The Royal Mile on a sunny morning.

First level 'Old Edinburgh' tour itinerary

Take your learning into the heart of Edinburgh's Old Town.  Your class will use archive images and maps as they explore Old Edinburgh on this teacher-designed and led tour

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Your First Level Old Edinburgh tour

We've included a list of the places and stories we can look at on this tour.  This list can be adapted for the needs of your own class.  We may also 'chop and change' given the time available for your tour.  If there are things you absolutely wish to look at with your class, please let us know and we will prioritise these.

1 – Welcome and the Greyfriars Bobby story.
Robert will meet your class in front of the grave of Greyfriars Bobby. He’ll welcome the class and introduce himself. We’ll also discuss expected behaviour standards and outline what the tour will involve.
This Edinburgh tour features stories and activities.  Our first story will introduce Greyfriars Bobby – one of the most popular ‘Old Edinburgh’ stories.  But all is maybe not quite what it seems… Robert will introduce different theories about what happened to the faithful wee Skye Terrier and let the class decide on the story they think was most likely.  What a great way to start thinking like historians!

2 – Using the memorials as evidence.
We’ll move down next to some of the most ornated memorials in the Kirkyard.  Robert will let the class look for clues on one of the first memorials in Greyfriars.  Pupils will work with their partners to figure out gravestone ‘fashions’.  

3 – The Flodden Wall as evidence.
Greyfriars has one of the best-preserved sections of the Flodden Wall.  Your class will find out why the wall was built, as well as discover why it wasn’t particularly useful.

4 – Life expectancy in Old Edinburgh.
The final part of our work in Greyfriars will involve the children selecting names from one of the graves in the Covenanters’ Prison.  Robert will then read out the age at death of each of these people.  Will you pick the person who lived the longest? It’s very enlightening.    We can also look at the bodysnatchers’ story if you feel this is of interest to the group.  Robert will make this as age-appropriate as possible.  

6 – Gordon of Rothiemay’s 1647 birds-eye view of Edinburgh and a ‘then and now’ comparison.
Robert will give out the laminated booklets, which we will use to analyse different pieces of evidence throughout the rest of the tour.  Pupils will work in pairs, and each partner will have a separate booklet. We’ll look at Edinburgh’s map in 1647 and use the buildings and cityscape around us to work out where we are on this map.  
Our next evidence work will involve comparing a hundred-year-old photograph of Greyfriars Kirk with what we see today.

8 –  Greyfriars Kirkyard.

The Kirkyard has been a great place to investigate some of Edinburgh’s history, but now we’re out and about in the Old Town. We’ll compare the map to our walk down Candlemaker Row, and then we’ll examine the Grassmarket in 1647 and compare it with the Grassmarket we will see today.

9 – The West Bow.

The West Bow is one of Edinburgh’s most historic Old Town streets. We’ve got part of an archive image which shows the West Bow as it would have looked around two hundred years ago. We’ll compare this to what we can see around us as we move up the West Bow.  This lets us discuss how the West Bow once looked.

10 – The Royal Mile.

After a wee climb, we emerge onto the historic Royal Mile.  The Royal Mile at the Ovir Bow is often a busy area, but we’ll find a space where we can find out about how this area looked to Mary, Queen of Scots.  She was here a few times, and the class will hear a couple of stories about her time in Edinburgh.  We can also compare the location with two pictures that show the Bowhead at different periods in history.

11 – Riddle's Court.

Robert will take you to Riddle’s Court – a great little area. We’ll have a look at the exterior of this building, hopefully also the outside of the inner court.  The outer courtyard is quite secluded and gives the class a chance for a snack and some downtime. We’ve got two stops left on our Edinburgh walking tour – and they are usually our most popular!

12 – The Old Prison.

We do have the option of visiting the site of the Tolbooth Prison. We’ll use images and the gold-coloured bricks (known as ‘setts’) in the ground to retrace the walls of this prison.  If it’s quiet, we can get the class to stand around some of the walls and ‘recreate’ the prison!   Deacon Brodie was hanged here and, if you wish, we can tell a quick story about his execution, or Robert can tell the children about how yukky it was to stay here.

Your First Level Old Edinburgh Activity Tour finishes on the steps of Advocate’s Close.  Everything about this tour is customisable.  We appreciate you may have pupils with SEN and also some with mobility issues.  Where possible, Robert will offer route alternatives – sometimes for individual pupils and their support worker.  If you have stories you want us to cover, let us know.  If you want to trim the tour, we can.  With enough notice, most things are possible.

13 – Too Close for comfort.

We finish our tour by collecting in the laminated sheets and then visiting an Old Town close. We’ll keep walking distance to a minimum by visiting Fisher’s Close. We’ll look at 18th-century living conditions including plumbing (or lack thereof) and the ever-popular ‘guardyloo’ story.  And we have a prop which the kids usually love to see.


Skills recap
On this tour of Edinburgh, your class will use the following artefacts as pieces of historical evidence;
Gravestones in Greyfriars Kirkyard
The Flodden Wall
(Replica) Thumbscrews
We also use these sources from the Historic Edinburgh Tours archive;
Gordon of Rothiemay’s ‘birds-eye view’ of Edinburgh in 1647
Archive images of Greyfriars Kirk
Archive images of the West Bow
Archive images of the Bowhead House
John Kay’s caricature of Deacon William Brodie
Archive image of the Tolbooth Prison
List of resident’s of Advocate’s Close from ‘Directory of Edinburgh in 1742’ by 


Some of the skills used;
Reading a gravestone and making conclusions about the person remembered there.
Comparing archive photos of a building with that building now
Understanding what things impact upon life expectancy and understanding the difference between ‘‘possible’ life expectancy and ‘average’ life expectancy
Comparing an almost 400-year-old map with the city today
Comparing archive images from different periods with the area they see today
Using clues in a historic caricature to make conclusions about the illustrator and of the person illustrated


We know that travel costs can be considerable.  Most of our Edinburgh tours can be made to ‘fit’ around other experiences you may have booked up, giving you two ‘trips’ but only one set of travel costs.  If you’re looking for some ideas, please check out Riddle’s Court, Edinburgh Castle, the Museum on the Mound and the Museum of Scotland.  The Museum of Scotland often has availability for their lunchroom, and you can take a self-led tour there with no cost.  They also have some of the cleanest and safest toilets in the city…

Contact us

Click the 'contact us' button to go to our school tour contact page.  We're usually able to reply within 12 hours.   

Welcome to Greyfriars!
Welcome to Greyfriars!

Your tour starts in Greyfriars Kirkyard.

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Analysing the evidence.
Analysing the evidence.

Using gravestones as historic artefacts.

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Using the activity sheets.
Using the activity sheets.

Your class will use laminated evidence sheets throughout the tour.

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Learning new skills.
Learning new skills.

We can compare the rear of Greyfriars Kirk today, with how it once looked.

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Just about to 'think, pair, share'.
Just about to 'think, pair, share'.

We use partner discussions throughout the tour.

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Looking at memorials to find out the past.
Looking at memorials to find out the past.

We have to do this differently now, but this lets us look at the effects of tourism in the Kirkyard.

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Our Victorian tour resource
Our Victorian tour resource

A laminated sheet from one of our tours (in this case our Victorian Edinburgh tour).

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