If you’re going on a trip to Scotland, our bonnie capital city is well worth a few of your days. I was an Edinburgh local for a year and a half (Leith loyal!) and I can assure you that there’s a lot more to the city than the castle and the Royal Mile! A lot of the tourists that visit the city get so caught up in the prettiness of the Old Town that they forget to explore elsewhere and end up only seeing a tiny part of the city.
I’ve put together this Local Guide to Edinburgh to give you an idea of some more original things to do in the city. Some of these things you’ll find in the Trip Advisor top 10, and others you won’t. These are just some of the places I’d take you if I was showing you about myself!
Things to See
Ok, I know that I said I’d tell you original things to do in Edinburgh and I’m starting my list off with the number one tourist attraction in Edinburgh… but bear with me!
At £16, Edinburgh Castle is the biggest rip off in town, and that’s saying something because The Royal Mile is full of places wanting to rip you off! Ask a lot of people from Edinburgh if they’ve visited the castle and they’ll either tell you:
a. They went once when they were a bairn
b. Their long lost relative came to visit them and begged to go so kindly they obliged
c. They’ve embarrassingly never been… but still don’t have any intention of going anytime soon.
This isn’t to say that people in Edinburgh dislike the castle. Most love it but see no point in paying through the nose to go inside and sit on a cannon (or whatever you’re supposed to do inside the castle?!) when they can enjoy it from afa. The best place in town for pretty castle views is West Princes Street, closely followed by The Grassmarket!
Top Tip: Drinking on the street is legal in Edinburgh so don’t forget to pack a “wee dram”…. and your camera to make the most of “castle viewing”!
Edinburgh has a fair few vantage points and Calton Hill is one of the best, and most underrated, in the city. It’s just a short walk away from Waverley Station so you can get a whole lot of reward for not too much effort!
Arthur’s Seat is my absolute favourite place to visit in Edinburgh- especially if you head up on a clear day. The ascent to the top should only take about 30 minutes and is easy enough to do in trainers or even sandals. (Ok, I’ve never done it in sandals but I’ve seen people doing it and I think they lived to tell the tale!)
When you get to the top, you can try and see how many famous landmarks you can point out. Is it windy? Yes, even on a nice day, that classic Scottish wind will try to knock you off your feet. Just don’t stand too close to the edge!
After getting blown about in the “fresh” (aka baltic) weather, you’ll probably have worked up an appetite and luckily there are great places around to grab a bite. Actually, I sometimes go to Arthur’s Seat with the sole intention of getting a scran (some food) at one of these places afterwards!
The first place is The Sheep’s Heid which is close to Duddingston Loch. Chances are you’ll ascend Arthur’s Seat from the opposite side so this is a great place to head afterwards. They mainly serve traditional Scottish fare and have a great drinks menu and open fire!
If you want to stay close to the city centre and old town, then I’d recommend heading to Hemma which is close to Holyrood Palace and Scottish Parliament. Hemma is part of a small local chain run by a Swedish couple and is very popular with locals! Most people go to sample the traditional Swedish smorgasbords but the rest of the menu is equally impressive. For me, I’m all about that lingonberry cider!
Walk the Water of Leith
The Water of Leith stretches all the way from Leith to Stockbridge and a stroll along it is a great way to spend an afternoon. The most beautiful stretch of all goes from Stockbridge to the Dean Village: aka, #Instaparadise. When you get to the end, you can visit the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Museum of Modern Art, the latter of which is worth a visit for the impressive gardens alone!
Top tip: all of Scotland’s national and council run museums are completely free!!! Some of my top picks would be The National Museum, The National Museum of Modern Art and The National Portrait Gallery!
Go on a Ghost Tour
Is it cheesy? Yes. But, is it fun? Heaps!
Edinburgh has a pretty gory history and the dungeon and graveyard tours throughout the city are a fun way to learn about it. If you’re in town on a Wednesday, City of the Dead have half price tickets!
Watch some Stand-Up
If you’re lucky enough to visit Edinburgh in August, you’ll have plenty of options to experience some live comedy. But, if you come any other time, you can still head to the stand where there are shows every night of the week.
Honestly, like most comedy clubs, it can be a hit or a miss. Some nights you’ll see amazing comedians and other nights you’ll be cringing into your pint. But, despite the fact it’s a gamble, it’s an inexpensive and fun alternative to constant bar hopping which can be a costly hobby. The Glasgow Stand often has Frankie Boyle showing up to practice his new material which is a good tip for if you ever make your way through to the
best west coast!
The Jazz Bar
Edinburgh is full to the brim with bars offering free, live music- my pick of the bunch is The Jazz Bar.
Unlike the bars that line the Royal Mile, this one is virtually tourist free- ok, you might see some tourists from Glasgow or Aberdeen in there, but very few internationals.
From the outside, it looks like a dingy doorway but when you go downstairs, you’ll be glad you made the trip. There are often free performances if you go early in the evening but it’s never more than a tenner to get in otherwise. My drinks recommendation would always be either a glass of the Malbec or an Espresso martini!
As for everything else that there is to do in the city, I’m sure you can find some good recommendations on trip advisor. To be honest, I can’t really recommend any of it since I know the city better as a local than a tourist. There are honestly a million and one things to do and you can’t go wrong with things like free museums. These are just things that I enjoyed doing when I lived in Edinburgh!
Neighbourhoods to Explore
One of my favourite ways to get to know a city is by visiting quirky little neighbourhoods and Edinburgh has a fair few! These are some favourites.
Definitely Edinburgh’s prettiest (and poshest) neighbourhood. If you’re around on a Sunday, make sure you don’t miss their famous farmer’s market which is a great place to pick up some fresh produce and try some street food.
Another top tip- since the rich people live here, the charity shops are amazing! Go for a rummage and see if you can find yourself a new designer bag for pennies.
My old stomping ground! This is where I lived in Edinburgh and, I’m not gonna lie, it has a bit of a reputation. If you’ve seen Trainspotting, then use this as your point of reference.
That’s not to say it’s a bad place though. Not at all! A lot has changed over the years and it’s a lively and energetic place to spend some time. It never used to be part of Edinburgh and you can feel the atmosphere change as soon as you get there. I love it and to be honest, I used to very reluctantly leave Leith (unless I was heading back to Glasgow!)
It’s a funny wee place- one minute you’ll be in the middle of a housing scheme and the next you’ll be standing outside a Michelin Star restaurant.
There are some amazing places to eat here. In my opinion, this is the best part of the city to come to eat out. Some of my favourites were:
- The Roseleaf for lunch (Eggs Benedict and Buckfast Bloody Marys!)
- La Favorita (probably Scotland’s best pizza)
- Teuchtar’s Landing (mugs of Scottish food on a floating beer garden)
- The King’s Wark (good old fashioned pub lunches)
- Nobles (lots of Scottish beers on tap and a pretty nice brunch selection)
- Domenicos (great Italian food in a tiny little bistro with amazing wraps to take out!)
Another great restaurant that I’ve sadly not been to yet is The Walnut. This cute wee place is at the top of Leith Walk, is practically on Princes Street, BYOB friendly (yaaas) and has a fresh menu of Scottish fare that changes regularly. I know a few people who have eaten here and it comes well recommended!
Honestly, Leith is only 10 minutes from the city centre so you’ve got no excuse not to head down for lunch and a (couple of) pint(s.)
The New Town
Just north of Princes Street lies The New Town. If you’re on the market for some fancy hotels, upmarket shopping, suave cocktails or want to rub shoulders with men in suits, this is the place to go!
But, even if you’re like me, and that’s not really your scene, the New Town is still worth a quick walk.
I should point out: Stockbridge is actually also officially part of the New Town but what I’m referring to now is the area between there and Princes Street.
Some of my favourite bars in the city are in The New Town and it is a good place to start a night out.
- Bramble is great for cocktails- especially if you’re a fan of gin!
- Lucky Liquor, their sister bar just around the corner, will whip you up a cocktail based on what sort of flavours you like!
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- 99 Hanover Street is the place to be for pre-drinks if you’re going “out-out”: they have a huge range of cocktails, cheap bottles of prosecco and very decent DJ’s playing (and that comes from me, who is a music snob!)
As for eating, here are the places that I love:
- Bar Soba originally started in Glasgow and has an amazing Asian fusion menu. Their cocktail list is equally good with drumstick caprihnias! (There’s a bit of a cocktail theme going on here if you haven’t noticed already….
- For cheese and wine fans, (which I’m definitely one of) head to Pickle’s and get a cheese platter for two for £15 quid. You can wash it down with one of the many bottles on their wine list.
- For a healthier option, which you’ll probably be craving during a trip to Scotland, Henderson’s is considered to be one of the best vegetarian restaurants in Edinburgh!
(Even More) Places to Eat!
Ok, so most of my recommendations of places to see in those neighbourhoods were places to eat. And that is because…. I’m a gannet! If you’re hungry and in Edinburgh or so fussy that you don’t like any of my suggestion, then, no fear because I have plenty more.
Since most of your time spent in the capital will probably be in the Old Town (despite my best efforts to make you all ditch the castle and spend most of your time in Leith!), here are some recommendations of places to eat in the tourist hub of the city. I know how difficult it can be to find good food in these areas, but I do ken a few gems!
- For haggis and a traditional Scottish meal, The Whiski Rooms on the mound usually has a good lunchtime special menu where you can get 2 courses for about a tenner.
- Ting Ting Thai Caravan sells Thai tapas and is quite an interesting dining experience. It’s easy on the pocket, too! Especially in comparison to other restaurants in the area.
- For proper budget eats, head to Mosque Kitchen which is always full of Edinburgh Uni students! Although it’s not the best Indian in town, (my personal favourite is a takeaway restaurant called Ruchi down in Leith), it’s a super cheap place to fill up hungry tummies!
- Another great place for quick bites on a budget in Oink. Here you can get take out rolls with spit-roasted pork. Make sure you get some haggis as a topping!
And, for drinks…. BREWDOG! I couldn’t not include Scotland’s favourite independent brewery. They have a huge selection of beers but none beat a good old fashioned pint of Punk IPA!
Finally, for good measure, another place I haven’t been to yet but have to mention is Mary’s Milk Bar. This is a cute, quirky ice cream shop with loads of unusual flavours. All of the ice cream is made from scratch using locally sourced ingredients!
Where to Stay in Edinburgh
Even though I lived in Edinburgh, I still have a fair idea of where is good to stay. Here are my picks of places that friends have recommended to me and that I’ve stayed in myself!
- Tigerlily Hostel is in the heart of the New Town with an amazing cocktail bar and tastefully decorated rooms. This boutique hotel is so lovely that I’ve even known friends who live in Edinburgh to book up a weekend there for themselves!
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- St Christopher’s Inn is one of the cheapest budget options you’ll find in the heart of the city. You can see my review and video for The Hostel Group here.
- Ten Hill Place is green, sustainable accommodation in a quiet, peaceful part of the city.
- Code Hostel is a brand new capsule hostel experience in Edinburgh! Perfect for solo travellers.
Edinburgh is an extremely walkable city so I’d simply advise you to make a plan of where you want to go and use google maps.
If you need to take the bus, the Edinburgh bus app is a great device which you can download for free. We don’t have an underground system, but we do have tram- which no one uses because it’s a rip-off. Stick to your feet and the bus!
If you’re out after dark, take a taxi. Edinburgh now has Uber which is significantly cheaper than the black taxis so I’d give that a go. Although Edinburgh looks pretty, don’t get too brave at night. Walking around highly trafficked areas should be ok- especially during the festival, but definitely, don’t walk through parks like The Meadows alone or walk far distances through quiet neighbourhoods at night. Bad things can happen anywhere- even picturesque European cities like Edinburgh!
I hope this list can help you make the most of your trip and explore a more local side of Edinburgh! It’s so easy to go through and not leave The Royal Mile and eat only at the tourist traps. You’d still love the city either way as it’s undoubtedly gorgeous but I hope my suggestions help you get to know it even better. (But, at the same time, if you do decide to sample a cocktail at every bar on the list, I can’t take account for your liver… or your bank balance!)
I hope you have an amazing time in bonnie Scotland and please don’t hesitate to leave me a comment if you want more tips!
Pinching pennies? Don’t miss my post on how to visit Edinburgh on a budget!
Have you ever been to Edinburgh? What was the highlight of your trip?
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