Edinburgh New Town
Marvel at the beautiful Georgian architecture of the New Town, walking the streets where great thinkers once lived. Immerse yourself in culture, with stunning monuments and art galleries to explore!
Where is the New Town?
The New Town is the area of Edinburgh city centre north of the Royal Mile. It covers the length of Princes Street, between the West End and Calton Hill. It then stretches from Princes Street Gardens on the south side, to Queen Street on the north. It also acts as the city’s transport hub, with the tram line and nearly all bus routes making stops on Princes Street.
Why is the New Town important?
During the Scottish Enlightenment era of the 18th and early 19th century, Edinburgh became home to many wealthy scholars, flocking to the city to develop their new ideas. They no longer wanted to live in the dirty, overcrowded Old Town, so construction finally began on a new expansion of the city, the largest such development in the world at the time, cleverly named the New Town! The two areas are linked by North Bridge, stretching over the top of Waverley train station, and the Mound, an artificial hill.
The streets of the New Town were planned out by James Craig, who created a symmetrical, geometric layout. This grid was then filled with stunning buildings largely in the Georgian style of the time, but also with lots of Neo Classical features. This was inspired by the city’s nickname, ‘Athens of the North’, chosen because both Ancient Greece and Edinburgh were academic hubs. It’s a stark contrast to the chaotic Old Town, which led to the two areas being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. An interesting feature to note is that Princes St only has buildings along the north side – no construction is ever to be permitted on the south side, as it would block the fantastic views of the Old Town skyline!
What are the top things to do in the New Town?
While the New Town’s history isn’t quite as ancient as the Old Town, there’s still plenty of sights and attractions to explore. Princes St is dominated by the Scott Monument, a huge Gothic spire dedicated to the Scottish writer, Sir Walter Scott. You can climb to the top for splendid views across the New Town. Nearby you’ll also spot the Balmoral Hotel, famous for its iconic clocktower – don’t let it trick you though, the clock always runs five minutes fast, so people don’t miss their trains from Waverley Station next door!
Architecture enthusiasts will no doubt enjoy wandering the streets to admire the buildings in the area. Many of the venues that once held dinners and dances for the city’s elite on George Street still operate as event spaces today, such as the Assembly Rooms and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Further along in Charlotte Square, you can visit the Georgian House to see how wealthy families would have lived in the 18th century.
The New Town is also a fantastic area for art lovers to explore. Here, you’ll find the National Gallery of Scotland, and the Royal Scottish Academy, which both host many permanent and temporary exhibitions year round. On Queen Street, you can visit the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, exhibiting portraits both of famous Scots and by Scottish artists. It’s also just a short walk north west from the New Town to reach the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, which has two gallery spaces alongside its outdoor sculpture park.
What can you do outdoors in the New Town?
Edinburgh prides itself on its many green spaces, and there are plenty in the New Town. Before this area was built, the valley below the Old Town was occupied by a large loch – which doubled up as the city’s sewer! This was drained when construction on the New Town began, and the basin became Princes Street Gardens. It’s a beautiful area to relax outdoors in, and enjoy the views looking up towards Edinburgh Castle and the Old Town skyline.
At the east end of Princes Street, you can find Calton Hill, which takes just 10 minutes to climb. From the top, you can enjoy fantastic views over the city, across both the Old and New Towns. There are several monuments to see here too, including the iconic National Monument – an attempt at recreating the Parthenon, it was never completed and is now also nicknamed ‘Edinburgh’s Disgrace’!
The New Town is only a short walk from many green spaces in north Edinburgh too. You can take a stroll along the banks of the Water of Leith, the river that runs through the city, and explore the picturesque Dean Village. The river will also lead you by the Royal Botanic Gardens, and through the neighbourhoods of Stockbridge and Leith.
What about shopping and eating in the New Town?
The New Town is Edinburgh’s best area for shopping, with Princes Street boasting almost every major high street brand and department store. Over on George Street, you’ll find more high end labels, and Multrees Walk has all the designer outlets. There are also a couple of shopping centres with more popular brand names, including Waverley Mall, and the new St. James Centre, currently under construction and expected to be finished by the end of 2020.
There are lots of options for eating out in the New Town as well, from traditional Scottish menus to a range of international cuisines. We’d particularly recommend Rose Street, where you’ll find many pubs and restaurants to choose from, or browse along St Andrew’s Square, Thistle Street, and Hanover Street.
Continue on into the night, either in the pubs on Rose Street, or heading over to George Street, where you’ll find lots of bars and nightclubs to choose from. Edinburgh has many theatres around the city, but the biggest is The Playhouse, where many famous plays and musicals have been staged during their UK tours. Or, to check out Edinburgh’s fantastic local comedy scene, visit The Stand on York Place, an iconic venue where many famous stand-up comedians got their starts.
The New Town is often overlooked in favour of the Old Town, but it has its own stories to tell. Whether you want to soak up the architecture, or experience the dining and nightlife, it’s an area worth exploring!
Princes Street is one of the most popular shopping destinations in Edinburgh, so if you can, head there on a weekday, to avoid the busy crowds at the weekends!
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