New Town Walking Tour (Self Guided), Edinburgh

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 most popular sights the New Town has to offer.
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New Town Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: New Town Walking Tour
Guide Location: Scotland » Edinburgh (See other walking tours in Edinburgh)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 15
Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.9 Km or 2.4 Miles
Author: Helen
1
Princes Street

1) 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.
2
Charlotte Baptist Chapel

2) Charlotte Baptist Chapel

Charlotte Baptist Chapel stands on Rose Street and it is a lovely church to visit to or take part in one of the services because the sermons are lively and congregation friendly.

The church is independent and not part of the Baptist Union of Scotland. It was founded in the Pleasance area in 1808 by Christopher Anderson. Christopher was a junior clerk in an insurance company, but he wanted to be a missionary. He joined the Baptist Missionary Society and trained in England for missionary work in India.

He was unable to go abroad due to ill-health, so he returned to Scotland and gathered a small congregation in a tiny chapel, which soon proved to be too small. He launched a fund-raising program and bought the Charlotte Chapel which had been put on the market in 1816 by the Scottish Episcopal Church.

The chapel is a four storey Georgian building with a large basement area, which today is used as a crèche. The first floor houses a meeting room where after-service coffee, fruit juice and cakes are served. The main worship area is on the second floor, with galleries on the third floor. Most of the ceiling of the second floor has been removed so that the galleries overlook the main hall. Another meeting room is on the 4th floor and is used for youth activities.
3
Charlotte Square

3) 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.
4
Church of Scotland Offices

4) Church of Scotland Offices

Perhaps the idea of visiting the Church of Scotland Offices doesn’t inspire you – after all offices are pretty much the same all over the world – filled with filing cabinets and archives! But do go and have a look at this historic building.

Located on George Street, the offices were built in the Scandinavian style by Sydney Mitchell in 1911. Just inside the main entrance is a small chapel and the extension on the east side has a great book shop. The ground and first floors of the building are of grey Aberdeen granite, the rest is of rusticated sandstone. The façade has ten Doric columns supporting elegant arches.

Above the entrance is a coat of arms representing the Burning Bush, with a winged angel on either side. Hovering over the Bush is a dove carrying an olive twig in its beak. Above the dove is Noah’s Ark. The inscription written across the Bush translates: “and yet it was not consumed”.

Above the windows on the second floor over the main entrance there are three flag poles set in bronze swags. Three cherubs gather around the centre pole. The cornice below the windows on the fourth floor have granite carvings of nine ram’s heads, representing the sacrifice the Lord told Moses to make to Him after the carving of the Ten Commandments.
5
Princes Street Gardens

5) Princes Street Gardens (must see)

Between Edinburgh Castle and Princes Street, renowned for its superb shops, pubs and restaurants, lies the beautiful Princes Street Gardens, a haven of peace and beauty in the heart of the city.

110,000 years ago the area that is now the gardens was formed by glacial erosion, when the basalt bulk of Castle Rock caused a glacier to divide around it, forming a depression at the foot of the rock. For thousands of years this area was marshland and when man came to the region, it formed a natural defence at the foot of Castle Rock, which was inhabited since the 9th century BC.

King James III ordered the marsh to be flooded in 1460 to add to the defences of the Old Town and Edinburgh Castle. The flooded area was named Nor Loch and it dominated the area until it was drained in 1759, although the vicinity sometimes gets flooded even today.

When the New Town was under construction, millions of tons of earth were dumped in the former loch and this eventually became The Mound, upon which many prestigious buildings now stand. The gardens were created in 1820; on the east side of The Mound they cover an area of 8.5 acres and on the west side they take up 29 acres.

The most important monument in the gardens is the Scott Monument, and there are a lot of statues dedicated to John Wilson, David Livingstone, and Allan Ramsey, among others. There is a play area for children, lush lawns and spreading trees, lots of benches, kiosks and a café.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas and into the New Year the park hosts fairground rides, the city’s main Christmas Market and an ice-skating rink.
6
Scottish National Gallery

6) Scottish National Gallery (must see)

No art lover should miss a chance to visit the Scottish National Gallery, which you will find on the Mound, just next to the Royal Scottish Academy.

In 1859 when the building opened the gallery shared the place with the academy. It also housed the Portrait Gallery and the lack of space became a real problem until the Portrait Gallery moved to its new building. But by 1906 more space was needed and the academy moved into the building next door. The gallery was entirely renovated in 1912.

The gallery features both Scottish and European art and you will be delighted with the collection that counts over 30,000 paintings, prints, drawings and sculpture from the early Renaissance period to the end of the 19th century.

You will see works by Bassano, Bernini, Botticelli, Cézanne, Constable and Degas. You can admire “Vision of the Sermon” by Gauguin, paintings and drawings by El Greco, Titian, Tiepolo, and da Vinci. Among the statues is the beautiful sculpture of “The Three Graces” by Canova.

The gallery also houses an amazing Research Library that contains over 50,000 books, journals, microfilms, and slides from 1300 to 1900. This is one of the finest reference libraries in the world.

The Western Link is an underground interconnection between the gallery and the academy. In this area, there is a lecture theatre, a restaurant, and the gallery shop. There is also an interactive IT Gallery where using touch-screens, you can see the gallery’s entire collection.

Why You Should Visit:
Good selection of non-Scottish and great Scottish works; an intimate and cozy way to spend a couple of hours.
Entry is free for permanent exhibitions and there is a small fee for special collections.

Tip:
Make sure you go into both the main Gallery building itself and the Academy building which sits behind it.
Note that the wonderful Turner watercolor exhibition goes on show every January – truly some wonderful insights into his travels around Europe.

Opening Hours:
Fri-Wed: 10am-5pm; Thu: 10am-7pm
7
Scott Monument

7) Scott Monument (must see)

Sir Walter Scott was perhaps Scotland’s best-loved poet and novelist, so it is only natural that the nation wanted to pay him homage. You will find the Scott Monument in Princes Gardens.

When Scott died in 1832 an architectural competition was launched to build a monument in his honour. A great many noted architects submitted their ideas; the winning design was by George Meikle Kemp, a draughtsman who had no architectural experience and who had submitted his design under the name of John Morvo, a 15th-century stonemason and architect.

The 61-metre high monument has several viewing galleries reached by narrow winding stairways. The highest gallery is reached after climbing 287 stairs and when you reach the top you are given a certificate to prove that you survived the climb!

The monument was built out of Binny Sandstone, a substance so oily that it attracts dirt very fast, so that a year after the construction was finished, it looked as if it had been there for centuries. The American author, Bill Bryson described it as a “Gothic rocket-ship”.

The lovely marble statue of Sir Walter, seated with his writing implements and his faithful dog at his feet, was sculpted by John Steell. The 64 statues decorating the monument feature characters from Sir Walter’s books. You will also see many grotesques – those hideous character faces so beloved by Gothic architects, which Kemp included in his design to add to the monument’s “ancient” appearance.

Why You Should Visit:
You can enjoy the monument casually at its base, or you can climb up to have a 360-degree view that is open-air (though there's a fee attached to that).

Tip:
It might be good to know – especially if you are claustrophobic – that this gets a little tight, especially if others climbers happen to be going the other way.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-7pm (Apr-Sep); 10am-4pm (Oct-Mar)
8
The Parish Church of St. Andrew's and St. George's

8) The Parish Church of St. Andrew's and St. George's

While you are in Edinburgh you really should visit the Parish Church of Saint Andrew’s and Saint George’s, the first church to be built in the city’s New Town.

When James Craig designed the New Town he set aside two parcels of land for two churches, one at the west end of the town to be dedicated to Saint George, the other at the east end for Saint Andrew.

Unfortunately Sir Lawrence Dundus wanted the plot on the east end for his new house and he quickly bought the land, leaving a plot in the middle of the street. The planners decided that two churches couldn’t be built so close together, so the plans for Saint George’s church were set aside and Saint Andrew’s was built in 1780 and dedicated to the two saints.

The building has an elliptical plan and was the first church of this architectural style in the land. In the 18th century, fashion followed classical Roman architecture; so the church has a temple-like portico and ceiling rosettes, based on Robert Wood’s 1753 examples found in a temple in Syria.

The steeple was built in 1787 and houses eight peal bells that were cast by William and Thomas Mears in 1788. These are the last peal bells and the only surviving Georgian bells in Scotland.

The original 18th century windows were replaced by stained glass windows by Alfred Webster in 1912 and Douglas Strachan in 1934.
9
Scottish National Portrait Gallery

9) Scottish National Portrait Gallery (must see)

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon. It holds the most important collection of portraits of Scottish personalities in the UK. It is also the home of the Scottish National Photo Collection.

The gallery is housed in a Gothic Revival building, commissioned by the owner of “The Scotsman” newspaper, John Ritchie Findlay and built in 1890 from red sandstone. The building was renovated in 2009 and reopened in 2011. It is the first building in the world constructed especially for the purpose of being a portrait gallery.

You will find over 3000 paintings and sculptures, 25,000 drawings and prints and over 38,000 photos here. The collection begins in the Renaissance period and features the clergy, notable nobles and royalty. The oldest portrait is that of James IV of Scotland and was painted in 1507.

There are two portraits of Mary, Queen of Scots, but they were painted from memory after her death in 1587. Several other paintings representing scenes from her life were executed in the 19th century.

The collection continues to the present day and you can see portraits of Billy Connelly – the famous Scottish comedian – and Robbie Coltrane, best known for his role of Hagrid in the Harry Potter films.

Why You Should Visit:
This baroque building's interior is just lovely and special.
Free admission, good café with a wide range of food, free wifi and toilets.
The well-curated portraits/photography collections give an excellent history of Scotland.

Tip:
Don't miss the lovely pebble mosaic in the charming adjacent courtyard (on the right when facing the gallery entrance).
The entrance hall is also very detailed – make sure you take a look at the ceiling.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sun: 10am–5pm
10
Melville Monument

10) Melville Monument

While you are in Edinburgh, you will probably visit St Andrew Square and in the middle of the lovely gardens you will find the Melville Monument.

The monument was erected in 1823 in honour of the 1st Viscount of Melville, Henry Dundas, a politician who wielded so much power that he was known as the “uncrowned king of Scotland”. He was also the 1st Lord of the Admiralty and the monument was paid for by officers and sailors of the Royal Marines Scotland.

It was designed by the great architect William Burn, who modelled it on Trajan’s Column in Rome, but without the intricate inscriptions. It is 42.6 metres high and during construction the residents were worried that the foundations wouldn’t be strong enough for it, so William Burn turned to Robert Stevenson for advice.

Stevenson was a noted lighthouse architect and he had developed the first line-balance crane in the world in 1813, while he was overseeing the construction of the Bell Rock Lighthouse. He put his crane into good use once again and the monument was raised with little problem onto the solid foundations he designed.

The statue of Dundas on the top of the monument was sculpted by Francis Chantrey and Robert Forrest and was added in 1828.
11
St. Andrew Square

11) 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.
12
Dugald Stewart Monument

12) Dugald Stewart Monument

Edinburgh’s Calton Hill is a fascinating place to visit with its fine buildings and monuments. Some of these monuments have been raised for famous people or events, but the Dugald Stewart Monument remains a mystery for many people. Just who was Dugald Stewart and who had a monument be raised in his name?

To answer the second part of the question first – the monument was commissioned by the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1831. It was designed by William Henry Playfair, who modelled it on the Choragic Monument of Lysicrate, in Athens. It is one of the many Greek Revival structures in the Calton Hill area.

Dugald Stewart was a Scottish Enlightment Philosopher who was responsible for the predominance of Scottish Philosophy in Europe at the beginning of the 19th century. He held the chair of Moral Philosophy (Ethics) at the University from 1785 to 1810 and although his ideals are considered out of date today and he is mostly forgotten, in his day, he was highly respected for his views.

The Scottish Enlightment Movement, of which he was an important member, believed that, guided by reason and virtue, man could bring about great changes for the better in nature and society.
13
Calton Hill Observatory

13) Calton Hill Observatory (must see)

Sadly the Calton Hill Observatory was closed to the public in 2009 after it was considered unsafe due to vandalism and theft of the roofing materials, but it is worth climbing the hill anyway to see this remarkable building.

The idea of putting an observatory on the hill arose at the end of the 16th century when Thomas Short inherited a 12ft reflecting telescope designed by his brother. The building was designed by James Craig and funds were donated by the University of Edinburgh, on the understanding that the observatory would be used by students. After the Gothic tower on the southwest corner of the site was completed, the money ran out and the land reverted to the city in 1807.

In 1812 the city council donated the land to the Edinburgh Astronomical Institute and the central building, which resembles a Greek temple, was erected in 1818, designed by William Henry Playfair. A 6-inch refractor telescope was installed in the central dome and a 6.4-inch transit telescope was housed in the eastern wing.

The building became the Royal Observatory in 1822, but due to lack of funding, it was given back to the government in 1847. In 1888 the site of the Royal Observatory was moved to Blackford Hill and the Calton Hill Observatory was used by the Astronomical Society of Edinburgh for many years before it was abandoned and left vacant.

During its lifetime the site’s main purpose was to measure time. Astronomers used the transit of certain stars through the Meridian to keep the Observatory’s clock accurate for navigation purposes. For many years all ships docking in the port brought their chronometers here to be adjusted.

Why You Should Visit:
Offers excellent views not only of the bridge and the Kingdom of Fife but also of Arthur's Seat.
There are oodles of grass for people to picnic, watch sunsets and absorb the city from up high.
Right on top is the Collective Gallery if you're interested in contemporary art.

Tip:
While a visit is free of charge and open to all, best to bring some cash in case you want to pay the £5 fee to climb the lighthouse.
14
Nelson Monument

14) Nelson Monument (must see)

Another monument worth visiting while you are on Calton Hill is the Nelson Monument, which was put up in honour of Horatio Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and his subsequent death from wounds sustained during the battle.

The monument was built in 1815 on the highest point of the hill, on the site where a mast was once used to send signals to ships entering the Firth of Forth. The monument was designed by the architect Robert Burn in the appropriate form of an up-ended telescope.

It is 32 metres high and its 143 stairs lead to the public gallery, where you will have a wonderful view of the city and the Firth.

In 1853 the Astronomer Royal of Scotland, Charles Piazzi Smith commissioned a time ball to be placed on top of the monument. The ball was connected to the City Observatory by an underground wiring system.

Each day, just before one o’clock in the afternoon the ball was raised and at 1pm precisely it was lowered. Ships in the Firth set their marine chronometers by the time ball. Accurate time-keeping helped sailors determine their longitude once they were out at sea.

The time ball was in use until 2007 when it was damaged in a storm. It was restored and brought back into use in 2009, but as the City Observatory is now closed, the raising and lowering of the ball is done mechanically from a room at the bottom of the monument.

Why You Should Visit:
The stair takes a while and the parapet at the top is very narrow; however, here's where you'll get those stunning photo shots down Princes Street and out to sea.

Tip:
£5 to access the stairs to the top; admission is free at the museum at the foot of the tower.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-4pm (Oct-Apr); 10am-7pm (May, Sep); 10am-9pm (Jun-Aug)
Last admission 30 mins before closing
15
National Monument

15) National Monument (must see)

The National Monument stands in unfinished splendour on Calton Hill and has been called a lot of names over the years, such as “Edinburgh’s Folly”, or “The Shame of Scotland”, but the idea behind building it was neither folly nor a shame.

The idea to build a monument to the Scottish soldiers and sailors who died in the Napoleonic Wars of 1803 to 1815, was a good one; the only problem was that when asked to put their hands in their pockets, a lot of people lost their initial enthusiasm for the venture.

The monument was designed in 1823 by William Henry Playfair and Charles Robert Cockerell, but they kept fiddling with it and changing it until producing a final draft in 1826. They modelled it on the Athenian Parthenon and from the outset, it should have been obvious that they had set their sights too high.

Building started in 1826 and 12 columns were built, along with the foundations and the inscription, which turned out to be rather ironic: “A Memorial of the Past and Incentive to the Future Heroism of the Men of Scotland”.

Funds finally ran out completely in 1829 and the monument you can see today hasn’t been touched since. Several proposals have been put forward over the years to complete the monument, but these plans have come to nothing.

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