See Edinburgh’s churches by tram…

Graeme Green

Adminstrator, Scotland’s Churches Trust

Read Graeme’s latest blog about a recent afternoon of enjoyable church-spotting spent riding along the newly extended Edinburgh Tram route as this increasingly iconic road-train quietly threaded its way through the city from the Airport to Newhaven.

The Edinburgh tram opens up a further means of seeing many churches from the outside without even leaving your seat. If you are on a whistle stop tour of Scotland, the UK or the world this may be a way of ticking some Scottish heritage boxes as soon as you step off the plane or train.


If you stay at a city centre hotel, you are well placed to find a tram stop within a few yards. Subsequently you could choose which landmarks to see closer up – a mere 5 minute walk from the tram stop. For the purposes of the following blog I assume that you will travel either west on the original line to the Airport or north on the new extension to Newhaven with Picardy Place as your point of embarkation which is fittingly near the rear exit of Waverley Station. Clicking on the church name takes you to the SCT profile for the church, if we have it – or use our search box later. 

We try to limit the churches to those that one can actually see from the window. Buildings currently in regular use are mixed with former churches or even those potentially facing closure. Much of the description is taken from the SCT website and our own photos can be supplemented by John Hume’s excellent line drawings seen in the relevant church profile page on our site. Acknowledgements and thanks to you John and Google Streetview. If this blog encourages you to develop a passion for our wonderful church heritage, then we have done our job, or even better if it causes you to want to become a valued volunteer for church recording. Clicking on the church name, if it is in bold, takes you to out web site entry if we have one.

We’ve made this GoogleMap of the churches that you can view as you travel along the Edinburgh tram route.

Just click each pin for the church’s address, just in case you want to get off at the nearest tram stop and have a closer look.

For a fuller description of each church building, read on…

Picardy Place to the Airport

St Mary’s Cathedral (nearest stop – Picardy Place) occupies the site of the much smaller Chapel of St Mary’s, 1814. The church was made a pro-Cathedral at the restoration of the Scottish Hierarchy in 1878, when ‘Edinburgh’ was added to the ancient title of the see of St Andrews that had been vacant for 307 years. In 1886, at the request of Archbishop William Smith, the church was raised to the status of a Metropolitan Cathedral for the new Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, with all the rights and privileges thereof. All that remains of St Mary’s Chapel, designed by James Gillespie Graham, is the neo-Gothic façade. After a fire in 1892, the nave arcade was rebuilt by John Biggar. The chancel, designed by Buchanan & Bennett, was added in 1895.

St Paul’s & St George’s Church, known as Ps & Gs, York Place (nearest stop – Picardy Place) has a fascinating past, but, even more importantly, a lively and relevant present. A remarkable church designed by Archibald Elliott, 1818, in perpendicular Gothic with octagonal corner turrets, pierced parapets and crocketted finials. Matching sanctuary added by Peddie & Kinnear, 1892. In 2008 Lee Boyd Architects fulfilled the Church’s project vision to make the building fit for a contemporary role and to sustain its use as a place of congregation for years to come.

St John’s is at the west end of Princes Street (nearest stop – West End), in the heart of Edinburgh. It is one of architect William Burn’s finest early 19th-century buildings (1818) built in the Perpendicular Gothic style. The interior of St John’s could be a world away from the busy streets that lie just beyond its walls. The most striking feature is the plaster ceiling vault, which was inspired by King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. The chancel was extended in 1882 by Peddie & Kinnear who also designed the interior woodwork. The chapel to the south of the chancel is beautiful and intimate, a contrast to the soaring height of the church. The church has of the finest collections of stained glass in Scotland with windows by Clayton & Bell, Heaton, Butler & Bayne, and Ballantine. Woodwork by Peddie & Kinnear, 1867. Organ originally by ‘Father’ Willis 1901.

As soon as you pass St John’s above do not let your attention lapse for a second since there is a hidden gem of a “lost / repurposed church” nestling, almost hidden at the start of Shandwick Place. The Ghillie Dhu bar and restaurant building was built in 1842 and is a beautifully restored Grade B listed building, retaining many of the unique features of what was originally St Thomas’s Episcopal Church.

Charlotte Chapel: (nearest stop – West End). St George’s Free Church, was built by David Bryce in 1869 and is on the corner of Shandwick Place and Stafford Street. The 50m campanile tower is based on a church in Venice and was added later. St George’s West Church of Scotland, as it became, was there until 2013 and now it is known as Charlotte Baptist Chapel, who moved from their Rose Street building in 2016 when they outgrew it.

Whilst stopped at the West End tram stop you can catch a glimpse of the three spires of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral to the right. This is our title picture. You’ll get a better view as you look up Palmerston Place from where our next view is.

Palmerston Place Church (nearest stop – Haymarket). You have to be quick to see this one between Shandwick Place and Haymarket – glance up to the right about 100 yards before getting to Haymarket. Opened in 1875, the inspiration for Peddie & Kinnear’s design came from the 17th-century St Sulpice in Paris. A notable feature is the central ceiling motif of a dove within a sunburst. Wells Kennedy organ 1991 incorporates the oak case of the earlier 1902 organ. Further up the street on the right is St Mary’s Cathedral.

As the tram track tends to follow former railway lines rather than the street, as we leave the city centre, there are fewer churches directly visible from the tram car. 

The spire of St Salvador’s Episcopal Church is visible being about half a mile south, looking towards the Pentland Hills, from the line between Balgreen and Saughton. It was founded in 1934. The architect, Sir Matthew Montgomery Ochterlony (1880 – 1946), based his design on the medieval church of St Monans in the East Neuk of Fife.

Gogar Church: (nearest stop – Gogarburn)

You have to be quick, and possibly travelling in winter, to catch this church through the trees. This is one of the few reminders of Gogar village. The site dates from 12th C medieval times but the church mainly hails from the end of the 19th and has been used as a mausoleum and a cabinet maker’s workshop. Building the tram line resulted in some excavations and interesting finds. The church is really just a few minutes walk from the Gogarburn tram stop down a track.

You could carry on to the end of the line where there is another place of worship – the Airport Chapel. However, if you take the journey back to the city centre you can catch buildings you possibly missed.

Next is the new northern extension to the line which begins at Picardy Place from where we began the blog.

Picardy Place to Newhaven

Lady Glenorchy’s Church or Chapel: (nearest stop – Picardy Place) Sadly only the façade, and clock, remain of a church, built in 1846, that saw decline over a number of decades. The congregation merged with the nearby Greenside Parish Church in 1978 which is now under threat of disposal itself.

On the right if you look down London Road and up high you can see the tower of Greenside on Royal Terrace. You have to be fast though as the tram picks up speed to go down Leith Walk.

Greenside Church: (nearest stop – Picardy Place) Gothic T-plan design by Gillespie Graham 1839 with tower added in 1852, set amid Playfair’s great terraces around Calton Hill. Connections with Robert Louis Stevenson who knew it as ‘the church on the hill’. The pipe organ, rebuilt here by Ingram 1933. The building is likely to be sold soon under the latest COS Presbytery Plan and artefacts were recorded in 2022 by SCT volunteers with the Church recording Project.

Pilrig St Paul’s: (nearest stop – Balfour Street) Edinburgh’s first electric tramline, following the conversion from cable, was completed almost exactly 100 years prior to the modern Newhaven extension opening in June 2023. The 1970s Evening News article neatly ties church and tram together.  Splendid church in French Gothic style by Peddie & Kinnear, 1861-3. Gothic spire with chiming clock at the south corner. A spectacular interior with leafy stone capitals carrying a diagonal arch-braced roof of laminated timber. Windows by Ballantine & Son and Field & Allen. The chancel furnishings make an impressive pitch-pine Gothic display beneath the organ by Forster & Andrews, 1903.

Our Lady of Pochayiv and St Andrew Ukrainian Church: Directly viewable from inside the tram at the Balfour Street stop, looking down Dalmeny Street, this was originally the United Presbyterian Church, completed in 1882. In 1965 it became Our Lady of Pochayiv and St Andrew’s to serve the large Ukrainian Catholic community in that area.

St Andrews Place United Presbyterian Church Mission Hall, Jane Street, Leith (nearest stop – Foot of the Walk): If you crane your neck out of the window you can just about glimpse the former mission hall of St. Andrews Place United Presbyterian.  Founded in  1787. They moved to a new building at the foot of Easter Road, near Leith Links in 1826.

Destiny, Leith: Again, one to quickly glimpse from the window as the tram approaches the foot of Leith Walk, in Casselbank Street (nearest stop – Foot of the Walk). The building was originally Turkish Baths before being converted to a cinema and finally in 2007 becoming Destiny Church.

There are actually three churches in this street. See if you are agile enough to spot the others!

South Leith Parish Church: Kirkgate (nearest stop – Foot of the Walk) A church was erected in 1483 as a chapel attached to the collegiate Church of Restalrig. The present building dates from 1847, built to a design by Thomas Hamilton. Tower and porch incorporate coats of arms of four successive Scottish monarchs. Fine hammerbeam roof. Italian marble pulpit. Stained glass and emblems of the Trade Guilds. Organ by Brindley & Foster 1887. Set in ancient graveyard with interesting monuments.

St James Episcopal Church, Constitution Street, Leith : (nearest stop – The Shore). Sadly again, this building has been out of use for many years and has been storage and workshops. However it is now being restored and appears to have a brighter future. It was built in 1862 to a design by Sir George Gilbert Scott.

The nave was widened and heightened by Reid & Forbes in 1932. The baldacchino in the chancel is by Reginal Fairlie, 1928;

St Mary’s Star of the Sea Constitution Street, Leith (nearest stop – The Shore) E W Pugin and Joseph A Hansom’s church of 1854 had no chancel, no north aisle and was orientated to the west. The north aisle was added in 1900 and the chancel in 1912 when the church was turned round and the present west entrance made. Inside, the church has simple pointed arcades and a high braced collar roof. Organ originally by Brindley & Foster 1897.

Former St John’s East Church, Constitution Street, Leith. (nearest stop – The Shore). Built as a Chapel of Ease. David Rhind re-fronted this church in 1843 as it became a Free Church; having been built in 1773. Originally there were symmetrical schoolrooms on each side of the spire but one pavilion was demolished when the building was converted to offices.

I hope that you enjoyed the blog and that it will inspire you to take a closer look at our rich heritage of churches.

Thank you for reading!