WONDER WALK 3
EDINBURGH’S NEW TOWN: EDINBURGH WAVERLEY STATION TO THE EDINBURGH PLAYHOUSE
As you emerge blinking from Waverley Station, you are right in the bustling centre of the city midway between The Old and New Towns which together are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In this Wonder Walk, you explore the culture and heritage of Edinburgh’s New Town, built in the 18th century – an elegant development of wide airy streets and sweeping crescents lined with soft grey Georgian buildings. It was purpose designed 250 years ago to move the focus of the city away from the filthy, overcrowded streets of the medieval Old Town.
Cultural venues and opportunities for eating, drinking, socialising and shopping abound now, as intended by its original designers and occupants. Start on Princes Street….
East Princes St Gardens, Edinburgh EH2 2EJ
Scottish National Gallery
54 George Street, Edinburgh EH2 2LR
St Andrew Square
Scottish National Portrait Gallery
1 Queen Street, Edinburgh EH2 1JD
18-22 Greenside Lane, Edinburgh EH1 3AA
1: Scott Monument
We start at a Gothic masterpiece, The Scott Monument, among the largest monuments to a writer anywhere in the world. On the death of Sir Walter Scott in 1832, the great and good of the city came together to agree on a fitting monument to this outstanding Scottish literary figure and construction began in 1840. Sitting proudly at the base is Sir Walter himself, carved from a single piece of marble, with his beloved hound Maida. The 287 steps are worth it for the views from the top – outstanding.
Pass by the very central Mercure Edinburgh City Princes Street Hotel as you head just one block west.
2. Scottish National Gallery
No art lover, in fact nobody should miss a chance to visit the Scottish National Gallery, at the foot of the Mound, home to one of the best collections of fine art in the world and free to visit. Check out masterpieces by Botticelli, Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Constable, Turner, Monet, Van Gogh and see some of the finest Scottish painting – all the major names, including Ramsay, Raeburn, Wilkie and McTaggart, are represented. There is a non-stop programme of exhibitions, displays, tours, talks, drop-in events and concerts.
3: Assembly Rooms
Cross Princes into Hanover Street and turn left (west) along George Street, stopping to admire the Assembly Rooms (or to enjoy a performance there). Completed in 1787, it was built as a social gathering venue and the £6000 required funding for the Assembly Rooms’ construction was raised by public subscription. The social and entertainment world was very important to Edinburgh residents then, as now – it is still central to Edinburgh’s performance arts and is one of the biggest Edinburgh Festival Fringe venues.
Go along the side lane and take a right into Rose Street (parallel to George Street) famous for its pubs and with great little shops too. Stroll along to the end.
4: Charlotte Square
Charlotte Square, designed by Robert Adam, is believed by many to represent the highpoint of the New Town plan and is one of the finest architectural stage sets in Europe. This elegant square is now a high end, financial services hub – the private garden is only open to the public to provide a home for the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August. The frontage of the north side appears to be one grand country house, although it was designed to contain different living quarters. Restricted to three storeys, clever use of recessing creates an appearance of different wings on either side of a central pavilion. Want to stay in this Georgian Square? The 4-star Kimpton Charlotte Square Hotel is a cherished heritage asset.
5: George Street (via the Oxford Bar)
Circle the Charlotte Square clockwise and a quick left and right takes you to Young Street, one of the cobbled side streets that are a feature of the New Town. It boasts an unmissable stop for Rebus fans – the Oxford Bar, so pop in for a drink.
A right turn along Castle Street takes you back to George Street offering some of Edinburgh’s best shopping – a mix of stylish stores and independent specialists such as jewellery legend Hamilton and Inches. Add classy cocktail bars and a string of fashionable hotels (Tigerlily, Le Monde, Principal Edinburgh George Hotel) and you’ll see why George Street is the spot for eating, drinking and splashing some cash. End up at the other cornerstone of the New Town: St Andrew Square.
6: St Andrew Square
In the 1780s St Andrew Square was probably the most fashionable address in Edinburgh’s New Town. The philosopher David Hume lived at No 8, while other notable inhabitants included Sir Lawrence Dundas whose impressive home became the HQ for the Royal Bank of Scotland and remains an RBS branch; go in to admire the glorious domed and starred ceiling. St Andrew Square, still a financial powerhouse is also dubbed Edinburgh’s “cuisine quarter” offering a choice from The Ivy to Dishoom, Gaucho and Hawksmoor. There’s a great hotel too: Ibis Styles Edinburgh Centre. Passing, or better going into Harvey Nichols, walk one block north to Queen Street.
7: Scottish National Portrait Gallery
Come face to face with the people who shaped Scotland’s past, present and future at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery a red, sandstone neo-gothic palace built as a shrine for Scotland’s heroes and heroines. It opened in 1889 as the world’s first purpose-built portrait gallery.
There is an elaborate decorative scheme, both inside and out, with glittering friezes and extensive sculptural embellishment – a true one-off. Explore the story of Scotland through portraits of historical figures such as Mary Queen of Scots and Robert Burns, through to recent pioneers in science, sport and the arts. Don’t miss Gavin Hastings and Tilda Swinton!
8: The Edinburgh Playhouse
This 1920s theatre is a leading venue for touring musicals, comedy, live bands and drama. Although originally designed as a variety theatre, on completion it opened as a cinema. Operating successfully until 1973, stars including Marlene Dietrich, Yul Brynner and Laurel and Hardy visited. The venue re-opened as a theatre in 1980, and what a theatre – it’s 3059 seats make it the largest in the UK and – obviously – a leading venue for the Edinburgh International Festival.