with the abundant pedestrian activity. The numerous side streets have spectacular views and offer opportunities to explore interesting diversions from the main road. The castle yards at the top of the road serve as a destination with frequent events and entertainment activities.

What Makes The Royal Mile a Great Place?

As noted above, this street once constituted the entire city, which has grown around it providing excellent access.

All the buildings along the Royal Mile have great historical interest, both architecturally and as the core of Scottish history. Highlights include: the Castle, St. Giles Cathedral, Canongate Kirk, the Royal Museum of Scotland, Greyfriars Kirk, the Grassmarket, John Knox House, Huntly House and Holyrood House, the Queen's Palace.

What makes the Royal Mile so fascinating is the variety of people who use it for a wide-range of purposes. It is a popular area for tourists and other travelers who are attracted by the multitude of churches, museums and sites of historical interest. However, it is a compelling space for local users as well. The cobblestone road is filled with homes, in addition to the retail stores, cafes, and museums; these residents are the primary users of the small courtyards and squares at the ends of the closes off the Royal Mile. In addition, the Royal Mile is not only a pedestrian space; the street, though closed to parking, is open to vehicular traffic.

History & Background

Until the Georgian construction of the New Town in the 18th century, the Royal Mile was Edinburgh. Everyone in the city lived along the mile and in the adjoining closes. Class distinctions were maintained by living arrangements within the tenements; the gentry and the wealthy lived on the lower floors in gracious appointments, while the lower classes crowded onto the upper floors of the same buildings. Along with the Grassmarket, a farmers market near the Castle, the Royal Mile was the only public space in the city. As such, it hosted all traffic, visiting markets, hangings and public proclamations.

There are actually several different roads that comprise the Royal Mile, all of which are laid out atop the narrow ridge connecting the Castle to the Palace. The different sections of the Mile are the Esplanade, Castle Hill, Lawn Market, Parliament Square, High Street and Canongate.

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