There are several interesting buildings up on Calton Hill, but I reckon the views are what most people really come up here for.
There are other great viewpoints in Edinburgh, it has to be said, but the climb up to Calton Hill must rank as one of the easiest. It’s also near to the city centre as well, so there’s really no excuse not to come here and get a grandstand view of the city below.
With Arthur’s Seat and the Pentland Hills to the south the views extend westwards along Princes Street to the Castle and then swing around across the New Town towards the Forth of Forth.
On top of this volcanic rock you’ll find the Dugald Stewart Monument, City Observatory, Nelson’s Monument and the National Monument which helps Edinburgh live up to its reputation as “Athens of the North”.
The National Monument of Scotland is, believe it or not, a monument to the armed forces who fought in the Napoleonic Wars.
Based on The Parthenon in Athens, it looks somewhat incongruous up here as far as I’m concerned, but as you won’t be able to avoid it, it’s probably just as well to know what it’s all about.
William Playfair was the architect of this huge edifice which began construction in 1826. Unfortunately, the scheme ran out of money within three years and has been left unfinished ever since.
Apparently, many locals are quite fond of it but I don’t reckon it’s been called ‘Edinburgh’s Folly’, ‘Edinburgh’s Disgrace’, ‘Scotland’s Disgrace’ and ‘The Pride and Poverty of Scotland’ for nothing.
You can make your own mind up about it, but personally I don’t think a half-finished copy of a famous Greek building should stand in such a prominent position on the Edinburgh skyline, but I’m sure plenty of people will disagree with me.
The one monument I would recommend visiting though is, strangely enough, a monument to one of England’s greatest national war heroes – Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson.
Quite why a monument was chosen to be built here commemorating his famous victory and death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 I don’t know, but if you think the views across the city were good at ground level, then it has to be said that they’re even better at the top of Nelson’s Monument.
You’ll need to pay £5 (Dec 2018) and climb 143 steps around a spiral staircase for the privilege mind you.
Below are a selection of views from the Nelson Monument
The monument itself was designed like an upturned naval spyglass by Robert Burn and built between 1807 and 1815.
In 1852 a time-ball was installed on the top which drops daily at 12 noon Greenwich Mean Time, which means that for half the year it coincides with firing of the 1 o’ Clock Gun at Edinburgh Castle. This was all done to help the ships at Leith set up their chronometers for navigation purposes. Those of you who have been to Greenwich in London will see the similarities. Greenwich, of course preceded this one in Edinburgh by 19 years.
There is a small museum and exhibition at the base of the monument which is free, but if you can manage the climb to the top then I highly recommend paying the admission fee: after all, if you’ve come up to Calton Hill for the views, then the best views of all are from the top the Nelson Monument. They really are worth climbing the steps for.