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Blog 10 things you didn’t know about Edinburgh
Date: 18 October 2019

10 things you didn’t know about Edinburgh


As a city that dates back as far as 8500 BC, Edinburgh is one of the most mysterious places in Europe. Its dark, medieval walls hold many secrets, and there’s plenty to discover in the way of myths, legends and fun facts.

Here we give you our round-up of things you probably didn’t know about Edinburgh, so you can surprise your friends and family next time you visit ‘Auld Reekie’.

Tip: Book your flights to Edinburgh with Norwegian and earn bonny CashPoints, which can be redeemed against your next trip!

1. Edinburgh’s landscape was formed by a glacier

Grass-covered cliffs and the city of Edinburgh in the background
The Salisbury Crags take the shape of what was once a glacier

As you can imagine, the charming city of Edinburgh looked very different 400 million years ago, although it owes much of its beauty to the most recent Ice Age.

Many of its famous landmarks, such as Castle Rock, Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags were formed thanks to the miles of moving ice sheets that shaped them. Isn’t nature amazing?

2. Edinburgh Zoo is home to the world’s only knighted penguin

Nils Olav the penguin inspecting the Kingsguard
You might catch a glimpse of Sir Olav the penguin at Edinburgh Zoo. Photo: © Julia Kvalvik – Norwegian Armed Forces

Brigadier Sir Nils Olav III is a king penguin. He lives in Edinburgh Zoo, and he’s the official mascot of the Norwegian King’s Guard.

Knighted in 2008, Sir Olav takes his job very seriously, inspecting the Guardsmen whenever they’re in the city. Every few years, he even gets a promotion.

If you’re lucky, you might catch Nils Olav at the aptly-named area, ‘Penguins Rock’, which includes the largest outdoor penguin pool in Europe.

3. It’s the birthplace of Scrooge

Painting of Ebenezer Scrooge
Ebenezer Scrooge was born from a simple misreading of an Edinburgh headstone. Photo: Loren Javier – Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Whilst on a visit to Edinburgh, Charles Dickens took a stroll through Canongate Kirkyard, where he stumbled upon the grave of ‘Ebenezer Scroggie – Mealman’. Dickens mistakenly read the gravestone as ‘Ebenezer Scrooge – Meanman’. 

The author’s imagination led him to stew over how this man had deserved such a title in death, and a legend was born in Dickens’s famous novella, ‘A Christmas Carol’.

4. The Balmoral Hotel clock is always three minutes fast

The Balmoral Hotel clock lit up at night
Got the time? Don’t rely on the Balmoral clock! Photo: Brian McNeil – Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

The Balmoral Hotel clock on Princes Street is one of Edinburgh’s most recognisable landmarks, but it hasn’t displayed the correct time since 1902.

That year it was set three minutes fast so commuters wouldn’t miss their trains from nearby Waverley station. And it’s stayed that way ever since.

The only time the clock is set to the correct time is on Hogmanay (31 December).

5. You can kick back on the beach

People on the beach at Portobello Beach in Edinburgh
If the weather’s warm enough, hit Portobello Beach. Photo: M J Richardson / CC BY-SA 2.0

Edinburgh may not be an obvious beach destination, but a short bus journey east of the city centre will take you to the golden sands of Portobello Beach.

On a blazing hot summer’s day (yes, we know they’re rare), Portobello is a fantastic place to soak up the rays, enjoy an ice cream or sip a coffee in one of the cafés on the promenade.

6. Edinburgh is the greenest city in the UK

Person looks out over Edinburgh from a cliff in Holyrood Park.
Take in some spectacular views at Holyrood Park, one of Edinburgh’s many green spaces

Want to get back to nature? You can get lost in it in Edinburgh. There are more trees per resident in Edinburgh than in any other UK city. And 50% of the city is designated ‘green space’, with more than 130 public parks and Natural Heritage Sites to enjoy.

7. You can spit on the street (in the right context)

The Heart Of Midlothian mosaic made from stones
Gross or lucky? Spitting on this heart-shaped mosaic is common. Photo: Kim Traynor – Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

A heart-shaped mosaic on the pavement of the Royal Mile marks the site of Old Tolbooth prison, where public executions were once carried out. The locals used to spit on prisoners as they were led from the prison entrance to the gallows to show their disgust.

The habit has stuck, but nowadays, people spit on The Heart Of Midlothian to bring them good luck.

8. The Royal Mile isn’t a mile as we know it

Edinburgh Castle against a blue sky with houses in the foreground
Edinburgh Castle stands at one end of the Royal Mile

The Royal Mile is Edinburgh’s most famous street. It connects Edinburgh Castle (in the west) with the Palace of Holyroodhouse (to the east).

But it’s not a mile long as we know it. Measuring one mile and 107 yards, it’s what’s known as a ‘Scots mile’. Och aye!

9. The city adopted a dog

Bronze statue of Greyfriars Bobby
Bobby’s bronze statue stands by the main entrance to Greyfriars Kirkyard. Photo: Rock drum – Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Greyfriars Bobby tells the story of Edinburgh watchman, John Gray, who would take his Skye Terrier, Bobby, with him on his nightly rounds.

After his death in 1858, Gray was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard. Legend has it that Bobby sat by his grave until his own death in 1872. During those 14 years of loyalty, the Edinburgh community rallied around to feed and care for him.

10. The Grassmarket is one of Edinburgh’s most haunted places

Street in Grassmarket with bare trees in the foreground and Edinburgh Castle in the background
Visit the Grassmarket have a drink at the White Hart Inn, two of Edinburgh’s most haunted places. Photo: Jennifer Romero / CC BY-SA 2.0

Everyone thinks that the Edinburgh vaults is one of the city’s spookiest places – perhaps one of the most haunted places in Europe – but few remember that the Grassmarket has had its fair share of spooky tales surrounding it, too.

Throughout history, every medieval town had a square in which executions would take place. In Edinburgh this was the Grassmarket. Hundreds of criminals were hung here in front of a gawping audience.

The innocent souls that were wrongly put to death are said to haunt the area.

If you’re brave enough, have a drink at the White Hart Inn, Grassmarket’s most haunted pub. It’s also a great spot to try some traditional Scottish grub. The ‘Haggis, Neeps & Tatties’ here are exquisite.

Essential experiences in Edinburgh

There’s no shortage of amazing things to discover in the Scottish capital. Here are a few to add to your itinerary:

Harry Potter guided walking tour

Two women walk by the front of The Elephant House coffee house
J.K. Rowling is said to have sat in the back room of The Elephant House overlooking Edinburgh Castle in her early days of creating the Harry Potter novels. Photo: Richard Penn – Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Edinburgh has a deep connection with the wizarding world of Harry Potter. If you’re a fan, this two-hour guided walking tour will show you the sites that inspired J.K. Rowling’s best-selling books.

History of whisky with tasting and storytelling tour

Scotch whisky being poured from a bottle into a glass
Enjoy a dram of Scotch whisky on your trip to Edinburgh

The smell of Scotch whisky permeates the air as you wander the streets of Edinburgh. It would be rude not to have a dram or two while you’re in the city!

Enjoy four classic single malt Scotch whiskies while listening to some traditional tales on this two-hour whisky and folklore tour.

The Royal Yacht Britannia ticket & audio guide

The bow of the Royal Yacht Britannia as seen from the docks
Step aboard the Queen’s former floating residence. Photo: Graham Hogg – Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Royal Yacht Britannia is a must-see. Pre-book your tour ticket and follow in the footsteps of royalty as you step aboard the Queen’s former floating residence. Explore the ship’s five decks, including the State Apartments and the Crew’s Quarters.

Reward Tip: Book any of these tours (or any other Edinburgh activities) through Norwegian Reward and earn CashPoints.

Enjoy Edinburgh

The crags of Edinburgh against a blue sky with the city in the foreground
Edinburgh is a charming city to explore

So there you have it! Edinburgh is full of surprises.

It’s also an exciting city with plenty to discover for yourself. Get your Scottish adventure off to a flying start with Norwegian and earn CashPoints towards your next trip!

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