Edinburgh New TownEdinburghRegions of Scotland

Princes Street Gardens Visitor Guide

Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh’s New Town is one of the largest public spaces in the city. Originally a body of water called the Nor Loch, the gardens were designed in the 1770s but weren’t created until 1820, when the loch was drained. Today, the gardens are a popular recreational area that features a number of popular landmarks, including the Scott Monument, the Ross Fountain, and the Ross Bandstand.

Princes Street Gardens
Address:Princes Street,
Opening Hours:Mon to Sun - 7am - 9.35pm
Admission Price:Free
Contact:0131 529 7921
Facilities:Toilets, cafes
Photos:Virtual Tour
YouTube Video


Princes Street Gardens are located in the heart of Edinburgh, adjacent to Princes Street (no surprises there…) and between Waverley train station at the eastern end and Lothian Road to the west. The Scottish National Gallery and The Mound cut the gardens in two, with the western section roughly twice the size of that on the east.

As far as major city parks go, Princes Street Gardens isn’t particularly big, but because of its location, it’s one of the most-visited public spaces in Scotland and certainly one of the most attractive.

With regards to attractions, Princes Street Gardens are most notable for the monumental Gothic spires of The Scott Monument which dominates the east garden and is one of the most recognisable structures in the city.

Other highlights are the twin buildings of the Scottish National Gallery and The Royal Scottish Academy, which are two free-to-enter museums that contain one of the greatest collections of artworks in Britain, if not Europe.

Meanwhile, the west gardens are home to a number of monuments including the Ross Fountain and Ross Bandstand, a number of war memorials, and the historic Parish Church of St. Cuthbert, all overlooked by the enormous Castle Rock and Edinburgh Castle. Suffice it to say, if you visit Princes Street Gardens, you’re not exactly going to be short of things to photograph.

Princes Street Gardens Edinburgh Castle

The gardens were originally created in the 1820s when the Nor Loch – a body of water below Edinburgh Castle – was drained as part of the city’s vision to expand Edinburgh beyond the polluted slums of the Old Town. It was a massive undertaking that began in the 1760s and led to the stunning Georgian buildings that now make up the majority of the city north of the gardens.

When the loch was finally drained, it was transformed first into a private garden in 1821 and then into a public garden in 1876, which is when the city council acquired permanent ownership. Today, Princes Street Gardens continues to be a well-used place of leisure for locals and is a top attraction for tourists, as well as serving as a music venue and the site of the ever-popular Christmas German market.

Edinburgh’s Christmas festival is fast becoming the largest in Britain. It centres around the east garden, where a large pop-up market is held each year that sells everything from hand-made arts and crafts to giant Bratwursts and piping-hot cups of mulled wine.

There are also music events staged throughout the year at the Ross Bandstand, so if you’d like to find details about upcoming events, take a look at the What’s On Edinburgh website.

Princes Street Gardens

The Highlights

1: If you’re visiting Edinburgh for the first time, you have to include Princes Street Gardens in your sightseeing itinerary, if only for the superb views of Edinburgh Castle from the Ross Fountain. The gardens also make a great space to rest tired feet after a busy day of sightseeing, thanks to the number of benches located on both sides.

2: There’s more to the gardens than lawns and flower beds, and you’ll find many of the city’s most important memorials on both the east and west sides, including the stunning Scott Monument.

3: Princes Street Gardens are located right in the middle of the city centre, so they make a great base to see Edinburgh’s top attractions. Recommended nearby tourist attractions are the Scottish National Gallery, located between the east and west gardens, and Princes Street, which is located immediately to the north.

Visiting Tips

1: One of the best times to visit Princes Street Gardens is in the winter, when the east gardens are home to Edinburgh’s Christmas. The festival features a German market, pop-up bars and food stalls, funfair rides, children’s amusements, and a theatre venue.

2: There are two small cafés in the gardens (one near the Scott Monument and one near the Ross Fountain) as well as a much larger café with outside terrace seating in the Scottish National Gallery. The food in the gallery is good but if you want a really good meal head to the Balmoral Hotel located next to Waverley Mall.

3: The western end of the gardens is home to the Parish Church of St. Cuthbert’s, which is one of the oldest historic buildings in Edinburgh. The church is quite nice inside, but I recommend exploring the graveyard, as it’s very atmospheric.

Princes Street Gardens

Tourist Information

Princes Street Gardens are beautiful year-round, but they really come alive in the summer when the thick coppices of trees hang heavy with leaves and the flower borders are ablaze with colour.

The entire site covers 37 acres, so it offers lots of nice walks on the network of paths that thread through it, but most people choose to stick to the northern edge that runs alongside Princes Street. That’s a bit of a shame, as there’s an even nicer walk over the railway bridge in the middle of the west gardens, where a small hill at the foot of Castle Rock offers great views across the New Town and an occasional glimpse of the Firth of Forth.

If you’d like to explore the gardens as part of your visit to Edinburgh, I recommend you start by walking to the far end of East Princes Street Gardens, opposite the entrance to Waverley Mall. This shopping mall is a good place to grab a bite to eat as there are lots of fast-food restaurants and cafés on the lower level, as well as gift shops on the upper level, but to be honest, you’ll find a much nicer shopping experience in the new St. James Quarter (postcode EH1 3AD).

From the Waverley Bridge entrance, head to the Scott Monument and climb up the 288 steps to the platforms at the top, where you’ll find some of the best views in the city. The monument is dedicated to the Edinburgh writer Sir Walter Scott, who wrote many of Scotland’s most-loved novels, and it is, in fact, the largest monument to a writer anywhere in the world.

After you’ve seen the monument (note that there’s a small fee to enter), head back onto one of the multi-level footpaths and point yourself in the direction of the Scottish National Gallery. Along the way, you might like to pop into the gallery café, as it has an outside terrace with good views across the east garden.

Princes Street Gardens

From there, cross over the square and head to The Mound at the entrance to the west garden, or take a look inside the National Gallery, which is free to enter. The gallery features a collection of priceless Scottish artworks as well as masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Botticelli, and other international artists.

After the gallery, cross ‘The Mound’ road and enter the west garden. There are several points of interest on the top footpath, including the Royal Scots Greys Monument and the memorial to Wojtek the Polish soldier bear, while the middle of the garden is the location for the Ross Bandstand, which dates from 1935 and is still used as a music venue to this day.

The far western edge of Princes Street Gardens is home to the stunning cast-iron Ross Fountain, which has just undergone a multi-million-pound refurbishment and is now in full working order. From this point, you’ll get one of the best views of Edinburgh Castle, and there’s the added bonus of a nearby café where you can grab a coffee and hot food.

Behind the Ross Fountain lies the extraordinarily atmospheric St. Cuthbert’s Church, which is the oldest Christian building in Edinburgh. If you manage to find it open when you arrive, I recommend taking a wander inside, but don’t forget to also look at the graveyard, which dates back to the 7th century.

If you have children with you who find all that history boring beyond belief, you’ll be pleased to know there’s a playground in the gardens next to the Ross Fountain. Otherwise, you can continue walking through the gardens on the lower path, which passes a couple of memorials, before circling behind the Ross Bandstand, where a bridge crosses over the railway line to let you explore a small hill under the castle.

This is my favourite part of the gardens as it’s secluded and quieter than the manicured lawns to the north, and the small hill presents a great view of Princes Street.

There’s not too much more of the gardens to see after this point, so you have two options. The first is to follow the path to The Mound, where you can then explore Edinburgh’s Old Town and The Royal Mile. The second option is to head back to the bandstand and walk back to the garden entrance, where you’ll pass the historic Gardener’s Cottage (closed to the public, unfortunately) and the Royal Scots Monument.

Princes Street Gardens

Things to Do

Walking Tour: Explore the beautifully landscaped Princes Street Gardens and take a break from the city amongst its decorative plants, trees, and flower beds. Ideal for a tranquil stroll or a family picnic, Princes Street Gardens is a green oasis right in the heart of the city.

Scott Monument: Visit the Scott Monument, a towering Gothic structure dedicated to novelist Sir Walter Scott. Climb 287 steps for a breathtaking view of Edinburgh and find out about Scott in the museum rooms.

Ross Fountain: Discover the ornate Ross Fountain. Now fully restored, this 19th-century fountain is one of the finest features of the gardens. Marvel at the intricate design and capture memorable photos of the fountain against the backdrop of Edinburgh Castle.

West Princes Street Gardens: Admire the floral clock, a unique horticultural display that features thousands of small, colourful plants that take five weeks to sow each year. The clock, located across from the national galleries, has been a highlight of the gardens since 1903.

Concerts and Events: Attend the various concerts and events hosted in the gardens. The Ross Bandstand, an outdoor amphitheatre, is often used as the venue for music performances such as the annual Hogmanay celebration.

Princes Street Gardens

Things to Do Nearby

Balmoral Hotel. 1 Princes St, Edinburgh EH2 2EQ. 4-minute walk.
A grand Victorian hotel in Princes Street. The Balmoral Hotel sports a luxurious interior and has several spaces to eat and drink including the glass-domed Palm Court and the ultra-chic Bar Prince.

The Scott Monument. E. Princes St Gardens, Edinburgh EH2 2EJ. 1-minute walk.
A Gothic-style monument with a staircase and lookout platforms. Dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, located in Princes Street Gardens.

Calton Hill. Edinburgh EH7 5AA. 12-minute walk.
A prominent landmark in Edinburgh that offers panoramic views of the city. Also the location of the city planetarium, the National Monument and the Nelson Monument.

Museum on the Mound. The Mound, Edinburgh EH1 1YZ. 6-minute walk.
A museum located in the historic Bank of Scotland head office. Visitors can explore the history of money in Scotland with a collection of exhibits that include the country’s oldest banknote and £1 Million of real notes.

Princes Street. 1-minute walk.
This is arguably the most famous street in Scotland. Princes Street is the first port of call for most visitors to the city, as it offers a wide range of shops and restaurants and borders Princes Street Gardens.

Frequently Asked Questions

When did Princes Street Gardens open?

Princes Street Gardens were designed in the 1770s, but they were not officially opened until 1820 when the Nor Loch – the body of water beneath Edinburgh Castle – was drained.

What is on Princess Street in Edinburgh?

Princes Street is home to a number of high-street shops.
Princes Street Gardens are home to; The Scott Monument, The Scottish National Gallery, Waverley Train Station, The Ross Fountain, and The Parish Church of St. Cuthbert.

Are there toilets in Princes Street Gardens?

Toilets in Princes Street Gardens are located at; Princes Street Gardens Ross Bandstand (which has an accessible toilet) from 10 am to 4.30 pm, and Princes Street Gardens West (which has an accessible toilet) from 10 am to 7 pm.

What visitor facilities are there at Princes Street Gardens?

Princes Street Gardens has public toilets and food stalls. Other facilities are available on Princes Street.
Princes Street Gardens open at 7 am and close at 9.35 pm.

Is Princes Street Garden free?

There is no entry fee for Princes Street Gardens.

Who lives in the house in Princes Street Gardens?

No one currently lives in the house in Princes Street Gardens. The house – called The Gardener’s Lodge – was built in 1886 as the head gardener’s home but is now the campaign base for The Quaich Project which is an organisation that promotes the gardens.

What are the statues in West Princes Street Gardens?

The monuments in West Princes Street Gardens are:
The Allan Ramsay statue, the Floral Clock, the Genius of Architecture statue, the James Young Simpson statue, the Norwegian Memorial Stone, the Ross Fountain, the Royal Scots War Memorial, the Scottish American War Memorial, the Royal Scots Greys Monument, the Forget-Me-Not Elephant statue, the Wojtek the Bear statue, and the Thomas Guthrie statue.

Related Posts

Craig Neil

Craig Neil is the author, photographer, admin, and pretty much everything else behind Out About Scotland. He lives near Edinburgh and spends his free time exploring Scotland and writing about his experiences. Follow him on Pinterest, Facebook, and YouTube.