Venturing Off The Beaten Path In Edinburgh

28 October 2014

For many, a stint overseas is a rite of passage. In most cases, London’s bright lights and big city vibe often beckon greater than almost any other place in the world. For me though, it wasn’t London calling, it was Edinburgh; and bonnie Scotland’s capital was ringing loud and clear.

“This is a city of shifting light, of changing skies, of sudden vistas. A city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again,” said famed author, Alexander McCall Smith.

While the social life was the main reason for my Scottish sojourn (Tattoo, Fringe, Hogmanay – those Scots sure know how to party), the city’s unrelenting beauty and welcoming spirit was what really stole my heart. The usual tourist haunts are popular for good reason, but you’ll find a slew of city gems like the ones listed below if you take the time to explore.

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Pure Dead Brilliant Views

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 The view from Calton Hill

Edinburgh Castle casts an arresting shadow over the city’s Gothic church spires and Georgian rooftops. The city rests on a spread of extinct volcanoes, providing the ‘Burgh’ with plenty of vantage points to lap up its beauty.

Don’t worry about getting the perfect panorama from the castle – a light hike up to Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill is where you’ll really reap the benefits.

For a unique perspective of the city, the Scottish National Gallery’s terrace awards some incredible sweeping vistas – the rooftop is not exactly easy to find either, making the views all the more special.

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Beyond The Royal Mile

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 Take the time to seek out the hidden historic gems off the Royal Mile

Bookended by Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace (say hi to the Queen in summer) in Old Town, the Royal Mile is the city’s backbone.

Join the crowds that wander up and down this glorious street at least once, but make sure you break away from the masses to explore the closes (laneways) that fishbone off the main strip.

Lady Stair’s Close opens up to a quaint courtyard and the Writer’s Museum. Keep an eye out for the weathered example of ‘trick stairs’ (or as I call them, ye olde burglar alarm) opposite the museum too.

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Time Out

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 Dean Village on a perfect summer's day

In summer, leisurely students and 9–5'ers make the most of the evening sun with lazy libations at the lush, sprawling Meadows. Spread out a picnic blanket, fire up a disposable barbecue, and crack open some cold ones for an afternoon sesh of your own.

New Town’s Water of Leith is another peaceful area to explore. The pathway wraps around the river bank, past weir passes and underneath towering bridges. The Dean Village to Stockbridge stretch was my favourite – you’ll feel as though you’re walking through the pages of a storybook.

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Food And Drink, But Mostly Drink

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 The Grassmarket at dusk

Forget soggy fish and chips and deep fried Mars bars; this culinary capital dishes out incredible fare from all corners of the globe. Dining is one thing, but ‘liquid nourishment’ is where Edinburgh really comes into its own thanks to a heaping of pubs, clubs and whisky bars.

If you’re feeling a little bit fancy, bar hop your way along New Town’s upmarket George Street – try Le Monde for cocktails and Lulu for its light-up dance floor.

On the other side of the bridge, most establishments around the Grassmarket and Cowgate are pretty touristy, but locals covet the well-hidden Dragonfly bar for its heady cocktails. Adjacent to Edinburgh Uni, you’ll find the city’s best example of a beer garden, Peartree House.

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Late Night Shenanigans

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 Edinburgh really turns it on when the sun sets

If you’re down for a bit of a boogie, there’s no shortage of nightclubs peppered throughout town. Cabaret Voltaire is the city’s most revered thanks to its line-up of world-class DJs and underground vault setting – there’s usually something going on most nights of the week.

Don’t forget to book yourself in for some late-night scares either, as Edinburgh is considered one of the world’s most haunted cities.

Venture to the lair of Mackenzie’s Poltergeist on the City of the Dead tour at your own risk. I can attest that a few moments in the Black Mausoleum will be enough to cause some sleepless nights (but so worth it)!
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That Boy Wizard

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 Gravestones at Greyfriar's Kirkyard

The world’s beloved boy wizard, Harry Potter, has a special place in Edinburgh’s history. The birthplace of the story, Elephant House cafe is worth dropping into for a bite, but you can delve further into Harry Potter folklore by simply strolling around town.

Diagon Alley was based on Victoria Street and its colourful row houses, while Hogwarts was inspired by the castle-like facade of George Heriot’s School. Die-hard fans also seek out a tombstone in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard of an old chap named Tom Riddell – the namesake behind He Who Must Not Be Named.

Anna Howard

Give me street food over Michelin stars, cellar doors over wine bars and small towns and wide open spaces over big cities any day. Travel for me means ticking off the 'to eat and drink' list one regional flavour and wine bottle at a time.