Words by James Bainbridge
Several charming neighbourhoods border Edinburgh’s central Old Town and New Town, some prized by students for their proximity to the university campuses, while others have a more local feel. The following are four of our favourites, which border each other on the north side of town. Wandering their elegant Georgian streets, stopping at boutiques, cafes, and pubs, is a pleasant way to escape the festival crowds that August brings to the centre.
We tour the neighbourhoods’ highlights with Shirley Mowat, owner of boutique hotel, The Dunstane Houses.
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Wander the Riverside of Idyllic Dean Village
A 19th-century village hiding in a gorge formed by the Water of Leith, quaint Dean Village began as a milling area. Look out for mill stones and plaques carved with loaves and pies on the lanes, as well as the clock tower and bay windows of Well Court, which housed millworkers from the 1880s. The stone bridge high above the village is Dean Bridge, completed in 1831 by prolific Scottish civil engineer Thomas Telford.
Mowat suggests following the Water of Leith Walkway west from Dean Village to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, or northeast to the domed 18th-century St Bernard’s Well and Stockbridge. ‘Both routes come highly recommended, with many charming sights along the way.’
Local Base: Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh — The Caledonian
Straight down Queensferry Street from Dean Bridge, this grand former railway hotel has welcomed visitors since 1903, and mixes its Victorian features with modern luxuries such as an indoor pool, sauna, and steam room. Its sandstone facade enjoys a panorama of the castle towering over Princes Street Gardens, broken only by the Georgian steeple of St Cuthbert’s Church. The views continue in the guest rooms and suites themed around local heroes, such as Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle.
Explore the Pretty Streets of Stockbridge
Between the New Town and Leith, Stockbridge is a genteel residential area of Georgian and Victorian crescents and circuses. Stop at a cosy neighbourhood pub, such as The Antiquary Bar or The Bailie, and cross the Water of Leith for more eating and drinking options along Deanhaugh Street.
The area’s highlight is the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, where 70 acres of gardens and glasshouses preserve a botanical trove, including the world’s largest cultivated collection of Vireya rhododendrons. Mowat recommends Stockbridge Market, which brings food and craft stalls to riverside Saunders Street between 10am and 4pm on Sundays.
‘And don’t miss RadiCibus Italian Restaurant, a small place with maybe 20 seats that offers a wonderful five- or seven-course tasting menu with an optional wine pairing. Also on Deanhaugh Street, Hector’s is a good pub and your doggy will be welcome, too. If you’re looking for a great bakery, you must try The Pastry Section – the best cakes I’ve ever eaten.’
Local Base: Kimpton Charlotte Square Hotel
Overlooking a landmark square of green in the nearby New Town, this eclectically styled hotel celebrates both its historic setting and Edinburgh’s cosmopolitan buzz, secreting a glass-topped courtyard bar and two restaurants behind its Georgian veneer. Rooms and suites evoke the golden age of travel through curated art, books and miscellanea, luxurious leather upholstery, and bureaus.
Find Boutiques and Bars in the West End
At the west end of Princes Street, the city’s elegant town houses mix with a healthy dose of creativity and nightlife, making this a popular area for shopping and socialising. William and Stafford Streets are home to indie boutiques, restaurants, and bars, while Lothian Road leads beneath Castle Rock to The Meadows park and the student area of Marchmont.
The Lyceum Theatre, Usher Hall, Traverse Theatre, and Filmhouse cinema are among the good venues in the Lothian Road area, where Edinburgh Gin Distillery offers tastings and BrewDog pours the Scottish brewery’s craft beers. On Saturday mornings, graze on fresh local produce and home-made eats at Edinburgh Farmers’ Market on Castle Terrace.
If you amble across the area from The Dunstane Houses, you’ll likely end up at the Grassmarket in the Old Town – home to the flagship W Armstrong & Son vintage clothing emporium. ‘Edinburgh is great for art, culture, and shopping, but my favourite shop is this branch of Armstrong’s,’ says Mowat.
Local Base: The Dunstane Houses
Close to Haymarket railway station and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, this 35-room boutique hotel occupies two Victorian town houses that face each other on a suburban street. The owners honour their Orkney roots in everything from the Orcadian produce used by the kitchen to the bar, which has one of Edinburgh’s finest single-malt selections. Reflecting both Orcadian culture and the neoclassical design of Edinburgh Old Town, rooms range from Cosy Wee Doubles to chic suites.
Seek Out Leith and the Royal Yacht
The setting for Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, the port area of Leith has undergone immense regeneration, and has been home to the Royal Yacht Britannia since 1998. Grab some lunch at the Shore, an attractive cobbled street of pubs and restaurants alongside the Water of Leith; Fishers Leith bistro and neighbouring The Shore Bar & Restaurant are recommended. Nearby Dock Place hosts a Saturday market.
You can tour the decommissioned Royal Yacht Britannia, which was built on the Clyde, at Leith’s Ocean Terminal. On a tour of Which? magazine’s top-rated UK historic attraction, learn about its 40 years of service across five decks, including the state apartments, admiral’s quarters, and Royal Deck Tea Room.
Mowat points out that you can walk to Leith on the Water of Leith Walkway, which extends for 12 miles across Edinburgh from the village of Balerno. ‘This riverside run is perfect for those who love nature and wildlife – look out for otters, kingfishers, and herons as you enjoy a moment of serenity in the busy city.’
Local Base: The Balmoral
This 187-room icon has been one of Edinburgh’s best addresses for more than a century, centrally located near Waverley station and the main road to Leith. The Rocco Forte hotel’s spa is an oasis on Princes Street, with a 15m indoor pool, Turkish steam room, and Finnish sauna. Immerse yourself in the city’s romance with the hotel’s 500 malts, castle views, bespoke tartan, and suites reflecting Scotland’s mountains, woodland, heather-covered glens, and steely lochs. The spa’s Irene Forte Skincare treatments include the signature Time in the Med, a two-hour sensory journey to sunny shores.
Seeking travel inspiration for a destination a bit farther south? Read our post on how to spend 48 hours in Florence.