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Edinburgh History Tour: New Town with a Historian

Explore the UNESCO-protected New Town and immerse yourself in Georgian architecture
From US$433 privately
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Tour Details
3 hours
Product Type
  • The Georgian House
  • Charlotte Square
  • Moray Place
Photos & Highlights
  • Historical tour of Edinburgh’s New Town area
  • Led by an expert in architecture or history
Select a date
Tour Description
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 its 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 borrowed many of his ideas from the classical buildings he saw on his Grand Tour in Italy.

Learn more about the other half of the city on our Edinburgh Old Town Tour.

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 will 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 Age of Enlightenment-era luminaries 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 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.

Take Aways

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. We will appreciate its role as a beacon of progress and culture in the country as well as in Europe and the world.

Want to take a different look at Edinburgh's history? Try our Edinburgh Ghost Tour.


Where do we meet? Where does it end?
The walk begins near the Calton 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 guide 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 excellent family-friendly guides 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 guide.

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.
Where You'll Start
27 Reviews (4.59)

Reviews can only be left by Context customers after they have completed a tour. For more information about our reviews, please see our FAQ.

Irene was fantastic. She was prepared, knowledgeable, warm, friendly, patient, and accommodating. We learned so much about Edinburgh and New Town, and two of us had lived here for a year (in the distant past). She gave detailed answers to our questions.
Kate was incredibly knowledgeable, professional, and accommodating. Could not have asked for a better tour experience.
As your records will no doubt confirm, we have been Context customers for many, many years. Most recently, in early May we traveled to Amsterdam to see the Vermeer exhibit at the Rijksmuseum and participated in four Context tours while there (our sister in law Cathy Simon took care of scheduling them so you may have the records under her name.) Our names are Steve Kuney and Judith Wish. In any event, those tours were very good - up to some of the best Context tours we have had. The two tours we recently had with Terry in Edinburgh did not, unfortunately come close to those. The guide, our tour guide for both tours, is a lovely person but she did not come across an informed historian, as we had requested and as she was represented to us, and on neither tour was she able to provide an historian’s view of Scotland’s history or why and how it is different from England. To be sure, the torrential rain on the first day of our two day tours with her made the 3 hour tour challenging, but based on our second day experience, we became convinced that regardless of weather conditions, the guide was simply not up to the task of providing an informative tour of the history of Scotland. We would not recommend her or, based on our experience with her, Context Travel Tours, to our friends. We are sorry to report this experience, but think that quality control is important for your company to ensure and, from our perspective, you did not do that for the two tours for which we contracted with you. If you require additional information, please let us know. Thanks for listening. Steve Kuney and Judith Wish