If you’ve never been to Edinburgh before, or you’re popping up for the day, after long last, to revisit some of the many wonderful treats that the great capital has to offer, it’s quite likely that your first port of call is going to be the city’s world famous Old Town.
And, of course, why wouldn’t it be?
If you close your eyes and think of Edinburgh, what do you see? The caste? The Royal Mile? Long cobbled streets and narrow alleyways? Jolly street performers on a Fringe filled August afternoon, surrounded by crowds gasping, laughing and cheering?
The Old Town is, of course, the oldest and most mysterious part in all of Edinburgh. It is where history and magic come together. Where tourists gather and walk alongside ghosts.
So much of what Edinburgh is can be found right here in this fascinating UNESCO World Heritage site. But what is really worth doing? Where do you start?
Well, don’t fret. We’ve got this. Follow us now as we take you on a journey through steep streets and hidden courtyards into what we think are some of the area’s most enchanting points of interest.
Put on your Harry Potter cape and keep your eyes peeled for spirits and fiends. We’re going deep into the Old Town and you’re coming with us. Are you scared? Us too! But it’s too late now. There’s no turning back. Mwah! Ha! Ha!…. Oh, and make sure to read to the end. There might just be a secret tip hiding for you there. Expelliarmus!
Things To Do
If you’re a fan of being bored, then the Old Town is not for you. With a seemingly endless line of tours, museums and all kinds of other dazzling goodies, you’ll never find yourself short of something fun to do. You know about Edinburgh Castle, have dashed around Camera Obscura and have surely heard of the grand Palace of Holyroodhouse, so we won’t go into all of that just now. “But what else is there?” we hear you ask. Well, good friend, there is much. So very much of much. Let’s take a look.
The Real Mary Kings Close is one of Edinburgh’s hottest attractions and is a must for any visitor to the city. There are so many tours in this area of town, from ghost walks to Harry Potter trails, but this is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown. It’s not for the little ones (specifically under 5 ), but, if you get the chance, take the opportunity to step underground and experience the city’s deepest secret.
Greyfriars Kirkyard might not seem like the obvious place to spend some of your well-earned time, but this astonishing spot is actually one of the most famous graveyards in all of the world. Most well known for being the resting place for the dear Skye Terrier, Bobby, you will find a host of famous headstones scattered around, waiting to be discovered. Can you find them all?
The Writers’ Museum celebrates the lives of Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott. If you like your literature to be proper Scottish, then this little place, tucked away on Lady Stairs Close, is one you won’t want to pass by without ducking in for a good, old fashioned gander. With portraits, works and personal objects, this is definitely one for the lovers of the written word.
Dunbar’s Close can quite easily be missed, but is worth seeking out if you need a bit of escape from all of the hustle and bustle of city life. Sit down, recuperate and take in the beauty around you. A recreated secret 17th century garden, this is most definitely the place to go if you are craving a little bit of peace in a world of madness.
Coffee & Cake
The Old Town is coffee town. Whether you’re taking a walk down the Royal Mile or just enjoying the atmosphere down at the Grassmarket on a Saturday afternoon, you’ll never be too far from a warm brew. Of course, you’ll have the usual suspects in Starbucks, Costa and Neros, if you really can’t go without that sort of thing. But, if you’re after something a little bit different, there’s plenty of that to go around too.
Scottish Storytelling Centre is best known for its live performances and interactive displays, but their café is a great place to chill out and get your well-deserved coffee on. And why stop there? If you fancy a light breakfast, or even something a bit more substantial, this is a great spot to fuel up and prepare your body for a fun day of sightseeing. Traditional and tranquil.
The Elephant House opened in 1995 and is probably most famous for laying claim to being the place where J K Rowling worked on her early Harry Potter novels. The truth of that claim is open to debate, but what can’t be denied is the wizardry of their food and drink. Voted best coffee shop in Edinburgh by The List magazine, it’s really one to go to if you can get a table. Spellbinding.
The Wall Coffee And Design House sits around halfway down Edinburgh’s quirky Cockburn Street and is the perfect stop-off for some of the best gourmet Panini’s in town. Cosy and with the sort of rustic charm that just begs you to linger for one latte more, you’d be a fool not to pop in and experience this comfortable and cute little eatery. Bound to become a favourite of yours.
Deacon’s House Café hides in a close just off the Royal Mile and is highly recommended by everyone that goes there. With a beautiful outdoor seating area and some of the most scrumptious scones you’re ever likely to taste, this charmer has your name all over it. An affordable taste explosion in historical quarters. Fabulous!
Being the historic centre of the city, you’re not really going to find much in the way of mega stores or high street fashion to take a wander through. For that kind of fun, you’ll want to pay a visit to the marginally twinklier New Town. What this end of the Edinburgh world does have, however, is an awful lot of surprises. We think you’ll have a great time.
Eden is one of four stores on Cockburn Street that are all part of the same family and all unique in their own particular way. Pie In The Sky, Cookie and Mysa are all super quirky and fascinating and have their own unique story to tell But Eden is, for us, the one to visit first. If you’re moving into a new home, this exotic store will have at least one thing that you will treasure for ever. Top drawer.
The Christmas Shop gives you Christmas all year around. Now, what could be better than that? Here at Belvoir Edinburgh, we LOVE the festive time of year and pay this store a visit whenever we get the chance. If you’re feeling blue or are tired of the constant sunshine (Ha!), then walk into this wonderful world of tinsel and lights on Victoria Street. Santa-tastic!…Oh, and if this just isn’t enough Christmas for you, check out The Nutcracker Shop on the Royal Mile…That’s right. There’s more than one Christmas store in town.
Armchair Books might just be the best bookshop in all of Edinburgh. Yes, you’ve got the likes of Waterstones and a whole host of great independent stores, and they’re all smashing in their own special way. But, as soon as you walk through the doors of Armchair Books, just between Grassmarket and Lothian Road, you’ll remember what bookshops were always meant to be. Go in. Stay a while. Take some photographs. It’s where you belong.
The Wyrd Shop sounds like it belongs in some other place in some other time. And indeed it does. That’s why it is right here in the Old Town and that is why we can’t get enough of it. Small, quiet and, maybe a trifle weird (Come on. You were thinking it), this absolute joy of a den is a must for the lovers of the mystical. Strange, intriguing and really quite lovely.
With there being so much to do and see in this lovely area (and, no doubt, quite a bit of walking), you are going to eventually want to have a sit down and have a right good and proper slap up meal to help you recover and reflect on what a splendid time you’ve been having. Well, worry not. If you like you’re food top-notch tasty, you’ve undoubtedly come to the right place.
Howies has a few restaurants about town and they are all always busy. Why? Because it’s delicious, of course! Not only that, it’s all extremely well priced. Whether it’s for a birthday, Valentine’s Day or just because you’re feeling peckish, Howies has great lunch and dinner options with five star service. Everybody knows Howies. Get to know it yourself.
Viva Mexico is probably the best known Mexican restaurant in Edinburgh. Situated half way down Cockburn Street, this family run cantina is truly exceptional. Colourful and outrageously generous with its portions, this is a great place for the whole family. And if you’re a fan of the odd Margarita? Well, you’re in for a treat.
The Outsider serves fresh and seasonal food of a distinctly European flavour that will have you coming back again and again. With a nice and cosy interior and window views of the castle, this laidback establishment just can’t get it wrong. The food is exciting and the staff really know their stuff. Don’t be an outsider. Get involved.
The Witchery can only be described with one word: Wow! An absolute Edinburgh institution, the place will just romance your face off. Sitting just short of the castle, it is an unbeatable experience in almost every aspect. The setting is magical and the food is all you want it to be and more. It is what Auld Reekie is all about. Prepare to be amazed.
Edinburgh is known for an awful lot of things, some of which we’ve spoken about above. It has history, culture, parks…It has the whole package. But one thing that it has that is not nearly spoken about enough is a royal tonne of absolutely fantastic bars. If you like your ales, wines and whiskies, our great capital will keep you quite the happy camper. The Old Town, in particular, has an extraordinary collection of drinking houses. It’s time to get cosy.
The Devil’s Advocate is tucked away in a narrow close between the Royal Mile and Cockburn Street and is a super hideaway for those who are prone to get a little thirsty from time to time. With over 300 whiskies to choose from (Yes. 300 plus) and plenty of pretty much everything else, you are never going to run out of delicious refreshments to try. Wickedly good.
Jolly Judge stands out as one of our favourite watering holes in town. Whether you’re putting your feet up in front of the fireplace one a chilly December evening or sitting out in the courtyard with your cool cider during a warm August day, this hidden cellar pub is ideal for enjoying a drink in peace and quiet. Atmospheric and old world, this is where you’ll find the locals hanging out.
Sandy Bell’s is a world famous meeting place for musicians. From Billy Connolly to Barbara Dickson, anyone who is anyone in the folk world will, at some point, have poked their head through these legendary doors. It’s small and often packed, but the vibe is amazing. The drinks and chat like no other location we can think of. A historic and well-loved pub.
The White Heart Inn may be haunted. It also lays claim to being the oldest pub in Edinburgh. Whatever you believe, one thing that is self-evident here is just how wonderful it is. If you like pubs, then this is a place you will really appreciate. It’s as Scottish as they come and has some super-tasty food (the haggis is finger-licking good!). You’ll find all kinds of potent spirits here too…Good and evil.
And our secret tip?
Bakehouse Close & Tweeddale Court both have one thing in common that will terribly excite fans of Outlander. Yes, you know where we’re going with this. Both used as film locations for the highly successful series, this is your opportunity to breathe in the story and relive famous scenes. Cameras at the ready!