You’ve been to Edinburgh, you’ve walked the Royal Mile, climbed up Arthur’s Seat, taken a peek around Edinburgh castle, maybe even made it all the way out to the zoo. But there’s a mini-city waiting for you to explore beyond the shops on Princes Street.
Let me introduce you to a few Edinburgh neighbourhoods that, if you’ve only got a weekend in the city, you might not think to explore. But there’s plenty going on outside of the normal sight-seeing loop to tempt you off course to see a different side to Edinburgh.
I’ve lived in this fine city now for almost 10 years, and in Stockbridge for three of those, recently moving back to this side of town after a brief stint in Leith. I’ll blog about what to see and do in Leith (sunshine on it or not) at later stage, so check back or follow me to find out more.
If you’ve never visited Scotland’s capital then I whole-heartedly recommend you check out the main attractions, the National Museum, Holyrood Palace, and make sure you rub little Greyfriar Bobby’s nose for good luck. But if you’ve visited before, or you want to explore the city according to locals, then read on and discover how to spend an alternative day in Edinburgh.
Stockbridge, in the north of the city, between the New Town and Comely Bank, was voted the best place to live in Edinburgh in March this year. After a few days strolling along its cobbled lanes, tasting international cuisine in some of the city’s best restaurants and treating yourself to some retail therapy, you’ll completely understand why it deserves this accolade.
But first, the basics…
How do I get to Stockbridge?
Easy. It’s a 10-minute walk from the centre of Edinburgh, and just like Rome, pretty much all roads lead here, just head south across Queen street and you can’t miss it. The most direct route is down Frederick Street until you hit the big church at the bottom of the road (that’s St. Stephens’s church) and you’ve arrived! I you’re taking the bus then the 24, 29, or the 42 all head down this way.
Where to stay in Stockbridge?
There aren’t many hotels in Stockbridge and if you’ve only got a few days then you might want to be centrally located. The Travelodge on Queen Street is a five minute walk from Stockbridge and right on the back of George Street, so you’ve got the best of both worlds and prices are reasonable. Alternatively, if you want to base yourself in the heart of Stockbridge then check out The Raeburn, a bar and restaurant with chic rooms above that’s right in the middle of it all – rooms are big and bright with typical New Town, floor to ceiling windows, thick pile rugs and touches of tartan. The Raeburn is also a good spot to enjoy a chilled glass of white wine on a summer’s evening, as they have their own beer garden overlooking leafy Inverleith Park. At the other end of Stockbridge’s high street, and slightly nearer Edinburgh city centre, is the Nira Calendonia another boutique hotel with a superb steak restaurant below.
What does a day in Stockbridge sound like?
Well a lot of eating, a lot of drinking, a lot of walking, and then doing it all over again. Sound appealing? Good, then read on…
If there’s one thing Stockbridge isn’t short on it’s cafés, so choosing where to grab breakfast can be tough. My personal favourites? Henri’s for their poached pear, natural yoghurt and homemade granola, with a fresh cafetiere of French coffee and the morning papers. Then there’s Leo’s for their soft, runny, yet perfectly poached eggs – get their early or reserve as it’s a popular spot. Or if you want a full blow out then it’s got to be Hamiltons for French toast with bacon and maple syrup – they do a veggie version with peaches and yoghurt. My advice? Don’t go gun-ho, there’s a lot of eating to be had in this tiny corner of Edinburgh, so save some room for later!
Work breakfast off with a walk around Inverleith Park, passing by the swans in the pond – you might even see a few model boat enthusiasts out racing their hand-crafted vessels on the weekend. When you get to the top of the hill don’t forget to look back for a view across the city back up to the castle. Turn right through the park and exit onto Arboretum Place and you’ll find Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens right across the road. The Botanics are beautiful all year round – I love loosing a morning wandering through the glasshouses because it could be minus 20 outside but in the Victorian Palm House you’re transported to a tropical hideaway. Before leaving the gardens be sure to check out the Queen Mother’s Memorial Garden, planted in 2006 with four corners, each one to represent a different part of the world, with plants from Europe, Asia, North America and the southern hemisphere.
Alternatively, if you don’t feel like gazing at the flowers, turn left through Inverleith Park and you’ll soon see the impressive spires of Fettes College, rising into the sky, looking like it fell out of a Harry Potter film set. Well it did, sort of. J.K. Rowling denies that Hogwarts was inspired by Fettes, but I still believe it was – once you’ve seen it for yourself you’ll find it hard to deny too! Even if Harry and the gang didn’t attend Fettes, Tony Blair did – not sure this has he same appeal, but still, it’s a fantastic Gothic building that’s worth a few snaps.
If you’re still weighed down by breakfast then go light with a bowl of soothing soup from Maxi’s – their menu varies, but it’s usually something hearty but not too heavy, like pea and mint. But, if you do have room for dessert then grab a slice of their cakes, all homemade and fresh that day, all delicious. A good sandwich spot is Cafe No.33 (33 Deanhaugh Street) which serves fresh wraps, paninis and sandwiches generously stuffed with chicken, avocado, goats cheese and all manner of combos – one Portuguese custard tart in here and I was hooked! Their coffee is also great, and the bare brick walls and wooden benches make it a cool place to hang out and watch Stockbridge stream by the glass shop front. Fancy something with a bit more spice? Recently opened, Street Box does good lunch time deals on Pad Thai, Tom Yum, Sum Tom, and other Thai street food dishes you’d expect, with authentic flavours and healthy sized portions.
Hit the shops. Stockbridge is full of independent boutiques, vintage clothes shops, bookstores, charity shops and little trinket emporiums to entice you. For vintage clothes and cool vinyl, head to St. Stephens Street where you’ll find no less than five (at last count) places to rummage for bargains or be dressed by the very knowledgeable shop owners. Spanning every decade, you’ll find 50s fur coats, 70s floral prints and 80s prom dress, plus plenty of other treasures along this little side street. Stop a while to chat to the shop owners, they’re mostly friendly and have some great stories about the area and are a brilliant source of local history – one of them told me last time that Stockbridge in the 1960s was the hippy part of town, where all the wild young things would go to party and hang out, a bit like London’s Kings Road. Be sure to stop half way along St. Stephen Street; you’ll see the old market archway, once the entrance to Edinburgh’s largest meat, poultry and fish market.
For books, check out Golden Hare Books on St. Stephen Street, or there are plenty of charity shops stocking popular paperbacks – Shelter’s bookshop at the end of Raeburn Place is a great place to find rare and antique classics at half price, and they have specialist sections for history, poetry, art and the like.
There are plenty of gift shops in Stockbridge if you’re looking for a cute trinket to take home, but my favourite and the quirkiest is Coaba. With a great selection of cards, candles and incense burners, this Mexican craft shop s also handy if you’re in the market for a lucha libre wrestling mask…
Coaba might put you in the mood for Mexican – Stockbridge’s got that covered at Blue Parrot Cantina on St. Stephen Street. Or you might fancy Scottish seafood, in which case a table at The Kilted Lobster is highly recommended, especially if it’s a Friday night, when they offer a whole lobster and a glass of champagne for £28 per person – booking essential though as tables are like gold-dust. To be honest, booking is pretty much essential anywhere in Edinburgh – we’re a city who likes to eat out a lot – so make sure you plan where you’re going to eat well in advance. For more Scottish fare with a twist, check out Rollo on Raeburn Place. This family-run wine and tapas bar is great for social occasions; order up a mix of haggis balls, Asian noodles, pan fried fish and drink down with expertly selected wine and let the conversation flow. Similarly, Scran and Scallie (opposite Rollo) serves up heaving plates of the poshest pub grub you’ll find in Edinburgh, from burger and chips to steak pie. When they site famous Scottish chef Tom Kitchen as menu-creator and joint owner, you know to expect more than you’re average beer burger!
Grab an after-dinner drink in any one of Stockbridge’s friendly bars and pubs – one place you’ve got to pop into is Edinburgh institution, the Bailie Bar, below street level on the corner of St. Stephen Street. Crowd into this cavernous bar and join locals cheering on the rugby, huddled around small tables, perched on velvet covered stools, you might even make a four-legged friend at this dog-friendly drinking den. Try to resist the urge to stay up all night tasting Scottish real ales and knocking back the drams!
Still relatively unknown, even to Stockbridge natives, but quickly gaining a reputation as one of Edinburgh’s best new bars, my favourite place for a relaxed glass of wine is Smith and Gertrude. It’s offering is simple; wine, cheese, and good company. Sunlight streams in through the glass shop front as locals share tables, flip through editions of Kinfolk and set their own soundtrack to the evening on S&M’s vintage record player. It has all the elements of what could be another horrible hipster hangout, but this place has soul. Staff are helpful and it’s far from pretentious; they know their wine and they don’t scoff if you don’t know your shiraz from your sauvingnon.
I could go on (Water of Leith walkway, the Floatarium, Sunday’s farmer’s market) Stockbridge really is like a mini-city in the centre of Edinburgh. If you’ve got any tips of your own for what to see and do here then please share them in the comments section below. And if you want to see more photos of Edinburgh and Scotland then head over to my Instagram page.
Next up…How to spend a day in Leith…