Photograph by iStock Editorial, Getty Images
Read Caption

Locals and tourists stroll through Old Town along Cockburn Street, connecting the Royal Mile to Waverley Station.

Photograph by iStock Editorial, Getty Images

Old and New Towns of Edinburgh

Explore a unique urban landscape known for its distinct architectural design.

Site: The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh

Location: Scotland

Year designated: 1995

Category: Cultural

Criteria: (ii)(iv)

Reason for Designation: The contrast between the medieval Old Town and the Georgian New Town, each of exceptional historic and architectural interest, creates an outstanding urban landscape.


Scotland’s capital is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities—a beauty which comes from the juxtaposition of the Old Town, with its ancient buildings and higgledy-piggledy streets, and the formal elegance of the New Town.

"New" is, in fact, a relative term. Construction of the area began in 1767, and the New Town feels little changed from the days when it was first designed to house Edinburgh’s wealthy middle classes.

Many of the buildings here are top-notch examples of neo-classical architecture, like the grand Moray Place and the structures along dollhouse-like Ann Street. Visitors wandering the cobbled streets might expect to see horse-drawn carriages rather than modern cars.

Bute House, the official residence of Scotland’s First Minister, is on Charlotte Square, one of the New Town’s grand plazas. On nearby Heriot Row, you’ll find the childhood home of the great novelist Robert Louis Stevenson; the author of Jekyll and Hyde would, no doubt, have appreciated Edinburgh as a city of extraordinary visual contrast.

How to Get There

The Waverley railway station is located between the Old and New Towns. Both are within easy walking distance of the train station, and neither is too large to walk around; indeed, they are best appreciated on foot. If you’re flying into Edinburgh Airport, a tram can take you to the New Town’s St Andrew Square in 30 minutes.

When to Go

Edinburgh is at its busiest and most vibrant during the cultural festivals of August, but accommodation will be more expensive and harder to find, and you may find it unpleasantly crowded. The city can be bitterly cold in winter. It’s best to visit during late spring when the parks and gardens are in bloom, or in the fall when the city takes on a misty, smoky air that intensifies its already considerable romance and sense of mystery.

How to visit

Start in the Old Town and work your way downhill toward and through the New. You’ll walk through hundreds of years of history from the medieval to Georgian periods. The Royal Mile, the route between the Castle with Holyrood Palace, is connected to the area around Princes Street Gardens by steep and narrow covered walkways known as closes or wynds. Cross Princes Street and you’ll land in the New Town proper. The streets here are laid out in grids, making it hard to get lost. Keep walking downhill until you reach the gorgeous Royal Botanic Gardens, or veer west to walk along the Water of Leith to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

The more strenuously inclined may wish to begin or end their visit by entering Holyrood Park and climbing Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh’s landmark hill, from which you can see the Old and New Towns spread out below in all their glory.