Medieval history and modern attitudes meet in Edinburgh, Scotland's capital city. It's small enough to get around on foot – provided you don't mind hills – and packed with unique things to do. Find secret whisky bars down narrow alleyways, catch comedy shows in club basements, or enjoy sweeping views of the castle from rooftop bars. It's at its liveliest during the Fringe and International Festival in August, and in December when Christmas and Hogmanay (New Year) revelry is at its peak.

The best neighbourhoods to visit in Edinburgh

Old Town

Royal Mile

The Royal Mile runs through the centre of Edinburgh's Old Town.

Centuries-old buildings line the streets of Edinburgh's Old Town, to the south of Princes Street Gardens. The cobblestone Royal Mile is its main artery, and has lots of places to visit including The Scotch Whisky Experience, St Giles Cathedral and Camera Obscura. Lined with gift shops playing bagpipe music, this ancient road runs downhill from Edinburgh Castle in the west to the Palace of Holyroodhouse in the east. It’s the perfect starting point for a historic tour of Edinburgh.

As for where to go in the Old Town, a visit to winding Victoria Street with its colourful buildings and quirky shops is a must-do. At night the Cowgate and Grassmarket thrive with music as stag dos, hen parties and students brush shoulders in the city's most popular party bars. Each August, a walk down the Royal Mile will show you why they call Edinburgh “the Festival City”. Street performers vie for attention with ticket touts in fancy dress. Most ghost tours start from here, taking you deep into the city vaults underneath North Bridge, the bricked-up Mary King's Close, or the tomb of a notorious poltergeist in Greyfriars Kirkyard.

There are some great places to eat here, too. For spectacular seafood, book a table at the White Horse Oyster & Seafood Bar during ‘Buck a Shuck’ happy hour. Sit at the bar and work your way through a selection of oysters from Loch Fyne, Lindisfarne and Carlingford. A few doors down, you can pick up sweet souvenirs from Fudge Kitchen. Watch as hot fudge is boiled in a copper pot before being poured onto an Italian marble slab to cool. Treat yourself to indulgent flavours like strawberries & cream, sherbet lemon and salted dark chocolate. As you continue east towards Holyrood Park, you can find Edinburgh Marriott Hotel Holyrood, a stone’s throw away from Arthur’s Seat and perfect place to relax after a day of excitement and fun. On the other end, just a short stroll from the Royal Mile, on the fringe of the vast Meadows Park, you'll find The Residence Inn Edinburgh. As well as being a short walk from the Old Town's attractions and one of the city’s many historic green spaces, it's also in the perfect spot for enjoying the buzzing nightlife surrounding Edinburgh University's Teviot Row House Student Union. Book a suite at this hotel, complete with kitchenette, and feel like a local as you pick up treats from the Saturday morning farmer's market on nearby Castle Terrace.

New Town

Princes Street

A view of Edinburgh's Princes Street.

Edinburgh's 18th-century New Town is a grid of avenues lined with Neoclassical buildings. Art galleries and antique shops sit side-by-side with artisan coffee houses and bakeries, while the Edinburgh Playhouse theatre hosts West End musicals beside a small but lively strip of LGBTQ+ bars.

Princes Street and George Street, in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, are home to high-street and high-end shops respectively. They're joined at their east end by the New Town's latest addition, the St James Quarter shopping mall. This is where you'll find flagship shops like Zara and John Lewis, as well as the new Bonnie & Wild Scottish marketplace. Dishes to try include Scottish sourdough pizza at East, plant-based fine dining at Erpingham House and avant-garde pastries from Broken Clock Café & Patisserie. Stay in the centre of it all at W Edinburgh and be inspired on the unique rooftop deck with the finest 360-degree views of Edinburgh and beyond.

If you're feeling energetic, one of the best things to do is climb Calton Hill to get sweeping views of Edinburgh and its surroundings. From here you can gaze southwest across the Old Town or face southeast to see the extinct volcano, Arthur's Seat, which also makes a pleasant (albeit more challenging) afternoon hike. On a clear day you can look northwest to the three bridges crossing the River Forth.

Once you've soaked up the scenery, it's an easy downhill amble to the Courtyard Edinburgh. Enjoy a drink at its outdoor bar, the WEST Beer Terrace, on bustling Baxter’s Place. The hotel rooms are spread across three Georgian townhouses and a new building, mixing modern design with Edinburgh’s classic grandeur. Ask for a room at the back to enjoy views of Calton Hill.

Leith

The Shore area, Leith

The Shore area of Leith is one of Europe's most up-and-coming neighbourhoods.

There's plenty of edge and alternative things to do in this neighbourhood northeast of Edinburgh's New Town. Between laundrettes and Asian supermarkets you'll find hip bars like Victoria, Woodland Creatures and The Mousetrap Pub – where you can play old-school video games as you sip your pint. Leith has more than its fair share of great places to eat. For an on-the-go lunch, nip into Leith Arches for a Montreal-style bagel from local favourites Bross. Dishes to try include the McBross (featuring haggis, smoked Applewood cheese and caramelised onion chutney) and the Bross Dog (jumbo hot dog served in a bagel dough roll with sauerkraut, crispy onions and jalapenos). Head further north and you'll eventually reach The Shore – Edinburgh's waterfront. On sunny days it's worth picking up a takeaway coffee from local roasters Williams and Johnson and sitting by the water. If it's chilly, seek out a spot by the roaring log fire at Teuchters Landing. This waterfront bar boasts an impressive whisky list and has lots of Scottish dishes to try like cullen skink (seafood chowder) and black pudding stovies. Leith is also known for its weekend markets. The Pitt brings Edinburgh's best street food stalls and live music to an old industrial yard every weekend, while Leith Community Croft hosts a farmer's market in the Leith Links green space on Sundays. Vendors change weekly but you can expect to find handmade pottery, artisan baked goods and locally roasted coffee. After a day exploring one of Edinburgh’s most spirited neighbourhoods, enjoy some boutique-style luxury at The Glasshouse Hotel, Autograph Collection. This striking hotel at the bottom of Leith Street features the facade of a 172-year-old church integrated with its sleek, ultra-modern design. Inside you’ll find a cosy snug bar with more than 160 exclusive Scotch whiskies. Many of the rooms have their own balconies with expansive views across the New Town, while some have direct access to the hotel’s peaceful two-acre rooftop garden.

Stockbridge

Dean Village, Manchester

Dean Village is a beautiful corner of Leith.

Just a short walk northwest from the New Town you'll find Stockbridge. This affluent neighbourhood has a laid-back village atmosphere and is one of the best places to visit at the weekend. Snap up some sustainable bargains in the excellent second-hand clothing shops and vintage boutiques, or splash out on specialty goods at artisan delis such as IJ Mellis cheesemongers.

The Sunday market is always popular, with stalls selling everything from luxury soap to home-baked dog treats. If you're not in the mood for street food, stop off at one of the gastro pubs nearby. Try a flight of wines with matched cheeses at Smith & Gertrude, or pay a visit to Good Brothers for small plates crafted from locally sourced ingredients.

While you're in Stockbridge, one of the most interesting things to do is take a stroll to picturesque Dean Village. Its 19th-century mill buildings give it a bucolic appearance worthy of any Disney film. The walk is equally charming, following part of the Water of Leith Walkway. At its full extent the trail runs for over 12 miles, cutting through the city from the village of Balerno to Leith Docks. The half-mile section of forest between Stockbridge and Dean Village gives you a taste of the full route.

During this stroll you'll pass the mysterious monument known as St Bernard's Well, featuring a statue of the Greek Goddess of Health. Fans of Edinburgh’s art scene will want to keep their eyes peeled for figures II and III of Anthony Gormley's installation, 6 TIMES. This series of sculptures leads all the way from Leith Docks to the entrance of the National Gallery of Modern Art.

If you do decide to take on the full Water of Leith hike, rest your feet afterwards at the Courtyard Edinburgh West – just a short taxi ride from the end point. This four-star hotel makes the perfect base for exploring Edinburgh's greener side, and the on-site Avenue restaurant is open for all day dining. The casual dress code means you can wear your hiking gear as you refuel on classic bar-room dishes.

Fountainbridge

This former industrial area to the west of Princes Street has experienced an influx of stylish bars, shops and cafés in recent years. Fun things to do include trying your hand at indoor “adventure” golf at Fountain Park's Volcano Falls, or pitting yourself against the clock at the Escape Reality escape rooms. The Cameo cinema is a short walk from Fountainbridge; as well as showing an array of old and new independent films, it serves excellent chai lattes in its cosy French-style café.

As for where to stay, Moxy Edinburgh Fountainbridge makes an ideal base for exploring Edinburgh’s west end, as it’s just five minutes' from Morrison Street. Swing by around 9am for still-warm cinnamon buns from Nice Times Bakery, or slip into the Jolly Botanist on the way back to your room for a perfectly mixed gin cocktail. Not quite ready for bed? Head to the Moxy’s rooftop bar for an impressive selection of craft beers and equally breathtaking views of Edinburgh Castle. The Moxy sits right beside Lochrin Basin, at the head of the Union Canal. This part of the waterway is lined with barges converted into waterside cafés and galleries. For an active day out, hire a bicycle from Biketrax and follow the towpath to Ratho, eight miles away. You'll cut through the leafy western suburbs before heading into scenic countryside, crossing aqueducts and ducking under stone bridges. Stop at the Bridge Inn for a snack before turning your wheels back towards the city.

If you really want to treat yourself, book a stay at the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa, Edinburgh. After a long day of exploring, you can soothe your muscles with a dip in the rooftop pool. Finish your day with a meal of seasonal Scottish produce at the hotel's One Square Brasserie, with views straight across to Edinburgh Castle.

Go deeper

Don't be surprised when chip shops in Edinburgh offer you salt and sauce rather than salt and vinegar. The tangy concoction is made from Gold Star brown sauce, which is more acidic and less fruity than HP Sauce. Go full Scottish and order a pizza crunch or deep-fried haggis – another untraditional way to eat Scotland’s national dish – if you're not in the mood for fish.

Published: July 25, 2022

Last Updated: April 09, 2024

Article Tags:  Edinburgh , United Kingdom

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