Last Updated on January 16, 2024

New Town, in Edinburgh, Scotland, was born from necessity. Its urban plan characterized by a symmetrical grid layout and elegant Georgian architecture reflects the Scottish Enlightenment ideals of order, beauty, and symmetry.

In contrast, when my husband and I strolled the Royal Mile of Edinburgh’s nearby Old Town, we visualized the late 18th century. This now-iconic street was once overcrowded, unsanitary, and filled with dimly lit tenements. It was a compact world where families shared single rooms and the cobblestone roads were as lively with livestock as with people.

In those days, Edinburgh’s business district was bursting at its seams, aching for change.

City leaders recognized the need for transformation and New Town emerged in 1765. This breakthrough alleviated the Old Town’s congestion. It launched a cultural renaissance in the expanded space known as, of no surprise, New Town.

We were delighted to explore the wonders of Edinburgh’s New Town. Our excursions unveiled pleasant contrasts with the Royal Mile’s medieval charm. From the tranquil Princes Street Gardens to Calton Hill’s breathtaking views, New Town is a harmonious blend of history, commerce, and nature.

Walking Edinburgh’s New Town

Wojtek the WWII army enlisted bear.
Wojtek the WWII army enlisted bear. Photo by Gwyn Goodrow

James Craig’s design for Edinburgh’s New Town was notable for its simplicity. The grid plan required three parallel main streets: Princes Street, George Street, and Queen Street. Smaller roads and community squares, such as St. Andrew Square and Charlotte Square, intersected these more prominent thoroughfares.

We rambled at leisure and admired the open natural area and exquisite gardens. The gentle inclines and declines are starkly different from the slope along the nearby Royal Mile. This is by design. Excavated earth formed “The Mound,” as the city established New Town’s planned community on flat grounds.

Princes Street Gardens

Princes Street Gardens and Ross Fountain.
Princes Street Gardens and Ross Fountain. Photo by John Goodrow

Our walk began at the Princes Street and Lothian Road intersection. From street level, we descended into Princes Street Gardens. These gardens are a peaceful green space at the base of Castle Rock. From here, staring up the massive incline, it’s easy to imagine the Edinburgh Castle guards on the lookout, defending their fortress.

We soon discovered the enchanting Ross Fountain, a cast-iron masterpiece. This fountain, over 40-feet-high, is adorned with whimsical mermaids, majestic walruses, and cherubs, then crowned by a graceful female figure symbolizing abundance. It’s a blend of art and myth, with details representing science, arts, poetry, and industry.

Further along, we found a statue of Wojtek, a Syrian brown bear. Adopted by soldiers, this gentle giant became a Polish Army mascot during World War II, boosting morale amidst war’s harsh realities. Starting as a private, Wojtek’s charm, spirit and military actions earned him a promotion to corporal.

Visitors even leave flowers at the statue’s base. This story is not just about a bear enlisted in the army. Rather, it highlights the extraordinary bond between the courageous soldiers and their compassionate furry friend who filled their lives with light and warmth.

The Princes Street Gardens’ floral clock, a renowned Edinburgh attraction since 1903, is a stunning artwork consisting of 30,000 flowers and succulents. The clock’s thematic designs, detailed lettering, and symbols have made it a favorite among photographers.

The National Galleries of Scotland

National Galleries of Scotland at The Mound.
National Galleries of Scotland at The Mound. Photo by Gwyn Goodrow

Venture onto The Mound to explore the National Galleries of Scotland. Here, you’ll find a treasure trove of Raphael and Monet masterpieces among the permanent collections.

From the museum’s outdoor promenade, we saw familiar Royal Mile landmarks such as St. Giles Church’s distinctive crown and Edinburgh Castle’s fluttering flags signaling the much-anticipated Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

Scott Monument

Standing by Princes Street near Waverley Station, the Scott Monument captivated me. As a fan of Sir Walter Scott’s poetry, I felt a deep connection to this towering marble tribute.

It’s more than just a stunning 200-foot-tall structure. It symbolizes Scott’s impact on literature and the Scottish heritage.

Hike Calton Hill

View of Edinburgh, Scotland from Calton Hill.
View of Edinburgh, Scotland from Calton Hill. Photo by John Goodrow

We finished our afternoon with a hike at Calton Hill. This UNESCO World Heritage site offers breathtaking panoramas. The views include the entire city, Arthur’s Seat, and the Firth of Forth.

At the summit, visitors can climb onto the National Monument, reminiscent of the Parthenon in Athens, or pause to admire the Nelson Monument honoring Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson.

Calton Hill is a peaceful open-air gallery and a popular attraction for photographers and nature lovers, especially at sunrise and sunset.

What began as a genealogy quest in Edinburgh blossomed into an enchanting city exploration—each day brimming with enriching adventures and fascinating discoveries. I invite you to delve into New Town’s many wonders and let your passion for travel reveal Edinburgh’s extraordinary spirit.

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