The Old Town of Edinburgh is the area that most visitors think of as being the 'historic' bit of the city, and relatively few tourists take the time to check out the New Town...
I think the name puts them off, and people don't realise that the 'new' part of Edinburgh is still over 250 years old! As such it has over two centuries of history to explore, and offers a fantastic contrast to the Old Town and Royal Mile area.
For most of its history the city of Edinburgh was clustered along a narrow strip of rock rising to a ridge with a valley on either side of it. That ridge is still there - the Royal Mile runs along it - as are the valleys, which for a long time formed the northern and southern boundaries of the city.
But by the 1740s the population of Edinburgh was rising faster than ever, and this city with an area of just a half square mile (1.3 square kilometres) suddenly found itself with a population in excess of 50,000 people. Conditions in the old city were squalid and filthy, with as many as a thousand people living on each of the narrow lanes or 'closes' along the main street.
Plans were drawn up to formally grow the city for the first time in its history, to spread to the north onto land which was dotted with fields and farms, an area marked on maps of the time as Bearford's (or Barefoot's) Park. This land was bought up from individual landowners, and a comprehensive plan was drawn up to build a whole new town.
In 1767 development started in the area known today as St Andrew Square. This large open space was originally a private garden for the wealth people who lived around the square - all of the New Town was planned as residential property, to allow the wealthy and high-status residents of the Old Town to start a new life away from the the filth and overcrowding of the original city.
The plan for the New Town had been drawn up by a young architect called James Craig, and his vision was a grid system of three broad streets running east-west, bisected by smaller streets running north-south. It was the first example of coordinated town planning in the UK, and his grid system - although it seems common in modern planning - was a truly creative approach to the system of city development.
This initial phase of development was all named for the monarch at the time of its construction - King George III - and to commemorate the union between Scotland and England, which was only 60 years old at the time the New Town was started.
Thus the streets here are George Street, Queen Street, Princes Street, Hanover Street (for the royal family line George belonged to), St Andrew Square, Rose Street and Thistle Street (for the national flowers of Scotland and England). St Andrew Square was originally to be mirrored in St George Square at the west end of the city, but that square was eventually named Charlotte Square for King George's wife, Queen Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenberg-Strelitz.
Craig had won a public competition to design this layout of the New Town, and although his plans were considered a great success he never was able to capitalise on this early opportunity, and towards the end of his life complained to a friend about the "monotony of straight lines" that he felt his career had been reduced to. He died in poverty and was buried initially in an unmarked grave in the Greyfriars Kirkyard.
It took developers nearly 50 years to build the first phase of the New Town, spreading westwards from St Andrew Square, with the housing around Charlotte Square being completed in the 1820s. But the city continued growing in stages - seven major phases of development in all - spreading all the way out to the west, the north, and later to the east as well. Today everything north of Princes Street is broadly considered to be New Town.
Today the New Town is the more contemporary, local side of Edinburgh, with many local shops, offices, restaurants and bars, and the streets here have a different feel from the more tourist-focused side of the city, in the Old Town along the Royal Mile.
The centre of Edinburgh is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the bulk of this protected area covers the New Town of Edinburgh.
I offer a specific New Town tour, focusing on this less visited side of the city, which features the Dean Village and Calton Hill along with a stroll along some of the (still) grand residential streets of the Georgian-era Edinburgh, or we can combine Old and New in a customised tour to suit your interests.
Escape the Old Town crowds and check out Edinburgh's New Town with my private city walking tours!
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