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

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 or 1.8 Miles
Author: Helen
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Charlotte Square
  • Princes Street
  • St. Andrew Square
  • South Bridge Street
  • Cowgate Street
  • Chambers Street
  • George Square
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.

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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
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