Tucked into a sort of hollow below Edinburgh’s normal ground level is the Grassmarket, a bohemian area and marketplace that’s home to quaint restaurants, vintage shops, independently owned businesses and bustling pubs. The Grassmarket is situated in the centre of Old Town directly below Edinburgh Castle to the north, with the dark, jagged edges of Castle Rock ever-present in the background.
One of the many things that makes Edinburgh unique is the structure of Old Town, set out as it is on two levels intersected by bridges. To get to the Grassmarket, you can descend Granny’s Green Steps from a road just off the Royal Mile, or find your way there from Cowgate to the east. Alternatively, turn onto Victoria Street from George IV Bridge and walk down the sloping West Bow, past colourful houses and buildings dating back to the 18th and 17th centuries. The Grassmarket is not too far from the Edinburgh University campus, so expect to see lots of students milling about and dipping into Armstrongs, a popular second-hand store with three different outposts across the city.
Historically, the Grassmarket was a marketplace area and it continues to host public fairs and events throughout the year. But it was also the official location for public executions starting in 1660, including the mass executions of many Covenanters, a group of protestants determined to protect their faith from interference by the King.
One famous event that took place in the Grassmarket was the hanging of Maggie Dickson in 1724. Dickson, a fish hawker, was condemned to hang after hiding her illegitimate pregnancy and the subsequent stillbirth of her child. However, after the attempted execution Dickson woke up inside a coffin on the way to her burial place. Under Scots law, a person couldn't be charged for the same crime twice, so Dickson was freed and went on to live another 40 years, becoming something of a local celebrity. These days, a pub in the Grassmarket called Maggie Dickson's keeps her memory alive.
Recent discoveries have found that this part of Edinburgh has been occupied for even longer than originally thought. Using carbon dating, archaeologists found evidence of human life dating back more than 3,000 years!
Throughout the Year
Entrance to the Grassmarket
United Kingdom EH1 2JU