New Town Walking Tour, Edinburgh

New Town Walking Tour (Self Guided), Edinburgh

Largely regarded as the masterpiece of historic city planing, the New Town of Edinburgh is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995. The elegant area is home to the National Gallery of Scotland, a wealth of Georgian architecture lining broad avenues and open squares, abundant shopping opportunities on and around George Street, and many other delights firmly associated with Scotland's capital city. To acquaint yourself with all of this first hand and to discover the most popular sights of the New Town, follow this self-guided walk!
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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: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.5 Km or 1.6 Miles
Author: Helen
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Charlotte Square
  • Georgian House
  • George Street
  • The Dome
  • Parish Church of St. Andrew's and St. George's
  • Scottish National Portrait Gallery
  • St. Andrew Square
  • Dugald Stewart Monument
  • Calton Hill Observatory
  • Nelson Monument
  • National Monument
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.
Georgian House

2) Georgian House

The Georgian House is an 18th-century town residence located at No. 7 Charlotte Square. Having been restored and furnished by the National Trust for Scotland, it is now operated as a popular tourist site.

The Georgian House is indeed one of the most visited attractions within the NTS; it plays host to in excess of 40,000 visitors each year, from local schoolchildren to international sightseers. Over 200 locals volunteer serve the house, the vast majority of them being 'room guides' ready to answer any questions that the visitors might have. Most of the furnishings and fittings here date back to the late Georgian period (c. 1760-1830), but some objects are even older.

When the visitors arrive at the property, they are greeted at the reception in the Hallway; here, the admission tickets are issued and a member of staff or volunteer introduces them to the house, pointing in the direction they should go to begin the tour. There is no guided tour and the visitors are free to walk around the property at will; each of the main rooms has a volunteer guide on hand to answer any questions.

The Georgian House is open from 1 March to 30 November. Opening hours for most of the season are 10am to 5pm, with the last admission at 4.30pm.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
George Street

3) George Street

George Street is the central thoroughfare of the First New Town of Edinburgh, planned in the 18th century by James Craig. The street takes its name from King George III and connects St Andrew Square in the east to Charlotte Square in the west.

Initially, back in 1767, the street was designed as a residential area. However, during the Victorian period all the homes were replaced by shops, showrooms, banks, small department stores and hotels. A good number of the grander buildings here were designed by prominent Victorian architect, David Bryce, who lived in this street himself.

In the 21st century, George Street remains essentially a Victorian townscape, but the use of many of its commercial buildings has changed to accommodate restaurants, coffee shops and bars, as well as many high-end clothing boutiques.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
The Dome

4) The Dome

The Dome is a category A listed building on the New Town's George Street which today functions as a bar, restaurant and nightclub, operated by Caledonian Heritable group. First built in 1847, as the headquarters of the Commercial Bank of Scotland, it was designed by David Rhind in a Graeco-Roman style.

The edifice stands on the site of the old Physicians' Hall, the offices of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, which was constructed in the 18th century to the design by architect James Craig, the planner of the New Town. The fine Physicians' Hall was then largely demolished to create the current building, but certain parts of its frontage appear to be re-used, including the fine Corinthian columns.

The Scottish capitalist movement was an architectural turning point in Scotland at the time, and David Rhind, who saw this perspective of capitalism, traced the idea roots all the way back to the Greek society. In his Commercial Bank creation, not only did he capture the society's ideology but also a sense of beauty. In April 1847, The Scotsman newspaper wrote of the building, "'the rich and massive architecture of the front', and the interior decoration [are] 'in a style which is not less than gorgeous'".

David Rhind clearly took advantage of light source by constructing a glass dome, and made use of space with a large central lobby. Although one of the many Greek Revival style buildings found on George Street today, The Dome stands unique with its stunning pediment and long rich history.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Parish Church of St. Andrew's and St. George's

5) Parish Church of St. Andrew's and St. George's

While in Edinburgh, you may want to visit the Parish Church of Saint Andrew’s and Saint George’s, the first church that was 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 to be dedicated to Saint George, and the other, at the east end – to Saint Andrew.

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

The building has an elliptical plan and was the first church of this architectural style in the land. In the 18th century, classical Roman architecture was in fashion, 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, built in 1787, 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 and Douglas Strachan in 1912 and 1934 respectively.
Scottish National Portrait Gallery

6) 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, and is also home to the Scottish National Photo Collection.

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

Here, you will find over 3,000 paintings and sculptures, 25,000 drawings and prints, and over 38,000 photos. The collection begins in the Renaissance period and features the clergy, notable nobles and royalty. The oldest portrait on display is that of James IV of Scotland, 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 contains portraits of Billy Connelly, the famous Scottish stand-up comedian, and Robbie Coltrane, the actor 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.

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
St. Andrew Square

7) 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 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 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.
Dugald Stewart Monument

8) Dugald Stewart Monument

Edinburgh’s Calton Hill is a fascinating place to visit, replete with fine buildings and monuments. Some of these monuments commemorate famous people, others – events, but the Dugald Stewart Monument is a mystery for many to this very day. Just who was this Dugald Stewart and who had a monument raised in his name?

To answer the second part of the question – 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, and is one of the many Greek Revival structures in the Calton Hill area.

Answer to the first part of the question – Dugald Stewart was a Scottish Enlightenment Philosopher who was responsible for the predominance of Scottish Philosophy in Europe at the early 19th century. He held the chair of Moral Philosophy (Ethics) at the University of Edinburgh, 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 Stewart was an important member, believed that man, guided by reason and virtue, could bring about great changes for the better in nature and society.
Calton Hill Observatory

9) Calton Hill Observatory

Sadly, closed to the public since 2009 for safety reasons, following vandalism and theft of the roofing materials, the Calton Hill Observatory is still worth the climb up the hill all the same, if only to see this remarkable building.

The idea of putting an observatory on top of 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 architected by James Craig and funded by the University of Edinburgh on the condition that the observatory would be used by its students. However, 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 in 1818, the central building, which resembles a Greek temple, was erected, designed by William Henry Playfair. A 6-inch refractor telescope was installed in the central dome and a 6.4-inch transit telescope took its place in the eastern wing.

The building became the Royal Observatory in 1822, but due to the 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, for many years afterwards, the Calton Hill Observatory had been used by the Astronomical Society of Edinburgh 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 decades, all the ships docking in the port of Edinburgh brought their chronometers here to be adjusted.

Why You Should Visit:
Offers excellent views of not only 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 to absorb the city from up high.
Right on top is the Collective Gallery, if you're interested in contemporary art.

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

10) Nelson Monument

Another monument worth visiting, while on Calton Hill, is the Nelson Monument. It honours Horatio Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and his subsequent death from wounds sustained during that battle.

The monument was put up 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. It was designed by architect Robert Burn in the appropriate form of an up-ended telescope. The monument stands 32 metres high and its 143 stairs lead to the public gallery, from where one can enjoy 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 at sea.

The time ball remained in use until 2007 when it was damaged in a storm. It was restored and brought back into use in 2009, but now, with the City Observatory 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; still, the photo shots of Princes Street and open sea down below, taken from here, are really stunning and well worth it.

£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
National Monument

11) National Monument

The National Monument stands in its 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”, although the idea behind it was neither folly nor shame.

In fact, the idea was quite noble – to commemorate the Scottish soldiers and sailors died during the Napoleonic Wars of 1803-1815; the only problem was that, when asked for their money to be put where they mouths were, many a people lost their initial enthusiasm for the venture.

The monument was designed in 1823 by William Henry Playfair and Charles Robert Cockerell, who modelled it on the Athenian Parthenon, and right from the outset it was pretty obvious that they had set their sights a bit too high. They kept fiddling with the design and changed it repeatedly until producing a final draft in 1826.

Construction started in 1826 and saw 12 columns built along with the foundations and the inscription which happened 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 ever since. Several proposals have been put forward over the years to complete it, but these plans have never materialized.

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