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History & Ancient Sites

Edinburgh Old Town Vs. New Town

When you visit Edinburgh, you’ll notice that the city has two parts, different in both style and age.  Edinburgh’s history, as we know it today, began 1,000 years ago when the castle was built.  (The city was named after the 7th century king, Edwin.)  The castle was built on a volcanic peak as a natural defense against invaders, and the town spread out behind it.

These early medieval neighborhoods came to form Edinburgh Old Town.  It’s a maze of narrow, curving alleys, steep staircases, and towering stone structures.  Notable buildings in Edinburgh Old Town include St. Giles Cathedral, John Knox House, Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh Castle, and the gothic Assembly Hall.  Visit courtyards and secret gardens tucked in the narrow closes off the Royal Mile.  If you’re feeling adventurous, tour the ancient, subterranean streets.

By the mid-18th century, the city of Edinburgh needed revamping.  It was overcrowded, becoming a health hazard, and wealthy residents were moving to London.  First, the city’s swamp was filled in and planted. It became the Princes Street Gardens, and it’s the dividing line between Old Town and New.  The building of New Town Edinburgh began in 1767 and continued until 1850—the well-heeled happily moved out of the city center into new homes.

Edinburgh New Town is considered to be a perfect specimen of Georgian planning. The area retains its charm, and the neighborhoods must be maintained according to the time period’s code.  (Dozens of old, private gardens have locked gates, making them mysterious and just right.)  Old Town and New Town Edinburgh was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Climb to the top of Calton Hill, and you’ll have a breathtaking view of Edinburgh.  It’s the highlight of a memorable Scotland vacation.

Compare the two halves of this beautiful city on one of our Scotland Vacations.