Many visitors to the Royal Mile will make their way form the Castle to Holyrood Palace without exploring any of the picturesque streets of the Old Town, just off the mile. These Streets are where you will find the quirkier independent shops and restaurants, with much less of the ‘tartan tat’ retailing which is ever present on the Royal Mile itself.
Victoria Street runs from George IV bridge down to the top of the Grassmarket and was built in the 18th Century as an access route from the West of Edinburgh to the Royal Mile, – part of Thomas Hamilton’s plans for new Southern and western approaches to the City. The street itself resembles an elongated ‘Z’ shape – to allow for a more gentle approach to the Royal Mile from the Grassmarket.
An unusual feature of the street is Victoria Terrace, which effectively runs along the roofs of the shops on the North side of the street. Victoria Terrace offers great views and is frequently used as a location for TV adverts and programs. Indeed, across the street from the Terrace, is the India building, which has recently been used as the offices of detective Jackson Brodie, in the TV series Case Histories.
With the exception of Pizza Express at the top of the Street, Victoria Street is a haven for independent shops where you can browse for second-hand books, designer clothing or pick up unusual whiskies or antiques and curios – as well as choose from a selection of decent restaurants. One place definitely worth a visit is the Bow Bar, where you can get an excellent pie and a pint. Just a pie mind you, (no sides or garnishes in this pub) and a good selection of real ales.
Originally called Lord Cockburn’s Street, Cockburn Street was constructed in 1856 by the Edinburgh Railway Station Access Company to create a gentler incline to get to the Royal Mile from Waverley Station. All the land required to built the street was bought for a total of £22,735 and the mainly ramshackle buildings behind the Royal Mile were demolished, including most of the lower part of Mary Kings Close.
The other Closes which were dissected to make way for the new street had their entrances re-modelled, in order to blend in with the Scots Baronial style of the new tenements. Among these is Fleshmarket Close, made famous by Iain Rankin in his Rebus book of the same name.
Again, Cockburn Street is another haven for independent retailers, being dubbed ‘Edinburgh’s Carnaby Street’ in the 1970’s it was nominated for ‘Great Street 2012’ in the Academy of Urbanism’s annual awards.
At the end of 2012, the German hotel company Motel One opened its first UK hotel at the bottom of the Street in the former offices of the City Council.