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The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh

Edinburgh world heritage site street

Edinburgh has been capital of Scotland for over 500 years and became particularly renowned for its writers, artists, philosophers and scientists. It was home to the economist Adam Smith, the philosopher David Hume and the authors Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Edinburgh is built on an extraordinary landscape of hills and valleys, formed millions of years ago by volcanoes and ice sheets. Together these factors have created a truly distinctive skyline and stunning views which are recognised around the world. The unique character of the city comes from the contrast between the Old Town and the New Town, with each area containing many significant historic buildings. Over 75% of all the buildings within the World Heritage Site are listed for their architectural or historic importance.

The medieval Old Town has retained its distinctive pattern of narrow passageways, known as closes and wynds. The New Town was first designed in 1767, and is the largest and best preserved example of Georgian town planning in the UK.

Inscription and Significance

The Old and the New Towns of Edinburgh was inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1995.
The Outstanding Universal Value of the Old and the New Towns of Edinburgh lies in the way they form a dramatic reflection of significant changes in European urban planning, from the inward-looking and defensive medieval city, through the expansive Enlightenment planning of the 18th and 19th centuries in the New Town, to the 19th century rediscovery and revival of the Old Town with its adaptation of a distinctive Baronial style of architecture in an urban setting. The New Town planning and architectural quality set standards for Scotland and beyond, and had a major influence on the development of urban architecture and town planning throughout Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Read the full Statement of Outstanding Unviersal Value [pdf, 175kb]


Edinburgh lies in the heart of Scotland. It sits on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth.  The city was originally formed on and around the castle rock.  The city today has expanded around seven hills: Calton Hill, Corstorphine Hill, Craiglockhart Hill, the Braid Hills, Blackford Hill and Arthur’s Seat.

Managing the Site

The Old and the New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage Site is managed by a partnership involving City of Edinburgh Council, Edinburgh World Heritage and Historic Scotland, along with other key stakeholders. The Site Management Plan guides sustainable management to maintain the Outstanding Universal Value. The current Plan and supporting documents can be found here.

Visiting the Site

There are numerous historic places to visit in the heart of Edinburgh, such as Gladstone’s Land, a 17th century merchant’s apartment in the Old Town, the 18th century Georgian House in the New Town, and Edinburgh Castle at the crown of the Old Town and overlooking the New Town. The Museum of Edinburgh on the historic Canongate is host to collections that illustrate the development of the city from earliest times to the present day.

More images of the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh can be found on the Scottish Ten website.

For further information contact
The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage Site Coordinator
City of Edinburgh Council
Waverley Court
4 East Market Street
Edinburgh EH8 8BG

World Heritage Site Logo

Contact us

World Heritage Site Coordination Team
Historic Scotland
Longmore House
Salisbury Place
Tel: +44 (0) 131 668 8763

Free downloadable resources

Free downloadable leaflets and factsheets about The Old & New Towns of Edinburgh are available on our Information & resources page