An introduction to Edinburgh’s New Town

Georgian House

Edinburgh is really made up two cities, the old town and the new town. Both of these have a great deal of history and character and reflect different chapters in this cities long and interesting story. The old town naturally is full of historical sites dating back to the Middle Ages. Though it is very popular with tourists it doesn’t feel like a museum, the district is vibrant and alive, a buzzing city centre full of interesting contrasts of the old and new. Only in Edinburgh’s old town can you watch the military tattoo or have a tattoo done in the same spot!

The name ‘new town’ tends to mislead many. New is of course a relative term and Edinburgh’s new town in fact dates back to the 18th century, when the old town had become overcrowded and unhygienic, leading to an exodus of wealthy citizens to London.

The 18th century was the age of the enlightenment, and this intellectual movement was as strong in Edinburgh as anywhere in Europe. The outdated medieval city did not suit the new modern way of thinking, as well as being a health hazard, and a competition was held in 1766 to find a suitably modern layout for the new town. It was won by the then 26 year old Architect James Craig’s design for a simple grid with a main thoroughfare, George Street (named after the King of the tie, George III) linking two garden squares. Two other main roads were located parallel to the north and south, these are Queen’s Street and Prince’s Street. Completing the grid wee three smaller north-south cross streets, Castle, Frederick and Hanover Streets.

The whole new Town area is a must see for its stunning neo-classical architecture wide classically proportioned streets. These helped contribute to Edinburgh’s nickname “The Athens of the North”.

One of the highlights of is Charlotte Square designed by brothers Charles and Robert Adam, who designed much of the New Town, as well as many commissions in London. Charlotte Square is built to a fine neo-classical design and is home to Bute House, the Scottish first Minister’s home.  Another interesting site here is the Georgian House where the interior has been recreated in the style of the day with original neo-classical style interiors.

The New Town is also home to the National Gallery of Scotland and the Royal Scottish Academy, both located on The Mound. The National gallery of Scotland houses a small but highly select collection with notable works by Velazquez, Murillo and Titian, as well as 20th century Scottish artists.

If you tire of culture, the New Town is also home to Edinburgh’s main shopping streets. Princes Street is home to many popular high street chain shops, as well as Jenner’s department store. Currently there are no bars and restaurants but in 2014 new city legislation will allow this to change. Next door, George Street has numerous modern bars, as well as several high end fashion retailers. Also at the higher end, the new Multrees Walk on St. Andrew’s Square is home to Harvey Nichols and other designer shops.

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