The Other Side of Edinburgh: The Georgian New Town

By Cameron Hewitt

Edinburgh’s New Town, across a big valley from the Royal Mile, was purpose-built to allow the city to expand in the 18th century. As if city planners were overcompensating, it’s as rigidly regimented as the Old Town is higgledy-piggledy. Many travelers get Royal Mile tunnel vision and miss the New Town altogether — which is a shame, since this neighborhood offers a glimpse of a very different and (marginally) less touristy side of Edinburgh.

 

New Town View

The New Town was carefully planned and plotted, right down to the way its main cross-streets coincide with viewpoints that make the city’s landmarks line up — in this case, combining a museum, an old tenement building, and a church tower into one mega-Gotham City vista.

 

New Town Rose

The New Town plan was designed to suck up to English royalty. (It came about just 20 years after the failed Jacobite rebellions that attempted to topple the English crown and re-install a Scottish monarch.) The main drags are named “George Street” (for the king), “Queen Street,” “Princes Street,” and so forth. Here on Rose Street, the sidewalk is even embedded with a giant Tudor rose — the symbol of the English monarch. Come on, guys, we get it. Enough is enough.

 

Royal Mile Georgian

The architectural style of the New Town is Georgian. British for “Neoclassical,” the style is named for the kings who ruled during that age. The best museum in the New Town is the Georgian House, where you can go inside one of these elegant town houses and see how the upper crust lived during the 18th century. By the way, as I work on our new Scotland guidebook, I find myself comparing every aristocratic manor house to Downton Abbey. As a travel writer, it’s dangerous to rely too heavily on one comparison point…but that show really does a perfect job of capturing the upstairs, downstairs life behind these genteel facades. (I’m sure that once I get to the Highlands, it’ll be all about Outlander.)

 

New Town Concert

While back home in Seattle, Pacific Northwesterners are enjoying the warmest summer in a generation, here in Scotland it’s the opposite. I was told that in Scotland, the month of June was the coldest in 43 years. But even in an unseasonably chilly summer, Edinburgh is carrying on with its slate of outdoor activities. Heading from the New Town back toward the Royal Mile, I stumbled upon a row of food trucks, a beer garden, and a casual outdoor stage where a talented trio was playing modern Celtic music with a stunning Edinburgh backdrop…howling winds and dark clouds be damned.