Find out more about the history of Edinburgh

There are many useful sites to help you explore Edinburgh’s rich history and heritage.

Please refer also to our list of national and local history and heritage societies.

Libraries and archives

Edinburgh and Scottish Collection, Central Library: The City’s own local studies library, with extensive holdings of printed books and topographical material. Edinburgh residents can join the Library Service and gain access to online newspapers and other electronic resources. There is also a manuscript collection, currently being made more accessible with the aid aid of a Jean Butchart Bursary from the Old Edinburgh Club.

Online resources include Capital Collections, images of Edinburgh from the library’s unique collection of photographs, engravings and drawings; Edinburgh Collected, a community archive of Edinburgh memories; and Our Town Stories, designed to help you explore Edinburgh’s history through stories, images and maps.

Edinburgh City Archives: The City’s own archive, containing the records of the burghs of Edinburgh, the Canongate and Leith, from the Middle Ages to the present. A recent project with the City Libraries and Museums services was Redrawing Edinburgh, which brings to life the expansion of the city 100 years ago, in commemoration of the 1920 Edinburgh Boundaries Extension and Tramways Act. Architectural plans lodged in the Dean of Guild Court 1700-1824 have been catalogued with OEC support.

Edinburgh Central Library

Edinburgh Planning Portal: This site is useful if you wish to inspect more recent plans and drawings concerning current and archived planning applications.

National Records of Scotland (NRS): Records of Scotland’s government before and after the Union, legal and court records, church records and much more, including rich Edinburgh holdings. Search the NRS Catalogue to explore these. NRS also maintain the Scottish Handwriting site, invaluable if you need to decipher the script in older records.

National Library of Scotland (NLS): Scotland’s copyright library and premier research library, including a remarkable collection of historic maps online and extensive range of digitised historical books. NLS also holds a manuscript collection, complementary to that of NRS; maintains the Moving Image Archive; and provides access for registered users to e-resources, including British Library Newspapers, Find My Past and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. NLS has also digitised Post Office Directories, invaluable for tracking people, businesses and institutions year-to-year.

Canmore: The online catalogue to Scotland’s archaeology, buildings, industrial and maritime heritage, with site-specific content. Maintained by Historic Environment Scotland (HES), the body created by the merger of Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. HES has a Library and search room, where original records can be viewed.

Pastmap: Map-based search tool to help users dig deep into the histories of buildings, towns and cities in Scotland. This includes locations of listed buildings and conservation areas, scheduled monuments, etc, which can be viewed on current and historic Ordnance Survey (OS) maps and aerial photographs. Developed by Historic Environment Scotland.

Scotland’s Places: Pre-1800 tax records, Ordnance Survey Name Books, plans, Medical Officer of Health reports, etc. Draws on the resources of HES, NLS and NRS. You can search for a place name, click on a map or type in your postcode. Also hosts a digital version of the Atlas of Scottish History.

Scottish Archive Network Catalogue: Online catalogue of Scotland’s local and institutional archives. Similar but complementary to NRS’s catalogue. Search under “GB236” for Edinburgh City Archive; “GB237” for Edinburgh University Special Collections and “GB239” for Lothian Health Services Archive. Resources prepared by the original Scottish Archive Network project are still available.

Statistical Accounts of Scotland: Online access to the classic accounts of Scotland’s parishes, written by local ministers, including descriptions in 1793 and 1845 of Edinburgh and of parishes now within the city boundaries.

SCRAN: Educational access to digital materials representing Scotland’s material culture and history. An HES service, it hosts over 400,000 fully-captioned images, sounds and film from more than 300 museums, galleries, and archives.

British Newspapers: Index to digitised content, including Edinburgh newspapers, much of it pay-by-view or available by subscription only. Some, including The Scotsman, can be accessed by members of Edinburgh City Libraries or the National Library of Scotland.

Records of the Parliament of Scotland: Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707.

History of Parliament Online: Includes biographies of all Edinburgh MPs post-1707.

British History Online: Collection of around 1300 volumes of primary and secondary content relating to British history. Huge repository of old books, including local and family histories. Holds the NLS collection and much more. Use its search function as items tend not to appear prominently in Google searches.

Threadinburgh: An eclectic collection on aspects of Edinburgh and Leith local history and Scottish modern history, curated by Andy Arthur.

Tenement Town: Delves into the stories of past residents in streets in different parts of the city, curated by Diarmid Mogg: “Uncovering Edinburgh’s forgotten lives, one stair at a time”

Family history

Scotland’s People: hosts the National Records of Scotland’s birth, marriage, death and census records, wills and valuation rolls. Free to search with fees for accessing most of the original records other than Kirk Session and Presbytery minutes, some estate maps and the 1881 Census.

Scottish Archive Network catalogue: Catalogue of local and institutional archives. Search under “GB236” for Edinburgh City Archive, “GB237” for Edinburgh University Special Collections and “GB239” for Lothian Health Services Archive.

Scottish Genealogical Society: Membership organisation for anyone interested in Scottish genealogy, serving as the local genealogy society for Edinburgh. Comprehensive library located on Victoria Terrace in Edinburgh, staffed by experienced volunteers. The Society also holds regular winter evening talks.

National Library of Scotland: as above. Resources include family and estate collections of manuscripts and published histories of landed and other notable families.

Visiting and touring Edinburgh

Curious Edinburgh: 18 tours showcasing the history of ideas in Edinburgh. Website and app for self-guiding, featuring Edinburgh’s scientific heritage as well as social and cultural developments which have shaped the city. Developed by the University of Edinburgh.

Historic Environment Scotland: Access to Edinburgh Castle and other Edinburgh monuments in the care of the national heritage agency. Mapped collections of historical images and stories. Search for ‘Edinburgh’ and see what you can find.

National Trust for Scotland: Access to the Georgian House, Gladstone’s Land, Newhailes House and other places in and around Edinburgh in the care of the National Trust.

Edinburgh’s Enlightenment: Interactive map of people, places and associations that featured in the Enlightenment, produced by the University of Glasgow.

Queering – An LGBT Geography: Seven walks recommended by the ‘Remember When’ Project of the Living Memory Association exploring different strands of LGBT history in the city. This project sought to illustrate the lives and achievements of Edinburgh’s LGBT people, past and present, drawing on documentary sources and oral history.

Rampant Scotland links on Architecture and Edinburgh: Includes information about aspects of past and present Edinburgh architecture.

City of Edinburgh Council: Information about Edinburgh and facilities and services offered by the council. Information on Edinburgh and its facilities, and links to other sites.

VisitScotland: Accommodation and other information for visitors to Edinburgh and beyond from Scotland’s national tourism agency.

Museums and galleries

City of Edinburgh Museums and Galleries: Information on 11 venues, including Museum of Edinburgh (formerly Huntly House), People’s Story, Museum of Childhood and City Art Centre.

National Galleries of Scotland: Information on the galleries, which have rich materials relating to Edinburgh.

National Museums of Scotland: Information on the museums, which contain a wealth of artefacts connected with Edinburgh.

Museum of Scottish Fire Heritage: Tells the history of Scottish firefighting up to the present day