10 Interesting Facts About Cowgate Edinburgh


Today Cowgate Edinburgh is better known today as the heart of the city’s party scene, home to popular bars and nightclubs such as Subway, Opium, The Three Sisters, Stramash and Sneaky Pete’s. However, as you’ll soon discover there is a lot more that lies beneath the surface of Edinburgh’s dark and gloomy street.

10 things you didn’t know about Cowgate Edinburgh

1.  The first record of the street’s name was recorded in 1428.

2. The name of the street is derived from the medieval practice of herding cattle down the street on market days.

3. The Cowgate was once the area where noble families and city councillors lived in “princely houses and palaces most handsome to behold.”

4. Between 1750 and 1950 the Cowgate was a poor, often overcrowded slum area. It was known as ‘Little Ireland’ due to the thousands of Irish immigrants that lived there.

5. Even on the brightest sunny day can be a shadowy, dank place with its narrow road hemmed in by tall, dark tenements on either side.

6. The famous ‘witch’ Janet Boyman, who was tried and subsequently executed for witchcraft in 1572 lived on Cowgate Street. Her case was known as the earliest and most comprehensive record of witchcraft and fairy belief in Scotland.

7. The oldest building on Cowgate Street is the Magdalen Chapel, which was built in 1544. The chapel contains an almshouse which housed several poor men whose job was to to pray for the soul of Mary Queen of Scots. The stained glass in this window is the only pre-Reformation stained glass in Scotland which still remains intact.

8. In 2002, the street caught on fire and destroyed 13 buildings. The fire raged for a whopping 52 hours!

9. In 2012, excavations were performed which led to some of the most important finds in Edinburgh’s history, covering everything from early mansions of the rich, to the slums of the 19th century. Among the finds are street frontage walls of 16th and 17th-century houses and later tenements, artefacts including pottery, bone comb and possible fragments of a gaming board!

10. Cowgate is home to the venue known as the ‘beating heart’ of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Underbelly. There is never a shortage of entertainment in Cowgate during Fringe- every August, the Underbelly plays host to seven performance spaces, several buzzing bars and pop up food stalls.

Are you looking for cheap accommodation in Cowgate? Cowgate Tourist Hostel has rooms starting from only £9 per person!


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