Famous Squares and Streets Walking Tour, Edinburgh

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

Being in Edinburgh, it is only natural to be curious about the avenues, boulevards, and streets leading to (or stemming from) the city's picturesque squares. There, you can find a copious amount of historic and religious sites, fashion stores, classy restaurants, and marketplaces, not to mention some hidden gems, exploring which is well worth the time spent.

One of Edinburgh's most prominent squares, located in the New Town area, is Charlotte Square. This elegant space is home to Georgian architecture and hosts the annual Edinburgh International Book Festival, making it a cultural hub.

Princes Street, on the other hand, is the main shopping street in Edinburgh. It offers stunning views of the Edinburgh Castle and the Princes Street Gardens. Tourists and locals alike flock here regularly for high-end shopping and beautiful vistas.

Saint Andrew Square is another charming spot, known for its vibrant atmosphere and surrounding restaurants. It's a popular gathering place for events and festivals, including the Christmas market.

South Bridge and Vaults add a touch of mystery to the city. These historic streets are lined with arches and tunnels that once served as vaults and secret passages. Today, they house various shops, pubs, and tour attractions, offering visitors a glimpse into Edinburgh's underground history.

Cowgate Street has a rich cultural history and is famous for its nightlife. It accommodates numerous bars, clubs, and music venues, making it a lively spot for those seeking entertainment.

Chambers Street is home to the National Museum of Scotland, a must-visit for history and culture enthusiasts. The street also features a mix of architectural styles, adding to its unique character.

Finally, George Square, located near the University of Edinburgh, is known for its academic and intellectual atmosphere. The square hosts various academic events and is surrounded by beautiful historic buildings.

Edinburgh's famous squares and streets offer a diverse range of experiences, from cultural enrichment to shopping and entertainment. So, whenever you're in Edinburgh, be sure to explore these iconic locations to fully immerse yourself in the city's heritage and modern charm.
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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 or 1.8 Miles
Author: Helen
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Charlotte Square
  • Princes Street
  • St. Andrew Square
  • South Bridge and Vaults
  • Cowgate Street
  • Chambers Street
  • George Square
Charlotte Square

1) Charlotte Square

Marking the west end of George Street, Charlotte Square was constructed as a complement to St Andrew Square that is found on the opposite – east – end of the same street.

The square was named after King George III’s first daughter. Its construction began in 1820 and the last part of it, the north-west corner, was completed only in the 1990s, with the original plan duly adhered to, so there is nothing in its appearance suggesting a modern look.

The Number 5 house on the north side of the square is the former residence of John-Crichton-Stuart. Upon his death, the property was bequeathed to the National Trust of Scotland, and today it accommodates the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust headquarters.

Number 6, the Bute House, is also owned by the National Trust of Scotland and is the official home of the First Minister of Scotland. Number 7, the Georgian House, is the third National Trust of Scotland building in the square and is currently a house museum, open to the public.

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

2) Princes Street

Running from Leith Street to the Lothian Road in the New Town, Princes Street is an over a mile long stretch of shops, cafés and pubs, and is, in fact, the most important thoroughfare in Edinburgh.

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 here were renovated first in the 19th century and then in the 1960s, under the “Princes Street Plan”, seeing some of them 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 are a favourite tourist venue. Amid the numerous statues and monuments found here, the most important one 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 spend a little time out visiting Edinburgh’s marvellous houses and museums, but don’t feel up to a long walk, the best place to go is Saint 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 were once homes of the city’s elite, and Dundas House, on the east side of the square, is a fine example of the 18th century architecture. There are also some up-market designer shops, restaurants and pubs to be found here. But the best part about this square is undoubtedly the gardens. Once open to the local residents only, they are now a favourite summer spot for tourists and those who work in the area.

In the middle of the lovely gardens you will find the Melville Monument. It was erected in 1823 in honour of the 1st Viscount of Melville, Henry Dundas, a politician who wielded so much power in his day that was dubbed the “uncrowned king of Scotland”. The monument was designed by great architect, William Burn, who modelled it on Trajan’s Column in Rome, but without intricate inscriptions.

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

4) South Bridge and Vaults

South Bridge is a road bridge in Edinburgh, Scotland, starting at the High Street and finishing at Chambers Street/Infirmary Street.

The bridge was completed in 1788. It is constructed of nineteen arches, but is almost entirely enclosed by buildings on both sides, exposing only the largest arch where the street crosses the Cowgate. Below deck level are many buildings and vaults, the latter are now something of a tourist attraction.

For many years the locals refused to cross the bridge, believing it to be cursed, as the first person who crossed the bridge when it opened was the wife of a well-known judge, but she died soon after that. 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 closed 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 1950s, 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, a statue of whom stands in the centre of the street.

Chambers is lined with beautiful old buildings of great interest among which is the Old College of the University of Edinburgh built in 1791, predating the street itself. 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.

Chambers Street is also home to the marvellous Museum of Scotland. Among its exhibits there are part of the Saint Ninian’s Isle Treasure, 11 of the Lewis Chessmen (the others are kept 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 1960s and include the Appleton Tower, the 13 story 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, the famous Scottish historical novelist, poet, playwright, and historian, spent his childhood in one of these houses.

The George Square Theatre puts on plays and musicals. It is the favorite venue of Edinburgh’s Fringe during the Edinburgh Festival.

Another favorite 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.

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