Tired of staring at ancient fortresses and Gothic cathedrals? Then take a walk through Edinburgh’s New Town to peruse the city’s more “contemporary” attractions.
If the Royal Mile is the life vein of the Old City, then Princes Street is its equivalent in the New Town. Just a short walk from the Old City, Princes Street extends from Lothian Road to Leith Street and is home to numerous tourist sights and museums. It can be seen from Edinburgh Castle.
With dozens of high-end retail stores aligning it, including the uniquely Scottish department store Jenners, Princes Street is a fashion diva’s heaven.
During the Christmas season, a ferris wheel and amusement park are erected, and locals and tourists alike peruse through the annual German market for unique holiday gifts like nutcrackers and delicious German pastries and sausages.
Next to the street are the two sections of the beautiful Princes Street gardens. Here, students and locals often gather to play football, picnic during the summer or listen to concerts at the Ross Theatre. In between the two sections of the gardens lies the Mound, an artificial hill that connects the old and new cities. Here, two of country’s best art galleries are located: the Royal Scottish Academy and the adjacent National Gallery of Scotland. Both exhibit masterpieces from Titian to Rembrandt and are worth seeing. Fans of the cult-hit film Trainspotting will recognize this location from the opening scene of the movie, where Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) is chased by security guards.
Sir Walter Scott was one of Scotland’s most celebrated national poets and this gothic monument to him, with a statue of Scott underneath the base of the spire, pays tribute to his genius. Visitors can climb the 287 steps to the top of the monument to peer out from several viewing decks (they can also receive a certificate commemorating this achievement). But be warned! The staircases are at points extremely narrow and the climb may be too daunting for those who suffer from vertigo.
This Edwardian, five-star luxury hotel might be out of most tourists’ price range (it is usually the sleeping quarters of visiting celebrities like J.K. Rowling and Brittany Spears). But everyone is free to admire its lovely exterior, which boasts a large clock that is set two minutes fast to make sure passengers will be on time to catch their trains at the adjacent Waverly Station.
Eventually completed in 2004 – three years after its scheduled finish date – and way over budget, the Scottish Parliament building is easy to spot as it is unlike anything else in Edinburgh. Georgian architecture adorns most of the New Town skyline. But the Catalan architect Enric Miralles designed the parliament building in a thoroughly modernist fashion with perhaps an African motif (according to this writer’s perception). Some have decried it as a monstrosity while some say it’s a much needed dose of modernity for the city. Either way, it is nearly impossible to describe. It deserves to be seen in person!
Like Castle Rock, Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags were formed by an extinct volcano and carved out by moving glaciers. These hills, lochs (lakes) and cliffs make up Holyrood Park and offer somewhat easy walking trails. Arthur’s Seat is the highest point in Edinburgh (251 meters high) and is located at the center of the park while the Crags are located west of it. It is not known if the name is truly related to the mythology of King Arthur.
Calton Hill is located east of the New Town and is the headquarters of the Scottish government. The hill, accessed by steep stairs, is the site of many monuments, the most famous of which is the National Monument. Started in 1826, the monument was intended to be a replica of the Parthenon in Athens, but was never completed due to lack of funds. The city of Glasgow allegedly offered to pay for the rest of the construction but pride prevented Edinburgh from accepting. As a result, locals took to calling the monument Edinburgh’s Shame or Edinburgh’s Folly.
Up next…festival season in Edinburgh!
[Photo credits: Princes Street by Moron Noodle; Market stall by ChatiryGirl; Walter Scott Monument by http2007; Balmoral Hotel by Secret Pilgrim; Scottish Parliament Building by Carol Walker; Arthur's Seat by David Monniaux; Calton Hill by Geograph]