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InformationNelson Monument Information:
STB 4 Star Visitor Attraction
Tel: 0131 556 2716.
Nelson Monument Web Page
The Classic View of Edinburgh From Calton Hill
The Classic View of Edinburgh From Calton Hill

Calton Hill rises beyond the east end of Princes Street and carries a rather eccentric collection of buildings and monuments. Its principal attraction is the superb panoramic view, taking in pretty much the whole of Edinburgh. Robert Louis Stevenson once said that Calton Hill was the best viewpoint in the city as from it you could see both Edinburgh Castle and Arthur's Seat, something you couldn't from either of them.

Calton Hill from Salisbury Crags
Calton Hill from Salisbury Crags
From the South with St Andrew's House
From the South with St Andrew's House
Nelson Monument
Nelson Monument
Nelson Monument Museum
Nelson Monument Museum
Governor's House & Waverley Station
Governor's House & Waverley Station
Observatory House
Observatory House
Royal High School
Royal High School
Royal High School from Above
Royal High School from Above

If the views from the top of Calton Hill are superb, they are still better if you climb the 143 spiral stairs to the top of the Nelson Monument, built in 1807 as a stone imitation of Nelson's telescope. Opening hours for the monument are on the right.

From here you can see a large chunk of Scotland. To the east highlights include Bass Rock and North Berwick Law, while in the middle distance are the twin chimneys of the Cockenzie Power Station. Views to the south are most constrained, but still superb. Salisbury Crags and Arthur's Seat dominate everything, but below them are the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the white armadillo of Dynamic Earth, and the site of the new Scottish Parliament Building.

Much closer at hand, on the south side of Calton Hill itself, is the Royal High School, built in 1829 in a classical Grecian style consciously reflecting the adornments then appearing on top of the hill. In advance of a referendum on the establishment of a Scottish Parliament in 1978 this was converted to serve as a debating chamber.

The View South West
The View South West
Looking Down on the Observatory
Looking Down on the Observatory
National Monument
National Monument
The View North
The View North
The View South
The View South
Dugald Stewart's Monument
Dugald Stewart's Monument

The referendum was lost and by the time devolution was finally put in place in 1997 the Royal High School was deemed too small to serve the purpose. Building began instead on the £414m Scottish Parliament it overlooks at Holyrood.

Views to the north include a long stretch of Fife's coast and the Forth Estuary including the island of Inchkeith. Moving closer you see Leith docks and town, with North Edinburgh further to the west.

Still closer, the Nelson Monument offers the best view of the various structures on the top of Calton Hill itself. The largest is the 1818 City Observatory, with the 1776 Observatory House at one corner and the Playfair Monument at another. The observatory was intended principally to take accurate measurements of time. These were first conveyed to the citizens of Edinburgh and the mariners of Leith by what was known as a "politician's" clock (one with two faces).

Later the Observatory was connected to a time signal erected on the top of the Nelson Monument itself. The large white time-ball drops precisely at 12 noon Greenwich Mean Time on week-days. This equates to 1pm during British Summer Time, so for half the year its dropping coincides with the firing of the one o'clock gun from Edinburgh Castle. Indeed for many years the Observatory was connected by a 4000ft electric wire stretched high across the city to the Castle to ensure the one o'clock gun kept precisely to time. Nearby is the Dugald Stewart Monument, built in 1831 by the architect William Henry Playfair.

Perhaps the oddest of the structures on top of Calton Hill is the National Monument. Edinburgh had long been referred to as "The Athens of the North", usually ironically. To commemorate the fallen of the Napoleonic Wars it was decided to make Edinburgh's resemblance to Athens a literal one by building a replica of the Parthenon here. Work began in 1826 and ended when the money ran out in 1829, leaving the facade you see today.

Some suggest that this was all that was intended, but it seems more likely that the original grand design had been for a complete replica, including catacombs and a church in the form of a temple. Later plans to complete the replica to form part of the proposed Scottish Parliament complex including the Royal High School lower down the hill also came to nothing.

But if nothing else the National Monument served as a style icon copied by many who followed in Edinburgh, with the result that there is no longer any irony in a comparison of the city's architecture with Athens.

Views west from the Nelson Monument are magnificent. Below you Princes Street stretches directly away into the middle distance, appearing to conclude with the triple spires of St Mary's Episcopal Cathedral. Beyond is the long ridge of Corstorphine Hill and beyond that the open countryside of West Lothian, extending as far as Cairnpapple Hill.

Much nearer at hand is the imposing bulk of St Andrew's House built in the 1930s, complete with the neighbouring 1817 castellated Governor's House, all that now remains of Old Calton Gaol, once the biggest in Edinburgh.

The valley beyond St Andrew's House is filled by the ridged glass roof of Waverley Station, punctuated by North Bridge which carries traffic above it. And beyond again are the closely packed tall stone tenements that comprise this face of the Old Town of Edinburgh. These slowly rise along the line of the Royal Mile until they reach their conclusion at the highlight of this - or any - view of the city, Edinburgh Castle.

Robert Louis Stevenson's 1897 observations on Calton Hill in Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes can be read here.

Calton Hill from Edinburgh Castle: the Reverse of the Header View
Calton Hill from Edinburgh Castle: the Reverse of the Header View
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