advertisement

New Town

Start: Royal Scottish Academy.

Finish: East Princes Street Gardens.

Time: About 2 to 3 hours.

Best Times: Daytime.

Worst Times: Late at night.

In 1767, the city fathers realized that the best way to relieve the increasingly cramped and then unhygienic Old Town was to create a New Town. It is a definitive example of rational Georgian town planning. As hostilities with England (or between rebellious groups within Scotland) had ended, a fortified city was no longer needed. The loch to the north of Old Town was drained (becoming Princes Street Gardens), and the new roads on the other side were laid out in a strict grid. Subsequent additions to the original New Town created a new city center with fine housing, offices, and commercial space. Today it and Edinburgh's Old Town comprise a U.N. World Heritage Site.

Begin the walk opposite the corner of Princes Street and Hanover Street at the:

1. Royal Scottish Academy

Bisecting Princes Street Gardens, a hill called the Mound was created by earth moved during the development of Edinburgh's New Town, and it effectively forms a ridge linking New and Old towns. Atop this hump are two galleries: the Royal Scottish Academy and, to the south, the National Gallery of Art. Both buildings were designed with strong Greek Doric and Ionic styling by William H. Playfair around 1825 and 1850, respectively.

Cross Princes Street north to Hanover Street, walking up Hanover Street, and turning left (west) onto:

2. Rose Street

Not particularly significant historically, this lane was meant for "a better class of artisans" and at one point in the 1780s, a two-story limit was placed upon its buildings. The conversion of the street to an open-air pedestrian mall began in the late 1960s. Today Rose Street is best known for many popular pubs, such as the Abbotsford, Milne's, and the Kenilworth. The area has retail shops and restaurants, too.

Continue east on Rose Street to Frederick Street, turning right (north) to:

3. George Street

All the street names in the first New Town were intended to celebrate the Hanoverian reign of George III (he who lost America). George Street is the central of three principal avenues that run parallel through New Town, and it runs along the ridge of the hill. Looking down it to the west you can see the dome of West Register House in the distance, and to the east is the column with Melville in St. Andrew Square at the other end of George Street. To the north are views of the Forth River. Today the wide boulevard (with parking down the center) is where most of the city's expensive clothing shops are located. At the intersection with Frederick Street is the statue of Prime Minister William Pitt (1759-1806).

From the corner of Frederick Street, turn left and go west on George Street, turning left (south) on Castle Street, and proceeding back to:

4. Princes Street

Like Queen Street on the northern boundary of the first New Town, buildings on Princes Street were intentionally only constructed on one side of the boulevard. That has insured practically uninterrupted views of Old Town rising up the Castle: one of the most iconic panoramas in all of Europe. Despite the views, the original three-story homes on Princes Street were apparently not as nice or as desirable as the ones on George and Queen streets. Today, a lot of Princes Street, a key shopping street, is dominated by unattractive modern storefronts and some ghastly 20th-century monstrosities. But at the western corner of Princes and Castle streets are three original buildings buried behind the much more recent facades.

Cross Princes Street to the statue of Guthrie and turn right (west), continuing to:

5. St. John's & St. Cuthbert's Churches

Episcopalians are Scottish (and American) Anglicans, and at the end of West Princes Street Gardens is St. John's Church, a Gothic house of Episcopal worship completed in 1818. Behind it is St. Cuthbert's Parish Church, which you enter from Lothian Road. Here, at the base of Castle Rock, a medieval church was apparently established in the 12th century. This one, dating to the 1890s, was at least the third to be constructed on the site. The churchyard offers plenty of handsome monuments and has the graves of painter Alexander Nasmyth and writer (as well as noted opium eater) Thomas De Quincey. In St. Cuthbert's vestibule is a memorial to John Napier of Merchiston, who invented logarithms. During the day, you can walk via a rear gate into West Princes Street Gardens.

But our stroll returns to Princes Street, crossing it, turning left (west), going a short distance, and then turning right (north) on Hope Street to:

6. Charlotte Square

This was the final piece of the first New Town, designed by the preeminent Georgian-era architect Robert Adam in 1791, just before his death. The central park was subsequently expanded from a circle to form an octagon in 1873, with the statue of Prince Albert added. On the west side, with the aforementioned green copper dome, is West Register House, which was originally built as St. George's Church in 1814: a dubious revision of Adam's original plans by Robert Reid. It is worth detouring behind the building to see the charming and unlikely half-timber, red-roofed house on Randolph Place by architect T. Duncan Rhind. On the south side of the square, at no. 28, the National Trust for Scotland has offices, a cafe, shop, and museum. Recent work on the building's foundations uncovered a cannonball presumably shot in defense of the castle long before anything was built here. Across the square on the north side is Bute House, the official residence of the Scottish First Minister, and the Georgian House, decorated in that period and open to the public.

From the northeast corner of the square, go north 1 short block to North Charlotte Street, turning right at Albyn Place, which then quickly becomes:

7. Queen Street

This northernmost street of the original New Town has the greatest amount of original buildings. Like Princes Street, town houses were built on only one side of what is today a very busy boulevard, with the private Queen Street Gardens running the length of the opposite side. At the eastern end is the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, in a smart red sandstone palace designed by R. Rowand Anderson in the 1880s. Nearby, north of the park on Heriot Row, Robert Lewis Stevenson lived as a young man.

Turn left (north) on Wemyss Place, and continue on down the hill using Gloucester Lane and Gloucester Street to Bakers Place and:

8. Stockbridge

Stockbridge, a charming village within the city along a bend in the Water of Leith, was something of a hippie enclave in the 1960s and 1970s. But today's property prices ensure that it is primarily home to the well-heeled. Its name comes from the Stock Bridge, which crosses the Water of Leith. Across it, Deanhaugh Street serves as the local main street. St. Stephen Street has a variety of places to shop and eat.

Leave Stockbridge via St. Stephen Street to St. Vincent Street, turning left (east) on Cumberland Street, and proceeding to:

9. Dundas Street

Having passed Playfair's St. Stephen's church, you are now in the heart of the Northern New Town. Separated from the capital's first New Town by Queen Street Gardens, it was planned in the first years of the 19th century by Robert Reid and William Sibbald. The architecture remains uniform. At the bottom of Dundas Street, which has several art and antique shops, is Canonmills -- originally the site of a milling settlement for the Abbey of Holyroodhouse. Beyond it are the Royal Botanic Gardens.

But we go up the hill of Dundas Street and:

Take a Break -- Glass & Thompson (2 Dundas St.; tel. 0131/557-0909) is a classic, upmarket cafe that feels part and parcel of Edinburgh's rather posh New Town. Local ingredients and Continental goods are combined on platters with cheese, seafood, cold meats, and salad. Open from 8am to late afternoon.

You can call it a day if you're tired and return to Princes Street by following Dundas Street through Queen Street Gardens (after which the road becomes Hanover St.).

Or, if you're still willing, carry on by turning left (east) on Abercromby Place, which (after crossing Dublin St.) becomes Albany Street, continuing to:

10. Broughton Street

This is one of the key places for nightlife in Edinburgh today, with traditional pubs, stylish bars, and some restaurants. At the bottom of the street at the roundabout is the former Bellevue Reformed Baptist Church (and before that, Catholic Apostolic), which the local community has actively tried to preserve, mainly for the sake of some colorful neo-Florentine interior murals by artist Phoebe Traquair (1852-1936). At the top of the street is Picardy Place, named after a small village that was established here in 1730 for immigrant silk weavers from France.

Cross Broughton Street to Forth Street, turning right on Union Street to Baxter's Place and the:

11. Top of Leith Walk

If you were to continue north on Leith Walk you would end up fairly soon at the port of Leith (See "Walking Tour 4: Leith"). At the top of Leith Walk is the Playhouse theater, designed by a Glasgow architect for films and dramatic productions in the late 1920s. They no longer screen films at the Playhouse, but the glass Omni Centre just up the road has a multiplex cinema.

Having crossed Leith Walk, continue up the hill past the Omni Centre and farther to Waterloo Place, turning left to reach:

12. Calton Hill

The first comparison of Edinburgh to Athens apparently was made in the mid-1700s, and given the city's key role in the Scottish Enlightenment, the moniker "Athens of the North" became a nickname. But the city only made vain attempts to match the splendor of the Greek Acropolis, ending up with the National Monument, a never finished facsimile of the Parthenon on Calton Hill. Nearby (and clearly visible from Waterloo Place) is the towering Nelson Monument, resembling an inverted telescope, whose ball drops every afternoon. Depending on your energy level, you can scale Calton Hill. Robert Louis Stevenson reckoned the views from Calton Hill were the best as you can see both the castle and Arthur's Seat. On its southern flank, facing Old Town, is the monumental Royal High School, a key Greek Revival building by Thomas Hamilton completed in 1829. Back along Waterloo Place is the Old Calton Burying Ground and its Emancipation Monument and statue of Abe Lincoln to honor Scottish-American Civil War soldiers. The cemetery also features Robert Adam's 1777 David Hume Monument.

Follow Waterloo Place west toward Princes Street and:

13. North Bridge

North Bridge offers another vantage point for looking at the castle. Curiously, this span, like most of Edinburgh's many bridges, doesn't cross water. They rather link hills. The first North Bridge took some 9 years to complete in the 1760s, a beginning step toward creating New Town. This broad span was designed in 1894.

Cross Princes Street, taking West Register Street (to the left of Wellington's statue), following the lane and:

Take a Break -- An oyster bar and restaurant at the Cafe Royal (17 West Register St.; tel. 0131/556-4124) has traded continuously since 1863. It retains a good deal of Victorian splendor. The restaurant closes after lunch and reopens for dinner, but the Circle Bar is open throughout the day. Some highlights of the room are the tile pictures of notable inventors.

Continue west on West Register Street to:

14. St. Andrew Square

Named for the patron saint of Scotland, this square is the eastern bookend to George Street. Compared to Charlotte Square at the avenue's other terminus, the surrounding architecture doesn't offer as much Georgian character. Up the column in the middle of the gated garden, some 38m (125 ft.) or more above, is Lord Melville, aka Henry Dundas, who was a leading politician in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

From the southwest corner of the square, walk south on St. David Street, crossing Princes Street to the:

15. Scott Monument

Eminent Victorian art and architecture critic John Ruskin hated this monument to Scotland's greatest novelist, describing it as a church spire plunked on the ground. Never mind, the neo-Gothic structure remains one of the city's most notable landmarks. The design was by George Meikle Kemp, who, apparently, was third in the 1836 competition but somehow got the commission after the committee requested more drawings. It was meant to stand in Charlotte Square. The statue of Scott (with his trusty deerhound Maida) was hewn from a 30-ton block of marble by John Steell. From here you have good views up to Calton Hill's monuments.

Adjacent is:

16. East Princes Street Gardens

It took many years to completely drain the old Nor' Loch, and the park that now fills the valley was begun in 1830. The designs had to be altered in the wake of the construction of the railway lines into Waverley Station. The panoramic view of Old Town rising to Ramsay Garden and the Castle are quite fine from here. West on the other side of the Mound, where this stroll began, is West Princes Street Gardens, with a band shell, fountain, carousel ride, and paths that scale Castle Rock.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.