Not packed in a bus. Not herded with a group. Self guided walk is the SAFEST way to sightsee while observing SOCIAL DISTANCING!

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: 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
  • The Georgian House
  • George Street
  • The Dome
  • The 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

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 1990s, but the original plan was adhered to, so there is nothing modern-looking about the square.

Number 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.

Number 6, Bute House is also own by the National Trust of Scotland and is the official residence of the First Minister of Scotland. Number 7, the Georgian House is the third National Trust of Scotland 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.
The Georgian House

2) The Georgian House (must see)

The Georgian House is an 18th-century townhouse situated at No. 7 Charlotte Square in the heart of the historic New Town of the city of Edinburgh, Scotland. It has been restored and furnished by the National Trust for Scotland, and is operated as a popular tourist attraction, with over 40,000 visitors annually.

The Georgian House is one of the most visited sites in the NTS, and plays host to in excess of 40,000 visitors each year, from local schoolchildren to sightseers from all over the world. Over 200 local people volunteer at the Georgian House, the vast majority of them as 'room guides', who are there to answer any questions that visitors may have as they walk round the house. Most of the furnishings and fittings in the house date from at the later Georgian period (c1760-1830), but some objects are older still.

When 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 gives an introduction to the house and points them in the direction they should go to begin the tour of the property. There is no guided tour, visitors are free to walk around the house at their own pace, and in each of the main restored rooms there is a volunteer guide on hand to answer visitors questions.

The Georgian House is open from 1 March to 30 November. Opening hours for most of the season are 10am to 5pm, 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 with Charlotte Square in the west.

George Street, as first proposed in 1767 and initially built, was a residential area. However in the Victorian period the houses were replaced by shops, showrooms, banks, small department stores and hotels. A number of the grander of these buildings were designed by the prominent Victorian architect David Bryce, who lived in the street.

George Street in the 21st century remains essentially a Victorian townscape, but the use of many of the commercial buildings has changed to restaurants, coffee shops and bars, with many high quality clothes shops.
Sight description based on wikipedia
The Dome

4) The Dome

The Dome is a building on George Street in the New Town of Edinburgh. It currently functions as a bar, restaurant and nightclub, although it was first built as the headquarters of the Commercial Bank of Scotland in 1847. The building was designed by David Rhind in a Graeco-Roman style. It stands on the site of the Physicians' Hall, the offices of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, which was constructed in the 18th century to designs by James Craig, the planner of the New Town. The Dome is a category A listed building.

The current operating business is Caledonian Heritable, a hotel, bars and restaurant group founded by Portobello born entrepreneur Kevin Doyle.
Sight description based on wikipedia
The Parish Church of St. Andrew's and St. George's

5) 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.
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. 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.

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 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. 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. 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”. It was designed by the great architect William Burn, who modelled it on Trajan’s Column in Rome, but without the intricate inscriptions.

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.
Dugald Stewart Monument

8) 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.
Calton Hill Observatory

9) Calton Hill Observatory

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.

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.
Nelson Monument

10) Nelson Monument

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.

£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 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.

Walking Tours in Edinburgh, Scotland

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Edinburgh Pub Crawl

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.5 Km or 1.6 Miles

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