Edinburgh's New Town embodies the Age of Enlightenment. Rational, classical, and beautiful—this part of the city provides a fantastic backdrop for an introduction to the city. During this 3-hour Edinburgh History Tour of New Town, we will visit Calton Hill, Charlotte Square, and the residences of some of Edinburgh's most famous 18th-century citizens. Along the way we'll get an in-depth explanation of Georgian architecture and the ideals of the Age of Enlightenment, coming away with a stronger understanding of the city's critical role in that period.
Edinburgh History Tour
We begin our tour on Calton Hill with its spectacular views of the Kingdom of Fife and the Highlands across the Firth of Forth. Here we will also have an impressive vantage point over the neoclassical New Town neighborhood of Edinburgh. We'll meet James Craig, the architect responsible for the layout of this part of the city during the 18th century, and also the seminal Enlightenment thinker, Robert Adam. And we'll discuss how they determined the look and character of this part of Edinburgh and how it adheres to the ideals of the day.
Age of Reason Architecture
The New Town's grid of broad, straight streets, was the largest of its time in Europe and is comparable to Bath in demonstrating the symmetry of the Age of Reason. As we walk it's streets we'll learn why this part of the city was built to relieve the overcrowded, disease-ridden tenements of the medieval Old Town. We'll also draw parallels to Italy and France and learn how Robert Adam’s borrowed many of his ideas from the classical buildings he saw on his Grand Tour in Italy.
Athens of the North
The ‘Hellenic’ site of Calton Hill, with its copies of Greek temples, is a fitting introduction to the classical theme which we shall pursue in admiring the elegant architecture of Charlotte Square, among other masterpieces of urbanization. The copy of the Parthenon (an unfinished memorial to the soldiers who died during the Napoleonic Wars) on its ‘Acropolis’ gives Edinburgh its soubriquet of ‘Athens of the North’.
We shall stroll through the pleasant streets and circuses between generous areas of parkland in this UNESCO World Heritage city, which epitomizes the glories of civilized living in the drawing-rooms of the Bourgeoisie. Many of these elegant estates were the homes of the luminaries in the Age of Enlightenment such as Adam Smith, David Hume, and James Young Simpson, the pioneer of anesthesia. We can visit the Georgian House, furnished in the contemporary style by the National Trust, and admire the public buildings like the register house, the churches, and the assembly rooms, while looking at such details as the blond sandstone, the footscrapers, and the wrought–iron balconies.
By the end of the walk, we will have a deep understanding of the architectural and social development of Edinburgh in the past three centuries. They will appreciate its role as beacon of progress and culture in the country as well as in Europe and the world.
Where do we meet? Where does it end?
Generally speaking, the walk begins near the Carlton Hill area. Your confirmation email will have the exact meeting point details along with a map, and 24 hour phone number for any last minute issues. The walk typically ends near the Georgian House.
What if it’s raining?
Tours operate rain or shine, but in the case of inclement weather, your docent will modify the tour so more time is spent indoors. It never hurts to have an umbrella on hand.
Is this tour good for kids?
Yes! We have some excellent family friendly docents who can appeal to the learning styles of children. Please book privately if you have children under 13. Feel free to provide us with information about your children such as favorite school subjects, and hobbies. This way we can match you with the best possible docent.
Is this a walking intensive tour?
This walk covers about 1.5 miles overall at a gentle pace. There are occasional opportunities to sit, use the bathroom, and get something to drink if needed.