City Secrets: Playfair Library

Hidden in a University of Edinburgh building is what many city residents consider Edinburgh’s finest hall:  The Playfair Library.  Students of the university may beg to differ, as the location is often used for exams.

The library is one wing of the quadrangle in the Old College, a set of buildings constructed in the late 1700s and early 1800s.  The original architect of the buildings was Robert Adam, widely considered one of Edinburgh’s architectural geniuses and responsible for work on sites such as Charlotte Square.  He died before the Old College was complete, and William Playfair took over the completion of the majority of the project.    William made several changes to the design, including the alteration to feature the Playfair Library Hall.

The hall functioned as an actual working library from the 1820s until as recently as 1960, when the University consolidated its collections in George Square.   Today, the coffered vaulted ceilings and busts lining the shelves on either side of the hall look untouched from their original creation.   With a length of over 190 feet, the hall is a favourite for corporate functions, lectures, dinners, and yes – those pesky exams as well.

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Andrew Hayes

Andy is a travel writer who has his own blog 'Sharing Experiences' on

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