Learn about the Old Town IN the Old Town!

Second 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 Second 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 Greyfriars Bobby 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 Greyfriars.  Robert will let the class look for clues on one stone, and then we can use this knowledge to work out how to ‘bury’ our large laminated LEGO man.  It’s great to see the learners imagining how the bodies look underneath their feet!

3 – The Flodden Wall as evidence.
Greyfriars Kirkyard has one of the best-preserved sections of the Flodden Wall.  Your class will find out why Flodden Wall was built, and then the group will have an opportunity to assess the effectiveness of the Flodden Wall as a defence.

4 – Option – Torture!
This stop is a really popular part of our Edinburgh walking tour, and Robert will make it as appropriate as possible, but you can skip this if you wish.  William Carstares was a spy and ended up in the dungeon of Edinburgh Castle. Carstares was tortured using a device known as ‘the boots’, and we’ll show a picture of this.  He was also tortured using thumbscrews, known in Scotland as ‘thumbikins’ (how cute does that sound?!)  We have our own replica set (!), and we’ll give you some photo opportunities as a couple of children can attempt to ‘torture’ Robert.

5 – Life expectancy in Old Edinburgh.
The last part of the tour 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 Burke and Hare story as well as the stories of the bodysnatchers.  There’s a mortsafe in Greyfriars which is a significant artefact for us to examine.

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 the map of Edinburgh in 1647 and use the buildings around us to work out where we are.  
Our next evidence work will involve comparing a hundred-year-old photograph of Greyfriars Kirk with what we see today.

7. The mystery of Greyfriars Kirk.
We’ve got one last bit of detective work to do before we leave Greyfriars Kirkyard.  The Kirk itself has evolved, and your pupils will get a chance to compare the 1647 map with an archive image and the present day Greyfriars Kirk itself.  We’ll then add one exciting fact into the mix and let the pupils work out what happened to the Kirk – and why.

8 – Greyfriars Kirkyard.

Greyfriars has been a great place to investigate many aspects of Old Edinburgh’s history, but now we’re out and about in the Old Town.  We’ll compare the map to the walk down Candlemaker Row, and then we’ll compare the Grassmarket in 1647 to the Grassmarket we will see today.

9 – The West Bow.

The West Bow is one of Edinburgh’s prettiest Old Town streets.  It is also one of the most historic.  We’ve got part of an archive image which shows the West Bow as it would have looked around two hundred years ago.  The top half of this image shows an area which has completely changed.  Can we trust this image?  We’ll look at the bottom section and compare it to what we can see around us as we move up the West Bow.  This lets us discuss how the West Bow once looked and how we can use partial evidence if it seems to be accurate.

10 – The Royal Mile.

After a wee climb, we emerge onto the 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 – an incredible 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 resume our tour of Edinburgh by 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 will get the class to stand around the southern walls and ‘recreate’ the prison!   Deacon William Brodie was hanged here and, if you wish, we can tell a quick story about his execution.

13 – Too Close for comfort.

We finish our tour by collecting in the laminated sheets and then visiting an Old Town close.  Usually, we use Advocate’s Close as it has a great ‘feel’ to it.  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.

Your Second 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 and miss a few of our suggested stops from the list above, we can.  With enough notice, most things are possible.

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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