As Edinburgh Castle rests on the remains of an extinct volcano, it’s prominently featured from several visual vantage points. A visitor is by no means cut short on photographic opportunities of this majestic sight.
Anywhere along the tree line boulevard of Princes Street allows for a more naturalistic snapshot of the castle. One location that offers perhaps the best views is unknown to many travelers and is tucked away in a hidden corridor off the Grassmarket. These are the Vennel Steps, also known today as The Miss Jean Brodie Steps.
It’s here that nearly 150 steps take visitors up from the bustling square of bars and restaurants, to an idyllic vista with unobstructed views of the castle. The word “Vennel” refers to an old French word that means “a small street between two large structures.”
In the 1820s, a businessman named James Brown decided to open up the area surrounding his adjacent stables, creating a residential square known as Brown’s Place. This fronted on to the accessible passageway, which had existed for several centuries, with a stunning and advantageous view.
There are several notable features surrounding this excellent location. At the top are the remnants of both the Flodden Walls and Telfer Walls, medieval barriers erected to keep invading armies at bay. At the midway point on the staircase is the former home of Bessie Watson, the young suffragette who led many equal rights parades by playing her bagpipes.
In 2018, the staircase was rechristened The Jean Brodie Steps in honor of the title character from the novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie on the author’s Muriel Spark’s 100th birthday. A scene from the Oscar-winning 1969 film was shot here.
Know Before You Go
Entrance to the bottom of the steps is located on the south western portion of the Grassmarket. There is also an accessible way at the top, off Lauriston Place, to the left of George Heriot's School.
The stairway is open and permissible at all hours of the day. Sunrise and sunset offer the most beneficial times for lighting and lack of pedestrian traffic.