We answered 16 of the most commonly asked Edinburgh questions
Edinburgh Questions

You may think you know everything about Auld Reekie, but there are still some surprises left in those cobbled streets

It’s always the same, someone in the pub is dishing out suspect Edinburgh facts but you’re not armed with the correct information to myth-bust them.

Fear not, here’s where we help, whether you’re a Fringe visitor looking to figure out your home for August, or a city local just looking to settle a debate.

Here are 16 of Edinburgh’s most common questions complete with the answers.

1. Can you drink on the city streets?

According to Edinburgh bye-laws, it is indeed legal to have an alcoholic swally in public (a privilege not enjoyed by our cousins in Glasgow).

However, the bye-law also states that if you’re asked to stop by a police officer then you’ll have to hand over your gin n’ juice.

2. Should I spit on the Heart of Midlothian?

heart of midlothian

Yes, feel free to hock a loogie on the brickwork pattern. Now seen as a good luck tradition, or a Hibs fan past-time, the tradition actually has far darker origins.

The site used to be home to the Old Tollbooth prison, which was a notoriously bad place even in the 14th century. The heart marks the old execution site and one theory suggests people would spit to show their contempt for the practice of hanging.

3. Should I touch Greyfriar Bobby’s nose for good luck?

Greyfriars Bobby

No, leave Bobby alone. Many tourists feel the need to have a feel of the statue’s nose, year upon year, but the wear and tear of the constant rubbing means the paint is stripped from the statue and he’s left with a golden sniffer.

Restoration on Bobby’s nose was carried out back in 2014 and cost £400 to fix.

4. Was Rose Street the city’s former red light district?

Despite the term ‘Rose Street’ being often historically associated with red light districts, Edinburgh’s Rose Street was apparently named during the restoration of New Town back in the reign of King George III.

To celebrate the union of the crowns, Rose Street was named after England’s national flower while Thistle Street took its name from Scotland’s national symbol.

5. Were people really executed in the Grassmarket?

Alex Watson

This is no tourist-friendly marketing ploy, executions began in the Grassmarket square in the early 1600s and continued ‘almost daily‘ until 1784.

6. Is Arthur’s Seat actually an old volcano?

Arthur's Seat
CC / Flickr / Spencer Means

Yes, the volcano is said to have first emerged over 340 million years ago but has been dormant since not long after that.

There’s very little chance of having your views spoiled by chunks of magma.

7. Do I legally have the right to use anyone’s toilet?

It was (and still is) widely believed that an old Scottish law meant that you were obliged to let someone use your toilet if they knocked on your door.

However, despite Scotland’s lax rules on trespassing compared to England, the toilet rule was never enforced and was more likely a ‘polite custom’.

8. Is the ‘Loony Dook’ a tradition going back centuries?

Loony Dook South Queensferry

Erm, not quite. The decision to dive into the waters of South Queensferry on New Year’s Day actually goes back to 1986 – when 12 boozy pub-goers thought it would be the best way of curing their Hogmanay hangover.

9. Why does a gun go off at one o’clock?

According to the Edinburgh Castle website, the ‘One o’ Clock Gun’ tradition dates back to 1861, when it would allow ships in the Firth of Forth to set their maritime clocks.

10. What actually is ‘Edinburgh sauce’?

A photo posted by @foodwithhayley on

A sweet nectar of the Gods. Or, according to ex-chippie workers, it’s two-thirds brown sauce to one third tap water.

Others suggest that white vinegar also plays a part – but this is deemed to be a misconception.

11. What is that smell when I get off the train at Haymarket?

As long as you’re not too close to a Haymarket kebab shop, the first way Edinburgh hits the senses is through your nose.

This smell is actually the malty aroma of the city’s breweries, which maybe isn’t quite as pungent as it once was. Unfortunately, the city also picked up the moniker of ‘world’s smelliest city‘ according to a New York website back in 2013. Scandalous.

12. Do people play Quidditch here?

Edinburgh Holyrood Hippogriffs

The city is the birthplace of the Harry Potter, so what could be more fitting than people taking the book’s quaffle-batting sport and recreating it on the Meadows? Yes, this really does happen.

13. Is Leith actually twinned with Rio De Janeiro?


Alas, if only. The district of Leith and the Brazilian city were unofficially joined as part of Leith Festival celebrations in 2007.

As far as we know, the people of Rio remain blissfully unaware.

14. How much bigger does the population of Edinburgh get during the Fringe?

Usually, there are around 500,000 residents of the city. The 2015 figures state that 2,298,090 tickets were sold across the Fringe. Obviously some of these tickets will be sold to the same people, but it does suggest that the population rises significantly.

So if it’s not quite quadruple, the stock phrase that the population doubles in size to a million probably isn’t too wide of the mark.

Is there enough Edinburgh sauce to go around?

15. Does the city really have more statues of animals than women?

A photo posted by Zaneta Repec (@zanetarepec) on

Statues of bears, dogs, giraffes and even orangutans adorn Edinburgh’s public spaces – but Leith Walk’s Queen Victoria is the only woman honoured in stone.

16. How many Michelin Stars does Edinburgh have?

At last count, Edinburgh has five Michelin Star restaurants – which include The Kitchin, Number One, Martin Wishart, 21212 and Castle Terrace.

That’s currently…five more than Glasgow currently has. Sorry guys.


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Main image: CC / Flickr / Indrik myneur