At the east end of Princes Street, Calton Hill, included in Edinburgh’s UNESCO World Heritage Site rises above the city’s New Town.
On top of this very impressive green space is an unconventional group of monuments many of which are clearly visible from other parts of the city.
In 1724, Edinburgh Town Council bought Calton Hill, following lobbying from philosopher David Hume, making it one of the first recreation spaces created in a very crowded city and one of the first public parks in Scotland.
What can you see from the top of Calton Hill?
From the top, visitors have a bird’s eye view over both the city of Edinburgh and large stretches of the Firth of Forth.
On a clear day, you can see Salisbury Crags, Arthur’s Seat and further on to North Berwick and the Bass Rock.
City landmarks include the Scottish Parliament building, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Dynamic Earth science building and Edinburgh Castle.
Robert Louis Stevenson loved what he saw from the top, commenting “Of all places for a view, this Calton Hill is perhaps the best.”
© This is Edinburgh
The collection of classically styled buildings and monuments on Calton Hill – the Edinburgh Acropolis no less– led in small part to the city’s well-known epithet ‘Athens of the North’.
For architectural sleuths, the New Town does provide other examples of the Greek capital’s influence on the city’s design.
- The Nelson Monument is a memorial to Admiral Lord Nelson who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. It was built in 1807 and resembles the shape of an upturned telescope, If you can manage the climb up its 145 spiral stairs the view from the top offers due reward – it’s the best in Edinburgh. Entry information from Edinburgh Museums and Galleries.
- The Dugald Stewart Monument, designed by Sir Henry Playfair, is a fitting tribute to Dugald Stewart 1753-1828, one of Scotland’s greatest philosophers. Often described as one of the great Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, Stewart was a Professor of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh University.
- Close to the Dugald Stewart monuments is the Calton Hill Cannon, once kept by a Burmese king it was taken by the British during the invasion of Burma in 1885. It was later presented to the city of Edinburgh.
- The National Monument was intended to be a replica of the Parthenon in Athens. It was constructed as a memorial to the dead of the Napoleonic Wars but was never completed because the money ran out. It was in the eyes of some locals, Edinburgh’s disgrace.
- Old Observatory House was designed and once lived in by James Craig the architect responsible for the building of the New town. The Old Observatory is now in private hands and is not open to the public.
- The neo-classical City Observatory provided the main focus for Edinburgh’s astronomers until 1896 when it moved to another part of the city. The building is open by arrangement with Edinburgh City Council.
Today the David Hume walk, which winds its way around the site, is a reminder of a philosopher who was a giant of the Scottish Enlightenment
Hume’s tomb can be viewed in Old Calton Cemetery on the other side of Waterloo Place.
Within the Observatory site, is the stylish Lookout restaurant and separate Lookout Kiosk which serves snacks and drinks.
On the last day of April, Calton Hill is the scene of the Beltane Fire Festival a reinterpretation of an ancient Celtic ritual.
During August, the Hill is often the venue for festival shows and the wonderful firework display which marks the end of another festival season.
How to get to Calton Hill
Access to Calton Hill, on its south side, is from Regent Road, only a few minutes’ walk from the Balmoral Hotel. There is a short staircase and sloping path but the handrail does help if mobility is an issue. It only takes a few minutes to get to the top.
You can also access the site from Royal Terrace on the north side. It’s also possible to drive up. A local taxi driver will know the route.