Edinburgh is a fascinating city, steeped in history and boasts some breath-taking scenery. While the tourist hotspots are worth visiting, we wanted to give you an itinerary that is slightly off the beaten track.
A lot of these places are missed by the majority of tourists but are well worth checking out. Find out about what it was like living in Edinburgh hundreds of years ago and mingle with locals at a local market or take part in a world famous ceilidh! There is more to Edinburgh than our Castle. Enjoy.
Walk the Water of Leith
Away from the hustle and bustle of the centre of town, Edinburgh has some great areas where you can connect with nature and see Scotland’s capital from a different perspective.
The nearly 13 mile ‘Water of Leith Walkway’ runs from the south west of Edinburgh through the heart of the City finishing at the Firth of Forth on the shores of Leith to the north. With wild garlic, orchids, brown trout, heron, kingfisher and otters, there is a great diversity of life along this walking route, always popular with the locals.
The highlight of the route boasts one of the most scenic areas in Edinburgh, Dean Village. Dating as far back as 1145 this ancient village became part of Edinburgh in the 19th Century. This oasis close to the city centre comprises of old worker’s cottages, warehouses and mill buildings lining either side of the river. Make sure to bring your camera to capture the colourful and breathtakingly picturesque architecture.
Underneath the cobbled streets of Edinburgh lie a maze of underground streets, houses and vaults going back hundreds of years. You can visit these streets and vaults for a unique glimpse into Edinburgh’s fascinating, and often dark past. Some of the vaults were only rediscovered in 1985.
There are many guided tours that take you through these dark and twisted corridors and paint a picture of what life was like many centuries ago. Some of these tours focus on the history of the vaults and the local area (including the Royal Mile) while others provide ghost tours focusing on the darker, more grisly side of Edinburgh’s history.
Whatever you choose, these tours are always as entertaining as they are fascinating and offer a truly unique insight into Edinburgh’s storied past.
Sitting on the Royal Mile (the Old Town), a stone’s throw from Edinburgh Castle is one of Edinburgh’s oldest and best preserved tenement blocks. Dating back over 500 years, this is an amazing glimpse into the way people lived through the ages. One of the world’s first ‘skyscrapers’, this 6-storey building comprises of a number of apartments which were originally rented out to a merchant, a minister, a knight and the ground floor was a green grocer’s.
The rooms are dressed as they would have been all those years ago, some of the original decoration can still be seen on the wooden ceilings and beams.
By the late 18th Century the wealthy moved out of the cramped and overcrowded Old Town and into the Georgian New Town. You can visit the ‘Georgian House’ at Charlotte Square which is a restored example of how the New Town properties looked. Both buildings are managed by The National Trust for Scotland.
Take part in a Ceilidh
Get immersed in a real Scottish tradition by taking part in a ceilidh. A ceilidh is a traditional Scottish gathering where people dance in pairs (or groups) to Scottish music. Everyone can take part in a ceilidh whether you have been to one or not. In-between each dance, the band will explain how to do the next one. They can get quite complex but are always great fun.
There are many informal regular ceilidhs that take place around Edinburgh who are delighted to invite beginners along for a taste of this truly Scottish tradition (wearing a kilt is optional). If you want to immerse yourself in a slice of Scottish life we would recommend either of these ceilidhs;
Off the beaten track, and behind the famous Arthur’s Seat, sits the ancient suburb of Duddingston. Sitting on the banks of Duddingston Loch there are a couple of points of interest here.
Dr Neil’s Garden (also known as The Secret Garden), this is a peaceful spot to explore after the hustle and bustle of the city. A lot of work has gone into the making of this garden. This little known gem is open to everyone seven days a week. A visit to this garden followed by a walk around the Loch allow you to see a much quieter, natural side to Edinburgh.
Another gem in this quiet area of town is the oldest pub in Edinburgh, The Sheep Heid Inn. Far away from the tourist traps in the city centre, this quaint neighbourhood pub serves some excellent food and drink and even boasts an old fashioned skittles alley. No visit to Edinburgh is complete without a visit to this pub (the Queen even stopped by for a casual dinner in 2016!).
The Edinburgh Markets
What better way to soak up the atmosphere of a city than visit the local markets, full of fresh local produce and hand crafted trinkets. There are four weekly markets for you to choose from, all easy to reach from the centre of town.
The Farmer’s Market takes place at Castle Terrace every Saturday from 09:00-14:00, in the shadows of the impressive Edinburgh Castle. This is Edinburgh’s original award-winning market selling meats, cheeses, baked goods and beer, all sourced locally.
The other three markets always offer a wide range locally sourced produce and items ranging from meats and cheeses to coffees and jewellery. There really is something for everyone at these markets with a range of vendors selling hot food ready to eat, great for stopping by at lunchtime. They are also a great way to see different parts of the city you might otherwise not plan on visiting.
These markets take place at:
Grassmarket – every Saturday from 10:00-17:00
Leith – every Saturday from 10:00-16:00
Stockbridge – every Sunday from 10:00-17:00