An Audit of a UNESCO World Heritage site - the Royal Mile, Edinburgh: a preliminary search for authenticity: Ten years later (2021)

Research output: Book/ReportOther report


This is the final report about the Royal Mile, on the tenth anniversary of the start of this study. It presents the findings of the 2021 audit of the Edinburgh Royal Mile, provides a historical context and reflects upon the previous reports.

The first audit of the Royal Mile, in 2011, was a “preliminary output of a longer term study into the meaning of authenticity in the context of tourism, with exclusive focus upon the Royal Mile”. It provided an insight into the nature of the Royal Mile. Subsequent audits were conducted on the anniversary of the first, between 15th and 21st July, 2011, in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, though the last was not published. Complementing this is a working paper that examines the concept of authenticity and evaluates the Royal Mile though the resultant framework.

The aim of this report is threefold. First, it reflects over the historical development of the Royal Mile beginning in 1774, then every fifty years from 1814 to 1964. This is based upon profiles of the Royal Mile for these years created from the Post Office Directories, with the addition of the Valuation Roll being used for 1964. The 1984 Edinburgh Old Town Study provides an additional insight, bridging between the 1964 study and the start of this study in 2011. Second, it reflects over the previous reports and their main insights. Third, and the focus, it provides an overview of the Royal Mile in 2021 based on observations from walking the ‘street’ and data from the publicly available Valuation Roll. This permits the profile generated for 2021 to be compared to that of the first audit in 2011.

It is concluded that, within the ten years spanning the first (2011) and last (2021) audits, tourism has become increasingly ingrained within the Royal Mile. This is invoked by the increase in gift retail outlets by 15 and the appearance of a tourism information outlet, two aparthotels and two serviced apartment blocks (one under development). In terms of authenticity, whilst this is a challenging concept to define, the inauthentic manifests when the focus is more about the pursuit of a ‘quick buck’(i.e. exchange value) at the expense of the meaning (i.e. significance) inherent of what is provided. It is open to debate whether this has occurred in the Royal Mile, and, if so, to what degree and whether this is desirable. To add, is the issue of local community and how, historically, the Royal Mile has been shaped by its community as a place of residence and work. However, this no longer appears to be the case . Indeed, this raises the question about the future residential presence of the community in the Royal Mile and its surrounds, particularly if tourism is to be its neighbour. Thus, it invites attention to the UN guide to sustainable tourism, grounded in the three pillars of environment, economy and society. This guide offers a twelve point agenda that includes care for the community.

This report ends with two fundamental questions: What is the enduring long term vision for the development of the Royal Mile? Is / ought the community be involved in this vision and its realisation, especially its shaping?
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUniversity of Edinburgh
Number of pages46
ISBN (Electronic)9781912669431
Publication statusPublished - 7 Aug 2021


  • authenticity
  • Edinburgh
  • heritage
  • World Heritage
  • tourism
  • capitalism
  • The Commons; Community


Dive into the research topics of 'An Audit of a UNESCO World Heritage site - the Royal Mile, Edinburgh: a preliminary search for authenticity: Ten years later (2021)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this