Things to do in Calton Hill, Edinburgh | Scotland

Calton Hill is an attractively landscaped park overlooking Edinburgh. It was built by the city elders to provide a cultural area for walking for the residents of the growing city below. Traditionally a place of recreation for Edinburgh residents, Calton Hill, with its numerous monuments and buildings is popular as a fine viewpoint over the city.

Most visible is the unfinished “National Monument”, based on the Parthenon in Athens. Calton Hill is five landmarks in one: the hill itself, with its ancient volcanic origins.

Calton Hill is a hill in central Edinburgh, just to the east of the New Town and is included in the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site. It offers some of the best views of the city. The hill also houses several iconic monuments and buildings including the National Monument, the Dugald Stewart Monument, Nelson’s Monument, the Old Royal High School, the Robert Burns Monument, the Political Martyrs’ Monument and the City Observatory.

Things to see in Calton Hill

The Calton Hill has best viewpoints in Edinburgh with a panorama that takes in the castle, Holyrood, Arthur’s Seat, the Firth of Forth, New Town and the full length of Princes St. On Regent Rd, on the hill’s southern side, is the Burns Monument (1830), a memorial to poet Robert Burns.

The panoramic views from Calton Hill have astonished and inspired visitors for centuries. Major landmarks can be seen from a bird’s eye view: Arthur’s Seat with the Crags behind Holyrood Palace and the Parliament, Leith and the Firth of Forth, Princes Street in its New Town grid and the Royal Mile climbing up towards the Castle.

Calton Hill is also famous for its collection of historic monuments, which form some of the most important landmarks of the city. One of the most striking is the National Monument, inspired by the Parthenon in Athens. Intended to commemorate the Scottish servicemen who died in the Napoleonic Wars, it was never completed leaving just the twelve columns you see today.

Also look out for the Nelson Monument, shaped like an up-turned telescope. Completed in 1816 the monument commemorates the death of Admiral Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. However, in 1852 a time ball was added to the top to enable ships moored in the Firth of Forth to set their time-pieces accurately.

The Nelson Monument is open to the public, and the Time Ball still drops at one o’clock six days a week.

The City Observatory is also located here, a Greek temple styled building designed by William Henry Playfair in 1818. It was here that Professor Thomas Henderson, appointed first Astronomer Royal for Scotland in 1834, discovered how to measure parallax and the distance of the stars in this building.

Calton Hill is a favourite spot with locals for enjoying the Hogmanay fireworks and many of the August festival events take place here. The last day of April also sees the Beltane Fire Festival reviving an old Celtic tradition.

The 143 spiral stairs to get to the top of Nelson Monument are truly worth it!

To the south, Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags dominate the view. From here you can also see the white top of Dynamic Earth and the Palace of Holyrood.

At the bottom of the hill, you will come to Regent Terrace. Here there are many grand townhouses, also designed by William Playfair. Originally home to the wealthiest whisky and wine merchants, and the residential street has had many wealthy inhabitants since! The houses are elegant and a perfect example of old Scottish architecture.

A couple of which will grab your attention when you explore Calton Hill! The ideal location to spend time after walking the Fife Coastal Path. Incorporating a trip to Edinburgh will be very worthwhile. You can also visit Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park.

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Things to see near Calton Hill | Edinburgh

If you are visiting Edinburgh,  you will be able to see the famous monuments on Calton Hill, the matter of knowing how to get there is different!

If you have just arrived by train, head towards Princes Street. You will pass the Balmoral Hotel, another incredible Scottish landmark.

Following a set of steps, you will continue straight towards the north side of the hill. You will experience a beautiful view out to Leith and Fife. Continuing your way up the hill there is an abundance of monuments rich in history and beauty to appreciate!

Observatory House

Observatory House stands on Calton Hill, to the East end of Princes Street. It was designed by one of Scotland’s most eminent early 19th century architects, William Playfair in 1818, who took inspiration from a Greek temple. The observatory buildings on Calton Hill were used by astronomers such as Thomas Henderson and Charles Piazzi Smyth. Becoming the Royal Observatory in 1822, it is a very exciting and fascinating place where a lot of scientific advances were made! One of the most distinctive features of the building is a green domed building called the Telescope House. Also, another of the observatory buildings, the Playfair Monument, was built in 1825. One of the smallest buildings on Calton Hill!

Nelson Monument

The Nelson Monument is another building located on Calton Hill. Built-in memory of Admiral Lord Nelson, after dying at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The monument is shaped like an up-turned telescope. From the top of The Nelson monument, there is an amazing view of Edinburgh and out to the sea. It was completed in 1816 however in 1852 a time ball was added to the top of the structure. In the hope of enabling ships at the Firth of Forth to set their time correctly.

Today, the time ball is still lowered as the one o’clock gun is fired from Edinburgh Castle each day. The monument is 456 feet above sea level, so there is a small chance you will miss it! A perfect way to spend time, soaking in the charming views of Edinburgh! So, why not stop by Calton hill if you are walking the Fife Coastal Path?

National Monument

Perhaps one of the most well-known of the collection of monuments upon Calton Hill is the National Monument. Inspired by the Parthenon temple in Athens, it was designed by Charles Cockerell and William Playfair. Often referred to as the National Monument of Scotland, the intended purpose of the monument was to commemorate Scottish servicemen who died in the Napoleonic war in the early 1800’s. However, as funds were low in 1826 when a building of the monument began, it has never been completed. Since then there have been numerous attempts to finish the structure, but there has still not been any development. Though this does not drive away tourists! There is always much climbing and posing for photos. A perfect way to spend the time to relax, looking out onto the city of Edinburgh.

Dugald Stewart Monument

Another of the monuments on Calton Hill is the Dugald Stewart Monument. Dedicated to the Scottish philosopher, Dugald Stewart, who was a professor at the University of Edinburgh. The style of the building is again influenced by Greek architecture and was designed, again, by William Playfair. Dugald Stewart held the chair of moral philosophy from 1786 to 1828. He was best known for being a part of the Scottish Enlightenment as his lectures at the University of Edinburgh were very influential. After dying of paralysis, the monument was commissioned by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the site upon Calton Hill was selected in 1830. Also, the University of Edinburgh has a building named after him!

The monuments on Calton Hill are rich in history and great examples of high-quality architecture. Climbing up the famous Calton Hill, it is easy to appreciate the citywide views! If you walk the Fife Coastal Path, why not spend a couple of days in Edinburgh exploring? In such a vibrant and interesting city, whatever your interests are, taking time to look around will truly be beneficial!

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