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We’re going on a unicorn hunt

3rd Sep 2016

Have you ever noticed the unicorns dotted all over the Royal Mile? We love unicorns here in Scotland and so we should. The unicorn is, after all, our national animal. It has featured on our coat of arms since the 12th century. The Celts believed it to be a symbol of purity, joy and healing. Generally, in Scotland, the unicorn will be found with a chain around its neck as it was believed an unchained unicorn was dangerous. And the chain represented the ability of the King to control everything, even mythical creatures. 

So, we decided to ignore Pokemon Go and go old school in our bid to catch rare mythical creatures. We have rounded up some of the best depictions of the unicorn on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile – please do feel free to add your own additions – you may even find some on our tours! 

The Mercat Cross
A definite old favourite for us! The traditional heart of the Old Town has a unicorn at its top, chained, to prove the control of the monarch. The Mercat Cross is, of course, the meeting point for all of our tours so we’re lucky enough to see it every day – it looks particularly impressive in the sunlight.

St Giles Cathedral
Often lost within the incredible stonework of St Giles, is the later Victorian woodcarving. Look closely and you’ll find a few unicorns, one of which has a particularly unusual fish like tail. We won’t tell you where that’s for you to investigate!

The Palace of Holyroodhouse
We know there’s more inside, but externally you can find a beautiful heraldic shield on the wall by the gates, and another of the wooden doors of the Queen’s Gallery. Join our walking tour that finishes at the palace and then continue on your hunt for Scotland’s national animal.

Riddles Court
One of Edinburgh’s best kept secrets can be found in Riddles Court, near the Lawnmarket. Not only did Riddles Court act as a dining place for our King James VI, it only contains one of the finest unicorn frescoes to be found in the city. The building has been beautifully restored and is well worth a visit to continue the hunt!

Edinburgh Castle
Amongst the many heraldic animals at Edinburgh Castle we found two unicorns; one in the Royal Apartments, and a grand seated beast outside the National War Memorial. There’s probably even more in this vast enclosure. Our Secrets of the Royal Mile with entry to Edinburgh Castle can help you track some down.


National Museum of Scotland
Our final location is just a little walk off the Royal Mile, but definitely worth it! You won’t find a unicorn in the museum’s gallery of Victorian taxidermy, but they’re scattered throughout the coins and symbols in the Scottish section. Some of the earliest examples from the 12th century are here; happy hunting!

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