Princes Street Gardens are amongst my favourite gardens in Edinburgh, because of their views, their tranquillity and convenient location.
Situated in the heart of the city, running parallel to Princes Street – which can be described as the busiest street in Scotland's capital, the gardens offer peace and tranquillity, a place to take a break from the bustling city street without having to travel miles to do so – the gardens are just two or three footsteps from the street!.
A spectacular view of Edinburgh Castle is also provided from the Gardens which have plenty of seats for you to sit and enjoy the view for as long as you wish!
The Gardens lie at the heart of Edinburgh's world heritage site. They divide Edinburgh's New Town from the Old Town. The Gardens which are terraced are divided into East Princes Street Gardens which run from Waverley Bridge (outside Waverley Station) to The Mound. West Princes Gardens run from the Mound to St John's Church Both sections of the gardens run alongside Princes Street with convenient, regular access points on to the street.
Entrance to the gardens is free, they open at 7am, closing times vary according to season. Mid Summer (July and August)they close at 10pm, Mid Winter, December they close at 5pm with varying closure times in between..
Princes Street Gardens started life as a natural valley and remained open land until around 1460 when King James lll increased the defences of Edinburgh Castle by building a dam at what is today the east end of Waverley Station. As a result, natural springs led to the valley becoming the Nor Loch – a significantly deep water barrier which formed an impassable marsh at the western end.
It served as a defence to the Castle, a city cesspit and an area where "witches" were tried, until it was drained around 1764. Around 1766 the building of the New Town commenced and the now drained valley became the private gardens for the residents of the affluent new town. Later it became open to the public.
The Gardens are full of monuments and memorials – to name just a few of many – The Sir Walter Scott Monument, Scots American War Memorial, Spanish Civil War Memorial, Black Watch Memorial, Robert Louis Stevenson statue, David Livingston statue.
Perhaps the most eye catching monument is the Sir Walter Scott Monument, created to commemorate Sir Walter Scott – Scotland's most prolific and successful Writer. It stands in East Princes Gardens and is over 61 metres high.
For the energetic who wish to climb the 287 steps of the Scott monument there is the reward of a breath taking view of Edinburgh and the surrounding countryside. Opening times are 10am to 7pm Monday to Saturday with reduced opening times on a Sunday. For those not wanting to climb the monument there are lots of seats around it where you can admire the striking design.
East Princes Gardens has level access to and from the street. It also has an abundance of seating. The gardens are terraced. The Top level is wheelchair friendly. There is a disabled WC in East Princes Gardens accessible by RADAR key.
At the end of East Princes Gardens, there is a street called The Mound, this is where the Scottish National Gallery stands. This Gallery houses a large collection of Scotland's remarkable fine art collection from the early Renaissance to the end of the 19th century. It also has a restaurant and café, both of which have nice views of East Princes Gardens
Cross The Mound and you come to the entrance to West Princes Street Gardens. Here the access to the gardens is down steps. These gardens are also terraced and they end at the entrance to St John's church.
As you enter West Princes Street Gardens, the Floral clock is immediately noticeable. It was commissioned in 1903 and is the first of it's kind in the world. As well as being a beautiful floral display it also accurately tells the time – an electric motor ensures the hands of the clock move.
West Princes Gardens also has many memorials and monuments include a Falklands Islands Memorial Garden. There is the Ross Fountain which stands with Edinburgh Castle directly behind it. The Ross Fountain is a rather elaborate cast iron statue, designed and cast in North East France. Its Designer is not known, it gets its name from Daniel Ross who bought it for the city in 1862.
Close to the Ross Fountain is the Fountain Café which provides refreshments and snacks as well as rather special views!.
Leaving West Princes Street Gardens takes you back on to Princes Street where there is an abundance of good shops, cafes, restaurants and hotels.
There are also attractions nearby such as Charlotte Square a leafy square with gracious Georgian architecture overlooking a green containing a large Prince Albert memorial. Amongst the fine Georgian buildings is a National Trust property called The Georgian House, a fully furnished Georgian house which tells the story life in that era.