Medical and Surgical History of Edinburgh

Half day private walking tour (up to 8 guests)


Why does Edinburgh medical school have to thank the Dutch for its very existence?

Why is a major memorial to one of Edinburgh’s first Medical Women to be found in Serbia?

And why on earth did surgeons’ assistants ambush a funeral party in the Cowgate?

Let an Edinburgh medical graduate tell you the answers, and much, much more!

Amongst its many claims to fame, Edinburgh was, and remains, a centre for medicine and surgery of global reputation and influence. But how did one of Europe’s sleepier peripheral capitals turn itself into a medical powerhouse? Well, 7 Hills Tours will explain, on our fascinating and highly comprehensive new half-day private walking tour! From the apothecaries and barber-surgeons of the 16th century, we trace the intriguing story of the professionalisation and advance of medicine and surgery – from the big-picture scientific advances, right down to the parochial feuds and scandals that have been part and parcel of Edinburgh medical and surgical life since ‘Adam wis a bairn’(was a child!).

We look at the superstars that Edinburgh’s medical school produced, both ‘in the trade’, and outside – for instance, did you know that both Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Darwin were medical students in Edinburgh? We’ll also hear eyewitness accounts of medical life – from the long hours, poverty and drudgery of studentdom, to the hyper-intense speed and brutality of pre-anaesthesia surgery. (Slightly) closer to the present day, your guide, Dr Moray Grigor will tell you first-hand about life as a student and junior doctor in Scotland’s capital.
Edinburgh’s historic ‘medical quarter’ forms a rough crescent, from the Royal Mile south then east, roughly along the line of the old city wall.

This is the route that we’ll take over our half-day tour, with plenty of chances for refreshments as we go.
Why not tour with us? If you are coming to town with a scientific conference or meeting, you will not find a more interesting tour! But we welcome everyone, whether with medical or scientific background or no. We break down the science, and emphasise the human stories too!
To discuss booking this tour for your party, please just click our contact button, or e-mail

(Pictured above – Dr Elsie Inglis and team, First World War – picture credit The Sunday Post.)


Tron Square – in the heart of the Old Town, our meeting and start/finish point.

Fountain Close – in this Old Town alleyway the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh had its first base in 1681, and later public dispensary.

Robertson’s Close – site of the ‘Little House’, the small teaching hospital and forerunner of the great Royal Infirmaries of Edinburgh, founded 1729.

Surgeon’s Square – headquarters for centuries for surgical teaching and practice, with Old Surgeons’ Hall and ward buildings still intact.

Infirmary Street – site of the original Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.

Surgeon’s Hall – opulent Parthenon- style surgical HQ to this day; site of the riot in 1870 when the first women medical students attempted to sit their anatomy exam!

Old College, University of Edinburgh – historic classical university quadrangle, and original site of Medical School.
Bristo Place – residence street of Charles Darwin whilst (unhappily!) studying medicine before switching to natural science.

‘Bedlam’ – old city poorhouse and asylum, still standing.
Medical Faculty, Bristo Place – HQ of Medical School, with steep-banked Anatomy lecture theatre and museum.

George Square – historic university precinct, residence of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes novels, and also boyhood home of Sir Walter Scott.

Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh – massive Victorian-era teaching hospital alongside medical school, in use until 2003.

Grassmarket – historic marketplace, site of much work on public health and infectious disease.

Cowgatehead – residence of James Graham, Edinburgh’s most famous quack doctor and early sexologist!

Melbourne Place – former site of Royal Medical Society, prestigious student organisation to this day.

Bank Street – site of pioneering TB clinic.

High Street – site of Edinburgh’s first recorded Apothecary’s shop, and also of specialist hospital for women and children founded by pioneering medical woman Dr Elsie Inglis.

tour essentials

Half-day (approximately 4 and half hour) walking tour of Edinburgh’s historic medical and surgical sites. Refreshment stop at Royal College of Surgeons café (refreshments not inclusive)

Starts and finishes at Tron Square, Royal Mile, Edinburgh. Transfer from hotel/cruise vessel can be arranged (extra charge applies)

Standard tour does not include admission to any Edinburgh University or other buildings/museums though this can be applied for/arranged on request (extra charges may apply)

Total distance approximately 3 miles – some fairly steep slopes, many street crossings/kerbs. Moderate fitness level/unimpaired mobility advisable.

No lower or upper age limit, though subject matter will be of more interest to adults in general.

Subject to cancellation by 7 Hills Tours in case of bad weather – full refund will be given in this case.

(Picture opposite Dr Elsie Inglis, picture credit Wikimedia)