Standing in Edinburgh’s New Town, it’s hard to believe that there was virtually nothing here until the 1700s. Despite overcrowding in the Old Town, there were no houses here until the mid century due to the fact that, up until that point, there was no direct access to the land and the Nor’ Loch lay in the way. At this time the Scottish economy was on the rise but Edinburgh was in danger of losing its rich and educated residents to London. And so a plan was put in place to build the New Town, which would offer clean and spacious living for those who could afford it.
Work began in 1765 and went on for the best part of 100 years as the New Town was built up in stages. The city had imposed several rules on the property builders in order to maintain some uniformity of style and, with the area becoming increasingly fashionable, some notable architects of the day were brought in to design the new builds. The Nor’ Loch was drained and transformed into the spectacular Princes Street Gardens. The end result was a great success; an ostentatious example of neo-classical architecture and a celebration of Edinburgh and Scotland’s union with England.
Development on the New Town continues to this day, but most of the original Georgian buildings remain and the area still boasts a majestic image. In the city centre, shops, bars and restaurants now occupy the family houses, and the streets are filled day and night with people.
Nowadays Princes Street is widely regarded as Edinburgh’s principal street, and it is home to many well-known high street brands. Its beauty is the fact that just one side of the street is built up and so down the length of the road there are stunning views across the gardens to the castle and Old Town. Running parallel to this is George Street which also stakes a claim to the title of finest street in Edinburgh. Although perhaps the New Town is not as striking as its counterpart, it does arguably make up for this in terms of practicality. Filled with dining options, high-fashion shops, stylish bars and well-served by public transport, the New Town is always busy with visitors and locals alike.
That is not to say that the only interests for tourists in the New Town are shopping and dining. Besides the spectacular architecture, there are a number of art galleries including the National Gallery of Scotland and Scottish National Portrait Gallery, a cinema complex, the Scott Monument and the city observatory.