St. Giles Cathedral is not only Edinburgh’s most important church, it’s also the most important church in all of Scotland. It’s also sometimes called the High Kirk of Scotland, and is considered the place where the Presbyterian church was founded.
The church is dedicated to St. Giles, the patron saint of cripples and lepers, and the oldest parts of the structure dates from the early 12th century. John Knox, the founder of the Scottish Protestant Reformation and the Church of Scotland, preached at St. Giles from 1560 until his death in 1572, which is what helps to give the cathedral its current status as Scotland’s most important church. A statue of Knox is inside the church near the west end.
There are several interesting stained glass windows in St. Giles Cathedral, although the windows from the medieval era did not survive. Most of the windows worth mentioning are from the 19th and 20th centuries and depict both religious scenes and also non-religious things – like Scotland’s favorite poet, Robert Burns. The church’s organ is also worth noting, although it’s a recent addition (1992), because of the glass panel in the back that lets you see the instrument’s inner workings.
While much of the cathedral was largely rebuilt after a fire in the 14th century – and then whitewashed during the Reformation in the 16th century – the oldest parts of the cathedral, the four enormous central pillars, date from 1120. There are also a few pieces of medieval stonework which can still be seen as well – ask a guide to point them out to you. Volunteer guides are available every day to answer that and other questions for you, and they also offer guided tours of the entire cathedral. And should you feel a bit peckish after all that cathedral-seeing, there’s a little restaurant under St. Giles – the Lower Aisle – where you can fill your tummy before heading off for more sight-seeing.
Location: Royal Mile, Edinburgh (you can’t miss it, the spire is distinctive)
May-September – Monday-Friday, 09:00-19:00; Saturday, 09:00-17:00; Sunday, 13:00-17:00 and for services
October-April – Monday-Saturday, 09:00-17:00; Sunday, 13:00-17:00 and for services
Admission: Free; £3 donation is recommended per person
Photography permit – £2
Lower Aisle Restaurant: Underneath the St. Giles Cathedral’s east end
Monday-Friday, 08:00-16:30 (Winter 07:00-16:00); Sunday 09:00-13:00
During August – Monday-Friday, 08:00-18:00; Saturday, 08:30-17:00; Sunday, 09:00-13:30