Sneak a peek inside Edinburgh’s most beautiful buildings

Lamb's House
Lamb's House
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IT’S the innate nosiness in all of us that makes Doors Open Day the success it is, writes this year’s co-ordinator Euan Leitch

There is something intriguing about peeking behind closed doors.

Liberton Tower

Liberton Tower

Edinburgh’s Doors Open Day has been organised by the Cockburn Association for 21 years and although I have always made the most of the day, exploring castles, science centres and new buildings, this is the first year that I have been responsible for co-ordinating the event, and it has been a bit like being a wee boy in a sweetie shop.

We estimate that there are more than 30,000 visits made over each Doors Open Day weekend, and with more buildings opening this year than ever before, the number will no doubt rise. What is it that makes the event so popular with us all? The simplest answer is that we’re nosey.

One of the first buildings I remember going round was a modest stone cottage that had been turned upside down by the architect owner resulting in a bright and airy modern house that retained some of its historic features.

It looked unremarkable from the outside, but was fascinating inside, and that’s what we all suspect other people’s houses to be like. It’s seeing how other people live that is often most appealing.

But our curiosity extends well beyond the domestic and a good number of our grandest institutions are open for the weekend. While they may be buildings we pass on our commute to work or when we’re shopping, we may not have reason to go inside and Doors Open day gives us that excuse to find out what the National Records hold or what’s beyond the bold entrance of the Royal College of Physicians. On Doors Open Day you don’t have to be an archivist or a physician to find out, anyone is welcome.

And then there is the fascination of the new: buildings we watch being built, maybe unclear who they are for or what is going to happen inside. Doors Open Days gives the public the opportunity to learn about some of the research carried on inside new buildings for the University of Edinburgh.

Not everyone will manage to visit every building so it means we can tell our friends something new. Don’t we all like to be a little bit more “in the know”?

Even for those of us that have lived in Edinburgh all our lives there remain buildings and places to be uncovered, and Doors Open Day is one of the city’s great events that is not aimed primarily at attracting tourists but to make tourists of us all in our home city. Hopefully, every year there is at least one building, or garden, that will be unfamiliar to us and we realise that familiar as we are with our home, there will always be treasures to discover.

Doors Open Day is also appealing because we learn about our history, personal and communal. We can visit castles from which an aristocracy once ruled us and a parliament where they still try. Or we can visit buildings that our parents and grandparents maybe married in, and this year experience a Victorian classroom. It’s also possible dig deeper and build our family trees from archives that will be open to us.

It’s a weekend to let your imagination run riot; pretend you are a scientist, fireman, king of the castle, bus driver, astronomer, gardener, policeman, chemist, judge, teacher or architect. And if you are very naughty you have your choice of prison cells as Leith Sheriff Court and the Sheriff Court on Chambers Street are both opening this weekend.


THE theme chosen for this year is Hidden Treasure and Edinburgh is not short of architectural or historical treasures which are regular features of Doors Open Day, places like John Knox House on the High Street, the grand Register House at the East End of Princes Street and the Royal Observatory, home of astronomical research on Blackford Hill, all of which are opening their doors for free this weekend. But what are the more hidden treasures that we maybe overlook or are new to Doors Open Day?

• Liberton Tower stands golden with a superb panoramic view across the city. The medieval tower is let by the Vivat Trust as a luxurious holiday house and for this weekend only you can see inside the home that the Dalmahoy family built and get an idea of what Craigmillar Castle would be like if it had a roof.

• The Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine at Little France is a brand new purpose-built facility and the first of its kind in the UK providing accommodation for scientists at the forefront of stem cell research. The architects of the building will be there on the day to describe the inspiration for its design and explain its sustainable features, while scientists will be on hand to talk to adults and children about how their research helps treat cancer, heart disease, liver failure and degenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.

• The Walled Garden at Gogarbank House, near Hermiston Gait, to the west of Edinburgh was built in 1818 and remains a working kitchen garden, planted with fruit trees and ornamental borders within 15ft walls. What makes this garden very special is that the Gogar Burn runs through the middle of it beneath two arches in the wall and for this Saturday alone you can enjoy the garden and buy tea and cake in support of military charities.

• Just outside South Queensferry in another walled garden is a Modernist office built in 1966 for the engineering practice Arup. The design is deeply influenced by the architect Mies van der Rohe and it was B listed by Historic Scotland in 2005. Arup was involved in the construction of the Forth Road Bridge and is now working on the Forth Crossing, as well as a number of buildings for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Its engineering heritage is as fascinating as its building.

• The beautifully restored Lamb’s House, possibly the most historic building in Leith, is now a home, an office and a vice consulate.

• West Annandale is a reused industrial building that provides a home with exposed steel beams and filled with light.

• The Steel House on Hart Street is a surprisingly contemporary home within Georgian Broughton that is celebrating its 10th birthday.

• Edinburgh Doors Open Day, September 22-23. Details at

• Euan Leitch is assistant director of the Cockburn Association