Edinburgh's Elegant New Town

NEAREST LOCATION

Edinburgh

RECOMMENDED BY
DISTANCE

5.5 miles (8.9kms)

ASCENT
164ft (50m)
TIME
2hrs
GRADIENT
DIFFICULTY
Medium
STARTING POINT
NT257739

About the walk

Don't worry, this is not a walk through some dreary 20th-century housing scheme! Edinburgh's New Town was built in the 18th century and is an elegant development of wide, airy streets, punctuated with sweeping crescents and lined with soft grey Georgian buildings. It was a planned development, designed to move the focus of the city away from the filthy, overcrowded streets of the medieval Old Town. It was laid out in the mid-18th century by James Craig, a young architect who won a competition for the design. It is separated from the Old Town by Princes Street, the main thoroughfare and once the smartest shopping street in Scotland. In later years Robert Adam contributed to the development, notably designing Charlotte Square in 1791. The Old and New Towns together are recognised as a World Heritage site.

Luring the literati

Houses in the New Town were soon the most coveted in the city and became the haunt of the Scottish literati. Literary associations abound. Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows (1908) was born at 30 Castle Street in 1859; Robert Louis Stevenson grew up at 17 Heriot Row; Percy Bysshe Shelley stayed at 60 George Street with his runaway teenage bride in 1811; and Sir Walter Scott once lived at 39 Castle Street.

The city seems to hold a fascination for writers and many historic meetings have taken place here, including that between Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns. The war poet Wilfred Owen often came into Edinburgh while he was recuperating from 'shell shock' at nearby Craiglockhart War Hospital. One of his early poems was entitled 'Six O'clock in Princes Street'. It was at Craiglockhart that Owen met Siegfried Sassoon, already an acclaimed poet, who encouraged him in his writing and made amendments to early drafts of some of his greatest works. Owen left Edinburgh in 1917 and returned to the Front, where he died on 4th November, 1918.

Another New Town location, Milne's Bar on Hanover Street, was a favourite haunt of several of Scotland's most influential modern poets. Hugh MacDiarmid and his two friends and drinking partners, Norman MacCaig and Sorley MacLean, are just some of the figures who used to meet here in the last century, and the pub walls are still covered with their memorabilia.

In the latter stages of this walk you will pass a statue of Sherlock Holmes, a tribute to his Edinburgh-born creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who lived nearby at 11 Picardy Place (which has now been demolished). Conan Doyle studied medicine at Edinburgh University and modelled his fictional detective Holmes on one of his former lecturers – Dr Joseph Bell. Bell was an extremely observant individual and combined his instincts with science to help the police in solving several murders in the city. Many believe that Conan Doyle assisted Bell with his work in this capacity, acting as Dr Watson to his Holmes.

Walk directions

From the tourist information centre, turn left and walk along Princes Street. Just after you pass the Scott Monument on your left, cross the road to reach Jenners department store, Scotland's answer to Harrods. Continue along Princes Street, then take a right turn up Hanover Street.

Take the second turning on your left and walk along George Street to reach elegant Charlotte Square. Then turn right and right again to go along Young Street. At the end, turn left and walk down North Castle Street to reach Queen Street.

Cross the road, turn left, then right down Wemyss Place and right into Heriot Row. When you reach Howe Street turn left and, before the church in the middle of the street, turn left again and walk along South East Circus Place, past the sweep of Royal Circus and down into Stockbridge.

Cross the bridge, then turn left along Dean Terrace. At the end, turn right into Ann Street. When you reach Dean Park Crescent turn right and follow the road round into Leslie Place and into Stockbridge again. Cross the main road, turn left and then right at the traffic lights, down St Bernard's Row. Follow this, then bear left into Arboretum Avenue.

Follow this road past the Water of Leith down to Inverleith Terrace. Cross and walk up Arboretum Place to reach the entrance to the Botanic Gardens on the right. Turn left after exploring the gardens and retrace your steps to Stockbridge again.

Turn left at Hectors bar and walk uphill, then turn left along St Stephen Street. When you reach the church, follow the road, cross over Cumberland Street, then turn left along Great King Street. At the end, turn right, then immediately left to walk along Drummond Place, past Dublin Street, and continue ahead into London Street.

At the roundabout turn right and walk up Broughton Street to reach Picardy Place. Turn left, walk past the statue of Sherlock Holmes, then bear left towards the Playhouse Theatre. Cross over, continue left, then turn right into Leopold Place and right again into Blenheim Place. At the church, turn right, walk up the steps and turn left at the meeting of paths.

Go up the steps on the right, walk over Calton Hill, then turn right to pass a bronze cannon with an interesting history – engravings on its breech and barrel show that it was cast in Portugal, ended up in the hands of the Burmese, and was seized as a trophy by British troops in the late 19th century. Go downhill, take the steps on your left and walk down into Regent Road. Turn right and walk back into Princes Street and the start.

Additional information

Busy city streets

Elegant Georgian townscape

A town walk, so not ideal; keep on lead; not allowed in Botanic Gardens

AA Walker's Map 27 Edinburgh

Several large car parks in central Edinburgh

At Waverley Station and Hamilton Place

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