Edinburgh local hangouts
Sweat. People. Bodies pressed up against you. Rain. Sun. Rain again. Puddles. Wet feet. Rain. Sun. More crowds. No, we’re not talking about New Delhi, we’re talking about Edinburgh during the festival. The Fringe Festival – the biggest Art’s festival in the world –attracts millions of people every year, and for just over a month, the population becomes 10 times the norm. Streets are packed, bars are opened late, pop-up food stalls line up the cobbled streets, and performers and comedians are tucked into every side-alley.
While it’s all good fun, let’s face it: it’s also a touch chaotic. And every once in a while you might be looking for a breather, escape the crowds and perhaps experience a good laugh that doesn’t break your wallet.
If you’re wondering where all the locals are at, here are 10 places you’ll most likely find us (with your best choice of café or pub):
Open every Sunday, the Stockbridge market is known for its international food stalls, local goods and handmade clothes, jewellery and toys. Small in size, it’s a great place to grab a paella, dog-watch, listen to buskers and sit by the river with a craft beer in hand. Go early to get the best selection of food and avoid queues.
*Go to Smith & Gertrude for a glass of Pinot
Waters of Leith
A stunning walk, 10 min from the centre. This river coils through the residential neighbourhoods and is easily missed if you’re having a quick visit and ticking off the landmarks. If you get the chance, I highly recommend you take a 10 min detour to walk over stone bridges until you reach the picturesque Dean Village. If you have more time, hit a right to explore Edinburgh’s Modern Galleries, or if you’re a walker, challenge yourself to a 7K walk to the countryside village of Colinton.
* Go to Colinton Inn for a refreshing pint
Book shop bargain
If you’re book-obsessed like myself, Edinburgh is the place to be. Home to over 50 charity book shops (I’m still hunting!), it’s heaven for book lovers, where you can get copies of Anna Karenina or Harry Potter for £0.50. Not to mention, some of these book shops have been there for centuries, and the buildings themselves are worth a visit.
*Go to Oxfam Book shop (Newington and Stockbridge), Tills Books, Armchair Books
Picnics in the meadows
Although not quite a crowd-escaper, it’s definitely a local hangout, where dog-walkers, residents and summer students will come for a picnic and a workout out. Edinburgh’s version of central park, the Meadows is a gem of a park just behind the University quarters, with cafes and stalls to get your daily doses of coffee, and a wee Sainsbury’s to buy your picnic. On a nice day, it can feel like Glastonbury, with locals pouring out topless, bringing their guitars. Great spot to people watch – there are always some gymnasts, tight-rope walkers and hipster men playing blues.
*Go to Peter’s Yard for a healthy brunch
Forget about Arthurs’ Seat. Most of us have done it too many times, and on a sunny day, it will be stuffy and crowded. Not to mention it’s a steep hike. About 15 min from The Meadows, walk through The Grange – a lovely neighbourhood which is home to Edinburgh’s affluent folk – until you reach Blackford Hill. At the foot of the hill you’ll find a beautiful loch with swans and benches. The climb is less steep than Arthur’s Seat, and the views are equally as spectacular. More trees, a beautiful Observatory at the top, and less people. The locals’ secret hill to watch the Festival fireworks.
*Go to Redbox Coffee on route
Tired of the overpriced beer you’re getting at the hub of the Festival or in posh New Town? Escape to the student quarters in Marchmont. Here you’ll find that prices have remained the same, and you’ll get a table even if you do come at peak times. Not only that, but it’s only a 10 min walk from the festival center, so you’ll be a fool to miss it.
*Visit Argyle Bar or Earl of Marchmont for some craft beer
Keen to have a day’s break from the shows? Grab a 15 min bus ride down to the area of Leith. Back in the day, Leith was considered a city apart from Edinburgh, known for its docks and the sailors. Now it’s becoming ever more gentrified, equivalent to Shoreditch in London, with a few Michelin star restaurants, decent-priced cafes and some of Edinburgh’s most trendy history (i.e. Think Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting.)
* Go to Williams & Johnsons for a Flat White or Teutchers Landing for a pint
Portobello high street
Take the bus from the centre, or take a 20 min walk from Leith Links, Portobello is Edinburgh’s version of Brighton. A charming promenade by the beach, it’s where the Edinburgh Marathon takes place ever year. It’s also home to many old and new cafes, brunch spots and beach style bars (which keep up its appearance in winter). A must for a sunny evening. Buses run frequently from the centre and back.
*Go to Dalrialda for a sundowner
While I do love the Botanic Gardens, I also like some peace and quiet when I’m reading my book. Next to the Botanic Gardens – and because of this, often missed by tourists – Inverleith Park is a great area for a stroll. There’s a beautiful reservoir with swans, and views of The Castle and St Giles. If you’re in town for a few weeks and looking for some workouts, you’ll get a variety of boot camps, touch rugby and fitness groups. If you walk a bit further out of the park, you’ll also get the chance to look at Fettes College, an Edinburgh building to boast about, one of Harry Potter’s inspirations, and one of the most prestigious schools in town.
*Go to Earthy for a cappucino
Pentland Hills Regional Park
I had to include one that was just outside of the city. Don’t be scared by the distance, it really is only a 30 min journey by local bus (that’s £1.40 each way). The Pentlands is your introduction to the Scottish Highlands. Whenever I’m there, I have to remind myself I’m only 30 min way from the city. An escape from the city, with miles of hills, a handful of lochs, and plenty of spots to pitch up a tent, or endure a day or two’s hikes. I recommend the walk from Floddenstone to the waterfall. You can rent rowing boats or go to the countryside pub. A waterproof jacket is a must.
*Go to The Flotterstone Inn for a pub grub
Are you visiting Edinburgh, or are you a local? What are some of your favourite hangout spots? Share them with me on Wild Way Round, and I’ll talk about them next time.