The New Town of Edinburgh
Visiting The New Town of Edinburgh
by David Wheater of Tours of Edinburgh
Nowadays, the New Town of Edinburgh is not particularly new, with building taking place during the 18th and 19th centuries in two main phases and several extensions.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the inspiration for the 'new town', on the far side of the Norʼ Loch, was Lord Provost George Drummondʼs, who was concerned about the then filthy and overcrowded conditions of the city, mainly in the Old Town around the Castle and Royal Mile.
A competition to plan the first new town was won in 1766 by James Craig who was just 23 years old and completely unknown. His plan was for a ʻgrid-ironʼ pattern of three main streets, Princes Street, George Street and Queen Street, with gardens and a square at each end (St Andrew and Charlotte Square). Houses were originally built along Princes Street too, but these have now long since given way to shops and offices.
Amazingly, when you consider how fashionable the New Town is today and the poor living conditions at the time, there was an initial reluctance to build there and incentives had to be offered!
The second phase of the New Town began in the 1820s and was largely residential. It was also based on a symmetrical grid pattern including, among others, Heriot Row, Northumberland Street, Great King Street, Cumberland Street and Fettes Row. While some offices exist in these streets, it is still mainly residential in character and very lovely to live in.
The New Town is now the heart of the city centre and encompasses some of the cityʼs finest Georgian and neo-classical architecture (influenced by a Greek revival of the time) from the likes of the Adam brothers and, later, William Playfair (e.g. Royal Circus). Although home to some offices, it is predominantly residential in nature and a very special place to live.
Princes Street and George Street is where the bulk of the shopping, restaurants and bars are to be found and, in addition, there is considerable office presence on the latter and its northerly neighbour, Queen Street. Princes Street offers hundreds of shops, most of them being national chains such as Marks and Spencer, Waterstones and Debenhams. Princes Street is also home to the Edinburgh institution, Jenners department store. George Street used to be the financial centre of Edinburgh, but is now the place to head for fashionable bars and restaurants, mixed in around chic boutiques and upmarket shops.
The relatively new Multrees Walk, leading off St Andrew Square, is home to Harvey Nichols and a host of other designer stores including Louis Vuitton. There's also a large John Lewis store nearby (which used to be part of the St James Shopping Centre which is currently being demolished and redeveloped to become "Edinburgh St James" opening in 2020 - see http://www.edinburghstjames.com/.)
Culturally, there is too much to mention, but the Scottish National Gallery, the Royal Scottish Academy (at the Mound) and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery on Queen Street are all worth visiting. Getting around is easy on foot and there are frequent and regular buses to all other parts of the city. The new Edinburgh Tram link now makes it very easy to get from one end of town to the other.
Head north (and downhill) from the busy shopping areas of Princes Street and George Street and youʼll find a vast array of highly desirable New Town property, ranging from large elegant townhouses to spacious and ornate flats. Prices are on the high side as many consider this the place to live in Edinburgh and you certainly canʼt argue with that!
If you'd like to join me on a special walking tour of Edinburgh's beautiful New Town, please Email me or telephone me directly on 07400 705 357.