I moved away from Edinburgh more than a year ago, but it will always remain one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen. Since moving to Cambridge, in the leadup to the Edinburgh festival season I’ve had a few people asking me for tips on what to do beyond the Royal Mile and Fringe madness, so this is taken from emails I’ve sent to them. There are so many more wonderful things to see and eat and drink in Edinburgh beyond what I have here, but these are a few of my favourites beyond the top attractions everyone knows about. I highly recommend the usual suspects too but once you’ve seen the Royal Mile, wandered New Town, and visited the museums and galleries, see if any of these more off the beaten path suggestions appeal.
Note I left Edinburgh in May 2022 so be sure to check that places are still open before taking my word for it.
My off-the-beaten path Edinburgh tips generally involve getting out of the city centre, but a couple of quirky things I’d recommend if you’re in the Old Town:
- Quickly ducking into the Scottish Poetry Library to see the mysterious little book sculptures (story here and map here)
- The Edinburgh College of Art has a beautiful collection of replica statues (aka fakes) in their cast museum
- Roam around the various Closes off the Royal Mile, like Lady Stairs Close to the Writers Museum and other pockets of pretty quiet-ish places. The Devil’s Advocate is a decent restaurant/bar in Advocate’s Close (not so quiet but not completely obvious from the high street).
For nice walks that bypass roads, the Water of Leith walkway and the path network that used to be old railways (Warriston, Goldenacre, Chancelot Paths, etc.) go through many parts of the city north of the Old/New Towns while feeling like you’re in the middle of nowhere. Except for all the people, dogs, and bicycles. Along the Water of Leith look for the creepy statues in the water.
A fun way to explore some of the just-off-centre town can be hunting for the guerrilla mosaics, around Calton Hill, Canonmills and Broughton Street (Calton Hill is on the tourist trail and well worth visiting for great views and interesting/strange monuments).
Off the beaten path
- The Shore in Leith – pretty water, good restaurants. The nearby Ocean Terminal is a semi-failed shopping centre where the old royal yacht is now a tourist attraction and I hate it … except there’s a great artist-run store called The Leith Collective that sells things from local artists and up-cyclers. The Scottish Design Exchange used to be there too but it’s now moved more centrally to George Street in the New Town – I haven’t been to the new location but I recommend both of them for more authentic souvenirs than what you’ll find along the Royal Mile.
- Colinton Tunnel – an old railway tunnel that was turned into a community art project and I loved it so much. It’s in a pretty area in the south of the city that won’t have a lot of tourists.
- Duddingston Loch / Duddingston Field – an amazingly rambling wilderness-y area with great views that’s quite central but doesn’t feel like it, with woods, gardens, wetlands and meadows. The Sheep Heid Inn is near here, a pub that does a good Sunday roast and is supposedly the oldest pub in Scotland. Duddingston is another nice area of the city that’s not touristy.
- Hermitage of Braid – a large park connecting two of the “seven hills of Edinburgh” so there’s good hikes and views from here and far less travelled than the iconic Arthur’s Seat.
- Cramond Beach – outside of Edinburgh but easily and quickly accessible by bus (#41 from city centre). From the beach at low tide you can walk across the causeway to the island, and there’s Roman ruins in the village too.
- South Queensferry – again outside the city but easily accessible by bus (#43 from city centre). A pretty little town on the Firth, right under the three bridges, and some nice shops and restaurants. Scotts Bar and Restaurant is supposed to be good but you need a reservation. Queen’s Spice has delicious Indian food.
- Jupiter Artland – it’s a giant sculpture gallery spread over some beautiful grounds outside the city and a lovely place to wander around. Bus-able but easier to drive.
- Jupiter Artland is close to Dalmeny House where you can sometimes see their herd of highland cows wandering around. (Cramond/South Queensferry/Jupiter Artland/Dalmeny are all quite close to each other for a jam-packed day trip.)
- Scran & Scallie – for a Scottish flavour this is the less-expensive casual restaurant from a well-known local chef who runs the crazy-expensive The Kitchin. S&S is in Stockbridge which is a great area to explore for shopping, the Sunday market, and restaurants without being as touristy as Old and New Towns.
- Prestonfield House – more for the area really, but they do a nice afternoon tea in this gorgeous old house that has peacocks and highland cows on the grounds, and it’s literally in the middle of the city but doesn’t feel like it at all. It’s kind of on the other side of Arthur’s Seat/Salisbury Crags from Holyrood Park.
- Chaophraya – Thai, kinda fancy, New Town
- Vietnam House Restaurant – a bit of a hole in the wall but delicious food, West End
- The Basement – Mexican food, good cocktails, fun vibe, New Town/Broughton Street
- Educated Flea – ok I love the name most but it’s good food and a cosy atmosphere, New Town/Broughton Street
- Porto & Fi – a family run place and definitely off the beaten path but I used to live very close and loved their fish pie and other food. It’s right on the Firth of Forth, past the Leith Shore and into Newhaven, where there’s also a place that made some BBC list of best fish and chips (The Fishmarket at Pier Place), and the Old Chain Pier which has good food, friendly staff and incredible views.
- At the new St. James Quarter shopping centre in the New Town there are food trucks outside and on the top floor a fancy-ish food court called Bonnie & Wild that has local restaurants (seafood, Chinese, veggie Indian, burgers, pizza, pancakes, etc). I like it as a casual place for groups with varied tastes. And lots of choices of whisky.
- Beyond food, Panda & Sons is a fun cocktail bar – it’s modelled after a speakeasy, looks like a barber shop outside and you get in downstairs and through a secret door in a bookcase.
Have more recommendations? Feel free to share!