Maneuvering Edinburgh, Scotland is fairly easy, especially when you think of it as the Old Town and the New Town. But there are times when you can get turned around and forget where you are. Here are the top 10 streets to keep in mind when you’re exploring the city. These will help you get an idea where you’re at and know where to go.
This street divides Edinburgh into the Old Town and the New Town. The lanes are often congested with buses and people. Along the New Town side are name brand stores and great places to shop such as Primark and Great Scot. This is a good center point.
Princes Street essentially divides the city in half and marks the distinction between the architecture of the two sides. Buildings in the New Town are still quite old but have a more modern twist compared to the soot stained, Gothic architecture of the Old Town. The closes (alleys) are also more open and easier to move about. Closes within the old town are dark and narrow with the buildings towering high above.
Located one street over on the New Town side, Rose street is a hot spot for dining and bars. Walking along the street, visitors can see bricks shaped as hearts and other figures within the street. During the day it’s a quiet place to get a cup of coffee or use to avoid the crowd along Princes Street.
The night life on Rose Street creates an outdoor patio feel with good drinks and lively music. String lights are hung across the street lighting up the area which makes it easier to find the next bar. Good places to hit up while here are Dirty Dick’s Bar, The Amber Rose, and The Black Cat. The Amber Rose is a popular place. Each day there’s a new special and on certain nights there’s a pub quiz which is popular among many Scottish bars. Tuesdays are a big hit with the burgers and drinks. You can get a burger and a drink starting at £6.49, which is a phenomenal deal!
Another street located in the New Town, this can be found on the opposite side of Rose Street. George Street connects two famous squares: Charlotte Square and St Andrew Square.
Charlotte Square was built in 1796 for the prestigious members of society. The architect Robert Adam designed the Georgian houses down to every detail. Iron boot-scrapers were installed on the front steps of most of the buildings. Visitors would scrape their boots of any mud before entering the elegant houses.
In the center of the square lies the Prince Albert statue. Many overlook the great piece, but it’s a commemoration to the husband of one of the most powerful queens of England, Queen Victoria. Looking toward the statue from the end of George Street, people can look to the left at the second floor of the building and notice something unusual. The second floor windows are painted black. Back in the old days, people were taxed for each window to their apartment or store. In order to not pay the heavy fee, many windows were painted black and not used. There’s also a rumor that the famous author Agatha Christie stayed in this building.
On the other end of the street lies St Andrew Square. Before entering the open lawn, people are met with the statue of James Clerk Maxwell. The famous physicist made significant advances in the electricity and magnetism fields and created the first colored photograph. In 1861, Maxwell photographed a tartan ribbon three times using a different color each time. You can thank him for helping your Instagram!
In the center of St Andrew Square lies the Melville Monument. The largest ‘ego’ show of the day. Erected in 1823, the 1500 ton statue was created by Robert Louis Stevenson’s grandfather for the wealthy Henry Dundas. While Dundas was wealthy, he was extremely unpopular. The man was a prominent politician and stole at least £15 million pounds from the people to fund his luxurious life and large monument. In the end, the statue cost him £8000 pounds for a life time of ego boost.
Parts of this street are bridge and then the rest a normal street. The North Bridge portion connects Princes street to the Old Town and eventually turns into South Bridge. Three helpful streets branch off from this road: Cowgate, High Street (this eventually leads in to the Royal Mile), and Market Street.
Taking Market Street will lead you up towards the Museum on the Mound and connect you to Cockburn Street. The area runs along Princes Street Gardens and provides a gorgeous view of the Scott Monument and the Scottish National Gallery.
The Royal Mile starts from the Edinburgh Castle and moves down the steep hill. This street is a bit odd. It’s split in the middle by two other streets: High Street and Lawnmarket. It goes back to Royal Mile again until it ends at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse.
The top portion of the Royal Mile is famous for its tourist sights. People can visit the Edinburgh Castle, dine in The Witchery by the Castle, or learn about the history of whisky at The Scotch Whisky Experience. Several historical and haunting tours start from the Royal Mile which has been a part of the Old Town for decades.
The Royal Mile is home to tragic deaths, royal carriages, and religious upheavals. Witches were drowned on top of the building across from the Witchery while others were tossed from the ledges of the castle with a broom stick. Tax payers hated the constant rising of taxes and spit upon the Heart of Midlothian every time they went in to pay the fees. The famous heart can be found in front of St Giles’ Cathedral.
Several important streets stretch from the Royal Mile, which makes it a good center point for the Old Town. People can reach Cockburn Street, South Bridge, George IV Bridge, and Ramsay Ln which changes to Mound Pl and then into Market Street.
While this is a short street, it’s an easy way to get to the Royal Mile from Market Street and Waverly Station. Cockburn Street doesn’t have famous sites but it is known for it’s art gallery and The Baked Potato Shop.
The Stills Gallery is free to the public and focuses on the art of photography. People are welcome view the gallery or pursue their passions of photography in their high tech studio above and below the gallery. There is a fee for the use of the facilities but it’s worth it.
According to locals, Victoria Street was the basis for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter. Houses along the streets are colorful and wind along the steep road. People can sift through old books in the shops or check out antiques. At the bottom there’s a store full of gifts for practical jokes and pranks called Aha Ha Ha. You’ll know you’re at the store once you see the giant nose above the door. For years, people hated the nose and there were several grievance write ups against the company. The nose would change shape from hooked, pig, to even extremely long. Seeing as the nose wasn’t going anywhere, they finally landed on the one they have today.
Located below the Edinburgh Castle, Grassmarket Street rightfully runs through the Grassmarket. The location has been a center for locals throughout the years. In early times, the area had corals, pins, and gates which helped maneuver cattle to various people and parts of the city. Besides cattle, the market place was home to a center of fresh food markets, deadly sentences, and pubs which housed visitors.
The Grassmarket was a place for public hangings. They were cheered upon and became a spectacle for everyone. There was nothing else to do during the time and this became their amusement. One lady unexpectedly escaped the strict laws. Maggie Dickson was sentenced to hang as punishment for concealing her pregnancy and discarding the baby. Maggie was sentenced to death by hanging.
On their way to bury the woman, the people carrying the coffin heard something banging against the top and they opened it to find Maggie alive. She was let go since she had served her sentence. To this day, she is known as ‘Half-Hangit’ Maggie and the Maggie Dickson pub is named after her.
People can easily reach Cowgate from the Grassmarket. If heading towards Cowgate, people can also walk up Candlemaker Row which takes people to the famous Greyfriars Kirkyard. A statue of Bobby, the dog, sits outside the graveyard. He was a good friend and protector who was admired by all people. Today, the Greyfriars Kirkyard is notable for the names in Harry Potter and the school behind the graveyard which inspired Hogwarts.
Originally used to move cattle through the streets of Edinburgh, this place soon became ensconced with the rich and famous. Over time, the street was left by the rich who moved to the New Town, and the street soon became run down and filled with the poor.
Today, people walk along Cowgate for its array of pubs, history, and hauntings. The most known haunting is of a cloaked man who follows people traveling beneath the South Bridge along Cowgate. People have a sense of being watched, see the cloaked figure, and fear that something terrible is about to happen.
Along the street, the famous Magdalene Chapel and Three Sisters pub is a hot spot for tourists. The Magdalene Chapel, originally built in 1544, survived the destruction of the Scottish Reformation. Situated close by, the Three Sister pub, originally called the Tailors hall was founded in 1621. It was an area for people to gather for discussions and meetings. Over the years, the hall has gone through drastic restoration and is home to the pub which offers an open courtyard and a wide screen for showing movies and football games.
This is an extension of Princes Street which runs toward Calton Hill. A1 is an easy way to get to the massive hill where the famous National Monument and Nelson’s Monument. The hill provides a panoramic view of Edinburgh. Besides being peaceful and quiet, it’s a great location to see where you’re at within the city and where you want to go. Calton Hill is a great picnic spot and a must see.
Following A1 away from Princes Street, visitors can see the New Parliament House and Burns Monument. The New Parliament House designed with heavy Greek influence, was built as a high school for kids at the time. Imagine going to school in what reminds people of a Greek Parthenon. Over the years, the high school shut down and there has been highly discussed debates about the current owner transforming it into a hotel. People want to restore the building and use it as a high school again.