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Edinburgh: 1800s vs. today

24th Aug 2023

Would someone from the 1800s recognise the Edinburgh we know today? Lots about life has transformed since the 19th century, but parts of the city have stayed exactly the same! Take a look at these comparisons, and play a game of spot the difference if you want a challenge.


St Giles Cathedral in 1860s versus todaySt Giles’, 1860s

St Giles’ Cathedral has a long and complicated history; in fact, it’s not even officially a cathedral! It’s actually the High Kirk of Edinburgh, a parish church of the Church of Scotland. It was founded in the 12th century and this historical photo shows what it looked like in the 1860s, 30 years after restoration by William Burn saved it from collapse.

Photographer: John Lennie (active 1860s - 1900s)
J. Paul Getty Museum


Holyrood Palace in 1860s versus todayHolyrood Palace, 1865-1867

Mary, Queen of Scots is perhaps one of the Palace of Holyroodhouse's most well-known residents. She occupied the royal apartments in the towers on the left here. Taking a look, the historical photograph could pass for a modern-day one, if not for the man in 1860s clothing! 

Photographer: George Washington Wilson (1823 - 1893)
J. Paul Getty Museum; Gift of Weston J. and Mary M. Naef


Old College at the University of Edinburgh in 1860s versus today
Old College of Edinburgh University, 1865

Old College was completed in 1827, including a new anatomical dissection theatre where cadavers were in high demand (if you've been on tour with us, you know the problems that caused). Changes to the building have been made since then, but this north-eastern corner still looks the same.

Photographer: George Washington Wilson (1823 - 1893)
J. Paul Getty Museum


Queen Mary's Bath House near Holyrood Palace in 1860s versus today
Queen Mary’s Bath House, 1860s

Attributed to Mary, Queen of Scots, it’s unclear whether or not this bath house ever actually housed a bath… It was likely a summer house, where the royal family could enjoy a quick rest while walking through the palace gardens.

Photographer: Archibald Burns (1831 - 1880)
National Galleries — Creative Common (CC by NG)


If these historical photographs interest you, why not join us on Friday, 25th August for an exclusive history walking tour of Edinburgh, and visit these places in person? You can compare 160-year-old versions of the buildings to the real ones right in front of you, all while also diving into the city’s unphotographed history.

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