— Tours & Walks

Top 10 movies or scenes filmed in Edinburgh

With the upcoming Edinburgh International Film Festival, the eyes of movie lovers around the world will be on the Scottish capital. For many movie lovers, its often a thrill to realise you’re standing on the spot of a favourite scene in one of your favourite films. Many visitors to Edinburgh might be surprised to learn just how many films have used the city as a backdrop or had scenes shot there.

Edinburgh’s varied architecture and geography has made it a popular choice location for film-makers for many years. Edinburgh’s 17th-century cobbled streets, wide Georgian boulevards and the iconic extinct volcano, which towers over the city make it a spectacular setting.  And organisations such as Edinburgh Council, Visit Scotland, Marketing Edinburgh and Film Edinburgh have worked hard to establish the capital as a film-friendly city.

To celebrate the latest Edinburgh International Film Festival let’s look at some of the best-known movies and movie scenes filmed in and around Edinburgh over the last 80 years.

1. The 39 Steps (1935)

Director : Alfred Hitchcock

Starring : Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 movie adaptation of Scottish author John Buchan’s classic espionage novel is one of his most celebrated films. Set almost entirely in Scotland, the film's striking shots of the Highlands (including Glen Coe and Rannoch Moor) and the infamous scene on the Forth Rail Bridge are hard to forget.

2. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)

Director : Ronald Neame

Starring : Maggie Smith, Gordon Jackson, Robert Stephens, Pamela Franklin

A headstrong young teacher at Marcia Blaine School for Girls, a private school in 1930s Edinburgh ignores the curriculum and influences her impressionable 12 year old pupils with her over-romanticized world view. Henderson Row features heavily in this movie a since the Marcia Blaine school is located in the Edinburgh Academy building on Henderson Row.

3. Chariots of Fire (1981)

Director : Hugh Hudson

Starring : Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, Nicholas Farrell

An inspiring movie about the fortunes of 2 British athletes at the 1924 Olympic Games – Harold Abrahams and Scottish flier Eric Liddell. Edinburgh features more than a few times in this film with scenes including Harold Abrahams training in Inverleith Park, a 100m race is filmed at Goldenacre, and other scenes on The Mound and on Arthurs Seat.

4. Shallow Grave (1994)

Director : Danny Boyle

Starring : Ewan McGregor, Christopher Ecclestone, Kerry Fox

Danny Boyle’s directorial debut is a black comedy about three housemates who find their fourth housemate lying dead of a drug overdose next to a big pile of cash. Set in Edinburgh, the movie features some of the city’s streets including Scotland Street and New Town on North East Circus Place in the New Town.

5. Trainspotting (1996)

Director : Danny Boyle

Starring : Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Johnny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremner

Despite being set in Edinburgh, most of the film was actually shot in Glasgow and the final scenes shot in London. However the opening scene with the chase down Princes Street into Waterloo Place, accompanied by Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life soundtrack is one of the most iconic in modern British cinema. Trainspotting was wildly successful upon its release. It launched the career of McGregor and propelled Boyle to his current status as one of Britain's premier directors. This movie has probably done more than any other to put Edinburgh on the map and the sequel is currently in production, with more scenes being shot in Edinburgh.  

6. The Da Vinci Code (2006)

Director : Ron Howard

Starring : Tom Hanks, Audrey Tatu, Paul Bethaney, Ian McKellen, Jean Remo

Dan Brown’s huge best-selling blockbuster, The DaVinci Code was made into a movie with Tom Hanks and Audrey Tatou in 2006. After a religious relic treasure hunt taking them all over Europe, the main characters end up in Rosslyn Chapel, near Edinburgh. Although it’s often thought to be found in the city itself, Rosslyn Chapel is about eight miles south in the small village of Rosslyn.

Rosslyn Chapel is a fascinating little church built in 1456, full of incredibly ornate carvings covering just about every square inch of the interior. Thanks to Dan Brown, past rumblings of the church’s connections to Freemasons, the Knight’s Templar and the Holy Grail have helped it become a major tourist attraction in Scotland.

7. Hallam Foe (2007)

Director : David Mackenzie

Starring : Jamie Bell, Ruth Milne, John Paul Lawler

A quirky, bittersweet coming-of-age tale of a Scottish teenager Hallam Foe, who runs away to Edinburgh and meets a beautiful hotel worker who looks like his late mother, who committed suicide. The movie features many notable shots of Edinburgh and in particular lots of great views from the rooftops as the main character spend a lot of time up there.

8. One Day (2011)

Director : Lone Scherfig

Starring : Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway

On the day of their college graduation, a boy and a girl from opposite sides of the tracks spend the night together and begin a lifelong friendship. For the next 20 years, the two friends reunite for just 1 day (the anniversary of their graduation) until they discover what they've been searching for, each other. There are many Edinburgh scenes including ones at Moray Place, Parliament Square, Warriston’s Close, the Royal Mile, Cockburn Street, and a walk up Arthur’s Seat.

9. Cloud Atlas (2012)

Director : Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski

Starring : Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant

This epic sci-fi movie explores how the actions and consequences of individual lives impact one another throughout the past, the present and the future.

Edinburgh scenes were filmed at the Scott Monument, the City Chambers on the Royal Mile, Victoria Terrace and in the India Buildings on Victoria Street.

10. Sunshine on Leith (2013)

Director : Dexter Fletcher

Starring : Paul Brannigan, George MacKay, Kevin Guthrie

Sunshine on Leith is a musical movie adapted from the stage play of the same name and features songs by 1980’s Scottish band The Proclaimers. The film follows the stories of Davy and Ally, who have to re-learn how to live life in Edinburgh after coming home from serving in Afghanistan.

Many of Edinburgh’s best-known streets and landmarks are featured including Calton Hill, North Bridge, Leith Shore and Constitution Street. The closing scene is filmed on the Mound.

We’ve picked out 10 of our favourites here but maybe you have a favourite of your own.  Let us know in the comments section.