Destination Guide: Our Edinburgh
Auld Reekie, the Athens of the North, Scotland’s ancient capital and until recently, our home. Our love for Edinburgh runs deep – read on for a taste of what makes it so special.
If you’re to judge a city’s wealth on its beauty, character, history and culture, then Edinburgh is rolling in it. With as many crooked gothic staircases as sweeping Georgian terraces to explore, one visit can never be enough. Between rolling waves and soaring peaks, Old Town ghosts and New Town grandeur, we miss our old home sorely. But whilst we’re no longer there, here are fourteen postcards, to tempt you north of the border.
The New Town
A city of two halves, the broad streets, grand terraces and elegant architecture of Edinburgh’s New Town are a neo-classical antidote to the Old Town’s scuttling wynds. Broadly divided by Princes street at the foot of castle mound, head north beyond the crowds and you’ll quickly find yourself wandering street after peaceful street of enviable Georgian houses. Peppered with art galleries, quiet coffee shops and leafy private gardens, a few hours spent getting lost in the New Town and you’ll soon be dreaming of moving in. Don’t miss Stockbridge for the best selection of shops and cafés, a mouth-watering farmers market and Circus Lane – Edinburgh’s most photographed side-street.
The Water of Leith
Rising in the Pentland Hills and winding its way past fields and factories, gardens and terraces to join the sea at Leith, Edinburgh’s river is a taste of the highlands in the heart of the city. To walk the water, dip down to join the towpath at Stockbridge, where a few short paces will whisk you away to a waterside oasis. Shaded by a thick green canopy in summer or lined with frosty branches in winter, the Water of Leith sits in a steep-side valley. Babbling untamed over rocks and weeds, follow the water southwards. Cut through the secluded gardens of the New Town’s grandest terraces and loop under the towering arches of historic Dean Bridge. Make your way past picturesque Dean Village and finish by joining the city again at the National Gallery of Modern Art.
The National Museum of Scotland
One of our favourite places to while away an afternoon, the National Museum of Scotland is the perfect blend of breath-taking architecture and fascinating exhibitions. Well-run and beautifully maintained, entry is free which makes dipping in and out of the permanent collections easy. Don’t miss the light-filled Grand Gallery, where three decorative tiers house some of the museum’s best displays under and impressive domed roof. And be sure to catch the macabre Millenium Clock, which creaks and whirrs into action to mark each passing hour.
National Museum of Scotland: Chambers St, Edinburgh EH1 1JF
The Royal Botanic Gardens
Founded in 1670 as a physic garden to grow medicinal plants, Edinburgh’s botanic garden is the second oldest in Britain and home to over 13,000 species. A world-leading centre for the study of plants, the Botanic Garden’s main site just north of the New Town is a budding botanists dream. Packed full of plants from all around the world, 72 acres of beautifully landscaped garden are free to roam. In the centre, Inverleith House shows contemporary art exhibitions, whilst the glasshouses, and in particular the Victorian Temperate Palm House, are not-to-be-missed.
Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh: Arboretum Pl, Edinburgh EH3 5NZ
Edinburgh does pubs better than most and there are dozens of options for those in search of a proper pint. But if forced to choose just one, we’d always recommend Kay’s Bar – tucked away in the heart of the New Town and our beloved local for many years. Compact and full of character, Kay’s is everything you’d want in a pub. Basic food, a well-stocked bar, walls lined with beer casks and the local brew on tap; when the days are short and the cold begins to bite, seek welcome respite in the warm glow and hum of chatter from 39 Jamaica Street.
Kay’s Bar: 39 Jamaica St, Edinburgh EH3 6HF
On the south-side of the Grassmarket in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, Porteous’ Studio is an architect-designed retreat and one of Edinburgh’s most beautiful beds for the night. Small but perfectly formed, the studio is housed in a former blacksmith’s workshop, where muted colours and locally-sourced materials create a minimal haven for two. A city-centre bolthole that feels a world away from the bustle on its doorstep.
Porteous’ Studio: 25 Grassmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2HP
Image: Melody Joy
Old Town Closes
Perched on top of castle mound, tumbling hotchpotch either side of the Royal Mile, Edinburgh’s Old Town is a gothic labyrinth of narrow passes and lofty granite walls. With irresistibly ghoulish names, dozens of steep alleyways known locally as ‘closes’ disappear between the buildings of the Royal Mile, leading you away from the thoroughfare to explore Edinburgh’s ancient underbelly. Dart down any of the 83 mysterious passages and you’ll discover secluded courtyards, hidden pubs and if you’re joined by a local, countless stories from Edinburgh’s colourful history books.
There aren’t many cities where a walk in the park involves scaling the peak of an extinct volcano, but a trip to Holyrood Park, slap bang in the centre of Edinburgh, invites you to do just that. Rising almost 200m above the city flanked by the rocky cliffs of Salisbury Crags, Arthur’s Seat is a dramatic cornerstone in Edinburgh’s famous skyline. A short walk from the city centre takes you to the edge of the park beside the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Without fences, gates or set pathways, visitors are free to explore an astonishingly wild slice of highland landscape – cloaked in moorland shrubs and home to lochs, glens, ridges and cliffs. Pick your way into the park where a quick scramble up any slope will reward you with panoramic views of the city, out to the sea and the mountains beyond. Amble southeast and a steep flight of steps beside Dunsapie Loch will lead you to Duddingston Village. Here, the Sheep’s Heid Inn, one of the country’s oldest pubs, will be waiting to greet you with a cold pint and generous plate of food.
Cadenhead's Whisky Shop
You can’t visit Edinburgh without sampling Scotland’s finest export, and where better to try some of the world’s best whiskies than with Scotland’s oldest independent bottler. Part store part history lesson, Cadenhead’s Whisky Shop sits at the foot of the Royal Mile, bottling and selling a vast range of single cask whiskies – from big brands to smaller Scottish distilleries. Bursting with character and manned by Edinburgh’s most knowledgeable whisky-buffs, Cadenhead’s is the perfect pit-stop for experts and novices alike.
Cadenhead’s Whisky Shop: 172 Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8DF
Victorian Bath Houses
Forget dingy changing rooms, dank air and neglected tiles, Edinburgh’s council-run swimming pools are a cut above the rest – dotted across the city in beautifully refurbished Victorian bath houses. With vaulted glass ceilings that flood the water with light and original features including wooden galleries and poolside cubicles, lovingly maintained, there are few better places to practice your morning lengths. Over the years we’ve taken a full bath-house tour, testing the waters from Leith to Stockbridge, though our favourites remain Glenogle for picture-perfect interiors, and Portobello, for sea-views and original Victorian-built Turkish Baths. For a glimpse inside Edinburgh’s pools, each more brilliant than the last, take a look at Soo Burnell’s photography series, Poolside.
Image: Soo Burnell
Despite its coastal location, beaches aren’t the first thing that spring to mind when picturing Scotland’s capital, yet venture off the well-trodden path and Edinburgh is home to several picturesque seaside boroughs. Overlooking Fife, on the southern edge of the Firth of Forth, a short bus ride will drop you at Cramond, Trinity or Musselburgh, where local life and seafront walks await. But of all of Edinburgh’s coastal villages, Portobello is our favourite. The laid-back home of local artists, Portobello’s sweeping sandy beach, pretty seafront houses and high-street crammed with independent stores are a breath of fresh, salty air. Head to the Beach House for coffee on the esplanade and to Bross Bagels for Edinburgh’s finest sandwiches.
Images: Lisa Devine
Formerly home to the gardener of Edinburgh’s Royal Terrace Gardens, The Gardener’s Cottage is faithful to its heritage, serving seasonal food grown on-site in an abundant kitchen garden. Creating new dishes each day, a simple set menu invites guests to try super-local, sustainably sourced food whilst rubbing elbows with strangers on one of three communal tables. Welcoming staff, unfussy interiors and an open kitchen make a trip to the Gardener’s Cottage feel more like dining with friends, and for those precious few hours, everything else is put firmly on hold.
The Gardener’s Cottage: 1 Royal Terrace Gardens, London Road, Edinburgh EH7 5DX
Valvona & Crolla
Elm Row, at the top of Leith Walk, has been home to Scotland’s oldest delicatessen since 1934. Sandwiched between a newsagent and a betting shop, Valvona and Crolla’s unassuming shopfront does little to hint at the culinary wonderland that lies within. But step inside and you’re privy to one of Edinburgh’s best-loved shops – independent, family-run and overflowing with speciality foods from across the continent. Making the most of Edinburgh’s famously high ceilings, cured meats, strings of garlic and brightly wrapped panettone dangle above your head. Towering shelfs on either side of the narrow entrance are stuffed with packaging so pretty you’ll want to buy everything in sight, whilst venture to the back of the shop and freshly baked bread beside an expertly-chosen selection of wine will leave your wallet lighter and your stomach fuller.
Valvona & Crolla: 19 Elm Row, Edinburgh EH7 4AA
Last but by no means least, we couldn’t list our Edinburgh favourites without including Leith – the creative heart of the capital and home to our first studio. Just north-east of the city centre, where the Water of Leith meets the Firth of Forth, Leith is steeped in sea-faring history and home to creative studios, independent shops and some of the city’s best restaurants. A short bus ride will take you down Leith walk and drop you at the Shore, set to explore the backstreets on either side of the water. The best way to see Leith is without a plan, but if you’re hungry, the breakfast buns at Printworks café are second-to-none, and for freshly-roasted coffee, you can’t beat William and Johnson at Custom Lane.
Image: Rayan de Zeeuw
All photographs by Alex Rebbeck unless otherwise stated