An old New Town

Scotland, Edinburgh Guide (A): An old New Town

This tour passes the major architectural and historical sites in Edinburgh’s New Town, while explaining the history and urgent need for its creation in the late 18th century. With some lesser known anecdotes intertwined with the remarkable history of Edinburgh’s city center, the tour takes you from the height of Edinburgh castle, into the streets of New Town and ends with panoramic views of the city and beyond, from the top of Calton Hill.
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Walk Route

Guide Name: An old New Town
Guide Location: Scotland » Edinburgh
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (A))
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 1.0 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.2 km
Sight(s) featured in this guide: Edinburgh Castle   The Mound   The National Gallery of Scotland   The Royal Scottish Academy   Princes Street   Princes Street gardens   Charlotte Square   George Street   St Andrew Square   The National Portrait Gallery   Scott Monument   Calton Hill  
Author: lisa pettersson
Author Bio: I was born in Sweden 1976 but moved to the UK in 1995 and have remained here since. I have with my husband Mike, from Wales, also spent nearly 3 years in Asia: traveling, working and writing. We are currently based in Edinburgh, where I work as an artist and graphic designer, and also write occasional travel related articles. We both still enjoy traveling and spend much of our free time abroad.
Edinburgh Castle

1) Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh’s Old Town and the castle by which you stand dates back to medieval times. In the 17th century however the Old Town had become so overcrowded and filled with crime, filth and disease that something drastic needed to be done to release pressure on the city and convince its wealthier inhabitants not to abandon Scotland all together.

A ‘New Town’ was proposed by King James VII at the end of the 17th century. It was the age of the Scottish enlightenment and the city needed...
The Mound

2) The Mound

As the foundations and planning of the New Town started to take shape, crossings were needed over the cesspit which today is unrecognisable as the lush Princes Street gardens. To the east of where you stand you can see the pale blue North Bridge, a first version of which was in place by 1772. But a tailor who lived in the Old Town found himself with clients in New Town before the bridge was completed, and in order to service them he began to lay down rocks and planks to step on. The crossing was...
The National Gallery of Scotland

3) The National Gallery of Scotland

You are stood between the National Gallery of Scotland and the Royal Scottish Academy, both designed in neo classical style by renowned Scottish architect William Henry Playfair. The design is a great example of Scottish enlightenment architecture, and the idea of Edinburgh becoming a ‘modern Athens’. Thus when Prince Albert laid the foundation stone to the national gallery in 1850 he envisioned it becoming a ‘Temple to the Arts’.

The gallery became so popular as a place to record and...
The Royal Scottish Academy

4) The Royal Scottish Academy

The second building on The Mound is the home of The Royal Scottish Academy, founded in 1826. It was built at the same time as the National Gallery - Queen Victoria is of course a later addition to the roof – but it wasn’t until 1910 that the RSA was moved here from the National Gallery building.

The first 11 artist members of the Academy had altruistic ambitions when they put down their manifesto to provide free art education, provide funds for less fortunate artists and hold annual...
Princes Street

5) Princes Street

Construction of Princes Street, named after King David III sons, began in the east, as a residential street, originally with large houses set back from the street and with stairs down to the basement. It soon however became a home for trader’s booths, allowing the new, wealthy inhabitants of New Town to shop without having to return to the squalor of Old Town. The booths were considered unsightly and were removed, but gradually traders moved into the properties and turned Princes Street into...
Princes Street gardens

6) Princes Street gardens

In the plan for building Edinburgh New Town was also to drain Nor Loch – the open cesspit between Old Town and the new construction site north of it. Down the narrow streets of Old Town ran everything from human waste to dead cats into this cavity, and even more disturbingly, this is where many unfortunate young women were thrown in and tried for witchcraft. When the gardens were drained during the New Town construction hundreds of female corpses and remains were found.

From 1816 the...
Charlotte Square

7) Charlotte Square

Charlotte Square was the last part of New Town to be completed, in 1820. It was named after King George III wife and it mirrors St. Andrew’s square on the other end of George Street, which runs parallel to Princes Street between the two squares. Though the square was incorporated in James Craig’s design of the New Town layout, the council decided this square, which was to host the most exclusive addresses in the city, needed special treatment and they approached a different man, Robert Adam,...
George Street

8) George Street

George Street was named after King George III and was the main street in James Craig’s design of New Town with two squares mirroring each other at each end. Parallel to George Street on each side run Prices Street and Queen Street, while in between George Street and Princes Street is picturesque Rose Street, named after the English emblem, and between George Street and Queen Street is Thistle Street, named after the Scottish. Both are narrower cobbled streets and were originally used as...
St Andrew Square

9) St Andrew Square

St Andrew Square is where the building of New Town began, in 1772. When completed 6 years later it became Edinburgh’s most expensive and sought after residential area. Until this day it claims to be the richest area in the whole of Scotland, and with major banks, insurance companies and the stock exchange located here, this is likely to be true.

Architect James Craig had intended the spot where Dundas House stands, on the far east of the square, for St. Andrew's Church which would...
The National Portrait Gallery

10) The National Portrait Gallery

Edinburgh’s National Portrait Gallery happens to be the first purpose built gallery in the world. As we learned it was built to offload some of the excess work from the National Gallery in the 1880s by architect sir Robert Rowand Anderson. Anderson modeled his design partly by Doges palace in Venice, creating a splendid and intricate neo-gothic building with sculptors appointed to make the figures of the famous Scots who decorate the facade. The red Dumfriesshire sandstone is unusual for...
Scott Monument

11) Scott Monument

The world famous Scottish Sir Walter Scott left a legacy of classic works of historical literature, poetry and plays behind him when he died in 1832. In Edinburgh soon after his death it was generally felt that some sort of monument should be erected in his memory, and a competition went underway to select a design for such a building.

Self taught architect George Miekle Kemp was worried that his lack of qualifications would count against him and submitted his drawings under pseudonym John...
Image by The Mallick Family under Creative Commons License.
Calton Hill

12) Calton Hill

The view of Edinburgh from Calton Hill is perhaps the most famous and most photographed of all. Here you can see the castle from where we started our tour, Old Town, Princes Street and many of the Georgian landmarks of New Town, but also further – to Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano south of here, the Firth of Forth, the stretch of water in the north, and the Fife coast on the other side.

Over the centuries the hill has been home to the notorious Calton hill prison, a leper colony, an...

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