With castles, restaurants and galleries, there’s always something to do in Edinburgh. However, the true character of the Scottish capital can’t be measured by its attractions. It’s measured by the warmth of its people, the tranquillity of its green spaces and the places just waiting to be discovered in the labyrinth of side streets. You won’t find this in a guide book – instead, it’s Edinburgh’s residents who hold the key.
What makes a city? It’s not the shops or bars, nor is it the sights – even in a place like Edinburgh, which is home to many monuments, grand Georgian buildings and, at the centre of it all, an imposing castle perched atop a rugged hill.
No, the true heartbeat of Edinburgh is its people. The people who know the city’s streets like the back of their hands. The people who, when the fun of the Fringe has quietened for another year, continue to populate its comedy clubs, galleries, traditional pubs and refined restaurants. The people who greet weary travellers like old friends. These folks are the gatekeepers to a truly authentic Edinburgh experience. Below you’ll find, in their own words, the reasons why they think you should visit the Scottish capital at least once in your lifetime.
‘Everyone goes at a slower pace’
Rory Mellis, director of IJ Mellis Cheesemonger
There’s something about a Sunday in Edinburgh that I just love. It’s still busy, but everyone goes at a slower pace. I like to start at Stockbridge Market where you can stock up on seasonal veg, cakes – just about any food you can think of. I’ll grab a cheese toastie, sit by the river and let the day pass me by. Then I’ll make my way to Cowan & Sons for coffee or Brauhaus for a glass of natural wine – it’s the perfect way to relax and unwind after a long week.
‘I love taking detours along side streets and alleyways’
Brian Malloch, co-owner of Logan Malloch
When I first moved to Edinburgh, I would walk the Royal Mile and find myself getting lost, taking detours along side streets and alleyways. It was such a great experience and is a great way to see a different side of the city – you never know what you’ll stumble upon next. One day, I came across a hidden garden, and it’s since become my go-to reading spot. It’s just off Dunbars Close, next to the Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe. On second thoughts, maybe I’m not ready for the world to know about it.
‘The exhibitions are excellent’
Iona Angus, pharmacology graduate
You’re never short of things to do in Edinburgh. Even if it pours with rain, you can always escape to one of the many galleries or museums. My favourite is the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, where I recently saw an exhibit on the works of Eduardo Paolozzi, a Scottish Pop art sculptor. The exhibitions are excellent and bring different parts of the world right to my doorstep. I’m very thankful for that.
Sam Peet / | © Culture Trip
‘There’s more to Edinburgh than the Fringe’
Rizvi Khaleque, founder of Tuk Tuk Restaurants
I firmly believe Edinburgh is one of the most amazing cities in the world, and there’s so much more to it than the Fringe Festival and Hogmanay. It’s a place of year-round creativity. There’s an incredibly diverse community of local craftspeople – Custom Lane, a series of artists workshops in Leith, being a prime example. The independent galleries, concept shops and restaurants keep everyone – myself included – coming back for more.
‘The views are incredible’
John Dunn, taxi driver
As I’m behind the wheel for my job, when I’m off, I like to travel on foot – it’s the best way to explore Edinburgh as it’s easy to navigate. I know this is going to sound predictable, but I really think everyone should see Edinburgh Castle – even if you just walk up to it. The views are incredible, and I find out something new and interesting every time I go. It’s so historically important. You could spend an entire day up there and not tire of it.
Sam Peet / | © Culture Trip
‘There’s something very wholesome about it’
Snick Konganuntragul, petroleum engineering student
Edinburgh has so many lovely areas, but Morningside is my favourite. There’s something very wholesome about it that I love. That and the fact it’s where you’ll find Salt – a café that, in my opinion, does the best brunch in Edinburgh. I’d eat there every day if I could. Order the bacon and poached eggs, with avocado on the side.
‘It’s wonderful to cycle along the riverside pathway’
Rea Kenkel, manager and barista at Williams & Johnson Coffee Co.
Edinburgh is incredibly bike-friendly, and my favourite cycle is along the Water of Leith, the city’s main river. I’d start from Dean Village, which is near the city centre, and follow the riverside pathway through Stockbridge, all the way down to where it meets the sea in Leith. It’s a gorgeous, leafy cycle that makes me feel peaceful – like I’m in the countryside.
‘Go to Portobello Beach at sunset – the views are breathtaking’
Chloe Bramwell, gallery assistant at Scottish National Portrait Gallery
I spend as much of my free time as possible at Portobello Beach. I feel so lucky to live in a coastal city, so I’ll do the 20-minute bus journey and spend the entire day there. It’s so nice to see people walking dogs of all shapes and sizes along it. If you can’t make it during the day, go at sunset – the views are breathtaking. Along the promenade is The Espy, a casual pub that serves tasty food and the perfect pint. The staff are so friendly – from the moment you walk in, you feel like a local.
‘Calton Hill is the ideal escape from the busy streets’
Mhairi Fisher, freelance recruitment officer and charity campaigner
As a travel enthusiast, I’m always looking for fun, free things to do when I’m away – which is why I always take visitors on a walk up Calton Hill. It’s close to Princes Street – so chances are you’ll be in the area – and is the ideal escape from the busy streets below. From the top, the panoramic city views are stunning. There’s also an observatory at its peak, which is fascinating to look around, too.
‘It’s very romantic’
Arthur Burrows, technical manager
As much as I love the social scene in Edinburgh, the place I feel most defines the city – for me anyway – is the Botanic Garden. I took my girlfriend there on our first date – it’s very romantic and makes for a great day out when people visit, too. The glass buildings are a welcome change to the stone you see throughout the centre. I feel calm as soon as I step into the grounds.
Sam Peet / | © Culture Trip
‘You can sit for hours on end at The Meadows – if the weather allows’
James Hargreeves, doctor
The city’s green spaces give Edinburgh a village-like feel. My favourite is The Meadows – a sprawling park just south of Old Town, with tree-lined paths and tennis courts where you can hire rackets. I’ll grab a coffee and a sandwich from 27 Elliott’s, find a bench in the shade and sit for hours on end – if the weather allows.
‘There’s a sanctuary in the middle of the city’
Celia Hodson, founder of Hey Girls
Edinburgh has many great restaurants, but none are quite like The Gardener’s Cottage. Formerly the home to the gardener of the Royal Terrace Gardens, it’s now a sanctuary of authenticity right in the middle of the city and an end-to-end wonderfully nostalgic experience. From the moment you walk up the gravel garden path and brush past the herbs to sitting down to social dining of the most exquisitely prepared local seasonal food – most of the veg picked just for you from the garden – it’s a treat for all the senses.