Famous Squares and Streets Walking Tour, Edinburgh (Self Guided)

While in Edinburgh, discover the popular avenues, boulevards and streets that lead to its most famous squares. While exploring these streets, you can find a copious amount of historic and religious edifices, fashion boutiques, classy restaurants, famous market areas, and other sites. Check out the most popular Edinburgh squares and streets in the following self-guided tour.
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Famous Squares and Streets Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Famous Squares and Streets Walking Tour
Guide Location: Scotland » Edinburgh (See other walking tours in Edinburgh)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.9 km
Author: Helen
Charlotte Square

1) Charlotte Square

Charlotte Square is located on the west end of George Street and was constructed as a complement to St Andrew Square on the east end of the street.

The square was named after King George III’s first daughter and construction began in 1820 and the last part, the north-west corner, was finished in the nineteen nineties, but the original plan was adhered to, so there is nothing modern-looking about the square.

N°5, one of the houses on the north side was the family home of John-Crichton-Stuart and when he died he left the building to the National Trust of Scotland and today it is the headquarters of the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust.

N° 6, Bute House is also own by the National Trust of Scotland and is the official residence of the First Minister of Scotland. N°7, the Georgian House is the third NTS building in the square and is a house museum, open to the public.

In the square’s gardens is a fine equestrian memorial statue by Sir John Steell, erected to Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband. The gardens are only open to the square’s residents, except in August, when for three weeks it hosts the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
Princes Street

2) Princes Street (must see)

Princes Street in the New Town runs from Leith Street to the Lothian Road and offers over a mile of shops, cafés and pubs. It is, in fact, the most important shopping street in the city.

The street was named after two of King George III’s sons: Prince George (who later became King George V) and Prince Frederick. The early 18th century buildings were renovated in the 19th century, and then in the 1960s under the “Princes Street Plan”, some of the buildings were pulled down and replaced with “pro-forma” pattern constructions to enlarge storefronts.

Most of the shops are on the north side of the street, the south side looks out over the valley towards the Old Town and Edinburgh Castle. Most of the valley is taken up by Princes Street Gardens, which were created in 1820 when Nor Loch was drained.

The gardens comprise 38 acres separated by the Mound, and they are a favourite tourist venue. They are filled with statues and monuments, the most important of which is the War Memorial erected for Scottish-American soldiers.

In the summer open-air theatre performances and concerts are held on the Ross Bandstand. There is also a beautiful floral clock to admire.
St. Andrew Square

3) St. Andrew Square

If you want to take a little time out from visiting Edinburgh’s marvellous houses and museums, but don’t feel up to a long walk, the best place to go is to St Andrew Square.

This square was constructed in 1772 as the first part of James Craig’s design for the New Town. The lovely houses surrounding it once were the homes of the city’s elite and Dundas House on the east side of the square is a fine example of the architecture of the 18th century.

Today it is one of the most important financial areas in Edinburgh, with most bank and insurance company headquarters here. Dundas House is the home of the Royal Bank of Scotland. There are also some up-market designer shops, restaurants and pubs to visit.

The best part about the square is, of course, the gardens which were once only open to residents but are now a favourite place in the summer for tourists and the people who work in the area.

On the south-west side of the gardens is a small pond with benches all around it. The lawns are well-kept and there is an air of tranquillity about the place, even if cars and buses somewhat break the illusion of being in the country-side. The gardens have an excellent pavilion café that serves snacks, tea, coffee and soft drinks.
South Bridge Street

4) South Bridge Street

The city of Edinburgh straddles several hills and five bridges span the valleys; one of these is South Bridge Street.

Construction of the bridge that was to link the Old Town High Street to the University buildings began in 1785. Built over 19 arches, the bridge is over 1000 feet long and very wide. At its highest point it stands at 31 feet and the foundations are buried 22 feet into the ground.

For many years the locals refused to cross the bridge, believing it to be cursed, as the first person to cross when it opened was meant to be the wife of a well-known judge, but she died before the opening. As she had been invited to this auspicious moment, she was carried across in her coffin and for many years the locals believed her ghost haunted the bridge.

Houses, offices and shops were built along each side of the bridge and tenement houses, taverns and workshops were built into the vaults underneath it. These were damp, miserable places which quickly degraded until they were only inhabited by the poor seeking refuge. They were eventually filled in for health and safety reasons.

In 1985 the vaults were partially reopened as part of the city’s “Ghost Tours”. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday night is August you can join the “Vault Vigils” and spend the night in one of the vaults. Ghost-hunting equipment is set up so that “vigils” can record any supernatural movement.

This is only recommended for the brave – not because of any lingering spirits, but because the vaults are dank and cold even in the hottest summers. The vaults have been classed as one of the most haunted areas in the United Kingdom.
Cowgate Street

5) Cowgate Street

Cowgate Street is in Edinburgh’s Old Town. It runs from Holyrood Road, under George IV Bridge, to the Grassmarket.

The street is so named as once cows were driven along here to the market. “Gate” is another term for street. As it lies in the same small valley as the Grassmarket, Cowgate is lower than the surrounding street levels.

From the 18th century until the end of the nineteen fifties, Cowgate was part of the city’s slum area and was known as “Little Ireland” due to the number of Irish immigrants who settled there. James Connolly was born at number 107. He is known for his leadership in the Irish Easter Rising in 1916. During the Rising he was wounded and was executed tied to a chair.

The oldest building in the street is Magdalen Chapel, built in the 16th century. Another fine old building is St Cecilia’s Hall, built in 1761 for the Musical Society. It has a small concert area and houses a small museum of musical instruments.

During the Edinburgh Festival you can get tickets to see one of the shows or concerts that are put on by the Underbelly Theatre, and there is a wonderful pub along the street called the Three Sisters, where you can enjoy a good meal and sample some of Scotland’s finest beers and whiskies.
Chambers Street

6) Chambers Street

Chambers Street lies to the south of the Old Town. It was named after the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, William Chambers of Glenorminston and you will see a statue of him in the centre of the street.

Chambers Street is lined with ancient buildings of great interest and include the Old College of the University of Edinburgh which was built in 1791 and which pre-dates the laying out of the street. It now houses the Talbot Rice Gallery, with temporary exhibitions in the White Room, the Torrie Collection of Old Masters in the Georgian Gallery and small exhibitions and experimental projects in the Round Room.

In the Royal Museum, which was built in 1888, you can admire the Wylam Dilly steam locomotive that dates back to 1813. Adam House is also open to the public and it holds the Discover Science family experience created by the University of Edinburgh.

You will also find the Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street. In this marvellous museum you will see a part of the St Ninian’s Isle Treasure, eleven of the Lewis Chessmen (the others are in the British Museum), a collection of Pictish stones, Celtic brooches and an early form of guillotine named “The Maiden”. You will also find the perfectly preserved body of “Dolly”, the first mammal in the world to be cloned.
George Square

7) George Square

You will find George Square near the Meadows. The square is partly surrounded by the University of Edinburgh buildings, but it also holds several points of interest, so do make a little time for a small detour to see this old square.

The University buildings went up in the nineteen sixties and include the Appleton Tower, the 13 storey David Hume Tower that offers a great view of the city from the top floor, the William Robertson Building and the Adam Fergusson Building.

These buildings house lecture rooms, classrooms, laboratories and offices and the locals consider them among the least attractive buildings in the city, even though some of them have won architectural awards.

The points of interest are the 18th century terraced houses on the west side of the square, which have been preserved. Sir Walter Scott spent his childhood in one of these houses.

The George Square Theatre puts on plays and musicals. It is the favourite venue of Edinburgh’s Fringe during the Edinburgh Festival. In June 2012 it will be hosting the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

Another favourite spot for visitors and students is the George Square Gardens, with the Edinburgh Labyrinth, which is based on the 13th century labyrinth in Charles Cathedral, France.

Walking Tours in Edinburgh, Scotland

Create Your Own Walk in Edinburgh

Create Your Own Walk in Edinburgh

Creating your own self-guided walk in Edinburgh is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Royal Mile Walking Tour

Royal Mile Walking Tour

The Royal Mile is not in fact a street, but the name given to a succession of streets forming a thoroughfare at the heart of Edinburgh's Old Town. The thoroughfare is about a mile long and runs between the famed Edinburgh Castle and the Holyrood Palace. The Mile is home to the Courts, St. Giles Cathedral, the City Chambers, John Knox's house, and also numerous shops and restaurants. Take...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.9 km
Souvenir Shopping

Souvenir Shopping

It would be a pity to leave Edinburgh without having explored its specialty shops and bringing home something truly original. We've compiled a list of gifts and souvenirs, which are unique to Edinburgh, that a visitor might like to purchase to reflect their visit.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.7 km
Kids Entertainment Tour

Kids Entertainment Tour

Edinburgh is a city with a thousand and one things for children to enjoy. There are many sources of amusement for children of all ages, from tots to teens, such as playgrounds, toy stores, children's museums, sweet-shops, and wonderful ice cream stores to keep them happy. Take this tour and discover the best kids entertainment venues in Edinburgh!

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.8 km
City Orientation Walk

City Orientation Walk

Comfortably yet tightly packed on the hilly terrain, Edinburgh – the Scottish capital – is a picturesque city much popular with tourists, in large part, due to its unique architecture comprising medieval (Old Town) and elegant Georgian (New Town) buildings. The cityscape is dominated by Edinburgh Castle, once the seat of the Scottish royals and now home to the country's crown jewels. To...  view more

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.3 km
Old Town Walking Tour

Old Town Walking Tour

With a lot of famous museums, art galleries, theaters, old churches, countless historic landmarks, shopping avenues and amazing architectural and recreational attractions all over the city, Edinburgh can seem quite daunting when it comes to sightseeing. The Old Town of Edinburgh, the oldest part of Scotland's capital, has preserved much of its medieval street plan and many Reformation-era...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.5 km
New Town Walking Tour

New Town Walking Tour

The New Town is a central area of Edinburgh, considered to be a masterpiece of historic city planing, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is home to the National Gallery of Scotland and the Royal Scottish Academy, but also to an upmarket range of independent eateries and restaurants, as well as some of the best pubs and bars you will find in Edinburgh. Take the following tour to discover the...  view more

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.0 km

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip

19 Best Pubs in New Town, Edinburgh

19 Best Pubs in New Town, Edinburgh

A guide to the pubs that make up the area that is called Edinburgh's New Town. A description about what you can expect from each of the locations in the directory. A fantastic directory if you are a tourist or even a...
Top 12 Pubs On and Around Royal Mile in Edinburgh

Top 12 Pubs On and Around Royal Mile in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a vibrant city with abundant nightlife and no shortage of places to go after dusk. The Royal Mile alone, in the very heart of Edinburgh, is laden with character spots craving to be discovered by the first time visitors to the city. This is the highlight of some of the most notable bars...
Scottish Souvenirs: 15 Authentic Scottish Things to Buy in Edinburgh

Scottish Souvenirs: 15 Authentic Scottish Things to Buy in Edinburgh

The popularity of Scotland stretches far beyond its geographical borders, fueled, in large part, by Hollywood's interest in the Scottish theme - Sean Connery (as James Bond), "Braveheart", etc. Indeed, the cultural spectrum of this part of Britain is enormous and comprises great...

Tips for Exploring City on Foot at Your Own Pace

Whether you are in Edinburgh for a quick stopover or have a few days to see the city in more detail, exploring it on foot, at your own pace, is definitely the way to go. Here are some tips for you to save money, see the best Edinburgh has to offer, take good care of your feet while walking, and keep your mobile device – your ultimate "work horse" on this trip - well fed and safe.

Saving Money with City Passes

To save yourself time and money visiting Edinburgh's multiple sights, you may want to resort to the so-called city passes, such as the Historic Scotland Explorer Pass and Edinburgh City Pass.

A city pass combines all or multiple Edinburgh's top highlights, tours and experiences in one prepaid attractions pass, using which you can save incredible amounts on general admission fees as compared to purchasing tickets separately. Often, a city pass also allows you to skip the lines at major attractions, thus saving you precious time.

Staying at Walk-Friendly Hotels

Since you're keen on exploring cities on foot (we assume that you are, and this is why you're here), it is important that you stay at a hotel close to the city's major attractions. It saves you time and energy. Here are a few of Edinburgh hotels that are conveniently located, but at the same time, also not so ridiculously expensive: Radisson Collection Hotel - Royal Mile Edinburgh, Royal Mile Suites by the Castle, Grassmarket Hotel.

Taking Care of Your Feet

To ensure ultimate satisfaction from a day of walking around the city as big as Edinburgh, it is imperative to take good care of your feet so as to avoid unpleasant things like blisters, cold or overheated soles, itchy, irritated or otherwise damaged (cracked) skin, etc. Luckily, these days there is no shortage of remedies to address (and, ideally, to prevent) these and other potential problems with feet. Among them: Compression Socks, Rechargeable Battery-Powered Thermo Socks for Cold Weather, Foot Repair Cream, Deodorant Powder, Shoes UV Sterilizer, and many more that you may wish to find a place in your travel kit for.

Travel Gadgets for Your Mobile Device

Your mobile phone or tablet will be your work horse on a self-guided walk. They offer tour map, guide you from one attraction to another, and provide informative background for the sights you wish to visit. Therefore it is absolutely essential to plan against unexpected power outages in the wrong place at the wrong time, much as to ensure the safety of your device.

For these and other contingencies, here's the list of useful appliances: Portable Charger/External Battery Pack, Worldwide Travel Charger Adapter, Power Converter for International Travel Adapter, and Mobile Device Leash.

Exploring City on Guided Tours

We have a strong bias towards exploring a city on foot, at your own pace, because this is how you get to see things up close with a maximum freedom. You decide how much time you wish to spend at each attraction and don't have to worry about following a crowd. That said, however, we also understand that some of you may want to go with a guided tour. If that is your case, here are some guided tours to consider. Be ready to fork out a bit of money, though, as a guided tour of Edinburgh typically costs somewhere between US$15 and US$40 or more per person:

- Board a hop-on hop-off double-decker to enjoy sightseeing of Edinburgh from the open top of the bus, listening in the headsets to the commentary provided in a variety of languages, and be able get on and off at any of the stops along the route. The ticket is valid for one day (24 hrs).

- No sightseeing of Edinburgh is imaginable without a visit to the imposing Edinburgh Castle dominating the city skyline from atop a hill that was once a volcano. A 2-hour tour of the castle will give you an insider’s view of Edinburgh's no.1 attraction, revealing some of its secrets and wicked stories.

- Join a guided walk led by a highly knowledgeable local resident to explore the cultural, historical and architectural treasures of Edinburgh learning, en route, the secrets of its past, stories of its famous personalities and other interesting facts presented in a rather entertaining and witty manner.

- Summon your bravery and curiosity to explore the ghastly side of Edinburgh on a ghost walk set to reveal the stories of treason and torture, bring light to the darkest corners of the Scottish capital and prepare you to hear the tales of its supernatural past and present.

- Come see the places that once inspired J.K. Rowling to write her world-famous Harry Potter series on a Harry Potter tour of Edinburgh visiting the prototype of the Hogwarts school of magic and other locations closely associated with the witches and wizards of Edinburgh.

Day Trips

If you have a day to spare whilst in Edinburgh, why not use it to explore some of the out-of-town destinations like Loch Ness and the Highlands, West Highlands, St Andrews and Fife, Rosslyn Chapel and Stirling Castle, or the Da Vinci Code places and Scottish Borders. For as little as circa US$40+ to US$60+ per person you will get a chance to step inside a nature documentary, relive a history show, and explore the postcard-inspiring UNESCO World Heritage sights comprising breathtaking medieval ruins, misty castles, sparkling lochs, quaint coastal villages with sweeping views, heather-clad mountains, and other impressive and mysterious locations. For any of these tours you will be picked up straight from your hotel in Edinburgh and transported by a comfortable air-conditioned coach/minibus to the destination of your choice and back again.