George Street is the central thoroughfare of the First New Town of Edinburgh, planned in the 18th century by James Craig.
The street takes its name from King George III and connects St Andrew Square in the east with Charlotte Square in the west. It is located on the north side of the Old Town of Edinburgh, to the north of the Princes Street and to the south of Queen Street, running straight along the high point of a ridge.
George Street, as first proposed in 1767 and initially built, was a residential area. However in the Victorian period the houses were replaced by shops, showrooms, banks, small department stores and hotels. A number of the grander of these buildings were designed by the prominent Victorian architect David Bryce, who lived in the street.
George Street in the 21st century remains essentially a Victorian townscape, but the use of many of the commercial buildings has changed to restaurants, coffee shops and bars, with many high quality clothes shops.
Statues are located at vantage points along the street, depicting the prominent churchman Thomas Chalmers (1780–1847, erected in 1878, at the intersection with Castle Street), the British prime minister William Pitt the Younger (1759–1806, statue from 1831-3, at the intersection with Frederick Street), King George IV (1762–1830, reigned 1820–1830, statue made to commemorate his visit to Scotland in 1822, at the intersection with Hanover Street), and the Scottish scientist James Clerk Maxwell (1831–1879, statue dating from 2008, at the eastern end of George Street, near St Andrew Square).
During construction work for the Edinburgh Trams project in 2011 and 2012, George Street became an important diversionary route as the parallel Princes Street was closed to traffic; a survey in April 2012, during the works, found that footfall on the street was one-third higher than during the same month in 2011, while footfall in Princes Street had declined. By 2013 it had become, according to the Edinburgh Evening News, "the city’s most prestigious shopping district".
In October 2012, the City of Edinburgh Council approved a 12-month trial starting in June 2014 that saw George Street featuring a one way system for vehicles, and a dedicated two way bike lane. As part of this the outdoor space for restaurants and bars on this street was extended, too. On street car parking was being reviewed, and the frequency of buses on Princes street was reduced significantly. The trial used an Experimental Traffic Regulation Order (ETRO) as a place making and design measure. At the end of a trial the street was returned to its previous layout before the long-term plan was put to the public. Ironside Farrer conducted a consultation and proposed a "continental style" solution in their report. This report was discussed by the council on 7 June 2016 and the design principles approved unanimously. The council agreed that a more detailed design was to be drawn up by February 2017 covering issues around traffic flow, transport users, the built streetscape including the statues, and pedestrians.
A new City of Edinburgh project for a 'George Street and First New Town Redesign' was launched in 2018, with a series of consultations and drop-in events during 2018 and 2019. The aim of the redesign is "to create a vibrant area with a world class street environment that is safe for all users. It will enhance its use for pedestrians while prioritising active travel for all."
In 2021, new proposals were unveiled that would see the street mostly pedestrianised.
In 2013 the street became a focal point for the Edinburgh Festival, with pedestrian areas increased and traffic space reduced.
During the August 2016 festival period a new event, WestFest, took place on the most westerly block of George Street, which was closed to traffic between Castle Street and Charlotte Square. The event featured a whisky experience, a mobile cinema and 9-hole mini golf as well as a temporary cafe and bar. Most of the George Street restaurants had extra outdoor seating during the event.