Edinburgh is known to be full of history and beauty – but what gems are to be discovered off the beaten path, down Edinburgh’s many hidden alleyways?
Kenneth Wardrop, Chief Executive of Destination Edinburgh Marketing Alliance (DEMA) gives his top tips on what might not be in your typical guide book.
Hidden Walks – Water of Leith
Not many people realise that Edinburgh has a river. The Water of Leith carves its way through deep gorges on its way from the Pentland Hills to the sea at the port of Leith. A public footpath and cycleway runs alongside the river, providing an ideal setting for family walks with a wide variety of terrain and scenery to explore along the way. There’s even a ranger service along the walkway. A very easy way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
Hidden Gardens – Royal Mile Gardens
For a capital city, Edinburgh is a surprisingly green place and, even at its heart, you’re never far from wide open spaces where you can take in amazing views, have a picnic, or just relax and enjoy the great outdoors. But take a look past our bigger parks, like the Meadows, and you might just find your own secret sanctuary tucked away.
The Royal Mile ‘Secret Gardens’ nestle behind the famous street’s high tenements and date right back to the 17th century. Many locals had no idea the gardens existed until recent years but this is the perfect place to settle with a book for a quiet read, just metres from throngs of unsuspecting people.
Hidden Eats – The Mosque Kitchen
In Edinburgh, there are more Michelin-star restaurants than any other UK city outside London. The city is rightfully earning a reputation as a gastro-lovers dream but the real beauty is that there is something to fit every budget.
Mosque Kitchen is a cafeteria-style operation which won best Indian restaurant category at this year’s Scottish Restaurant Awards. But its food is way beyond simple cafe fare. Expect delicious, authentic home-cooked curries with freshly baked naan bread – all for just a few pounds. Run by a group of 50 volunteers, the Mosque Kitchen was set-up to serve its congregation but welcomes everyone. News is spreading fast though, so make sure you go there before it’s common knowledge!
Hidden Music – Cabaret Voltaire
Cabaret Voltaire is an atmospheric subterranean venue that is the place to go when you want to discover the next ‘up-and-coming’ band. Step down into its caverns to find an intimate space, friendly staff and all aspects of underground music seven nights a week.
Hidden Underground – The Real Mary’s Kings Close
Hidden beneath the Royal Mile, lies one of Edinburgh’s deepest secrets – The Real Mary Kings Close. This warren of hidden ‘closes’ is where real people lived, worked and died before being covered for centuries, until it opened in 2003.
Now an award-winning five-star attraction, The Real Mary’s King Close allows visitors to see a historically accurate interpretation of life in Edinburgh from sixteenth to the nineteenth century. A unique and historic site, it is a dark, underground time capsule thought by many visitors to be haunted by its former inhabitants.
Hidden Shopping – Thistle Street, Rose Street, West End, Grassmarket
From its quirky boutiques, to luxury high-end fashion, the shopping choice in Edinburgh has never been better and if you don’t trust us, trust Vogue! The fashion bible has singled out the city’s independent stores for praise, citing Pam Jenkins and Jane Davidson amongst the forty best boutiques in the UK.
Charming stores line our cobbled streets, filled with high-end gifts, international designer names and brilliant vintage finds. Widen your search to include the less obvious shopping areas, such as the West End, the Grassmarket and Thistle and Rose Street, and you’ll definitely be rewarded.
Hidden Cinema – Cameo and Filmhouse
The home of the prestigious Edinburgh International Film Festival, this is a city of cinephiles. And any city that has a passion for film, is also home to great independent cinemas. Try the Cameo, a stylish arthouse cinema, largely unaltered or subdivided since it was built in 1914. It’s one of the oldest cinemas in Scotland still in use. This is where the major arthouse films are most likely to surface first.
Also make sure that you visit the Filmhouse, another publicly-funded arthouse cinema which is a hub for the city’s film buffs. Having hosted many film luminaries such as Martin Scorsese, Andrei Tarkovsky, Sean Connery and James Mason, it also has a great cafe – the perfect place to play film reviewer with friends over a cold beer.
Hidden Hotels – Luxury B&Bs
Edinburgh is the UK’s favourite domestic holiday destination outside of London, due to its ideal mix of shopping, entertainment and historical interest – but the gorgeous and interesting places to stay don’t hurt either! If you want to live like a native, try to hunt out some of the luxury B&Bs in the city, such as 2 Cambridge Street – self-contained suites of the highest quality and hospitality, set in the New Town. Expect dreamy, candlelit breakfasts with fresh pomegranate juice and caviar-kissed soft-boiled eggs.
Hidden Neighbourhoods – Grassmarket, Stockbridge, Morningside
Edinburgh is a city of villages, each one of which has a different atmosphere and things to do. Plus, you can easily stroll from one to the other. The Grassmarket is located directly southeast of Edinburgh Castle, and was re-developed in 2008 to make it more pedestrian-friendly.
The area was once used to conduct public hangings, and in the past was frequented by historic figures such as Robert Burns and Wordsworth. Today, the Grassmaket serves as a thriving location for locals and visitors alike who enjoy fashionable shops, bars and restaurants whilst soaking up the medieval atmosphere of the ancient marketplace with splendid views of the nearby castle.
Stockbridge is located to the north of the city, and is a bohemian suburb renowned for its architecture and famous residents. Although it is only a ten to fifteen minute walk from Edinburgh city centre, it has something of a village atmosphere about it, and today is a busy place characterised by specialist shops and cafes, wide streets and green spaces.
Check out Leith, Morningside and the West End too.
__ __For more information and ideas on planning your trip to Edinburgh, visit: ThisIsMyEdinburgh.com