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Edinburgh Street Names: Mapping out the History of Edinburgh

Shakespear said it best. “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose | By any other name would smell so sweet.” Like the fate of the two star-crossed lovers we all know and love, a name in Edinburgh has a rich, vibrant and potentially tragic history all its own. And since 2017 is the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, we thought we would travel down some of Edinburgh’s famous streets en route to a better understanding of the history of Edinburgh.

Princes Street: Full Of Street Smarts

Princes Street is arguably one of the best-known streets in all of Edinburgh. The commercial heart of the city, Princes Street has long reigned supreme over Edinburgh’s New Town. Connecting Lothian Road in the west to Leith Street in the east, this 1-mile long retail thoroughfare has been heralding merchants and shoppers alike to its sidewalks for hundreds of years.

But despite its iconic place in modern-day Edinburgh, Princes Street was originally destined to be called St Giles Street after the patron saint of Edinburgh. King George III quickly rejected the name, as St Giles also happened to be the patron saint of lepers, not to mention the name of the notorious ‘rookery’ of slums in London. Instead, the street was named in honour of King George’s sons, Prince George (the future George IV) and Prince Frederick (the Duke of York).

The Royal Mile: Uncover The History of Edinburgh With Every Step

Street view of the Royal MileRunning parallel to Princes Street, this time in Edinburgh’s gothic-inspired Old Town, is the famed Royal Mile. A succession of streets that form the main thoroughfare of the Old Town, the Royal Mile is at the very centre of the history of Edinburgh as it has been taking shape for thousands of years. Despite being just over a mile long (1.127 miles to be exact), the ancient cobbled streets of the Royal Mile connect Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyrood – the Queen’s official residence when in Scotland. Peppered with awe-inspiring attractions, towering tenements, cobbled closes, haunted nooks and a secret underground, the Royal Mile is one of the busiest tourist streets in all of Edinburgh and an Edinburgh attraction in its own right.

George Street: Streets Ahead Of Its Time

Statue of George IV on George StreetNamed after King George III, George Street was designed to be the grandest street in all of Edinburgh’s New Town. Connecting St Andrew Square in the east with St George Square (later named Charlotte Square) in the west, it was the crowning glory of a untied Scotland and England. As St Andrew was the patron saint of Scotland and St George was the patron saint of England, George Street was a symbolic reminder of just how far these two warring nations had come in the heart of Edinburgh.

A window into the past of the city, Edinburgh’s many vivacious street names have been teeming with the history of Edinburgh for centuries. From places of trade like Grassmarket and Candlemaker Row to tributes for Edinburgh’s most famous residents like Hanover Street or George Street, a turn down just about any street or close unearths a rich labyrinth of history beneath our feet.

To find out more about the fascinating history of Edinburgh and its many wonderful streets, visit our Edinburgh Guide. Alternatively, take a look at one of our Special Offers and experience the wonders of Edinburgh for yourself.

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