If you’ve ever looked at a postcard stand in Edinburgh, fair chances are that you have seen the view from Calton Hill. With the Dugald Stewart monument in the foreground, the silhouette of Edinburgh Castle in the background and the Balmoral Hotel and Princes Street in the middle, it basically checks off all the main sights in Edinburgh in one handy panorama. So go ahead and get that postcard, but nothing beats fetching that shot for yourself!
Getting to Calton Hill
Being so close to Princes Street, there really is no excuse to make the climb. If you’re at the St James Shopping Centre end, then all you have to do is keep walking and within a couple of minutes you’ll be at the bottom of the hill.
From the entrance there is a just a few steps up (less than 100, I would say) followed by a small slope to get to the top. Once you’re there, you are rewarded with some of the best views in Edinburgh, and plenty of fascinating monuments to explore.
As you look East along Princes Street, the large tower that dominates the skyline is Nelson’s Monument, built in the early 19th century to commemorate Lord Nelson’s victory in the Battle of Trafalgar.
It used to be used as a signal to ships coming into the port of Leith, and if you look closely enough, you’ll be able to spot a time ball at the top of the monument, which still works today. Just before 1pm, the ball rises to the top of the pole. It then drops at 1pm on the dot to coincide with the one o’clock gun.
National Monument of Scotland
The story goes that it was meant to resemble the Parthenon in Athens, however due to a lack of funding it was left unfinished. Because of this, some people know it as “Scotland’s disgrace”, but personally I think it’s lovely structure that is one of Edinburgh’s most iconic landmarks. I mean, take one look at it and you realise why we’re also known as “Athens of the North”! 🙂
The Dugald Stewart Monument
Not as grand as the Nelson or National Monuments, you’ll find that the Dugald Stewart features in many pictures from Calton Hill because of the beautiful view behind it: here’s where you’ll get that postcard perfect shot.
The Monument was erected in the early 19th Century as a tribute to philosopher Dugald Stewart, based at Edinburgh University. Just like the National Monument, the Dugald Stewart Monument was based on Greek architecture, namely the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens.
The City Observatory
In the middle of the Calton Hill complex you’ll find the Playfair building, which until very recently was home to the city observatory. You’ll spot it with the unmistakable white dome, which housed the observatory telescope.
Even though the Playfair Building is the central construction of the City Observatory complex, it also has the Gothic Tower which dates back to the late 18th Century and the Playfair Monument, which you’ll find in the corner closest to the Nelson Monument.
Given the easy climb and abundance of photo opportunities, Calton Hill should be one of your first stops in Edinburgh. It doesn’t cost a penny to get in and you can get some really cracking shots on a good day, of the buildings on the hill itself and of the wider city.
Calton Hill is a two minute walk from the East End of Princes Street and is easily reachable from most city centre bus routes.