The Old Town New Town divide

Edinburgh is an old city full of old stories. The Old Town and the New Town sit adjacent, yet the difference is striking. The medieval Old Town is full of crooked closes, uneven cobbles, winding streets and atrociously steep staircases. Its gothic architecture is sometimes messy, and execution sites from darker days can still be found. It’s easy to imagine what it must have been like living in the Old Town back when it was all Edinburgh was. With the Great Plague a recent development, utterances of ‘gardy-loo’ – a warning that human waste was about to be tossed out of the window and onto the street below – and appalling conditions of overcrowding, it is no wonder the New Town was built as a modern alternative in the late 1700s. This, however, does not detract from the Old Town’s beauty or importance. In fact, the Old Town boasts some of Edinburgh’s most picturesque and prestigious sites, including the Court of Session and St Giles Cathedral.

The New Town, on the other hand, is considered ‘a masterpiece of city planning’. Its wide streets and rows of Georgian town houses paint a picture of upper and middle-class Edinburgh through the ages. Some may argue it lacks character when compared with the Old Town, but its many boutiques, art galleries, artisan cafes and the Royal Botanical Gardens, among other things, would beg to differ.

For students, clubs and bars are the first thing that come to mind when asked how experiences differ between the Old and New Town. As was the case with the whole concept of New Town, the clubs and bars were originally an alternative to what the Old Town had to offer. However, nowadays there is a strong argument to be had that the clubbing scene in the Cowgate (Old Town) is a reaction against mainstream George Street (New Town).

Edinburgh is renowned nationally for its high end cocktail bars and clubs where you can buy a bottle of vodka for literally hundreds of pounds. The Cowgate, however, feeds the subculture. It seems that a common criticism of George Street clubbing is its ‘snobbishness’. Some students believe that the people who go there want to look good and to have photos taken of them looking good, more than they want to have a good time; people dance, but not because they came to dance or because they are particularly into the music. They argue that the Cowgate, on the other hand, situated in a grimy tunnel in the heart of the Old Town, is full of people letting loose and dancing hard because they came specifically for the music.

Similarly, the drinking holes can be very different, at least in the eyes of students. In the Old Town there is more of a casual atmosphere, while in the New Town it can be more formal. In the former it is common to observe students behaving somewhat rowdily in pubs and bars, perhaps playing live music or sporting a number of different challenges for people on pub crawls. Conversely, the bars in the New Town are often perceived to be more fashionable, serving expensive cocktails to formally dressed, non-student customers. Each have their merits. If you’re a student, and you’re looking to get extremely intoxicated and keep it no secret, then the Old Town may be more appropriate. If you’re looking to be more sophisticated in your drinking habits, then the New Town is probably the place to be.

Although Edinburgh is small and everywhere is within walking distance, it can at times seem like two cities and its rich history is reflected by this dichotomy. Yet luckily today it is not simply one for the rich and one for the poor. Whilst the New Town is certainly perceived to be ‘posher’, where students decide to live and party is more of a personal preference, depending on what kind of music they like and what kind of person they choose to be.

IMAGE: Tilmandralle

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