There’s no doubt that Edinburgh is a popular destination for travellers and expats alike. I’m so excited to be living in Auld Reekie once again, and I can’t wait to get out and explore these old streets even more. In the meantime, here’s some of my favourite hidden gems and lesser known spots in Edinburgh. Some of these you might find on longer lists of the top things to do in Edinburgh, but a few of them took me awhile to discover. These things may not rank as essential sights in Edinburgh if you’re only staying in the city for a short time, but they’re definitely worth getting off the beaten path for.
Restaurants, pubs, cafes and bars on the canal in the north of Edinburgh wouldn’t be out of place in many European destinations, but for the very British buildings. What was once a bustling port area is now a great place for a night out, or a daily stroll. If you want to get out of Edinburgh’s city centre and see what some of the rest of the city is like then I’d recommend a trip down to the Shore. I love Mimi’s Bakehouse in the day for their delicious cakes and the nearby Roseleaf for their unique brunches and cocktail teapots. Not far away you can find a classic pub at Teuchters Landing with an outdoor area on the canal itself, and if upmarket is your style then there’s The Kitchin, with it’s Michelin Star. Who knew all these great places to eat were just to the north in Edinburgh, in such a pretty setting?! I think I came here once when I lived here on a working holiday visa. Now, it’s one of my favourite spots in Edinburgh.
Dunbars Close Garden
Tucked away off the Royal Mile is one of Edinburgh’s best secret spots. Dunbars Close Garden is towards the bottom of the Royal Mile, and it’s a welcome respite from one of Edinburgh’s busiest streets. You might miss these gardens that have been around since the 17th century if you didn’t know they were there, because there’s just a simple gate and a small close leading to them. Next time you need a break as you walk between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace, keep an eye out for it.
This may not be such a hidden gem of Edinburgh as the others as it’s become more well known, but it’s still a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of the busy Edinburgh centre. It’s just a 10 minute or so from the end of Princes Street, but it feels like a whole new place. It too used to be an industrial area, full of mills powered by the Water of Leith and old industry buildings. Some of these can still be seen today, most notably Well Court, which used to house the mill works. Take a walk down to this hidden gem to see yet another side of Edinburgh, and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back in time.
Water of Leith
You might not realise it, but Edinburgh does have a river running through it, and it’s called the Water of Leith. It runs from the Pentland Hills to the port in Leith. The part that runs through Edinburgh goes through a variety of places, through Dean Village and Stockbridge and all the way down to the Shore. Unless you love walking and want to get back to nature without having to get out of the city, you may not really come across the Water of Leith. It’s a great way to get between different area of the city if you have the time though!
Head north of Princes Street and you’ll find yourself going down to a neighbourhood called Stockbridge. It’s another place that has all the charm of a village. It’s full of specialty shops, great cafes and restaurants. One of my favourite places to pop in for a drink is Hamilton’s Bar and Kitchen. On Sundays there’s a food market where you can sample delicious street food from around the world or come away with locally produced goods like cheese or cake (and who doesn’t love those!). It gets busy here on the weekends, but I love the vibe of the area and if you’re looking for somewhere to visit in Edinburgh out of the city centre and the tourist buzz then it’s a nearby and great option.
Plus, don’t miss a walk down Circus Lane, definitely one of the most picturesque streets in Edinburgh!
It seems like most the Edinburgh’s top hidden gems or lesser known places are related to it’s industrial past, and the Union Canal is no different. It was originally built to bring minerals, including the coal that darkened Edinburgh’s sky, close to the city centre. Now it’s a place that’s well-frequented by locals walking their dogs, exercising, or taking their children to different parks along it’s route. You can hire rowboats to glide along under old stone bridges, or enjoy a walk right along the canals edge. Start near the city centre near Tollcross and wander as far as you like. Or at least as far as one of my favourite pubs, The Fountain!
Ok so I know you don’t exactly go to Edinburgh for the beach, but Portobello is a cute little seaside suburb that’s worth a visit if you’re not familiar with the UK seaside. Or to be honest even if you are! It has a traditional promenade and an arcade (please tell me I’m not the only adult who gets excited by these). Even on a rainy day the colourful houses at the end look charming, and you can duck into the Espy for some of Edinburgh’s best burgers, while you enjoy the view.
This is one of the islands in the Forth of Firth, the stretch of water to the north of Edinburgh. The difference with this one is that at low tide a concrete pathway is exposed and you can walk to the island and back. It might have once been a Roman outpost, at one time it was used for farming as you can find the remains of a farmhouse there, and it was fortified during World War Two in the event that warships might try and enter the channel. Some of those buildings are still there and can be explored. Walking across to Cramond Island is definitely something a little different to do when you’re in Edinburgh. Just look at the tidal times carefully and keep an eye out, people have been known to get stuck over there for the night!
One of Edinburgh’s great mysteries is also one of Edinburgh’s coolest attractions. Gilmerton Cove is a series of underground caves just south of the city centre, and it’s just one of Edinburgh’s underground tours. Except unlike the Edinburgh vaults no one quite knows why these caves and tunnels were carved out however long ago. Some say they could have been related to Druids and witchcraft. Maybe it was a secret gentleman’s drinking club, or maybe part of an escape route from Craigmillar Castle. These handcarved caves even include a chapel. Tours are by appointment only, so make sure you plan ahead for this one!
If you’re looking to see all the main sights in Edinburgh, check out Rabbie’s City Tour for a unique perspective on the top spots, and I wrote a HUGE post last year about ALL the things to do in Edinburgh.
There’s so many things to see in Edinburgh and I can’t wait to get out and explore my new home even more!
Have you visited any of these places in Edinburgh?
P.S. There is an affiliate link in this post, but as always, all opinions are my own!
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