Calton Hill and Leith

National Monument, with Arthur’s Seat in the background mist

East from Waterloo Place, Calton Hill looks down upon London Road and Princes Street. Leith Walk leads the way to Edinburgh’s port, Leith.

Calton Hill

From Register House, cross Leith Walk and follow the north side of Waterloo Place. Just beyond Howie’s restaurant (highly recommended for fresh Scottish food), cross a side-street and take the steps up to the top of Calton Hill. The view on a clear day is excellent: as well as Princes Street, the Castle, and the roofscapes of the Old Town, you have views across the Firth of Forth to Fife, and to the hills to the south and east of the city.

The monument which looks like a chunk of the Parthenon is the National Monument to the Scots who fought Napoleon in the Peninsular War. The money ran out as people turned to such matters as voting reform, and the one face is all that was built. The cannons were brought back from Portugal after the war there.

The monument that looks like a coffee-press is to the philosopher Dugald Stewart, and is modelled on the Temple of the Winds in Athens. The lookout tower is a memorial to Lord Nelson. The building off to the north was Edinburgh’s first astronomical observatory

Leith Walk

Return down the steps and turn right onto the street called Calton Hill. Follow it as it turns this way and that to its end, where turn right onto Leith Walk.

On the left as you make your way down Calton Hill, the Parliament House Hotel is perfectly adequate, though its prices have crept up recently more than other places round about.

Turn right to follow Leith Walk past the giraffes. Just beyond the Theatre Royal pub, you will come to Baxter’s Place, where the Courtyard by Marriott now occupies the home of Robert Stevenson, grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson. The hotel is quiet and comfortable, with lots of pictures and technical drawings by Stevenson.

Beyond Leopold Place, the shops are set back on a service road called Elm Row. The reason for coming here is near the far end of Elm Row — it is an Edinburgh must-see. Valvona and Crolla is an archetypal Italian delicatessen, with a really good restaurant upstairs beyond the wines. One time, we were having lunch (early morning train to Edinburgh, lunch, a museum or a bit of shopping, and back home on the 4pm train) when I noticed a pile of books. I picked one up, but was told that publication was not till the following Thursday. I mentioned that we had come from Lonfdon to have lunch in the restaurant, and the young lady suddenly shouted down to the shop. Up came Mary Contini, the author of the book, and I was presented with a signed copy. Dear Francesca tells the story of how the family came from Italy to Edinburgh and became established.

At this point, you might as well cross the road and catch a bus (11, 34, 35 or 36) to Ocean Terminal in Leith.


For many years, Leith was like any other city dockland: dark and a bit seedy. However, today it buzzes with life: there are lots of local civil service offices, and there is a lively hospitality sector. The Malmaison Hotel is reasonably priced (if a little out of the centre, but there are lots of buses). Leith is the home of the retired Royal Yacht Britannia, which may be toured.

%d bloggers like this: