World Heritage Edinburgh Walking Trail
City walking holidays are more popular than you may think and this trail of the eastern “New Town” of Edinburgh begins here at Parliament House Hotel! Our Heritage Edinburgh Walking Trail invites you to explore some of the hidden gems of the World Heritage Site often missed by visitors. It also reveals stunning panoramic views over Edinburgh Castle and Old Town en route.
This particular trail can be done if you are on walking holiday in Scotland or simply visiting Edinburgh for a day trip. Our Heritage Edinburgh walking tour takes around one hour, with a twenty minute additional option offered.
Stop 1 – Parliament House Hotel
Interestingly, Parliament House Hotel can claim to be part of both Old and New Town. Sitting on a steep road called Calton Hill, which once was a small village, Calton Hill was Edinburgh’s only link to Calton burial ground. Our Calton Hill Hotel in Edinburgh’s heart sits in front of Regent Bridge, which in the early 19th century opened up a route to the magnificent New Town houses of Regent, Carlton and Royal Terraces.
The hotel itself reflects both Old and New Town. No.15 was built in 1908 reflecting New Town neo classical styles, inspired by ancient Greek and Roman architecture. Nos.13 – 9 were built two centuries earlier in the tenement style of Old Edinburgh. Both are now listed buildings.
Look out for:
- The unusual external circular stair tower of the older group of buildings now ‘A’ listed by Historic Scotland.
- The smooth dressed stone of No.15 and the rougher stone of its older neighbours at 13 – 9. A building of starkly contrasting characters appropriately located in the heart of the city which was Robert Louis Stevenson’s inspiration for Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde!
At the hotel entrance turn immediately right up the staircase to visit the rarely visited northern section of the Old Calton Burial Ground.
Stop 2 – Old Calton Burial Ground (North Section)
The Regent Bridge, completed in 1819, dissected the Old Calton Burial Ground.
This little section of the graveyard is rarely visited and is indeed unknown to most of Edinburgh’s citizens. It is a quiet little haven in the centre of Edinburgh despite its grave outlook! Take time to admire the skill of those who carved the stone memorials within. The inscriptions offer tantalising glimpses of the lives of past Edinburgh worthies, including merchants, brassfounders, and ministers.
Look out for:
- A huge stone cannonball! (Actually the decorative top of a fallen memorial pillar).
- Skulls and crossbones. Reminders of death carved on the inner walls of the Fleeming (Fleming) family burial chamber. This tomb dates to 1733.
- A fallen stone from 1762, poignantly dedicated to two deceased children.
- A memorial with an intriguing engraving of a lighthouse and the motto ‘Lead kindly light’.
Return to the hotel entrance and look left up Caltonhill road.
Stop 3 – ‘High Caulton’
Until the 1800s the street of Caltonhill was known as ‘High Caulton’. Residences in this ancient barony were prestigious. The homes, visible on the North side and reached by a series of steps and raised paths, were built in the 1760s, and were soon occupied by prosperous citizens. Street directories of the 1770s and 80s list several ‘gentlewomen’ of independent means, solicitors and bankers. Bucking the trend was ‘William Woods, comedian’ – no doubt a comedy actor at the nearby theatre.
In contrast, at the bottom of the street, lay ‘Low Caulton’ also known as ‘Beggar’s Row’. This was a notorious area of taverns and houses of ill repute. The proud residents of High Caulton went to great lengths to avoid confusion with their neighbours! In 1763 a letter to the City declares:
‘The street of the Low Caltoun has no connection with the Barony of the High Caulton’.
Look out for:
- A small obelisk marks the former site of No. 14, the home of Mrs Agnes (Nancy) McLehose who had a passionate love affair with Robert Burns. She is better remembered as ‘Clarinda’ – she and the bard wrote each other secret love letters as ‘Clarinda and Sylvander’. When she returned to her husband in Jamaica, Burns penned for her the moving love song, `Ae Fond Kiss’, capturing the pangs of lost love in words that still echo two centuries later.
- At the head of the street sits the striking ‘Rock House’, home and studio of famed photography pioneer, David Octavius Hill. His images of 19th century Scotland are held by the National Galleries of Scotland.
Walk to the top of the street to the junction with Regent Road and Waterloo Place.
Stop 4 – Waterloo Place
An unusual view of Edinburgh’s Georgian New Town is provided here. Look west along Waterloo Place to see the full length of Princes Street. Edinburgh adopted 27 year old architect James Craig’s design for the New Town in the 1760s. Craig planned two great public squares connected by three major streets. Princes Street was the Southernmost of those three broad parallel streets.
The street was originally named Princes Street after the Prince Regent who later became King George IV. It was not planned as the principal street but, with its open outlook to the gardens and spectacular views of the Castle, it became the most popular street in Edinburgh’s New Town.
From here look out for:
- “A vast and intricate pile of Gothic masonry”. On the garden side of Princes Street stands the towering Scott Monument, an 1844 memorial to the great Scottish Romantic author Sir Walter Scott. Its 287 steps lead to breathtaking and dizzying views of the World Heritage Site.
- Across the street is the more frequently visited Southern section of Old Calton Burial Ground. This section is extensive. Although not visited on this trail, the hotel can provide a detailed guide if you wish to explore it further. Three major memorials are however visible from here:
- The David Hume Monument 1777. This is the grave of the great Scottish Enlightenment philosopher. A ‘grandly Roman cylinder’ designed by the renowned Robert Adam.
- The Emancipation Monument 1893. This commemorates the Scottish Americans who fought in the American Civil War. Abraham Lincoln stands with a freed slave looking up at him.
- Political Martyr’s Monument 1844. This tall obelisk is dedicated to five democratic reformers deported in 1793 to Australia for their ‘seditious’ views. Only one survived to return.
- A building which, according to Jules Verne visiting Edinburgh in 1859, looks like a medieval tower. It is the Governor’s House of the 19th century Calton Gaol which housed the gallows for executions until 1930. Now tipped to be the official residence of Scotland’s First Minister!
Head east along Regent Road (away from Princes St.). Glance back to view Lincoln in silhouette.
Stop 5 – St Andrew’s House
Cross over to the south of Regent Road to view the impressive St Andrew’s House, named after Scotland’s patron saint. It was built in the 1930s to house the ‘Scottish Office’ of the United Kingdom government. Atop the tall bays on the frontage, the six half figures represent Architecture, Statecraft, Health, Agriculture, Fisheries and Education. It now houses the administrative offices of the devolved Scottish Government.
Constructed on the site of the Bridewell of the old gaol, it has a rather gruesome secret. The bodies of ten convicted murderers were buried on the site after their execution and remain there today – underneath the concrete of the west car park of St Andrew’s House.
Look out for:
- The Lion and Unicorn on the Royal Scottish Coat of Arms above the main entrance.
- Two heraldic shields reflecting the Unionist history of the building – one with the St Andrew’s cross of Scotland, and the other with the St George’s Cross of England.
- The heading ‘Scottish Government’ reflects the aspirations of the Scottish National Party (SNP) who introduced this term when they won power in the Scottish Parliament in 2007.
Next on our Edinburgh walking trail, head east along Regent’s Road until you reach the top of a staircase labelled ‘Jacob’s Ladder’.
Stop 6 – Top of Jacob’s Ladder
Enjoy spectacular southern panoramic views of the Old Town area on the next stop in our walking trail of Edinburgh.
Look out for:
- Edinburgh Castle standing on the old volcanic ‘Castle Rock’.
- The North Bridge connecting Old and New Towns –1890’s replacement for 1760’s original.
- The dramatic sloping skyline of Edinburgh’s medieval Old Town descending from the Castle down the ‘Royal Mile’ to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
- The crown shaped steeple of St Giles, the High Kirk of Edinburgh.
- The dome of the Old College of the University of Edinburgh.
- The extinct volcanic mass of Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags providing a magnificent backdrop for the old town of the Canongate (Edinburgh’s medieval neighbour) below.
- The Canongate Kirk and burial ground (the Queen’s parish church) and, to its right, the Tolbooth, the town hall and gaol of medieval Canongate.
Walk on until you reach the beautiful Burn’s Monument.
Stop 7 – Burn’s Monument
Completed in 1839 by architect Thomas Hamilton, the monument is modelled on the temple of Lysicrates in ancient Athens, it commemorates Scotland’s greatest bard, Robert Burns. In the valley below the monument, his lover Clarinda lays buried in Canongate Kirkyard.
Walk a little further until you reach the entrance to New Calton Burial Ground.
Stop 8 – New Calton Burial Ground
(Visit recommended in daylight only!)
If you are time limited, pass five minutes here, but linger longer and you will be rewarded by viewing some of the most scenic views of the eastern Old Town. As it was opened in 1820 to re-inter the graves disturbed by the cutting of Waterloo Place through the Old Burial Ground, there are some transferred eighteenth century monuments as well as many nineteenth century graves.
If visiting briefly look out for:
- The Watch Tower (30 yards to the right of the entrance). This rotunda was built to accommodate armed guards who sought to deter the criminal activities of body snatchers or ‘resurrectionists’. The ‘resurrectionists’ were grave robbers who ‘by pick and lamp’ removed cadavers from freshly laid graves. The bodies attracted a good price from University medical professors purchasing them for dissection at anatomy lectures. This practice ended after the 1832 Anatomy Act thus rendering the tower obsolete.
- Bathe your eyes with the breathtaking views of Holyrood Palace and the new Scottish Parliament.
- It is also an inner city haven for song thrushes so your ears may also be delighted!
If you are lingering a little longer look out for:
- The Stevenson family plot on the eastern boundary – the famous family of lighthouse engineers and author Robert Louis Stevenson (who is however buried in Samoa, where he ended his days).
- Family graves designed to defeat the bodysnatchers with locked gates and iron bars above.
- A ‘staircase’ of graves built to cope with the difficulties of the sloping site.
Carry on walking eastwards via Regent Road Park to the eastern end of Regent Road.
As you walk look out for:
- ‘The Stones of Scotland’. A circle of stones laid from 2000-2 to mark the re-establishment of a Scottish parliament in the capital city of Edinburgh. It has stones from all regions of Scotland.
- A stainless steel panel which highlights landmarks of the panoramic view.
On reaching the end of Regent Road, which is the boundary limit of the World Heritage site, cross over and climb up onto Royal Terrace. In the next part of our walking trail of Edinburgh, we explore a beautiful but little known section of the ‘New Town’.
Stop 9 – Opposite 40 Royal Terrace
Look west along this magnificent New Town terrace and marvel at its scale. Designed by the famous architect William Playfair in the 1820s, its frontage seeks to give 40 individual town houses the external appearance of a great classical palace. This was an approach pioneered by the great Robert Adam in Charlotte Square during the earlier stages of the New Town’s development.
Cross over and stroll up Carlton Terrace Lane. As you walk why not take time to explore the hidden gems of Carlton Terrace Mews and Royal Terrace Mews? These pretty but rarely visited lanes and courtyard comprise converted stables and workshops which now provide tranquil dwellings within a stone’s throw of the bustling city. At the top of the lane, turn right on to Regent Terrace and walk west towards the hotel.
Stop 10 – Regent Terrace
In this street Playfair designed a line of beautiful, well-proportioned terraced houses with continuous trellis balconies and Greek Doric porches.
As you walk along look out for:
- Ornate ironwork including boot scrapers, and railings topped with pineapples, acorns and spearheads.
- At No. 28, the Scottish Free French House with links to General de Gaulle France’s World War 2 leader.
- At No. 3 sits the United States Consulate in Edinburgh
At the end of Regent Terrace re-enter Regent Road and make your way back to the hotel.
Stop 11 – Old Royal High School (New Parliament House)
You are walking past the old Royal High School of Edinburgh built in 1825-9 to a Greek Doric design by Thomas Hamilton. It is an important monument of the Greek revival which led to Edinburgh’s New Town being described as the ‘Athens of the North’. The school moved to another part of Edinburgh in the 1970s.
In the late 1970s, the building was adapted to provide a new parliament building for Scotland but the referendum of 1978 failed to confirm a Scottish assembly and the building lay dormant.
When Scotland finally regained a parliament in the late 1990s, this building was no longer seen as fit for purpose. As a result, in spite of its new title, it never hosted the Scottish Parliament.
Above this building sits Calton Hill with fantastic views of the city and many monuments which contribute to its reputation as the Athens of the North. If you wish to undertake an exploratory climb (highly recommended in daylight hours) a guide to the monuments of Calton Hill is available from the hotel reception.
This Edinburgh walking trail was researched by Edinburgh World Heritage. EWH is a charity, funded by donations, City of Edinburgh Council and Historic Scotland, which seeks to conserve and promote the city’s World Heritage Site. Visit the website www.ewht.org.ukBOOK NOW