After spending the first day visiting the Old Town, this second day we will have a look at the New Town, starting from Princes Street and Gardens.
1. Princes Street and Gardens
Princes Street is the main thoroughfare in New Town, Edinburgh, and Scotland. It stretches for nearly a mile and is lined with vibrant gardens and elegant shops, including Jenners of Edinburgh, one of the oldest department stores worldwide, built in 1838.
The Princes Mall, which is known for its small shops set among fountains and cafés and plenty of places to browse, is located along this lane as well.
Following the long draining of the Nor Loch and the construction of the New Town, which began in the 1760s, Princes Street Gardens was established in the 1820s. The loch, on the north side of the town, was originally a man-made feature that served as part of the town’s medieval defences, making expansion northwards difficult. The water was often contaminated by waste flowing downhill from the Old Town. The gardens extend along Princes Street’s south side and are separated by The Mound, which houses the National Gallery of Scotland and the Royal Scottish Academy. East Princes Street Gardens is an 8.5-acre park that runs from The Mound to Waverley Bridge. The broader West Princes Street Gardens, which occupy 29 acres and stretch to the nearby churches of St. John’s and St. Cuthbert’s near Lothian Road in the west, are part of the broader West Princes Street Gardens. The railway was established in the valley in 1846 to link the Edinburgh-Glasgow line at Haymarket with the new northern terminus of the North British line at Waverley Station, built from Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Princes Street Gardens is also home to the world’s oldest floral clock; the beautiful cast-iron Ross Fountain; the Norwegian Memorial Stone; the statue of Thomas Guthrie, a Scottish divine and philanthropist; the Scottish American Memorial, also called “The Call 1914”, showing a kilted infantryman looking towards Castle Rock; and the Royal Scots Greys Monument, an equestrian bronze depicts a Royal Scots Dragoon Guard (Carabinier and Greys) in uniform with bearskin hat, sword and rifle.
From these gardens, you can enjoy stunning views of Edinburgh Castle, which overlooks the gardens.
From there, head to the east part of the gardens, and reach the Scottish National Gallery.
2. Scottish National Gallery
The Scottish National Gallery is a fine art collection, spanning Scottish and international art from the beginning of the Renaissance up to the start of the 20th century, housed in a neoclassical building first opened to the public in 1859.
The gallery hosts an outstanding selection of Scottish paintings, including Ramsay, Raeburn, Wilkie, and McTaggart, in addition to masterworks by art history heroes Raphael, Botticelli, Tiepolo, Velázquez, El Greco, Vermeer, Turner, Monet, Cézanne, Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Rubens, and Van Gogh. Raeburn’s much-loved The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch, or the “Skating Minister“, is among the works on display as well.
Admission is free.
From there, walk through East Princes Street Gardens and reach the next stop, the Scott Monument.
3. Scott Monument
Sir Walter Scott, author of Ivanhoe, Waverley, and Rob Roy, among several other novels and poems, is honoured with this classic Gothic monument. There are 68 statues on the memorial, four of which are not visible from the ground, all of which are based on characters from Scott’s novels. Besides, you will find 16 heads depicting other Scottish poets and writers, including Sir David Lindsay, James Beattie, Tobias, Smollet, Lord Byron and Mary, Queen of Scots. These can be found on the lower faces at the top of the lower pilasters. Finally, you will be able to see eight kneeling Druid figures supporting the final viewing gallery, as well as a statue of Scott with his dog.
A 287-step spiral staircase will lead you up the central spire, which stands 61 meters/ 200 feet tall, to several viewing platforms.
The foundation stone for the Scott Monument was laid just a few years after Sir Walter Scott’s death, in 1840. In the early 1990s, the monument was restored, and in 2016, equipped with an LED lighting system.
Fun fact: This is the second-largest monument to a writer in the world after the José Martí monument in Havana.
Admission fee: 8£/ 9.2€/ 11$ (not included in the Royal Edinburgh Pass).
From there, take Princes Street toward North Bridge, and continue onto Waterloo Plane. Then take the stairs on your left, and you will arrive at Calton Hill, our next stop.
4. Calton Hill and the Scottish National Monument
Calton Hill offers a stunning panoramic view of the city, Princes Street, the castle, and the Old Town.
Dugald Stewart Monument, Nelson Monument, the Portuguese Cannon, the Playfair Monument, and, perhaps most importantly, the Scottish National Monument are all located on this hill.
The Dugald Stewart Monument was built in 1831 and was inspired by Athens’ Choragic Monument of Lysicrate, a circular temple with nine fluted Corinthian columns surrounding an elevated urn on a circular podium. It is dedicated to Dugald Steward, a Scottish Enlightenment philosopher credited with establishing Scottish Philosophy as the dominant philosophy in Europe in the early 19th century.
Admiral Lord Nelson died at the Battle of Trafalgar in the Napoleonic Wars in 1805, and the Nelson Monument was built in his honour. Climbing the tower costs £6, but the museum on the ground floor is free.
The Portuguese Cannon, which bears the Royal Arms of Spain on its barrel, was cast in the early 15th century. Before 1785, the cannon was shipped to the Portuguese colonies in Southeast Asia. It was taken over by the King of Arakan, ruler of a state on Burma’s west coast, and was later captured by the British during their invasion of Burma in 1885. In 1886, it was presented to Edinburgh, and the following year, they installed it on Calton Hill.
Professor John Playfair, a geologist and mathematician, was a key figure in the construction of the New Observatory, and the Playfair Monument honours him. It was modelled in the Greek Doric style by his nephew, William Playfair.
Finally, the Scottish National Monument was started but never finished to honour Scottish soldiers who served in the Napoleonic Wars. The monument has been a popular tourist attraction since 1829. Since the memorial is still incomplete, residents have mixed feelings about it. Regardless, the memorial is a work of art with breathtaking architecture and panoramic views of the city and surrounding countryside.
From there, take a bus or a taxi to the next stop, the Royal Yacht Britannia.
5. Royal Yacht Britannia
The Royal Yacht Britannia is one of the most well-known monarchy-related attractions in the United Kingdom. It is the former royal yacht of the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, in service from 1954 until 1997. Over the years, the Queen has welcomed heads of state and famous people from around the world to this splendid vessel.
However, in 1997, they sent it to Leith, Edinburgh’s port area, as the centrepiece of the Britannia Visitor Centre, after more than 40 years of service to the Royal Family on 968 official voyages, more than a million nautical miles travelled around the globe, and over 135 countries visited.
The visit to the Royal Yacht Britannia starts at the Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre’s Visitor Centre, located on the second floor. There you will learn about the ship’s history by looking at the images.
Once aboard, you will learn about the history of this and other royal yachts as you explore the five main decks. Highlights include the Royal Apartments and bedrooms; the lovely sun lounge; and the onboard Royal Deck Tea Room, where you can stop for tea and cakes.
Admission fee: 17£/ 20€/ 23$ (included in the Royal Edinburgh Pass).
From there, take a taxi or a bus to Saint Andrew Square, your next stop.
6. Saint Andrew Square
St Andrew Square is a city square at the east end of George Street, whose gardens, although privately owned, have been open to the public since 2008.
The construction of St Andrew Square, the first part of the New Town, began in 1772. Within six years of its completion, St Andrew Square had established itself as one of the city’s most coveted and trendy residential areas.
St Andrew Square became the city’s commercial centre as the 19th century drew to a close. The majority of the square used to be occupied by major bank and insurance company offices, making it one of Scotland’s most important financial centres. St Andrew Square once had the distinction of being the wealthiest place of its size in Scotland.
On its south side, it now has stores, including the Harvey Nichols department store, the Edinburgh Grand Hotel and apartments, and several London chain restaurants and bars, including Hawksmoor, Drake & Morgan, Dishoom, and The Ivy.
Although the square took its name from the patron saint of Scotland, the large monument in its centre is not dedicated to him. That is the 41 feet/1.5 meters tall statue of Melville erected in honour of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville.
The Dundas Mansion, purchased by the Royal Bank of Scotland in 1825 as its head office, dominates the east end. This grand building, which now serves as one of the bank’s main branches, is surrounded by a narrow semi-circular driveway and a gated garden. A lovely blue dome ceiling with numerous tiny gold star windows can be found within the main banking hall.
The British Linen Bank building, located at 38-39 St Andrew Square, has an impressive facade with neo-classical figures atop Corinthian columns. Constructed between 1851 and 1852, the Bank of Scotland, which purchased the British Linen Bank in 1969, is now its owner.
From there, take George Street.
7. George Street
George Street, named after King George III, is the New Town’s main thoroughfare, connecting St Andrew Square in the east to Charlotte Square in the west.
George Street was intended to be a residential area when it was first proposed in 1767 and constructed. The aim was to build elegant townhouse terraces to entice the wealthy back to the city. The early settlers were professionals who were drawn to space and light in comparison to the Old Town. Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster, a politician, writer, and statistician who lived with his family at 133 George Street, was one of the most well-known.
However, during the Victorian era, shops, showrooms, banks, small department stores, and hotels replaced some of these houses.
For instance, at No. 89 you can see Gray’s old shop. The Grays were popular Edinburgh ironmongers, who traded on this street for 160 years. It has a distinct Renaissance-inspired style with many intricate features. On the first level, look for the roundels with an owl, a ship, and a cockerel on mosaic backgrounds. Moreover, in this street, you can see Austin Reed’s, one of Edinburgh’s first modernist buildings, constructed between 1924 and 1925 for M. Cleghorn & Co, a company that specialized in luxury trunks and leather goods. Furthermore, the Professional and Civil Service Supply Association had one of the most impressive department stores constructed at No. 80, similar to Harrods department store with a private club attached. The top floor was supported by ‘caryatids,’ female figures modelled in the baroque style.
On the other hand, Trotters Opticians at No. 44 has a more unassuming shopfront but a fascinating tale to tell. They constructed new shopfronts out of the Georgian building’s ground floor over the years, but the opticians’ Trotters wanted to restore a more traditional look. So, later additions were removed, restoring the structure to something like its original state, albeit with a humorous twist. If you look closely, you can see that the tops of the columns on each side of the main door reflect a pair of spectacles.
The street was also synonymous with banking, which resulted in some magnificent architecture. The Dome, with its massive classical columns, was designed in 1845 as the Commercial Bank’s headquarters, but if you look closely, you can still see other clues. The coat of arms above the main door of Contini’s, located at No. 101 – 103, was once a Bank of Scotland branch. Established in 1874 for the Union Bank, the Standing Order pub has a hint in its name, with the old 30-tonne safe still intact in one of the side rooms.
Today, in the 21st century, George Street is still broadly a Victorian townscape, but many of the commercial buildings have been converted to restaurants, coffee shops, and bars, with a smattering of high-quality clothing stores.
Finally, on intersections along George Street you can see the following statues: King George IV, who visited Edinburgh in 1822, lies at Hanover Street; the British Prime Minister William Pitt at Frederick Street; the founder of the Free Church, Thomas Chalmers at Castle Street; and James Clerk Maxwell at the east end of George Street.
From there, reach Charlotte Square.
8. Charlotte Square
Charlotte Square, the heart of Edinburgh’s Georgian New Town, was named after the wife of the monarch King George III, Charlotte, and quickly became one of the most prominent addresses of the city. Many saw it as the city’s response to the Old Town’s overcrowding and dinginess. As a result, Charlotte Square rapidly became home to some of the most brilliant thinkers, physicians, and aristocrats of the Scottish Enlightenment.
Bute House, at No. 6, has been the official residence of the First Minister of Scotland since 1999. The Georgian House, located at No. 7, is a period recreation of these properties run and maintained by the National Trust for Scotland (our next stop). The Edinburgh International Book Festival’s offices are located at No. 5, which was once the residence of John Crichton-Stuart, 4th Marquess of Bute. Lord Lister, a British surgeon and a pioneer of antiseptic surgery, after which Listerine antiseptic was named, lived at No. 9, while Alexander Bell, the inventor of the first practical telephone, lived at No. 16 (now 14), and Henry Cockburn, a Scottish lawyer and judge, lived at No. 14.
The old St George’s church building still stands on the west side of the square, but it has been the West Register House, one of the National Archive of Scotland’s offices, since 1964.
A statue of Prince Albert, commissioned by Queen Victoria after Albert’s death, stands in the middle of the (still private) gardens in the square. They house the Edinburgh International Book Festival held every year in August.
As the 20th century began, most buildings were still occupied as residential addresses, although more are offices solely occupied by guardians.
From there, reach the Georgian House, our last stop.
9. Georgian House
The Georgian House, a magnificent 18th-century townhouse restored and furnished by the National Trust for Scotland, is a popular tourist attraction with over 40,000 visitors per year.
The House has been impeccably equipped with period pieces to give visitors a look into the lives of Edinburgh’s upper crust. Fine art, exquisite silverware, and luxurious furniture are on display. Explore on your own or as part of a special costumed tour, where guides portray a typical day in the life of a noble family from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.
The affluent inhabitants of the Georgian House enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle, which was only possible thanks to the servants’ long and arduous days of labour. Visitors get a fascinating glimpse into all aspects of culture in the 18th century.
Admission fee: 10£/ 11.5€/ 13.7$ ( not included in the Royal Edinburgh Pass).
With the Georgian House even this second day of this “Edinburgh in 2 days” comes to an end. If you missed the first day, click here.
Edinburgh is undoubtedly a city of incredible beauty. It leaves you breathless with its powerful history and majestic buildings and landmarks. My husband and I fell in love with it, despite the weather, the cold, and it being a bit too grey due to the Victorian style of its buildings. Besides, both the view over the Caste you can get from Princes Street and the one from Carlton Hill over the city are truly stunning. Real gems you can miss!
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