The Closes of Edinburgh

Aug 29, 2017 0 comments

The Old Town of Edinburgh, Scotland, consisted originally of the main street, now known as the Royal Mile, and a large number of small alleyways that led off it to the north and south. Some of these lead to open courtyards and are therefore called “courts”. Others are open thoroughfare wide enough for a horse and cart, and are called “wynds”, a reference to the way they wind along. But most of these alleyways are called “closes”, because they lead to private property and are hence gated and closed to the public.


Closes in Edinburgh. Photo credit: (left) matt's eye/Flickr, (right) zoetnet/Flickr

Back in medieval times, Royal Mile was lined with individual plots of land with paths to gain access to the land behind. As each plot became built up over time, these paths or closes developed into narrow lanes connecting courtyards and streets behind the Royal Mile. Tall buildings on both sides gave many closes a canyon-like appearance and atmosphere. Most closes slope steeply down from the Royal Mile. For anyone walking down the long flights of stairs, it creates the impression of walking into the underground.

Closes originally had some form of gateway at the Royal Mile end, usually a large iron gate. In some cases you can still see the mounting points for these in the stone. At night, these gates would be closed and locked, allowing access only to those with a key. In many ways, Edinburgh Closes were an early example of gated communities.

Closes were usually named after a memorable occupant of one of the apartments reached by the common entrance, or a trade plied by one or more residents.

One of the most interesting closes and a wildly popular tourist attraction in Edinburgh is the Mary King's Close. It’s said that during a plague outbreak in the middle of the 17th century, Mary King's Close was used as a quarantine to contain the spread of the disease. The ghosts of those who died here is said to still haunt the place.

Another interesting close is the Brodie's Close, named after Deacon Brodie, who was a respected citizen by day and burglar by night. Deacon Brodie was the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”.

Advocate's Close is particularly popular with tourists in the summer because of the great views it offers of the Scott Monument and some of Edinburgh's central buildings.

White Horse Close is another popular close that leads to a picturesque group of whitewash houses. Another one, the Dunbar Close, leads to a secluded garden.


A map showing the various closes that branches off Royal Mile running horizontally through the center of the map. Image credit: Click here for the interactive version.


Anchor Close. Photo credit: Y Nakanishi/Flickr


Photo credit: Neha Viswanathan/Flickr


Old fishmarket close. Photo credit: nan/Flickr


Photo credit:

Sources: Wikipedia / Edinburgh Notes / Stuck on Scotland


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