The Heart of Midlothian is both a historic mosaic dating to the Middle Ages and a landmark that denotes the location of Edinburgh's Old Tolbooth administrative building. Locals often spit on the sign as a good luck charm, a tradition that has morphed from its original meaning of disdain for the many executions that took place at this site over the years. The Heart of Midlothian F.C., the local soccer club, takes its name from the mosaic and the Old Tolbooth.

The Heart was installed as part of a replacement building to the Old Tolbooth in 1561, and after this second building was demolished in 1817, the Heart was all that remained. It has been an inspiration for the writings of Sir Walter Scott and has become an iconic part of the city's culture and historic identity – even if many now don't remember its true origins.

Heart of Midlothian in Edinburgh - one of the highlights of 11 Things to Do Off the Beaten Track in Edinburgh (Read all about Edinburgh here)

Highlights and features of the Heart of Midlothian

The Heart of Midlothian is an elegant mosaic in the street at the site of Edinburgh's Old Tolbooth. City residents have a tradition of spitting upon it as they walk past. Though today it is considered a sign of good luck, it is generally believed that the tradition began to show disdain for the conditions suffered by prisoners within the original building.

Some say that spitting on the Heart ensures that the traveler will one day return to Edinburgh. The Heart is part of the Royal Mile, which connects Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace and offers the opportunity to visit other local points of interest such as St Giles’ Cathedral, Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, Canongate, Abbey Strand and the Scottish National Gallery. Additionally, you'll find tons of indie shops, restaurants and pubs within walking distance.

The history of the Heart of Midlothian

The history of the Heart of Midlothian begins with the Old Tolbooth, the center of administration for Edinburgh for over 4 centuries. The original structure was erected in the 14th century by royal charter, and though an important location as the meeting place for the Parliament of Scotland, it was also the main penitentiary of the city and saw thousands of incarcerations and public executions.

By 1561, the jail had such a bad reputation for its horrific conditions that Mary, Queen of Scots, had it demolished and rebuilt with new features, including the now-famous Heart at its main entrance. Unfortunately, torture and executions continued. Finally, in 1817, the building was demolished for good, and the Heart is all that remains. Many years later, the Heart became the inspiration for, symbol of and namesake of the local soccer club, the Heart of Midlothian F.C. 

Good to know about the Heart of Midlothian

The Heart of Midlothian, a family-friendly locale, is free to visit. It's quite literally a brick mosaic in the center of the plaza outside of St Giles’ Cathedral, which uses different brickwork than its surroundings. It's in a walkable area, so it's safe to visit with no danger of automobiles whipping past. It's also a popular photo opportunity.

The area is relatively flat, though made of brick, so it's relatively accessible to those in wheelchairs or with mobility issues. Keep in mind that it may present some minor difficulties in navigation due to the uneven ground. The busiest times to visit tend to be between 1 and 4 pm. Note that the old tradition of spitting on the Heart is alive and well, so if that's something that bothers you, you'll want to be aware of it.

Heart of Midlothian in Edinburgh

Location: 197 High St, Edinburgh EH1 1PW, UK