Secret Edinburgh – Insider Tips From The Locals

Edinburgh. Known for its inspiring history, its eclectic catalogue of festivals and with it, an ever-present army of selfie-snapping tourists. (Can’t be helped, just comes with the territory, y’know.)

And whilst there are many wonderful attractions in Edinburgh, like any popular city, at times the main sights can become a little overcrowded, which isn’t ideal if you like your delights, day-tripper free.

Anyway, if this sounds a bit like you, the read on. We’ve been in touch with the locals who know this city best to put together the off the beaten track, things to see and do, places to eat, drink and generally watch the world go by.

(And to make things easy to follow, we’re going to be categorise each local tip with either EAT. DRINK. SEE. PLAY. Hopefully quite self-explanatory so we’ll get on with it…

Dean Village (SEE. PLAY)
What the locals say:

Nathan Young

IG: @nathanyoung2202

“People can nip out of the city centre traffic noise, and venture into the Water of Leith walkway at Dean Village. Here there is a riverside walk, where Herons sit feasting on fish, and the trickles of water passes by. It does not have signposts guiding people here; perhaps this is so that not many people stumble upon the secret walk of the quiet side of Edinburgh. Just by this walk, there is a small Scottish cafe, which is family run, called Cafe Braw. Here you can grab a Scottish Breakfast roll, taste a Scottish lunch, and grab a snack and a coffee whilst finishing off the walkway at Dean Village.

Ashley

IG: @ashleyWanders

“One of my favourite hidden gems in Edinburgh is the Water of Leith Walkway, a 20km river-side path that winds through the heart of the city. It’s a fantastic spot for a leisurely walk and a lovely natural oasis where you can go to escape the hustle and bustle (and it’s an absolute godsend if you need respite from the crowds during the Fringe Festival in August).”

What we say: 

One of the most underrated scenic sites in Edinburgh. Although Dean Village is located about a 5-10 minute walk from the busy Princes Street. ‘Busy’ just doesn’t appear in Dean Village’s dictionary. What once was at the heart of Edinburgh’s manufacturing industry, the now quaint village is now a picturesque residential area, with old millstones, a temple and an ancient viaduct scattered throughout. If you follow your nose around the walkway, you’ll find the Dean Gallery and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, both free, both brilliant.

Bruntsfield (EAT. DRINK. PLAY)
What the locals say: 

Charlotte Ballantyne

IG: @justmuddlingthroughlife 

“Edinburgh has plenty of suburbs to explore, each with their own atmosphere, to get away from the sometimes overwhelming city centre. Brunstsfield is full of local, independent shops, that’re away from the more common high street. Grab a coffee in Artisan Roast or The Chocolate Tree, browse for a new outfit in Biscuit Clothing or pick up some toys in Gulliver’s, then have a delicious meal in Three Birds or Montpellier’s!”

What we say: 

Bruntsfield is a cultural hub, bursting at the seams with exciting things to see and do. The best part about it? Tourists often overlook it, which means you’ll get the chance to experience this suburb like a true local. As Charlotte mentions, there’s plenty of restaurants serving up the best local produce, there’s also no shortage of good pub grub and countless independent shops that’ll make your time in Bruntsfield a brilliant one. If you’re looking to stay out a little past your bed time and the busy Grassmarket bars aren’t your cup of tea, there’s more than enough stylish, typically Scottish pubs and bars to wet your whistle.

The Stand Comedy Club (DRINK. PLAY)
What the locals say: 

Charlotte Ballantyne

IG: @justmuddlingthroughlife 

“This tiny little underground venue is legendary in Edinburgh, having been the place where many world-famous comedians got their start. It’s open every night of the week, hosting both newcomers and better-established names – Monday nights are ‘Red Raw’, where any beginner can take part, with tickets priced at just £3. If you’re lucky, more famous comedians will often make a surprise appearance to test out new material, especially in the months leading up the Fringe in August!”

What we say: 

Established in 1995 in the basement of an Edinburgh pub, the club has grown to become one of the UK’s best comedy venues and a mainstay of the Festival Fringe. The club is also no stranger to hosting famous acts, with the likes of Kevin Bridges and Frankie Boyle learning their trade at the venue and if you’re lucky, they sometimes pop back to practice new material. (You might also be happy to know the club has banned stag and hen parties, which mean most of the people you find there are indeed the locals and are there for a L plate free, good time.)

 

Stockbridge (EAT. DRINK. PLAY)
What the locals say: 

Iveta Zalcaite

IG: @ivetazalc

“My favourite part of the city was is Stockbridge, if you’re looking for a truly local experience; this area is packed with lots of independent shops and cute cafes. That definitely isn’t covered in tourists!”

Kieron Roulston

IG: @kieronroulston

“Stockbridge Market on a Sunday is an excellent opportunity to go exploring Edinburgh’s new town – don’t get a taxi, take a walk down from George Street via Circus Lane and take in the different character of Edinburgh’s Mews”

What we say: 

Edinburgh is full of downright lovely places, but Stockbridge has to be up there as one of the loveliest. It’s stunning architecture, charming village-like atmosphere, and its abundance of local cafes and restaurants, make it popular with the Edinburgh locals. We could sit here and list the all of its main attractions, but we don’t want to be here ALL day, so our top 3 Stockbridge picks are: Inverleith Park, the Royal Botanic gardens and the Stockbridge market (Sunday only) at Jubilee garden. Do take Edinburgh local Kieron’s advice and take the time to walk down from George Street, he knows what he’s talking about.

 

Blackford Hill (PLAY)
What the locals say: 

Charlotte Ballatyne

IG:@justmuddlingthroughlife

“For stunning views of Edinburgh, skip the crowds on Arthur’s Seat and instead head to the south side of the city to climb Blackford Hill, where you’ll get incredible views of Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Park, and all the way over the Firth of Forth on a clear day. You can take a direct route straight up and down if you’re short on time, or spend a little longer wandering through the Braid Woods nearby.”

What we say: 

If there’s one thing Edinburgh is not short of its stunning views, both of and throughout the city. But a lot of the time, stunning views comes with a stunning amount of selfie sticks carrying. This is particularly true of Arthur’s Seat, which does have a fantastic view of the capital, but can get a little crowded. If you take Charlotte’s advice here and head up to Blackford Hill you’ll get amazing views and decent snaps, minus the crowds. Lovely.

Books! (PLAY)
What the locals say: 

Nathan Young

IG: @nathanyoung2202

Edinburgh is home to some amazing antique bookstores; the first one to pay a visit to is Armchair books in West Port. Deceiving on first looks, once inside, it’s an Aladdin’s cave of assorted paraphernalia, soft toys and hand-written notes. If you’re looking for first editions of certain books, it’s highly likely you’ll find what you’re looking for, they offer Victorian and second hand books for most genres.

Next on the list is Old Town Bookshop, Victoria Street. This is a bookworm’s dream – with editions dating back to the 1600s and a variety of genres as well as maps and art for pickings. Summerhall bookshop features an array of varied exhibitions and events hosted there. It also has a small gallery and a café inside where you can purchase a Scottish Breakfast roll to kick off your day.

What we say: 

To be honest we couldn’t put Nathan’s description better ourselves. Edinburgh is scattered with many independent bookshops, a lot of them teeming with more than just the books. The pick of the stores would have to be Armchair books; it’s cluttered, its messy and its disorganised, but this makes it the best place to browse. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, it really doesn’t matter, there’s enough to browse that you could probably spend your whole time in the city exploring the shelves, searching for that hidden gem you didn’t know you wanted.

 

Dr Neil’s Garden (PLAY)
What the locals say:

Sally Cholewa

IG: @choggzy

“Tucked away in Duddingston, just outside the city centre, this established botanical garden is full of twisting and winding paths lined with beautiful plants. It makes for a wonderfully secluded and quiet spot. There are often community events happening including traditional Scottish storytelling. The ‘secret’ garden even has it’s own curling museum as Duddingston loch is where the first official rules were established.”

What we say:

Otherwise known as Edinburgh’s secret garden, these gardens are THAT secret that a lot of the locals would struggle to point you in their direction. This stunning area is the handy work of Dr Andrew and Nancy Neil, built at the foot of Arthur’s Seat in the 60s. They’re more than just beautiful wildlife and winding paths to the locals; this serene spot is a place of inspiration, meditation and contemplation. The perfect place to plonk yourself and unwind.

 

Whisky, Gin & Beer (DRINK)
What the locals say: 

Charlotte Ballantyne

IG: @justmuddlingthroughlife

“Scotland is famous for its whisky, and there are plenty of options to sample it in Edinburgh – try a tasting in Whiski Rooms on North Bank Street, Bow Bar on Victoria Street, or Usquabae on Hope Street. There’s plenty of other alcohols produced in this country too though – take a tour of the Edinburgh Gin Distillery in the West End, or Pickering’s Gin in Summerhall. Or if you’re a craft beer fan, try Red Squirrel on Lothian Road, or St Andrews Brewing Co. on Potterrow. Edinburgh is a very international city; so expect to rub elbows with locals, expats, and a few visitors alike in most of the city’s pubs and bars!”

What we say:

Apart bagpipes,  haggis, or going one better with a deep-fried Mars bar (yes, they do exist). If there’s one thing you’re going to do in Edinburgh, it’s try some traditional Scotch whiskey, or equally, if whiskey isn’t your preferred weapon of choice, you might want a tipple of some sort. Like any city nowadays, Edinburgh has a plethora of bars and pubs to choose from. But where do you go for something different, yet traditional, that’s not heaving with tourists? You can’t argue with Charlotte’s recommendations, and here’s some more of our favourite Edinburgh drinkeries…

  • Arcade bar
  • The Salt Horse
  • Canny Man’s
  • Panda & Son’s

 

 

Jupiter Artland (SEE)
What the locals say: 

Charlotte Ballantyne

IG: @justmuddlingthroughlife

“Located a half hour bus ride from the city centre, and only open during the summer months, Jupiter Artland is hidden surprise for art lovers. The grounds of this old manor house have been transformed into something like an adult playground, full of modern art installations specifically designed for the park, incorporated into the landscape, which encourage you to explore and interpret as you please.”

What we say:

Most people look after their garden with a bit of mowing and the odd hedge trim every now and again. But when Robert and Nicky Wilson moved into Bonnington House, a Jacobean manor with a 100-acre estate, they decided to do a hell of a lot more. Transforming their land into a contemporary art park and gallery, showcasing work by leading sculpture and land artists.

When exploring this spectacular garden and grounds, you’ll find cutting edge sculptures and instillations from the world’s best, who are given complete freedom to produce whatever they like. And due to the sheer size of the estate, escaping the crowds isn’t something that even needs to enter your mind. Like, ever. Enjoy.