What county is Edinburgh in?

Written by Chris Thornton | 10th of May 2023
What county is Edinburgh in?

Edinburgh is within the county named "The City of Edinburgh".

The City of Edinburgh is one of Scotland's 32 council areas and the second most populated (518,500). A local council administrates each of Scotland's councils; for the City of Edinburgh, it is the "City of Edinburgh Council".

Let's investigate the origin of Edinburgh's county.

Background of the City of Edinburgh and its Establishment

Historical records of Edinburgh's existence go back to prehistoric times, with signs of human habitation dating as far back as the Bronze Age. However, during the Roman period, in the 1st century AD, the region began to gain prominence.

Edinburgh, as we know it today, began to take shape around the 7th century AD. The Gododdin, a Celtic-speaking Brittonic tribe, established a hillfort called Din Eidyn on the rock where the current Edinburgh Castle stands. The name "Edinburgh" evolved from this ancient name.

Edinburgh, a royal burgh

In the Middle Ages, Edinburgh began to flourish as a market town, its growth bolstered by the burgeoning wool trade. By the 12th century, King David I had granted the town "royal burgh" status, which allowed it to hold markets, mint its own coins, and autonomy over local governance. This was a pivotal moment in the city's history, establishing it as an important centre of commerce and governance.

The construction of the majestic Edinburgh Castle on Castle Rock, which began in the 12th century, and the establishment of Holyrood Abbey at the opposite end of the Royal Mile, laid the foundation for what is now the city's historic centre. This area, comprising the Old Town, would remain the heart of Edinburgh for centuries to come.

Edinburgh Castle is a familiar sight in this historic county.
Edinburgh Castle, high on Castle Rock.

Over the subsequent centuries, despite periods of conflict and upheaval, including the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 13th and 14th centuries, Edinburgh continued to grow and thrive. It was officially recognized as the capital of Scotland in the 15th century (1437).

Scotland's Capital City

From its early origins as a hillfort and county town to its rise as a royal burgh and eventual recognition as Scotland's capital, Edinburgh's rich and diverse history has shaped the city we see today. Its historic architecture, iconic landmarks, and vibrant cultural scene stand as a testament to its enduring legacy.


To understand the relationship between Edinburgh and Midlothian, we must first dive into the history of Scotland's county structure. A system of counties in Scotland was established for administrative purposes and evolved over time due to various legislative changes.

Midlothian, also known historically as Edinburghshire, is one of these traditional counties. Its origins can be traced back to the Middle Ages when it was known as the "shire of Edinburgh." The county got its name from its central position within Scotland – "Midlothian" essentially means middle land.

The county of Midlothian comprised a vast land area, and at its heart lay the city of Edinburgh. As such, the city was historically considered part of Midlothian, and the terms Edinburghshire and Midlothian were used interchangeably to refer to the same geographical region.

Edinburgh, being the principal burgh of the county, was not only its administrative centre but also a hub of commerce, governance, and cultural activities. The prosperity and growth of the city also contributed to the development and importance of the wider county region.

Over the years, the boundaries of Midlothian underwent several changes. At various times, it included areas now part of other council areas, such as East Lothian and West Lothian. However, throughout these changes, Edinburgh remained a core part of Midlothian.

Thus, historically speaking, Edinburgh was located within the county of Midlothian, or Edinburghshire. This relationship, however, changed with administrative restructuring in the late 20th century, which saw Edinburgh become a separate council area in its own right. But the historical ties between Edinburgh and Midlothian are deeply rooted and remain a significant part of Scotland's heritage.

Charlotte Square
Edinburgh's historic Charlotte Square Gardens.

Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973

The administrative landscape of Scotland underwent a significant transformation with the passage of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973. This Act, which received Royal Assent on the 25th of October 1973, was instrumental in redefining the administrative divisions in Scotland, marking a pivotal shift in how local governance was organised.

Before the Act, Scotland was divided into counties, large burghs, small burghs, and districts, which were used for various administrative purposes. This structure, which had evolved over centuries, was deeply rooted in tradition but also seen as increasingly complex and unsuited to the needs of modern governance. The 1973 Act aimed to simplify and modernise this system, making it more efficient and responsive.

The Act created a two-tier system of regional and district councils, which replaced the previous structure of counties and burghs. It established nine regions, including Lothian, within which were 53 districts. The regions were responsible for services such as education, social work, and planning, while the districts, which were more localised, handled matters such as housing, local planning, and refuse collection.

Importantly for Edinburgh, the city became a district within the Lothian region. The city, previously part of the county of Midlothian (or Edinburghshire), was now administratively separate, although still closely tied to its historic county in the broader Lothian region.

This was a significant change, but it was not the final one. A further restructuring of local governance in Scotland in the mid-1990s would lead to the creation of the current council areas and cement Edinburgh's status as a separate administrative entity. Nonetheless, the 1973 Act was a critical step in that journey, setting the stage for the administrative divisions we see in Scotland today.

Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994

In the mid-1990s, just over two decades after the major reorganization enacted by the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, another significant shift in Scotland's administrative structure occurred. The Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994 was introduced, leading to the dissolution of the two-tier regional and district councils system and the creation of 32 new single-tier council areas.

Scotland's counties diagram.
A diagram showing Scotland's counties.

City of Edinburgh Council

One of these 32 council areas was the City of Edinburgh, marking a defining moment in the city's administrative history. This new structure came into effect on April 1, 1996, and saw Edinburgh become a council area in its own right, entirely independent of traditional county boundaries, including its historical link to the county of Midlothian.

The 1994 Act was designed to streamline local government and bring it closer to the communities it served. Each council area was to be governed by a local authority responsible for providing a wide range of public services, from education and social services to transportation and environmental protection.

As a council area, the City of Edinburgh now had its own locally elected council, the City of Edinburgh Council, with the authority to make decisions on local issues. This change allowed for more focused governance tailored to the needs of the city's residents. As a result, the City of Edinburgh Council became responsible for the administration of all local government services within its boundaries, replacing the shared responsibilities that existed under the previous regional and district councils structure.

It's important to note that while this change altered the administrative relationship between Edinburgh and Midlothian, it did not erase their historical ties. Nevertheless, the city of Edinburgh, despite its new administrative independence, remains at the heart of the geographical area traditionally known as Midlothian or Edinburghshire.

Thus, the transition to the council area structure in 1996 marked a significant milestone in Edinburgh's governance history, providing the city with a new level of autonomy while maintaining its rich historical connections.

Edinburgh City Centre, a major centre for finanace, law, tourism and education.
Edinburgh Council Headquarters.

FAQs on Edinburgh's county

Here are a few frequently asked questions about Edinburgh's county.

Is Edinburgh still considered part of Midlothian?

While Edinburgh was historically part of the county of Midlothian, it is no longer administratively part of it. Since 1996, Edinburgh has been a separate council area, but the historical and cultural ties between Edinburgh and Midlothian remain significant.

How many wards are in the City of Edinburgh?

The City of Edinburgh council area is divided into 17 multi-member wards for local elections. Each ward elects three or four councillors using the single transferable vote system for a total of 63 councillors across all wards. Here are Edinburgh's 17 wards:

  • Almond

  • Pentland Hills

  • Drum Brae/Gyle

  • Forth

  • Inverleith

  • Corstorphine/Murrayfield

  • Sighthill/Gorgie

  • Colinton/Fairmilehead

  • Fountainbridge/Craiglockhart

  • Morningside

  • City Centre

  • Leith Walk

  • Leith

  • Craigentinny/Duddingston

  • Southside/Newington

  • Liberton/Gilmerton

  • Portobello/Craigmillar

What is the difference between a county and a council area in Scotland?

A county is a traditional form of administrative division in Scotland, with roots going back to the Middle Ages. A council area, on the other hand, is a modern administrative unit. There are 32 council areas in Scotland, established in 1996 to provide more localised governance.

Who governs the City of Edinburgh now?

The City of Edinburgh Council governs the City of Edinburgh. This locally elected council is responsible for all local government services within the council area, including education, social services, transportation, and environmental protection.

Does the county of Midlothian still exist?

While the traditional county of Midlothian does exist in a historical and geographical sense, it no longer serves as an administrative unit in Scotland. Instead, there is a council area known as Midlothian, which is separate from the City of Edinburgh council area. Edinburgh lies only three miles north of Midlothian.

Which counties surround the City of Edinburgh?

  • East Lothian, to the east.

  • Midlothian, to the south east.

  • Scottish Borders to the south.

  • West Lothian to the west.

The Firth of Forth's southern shore lies to the north.

Princes Street Gardens. Edinburgh Characters.
Princes Street Gardens and Sir Walter Scott Monument, Edinburgh.

Key information on Edinburgh's county

  • Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland, has a rich history that dates back to ancient times, with its establishment as a significant centre of commerce and governance in the Middle Ages.

  • Historically, Edinburgh was located within the county of Midlothian, also known as Edinburghshire.

  • The Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 redefined the administrative divisions in Scotland, replacing the traditional counties with a two-tier system of regional and district councils. Edinburgh became a district within the Lothian region.

  • The Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994 further restructured local governance in Scotland, creating 32 single-tier council areas, including the City of Edinburgh.

  • On April 1, 1996, Edinburgh became a council area in its own right, governed by the City of Edinburgh Council, independent of traditional county boundaries.

  • Despite these administrative changes, the historical ties between Edinburgh and the county of Midlothian remain a significant part of Scotland's heritage.

  • The City of Edinburgh is the county of Edinburgh.

  • The Scottish Parliament is in Edinburgh.


I hope this article has helped you understand what county Edinburgh is in. Edinburgh has its own county called "The City of Edinburgh" after many administrative changes over the last 50 years.

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

Claim Your Free 6 Day Travel Itinerary:

Simply enter your email and we'll send it your way!

Free Scotland travel itinerary

Hi, please leave a comment below, or why not start a discussion on the forum?