Join me on a lighthouse tour of Edinburgh. Discover lighthouse engineers, places to visit, museums, restaurants and places to stay.
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I love visiting Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh. There is always so much to see and do, and it is full of history. It is rich with lighthouse history too. I never seem to spend enough time in the city, as we are usually stopping en route to other destinations. But to do it justice, you really have to spend a few days there.
Every time we visit Edinburgh I learn more and want to go back to some of my favourite destinations. But inevitably we usually discover something else we have missed. So there’s always an excuse to return – if one was needed!
The area of Leith is a fascinating and vibrant area, with lots of lighthouse-related history. Leith Walk, and the new development at Ocean Terminal has the Royal Yacht Britannia in pride of place. Just down the road, the former lighthouse service vessel, Fingal, is now a luxury hotel. If you’re lucky, you might spot a working lighthouse service vessel in the area!
Outside the harbour, the Forth estuary has several islands. Inchkeith and Oxcars Lighthouses are in the middle of the Firth of Forth, and if you have the time it’s worth taking a boat trip out from South Queensferry.
From Portobello, just along the coast, there are fine views across the estuary, and further north are the impressive road and rail bridges.
And of course, any lighthouse tour of Edinburgh has to include the Northern Lighthouse Board headquarters at George Street.
The Stevenson family of lighthouse engineers have a strong connection with Edinburgh. It was from here that Thomas Smith first started his work with the lighthouse service. Robert Stevenson later married into the family, and many more generations of the family followed in his footsteps.
Read more about the Lighthouse Stevensons by Bella Bathhurst
Edinburgh is surrounded by several hills including Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat. Edinburgh Castle overlooks the city, and the seat of the Scottish Government at Holyrood is close by.
The city has twelve main regions. Of particular interest with lighthouse connections is the region of Leith.
Leith is a thriving area of the city, with cafes and bars as well as the waterfront development, where you can visit the Royal Yacht Britannia and former lighthouse service Fingal.
The Water of Leith runs through the south and west of the city and into the Firth of Forth at Leith. A footpath and cycle track runs alongside the river.
Dean Village on the northwest edge of the town boasts the impressive Dean Bridge, built by Thomas Telford. The bridge spans over the Water of Leith on the road to Queensferry. The nearby Dean Cemetery are home to several members of the Stevenson family.
Leith is one of the oldest Ports in the UK and was home to Trinity House of Leith.
And of course, I love watching Sunshine on Leith!
I hope you enjoy my lighthouse tour of Edinburgh and the surrounding area.
Not strictly a lighthouse, but one of the oldest buildings in Leith, Leith Signal Tower the building was originally built as a windmill, and later used as a signalling tower. It also has a restaurant at its base.
Originally located across the Firth of Forth in Burntisland, the Old East Breakwater lighthouse was relocated in 1990.
Just across the road is Fingal, the former lighthouse service vessel.
The east and west breakwater lighthouses were established between 1826 and 1829. The harbour has been developed on a number of occasions. Both lighthouses are clearly visible from Lighthouse Park, Newhaven.
There have been two lighthouses at Newhaven Harbour. The old domed lighthouse is clearly visible on the pier.
The second tower, built in 1869 was decommissioned in 1930. It is now disused but illuminated.
The Granton Lighthouse Depot was the former training lighthouse for the Northern Lighthouse Board. The stores and buoy yard was sited alongside. Close by at Edinburgh Marina is the restored Granton Middle Pier Lighthouse.
Nearby is the National Museums Collection Centre, which can sometimes be visited by arrangement.
The former shore station which housed the families of lighthouse keepers is nearby at Salveson Crescent.
South Queensferry Lighthouse is located just underneath the Queensferry bridge.
North Queensferry is just the other side of the estuary.
84 George Street is the headquarters of the Northern Lighthouse Board. A must-see if you are in Edinburgh! Over the highly polished doorway is a working replica of Bell Rock Lighthouse. It is sometimes possible to visit the Stevenson Room by appointment, which has an excellent display of lighthouse artefacts.
Located in Leith is the former lighthouse service vessel, Fingal. She has now been transformed into a luxury floating hotel and restaurant.
The Granton Shore Station housed the families and keepers of various lighthouses. The houses are now privately owned.
Trinity House Leith was established a help elderly and infirm sailors and also became the pilotage authority, providing training for sailors. The beautiful building is now a maritime museum which can be visited by prior arrangement.
It might not be your obvious choice if you are visiting the city, but if you are interested in following the Stevenson family history, there are several cemeteries to visit where members of the family are buried.
Read more about the Stevenson family
Within the Stevenson family are memorials to several members of the Stevenson family including Robert Stevenson, Alan and Thomas.
It was also thanks to Robert Stevenson that the cemetery is here, as he was involved in its design. It was built as an overspill from Old Calton Burial Ground. The family graves can be found at the far end of the cemetery.
Thomas Smith is buried here with his wife Jean Lillie Stevenson. The memorial can be found halfway into the cemetery, but is easy to miss.
More memorials of the Stevenson family can be found in the Dean Cemetery – David, David A and Charles.
If you have time to visit only one museum, then the National Museum of Scotland is a must! The former optics from Inchkeith and Tay Leading Light are on display, as well as other interesting artefacts around the museum.
The Nelson Monument at the top of Calton Hill has the former optic from Rubha nan Gall Lighthouse.
A giant mural at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery was painted by William Brassey Hole. The mural includes the portrait of Lighthouse Engineer Robert Stevenson, carrying a lighthouse.
Located close to the former Granton Depot, the National Museums Collection Centre houses various lighthouse optics, including the Sule Skerry optic. Appointments can be made to visit.
There are lots of great places to stay in Edinburgh, to suit a variety of budgets, so you’ll be spoilt for choice!
Former home to Thomas Smith, Robert Stevenson and other members of the Stevenson family, Baxter’s Place is now a hotel and restaurant.
The former lighthouse service tender Fingal is now a luxury floating hotel and restaurant. She is located in Leith, close to the Royal Yacht Britannia.
Part of the Courtyard Marriott Hotel at Baxters Place is the Lantern Room Restaurant and Bar. There is a lighthouse theme within the restaurant.
At the base of Leith Signal Tower is Fishers Restaurant.
Enjoy a luxurious afternoon tea, or dinner on board NLV Fingal, combined with an overnight stay.
Another place to visit with a lighthouse connection is the Scott Memorial in Princes Street. The memorial is dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, playwright and historian, who died in 1832. In July 1814 Sir Walter Scott joined the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses onboard their lighthouse yacht for a six-week cruise. Joining him was Lighthouse Engineer Robert Stevenson. During the inspection cruise, they investigated sites for new lighthouses.
There are fantastic views of the city and out to the Firth of Forth from the top of the memorial. Space is very tight at the top!