A free, self guided walking tour of Edinburgh

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Two good friends of mine recently visited Edinburgh.

For those of you unaware, Edinburgh was home for almost 10 years.

I guess anywhere you live so long, it becomes part of your DNA.

I love living in Madeira. I’ve met someone special here, the people are wonderful and the island is a beautiful place with stunning natural beauty. Plus year round the weather here is beautiful.

One thing I definitely do not miss about Edinburgh is the weather.

You can experience 4 seasons in one day in Edinburgh. Sounds crazy but that’s what make the city and indeed Scotland unique.

I was asked to create a walking tour of the city for my Madeiran friends highlighting  my 50 favourite haunts.

By the way, if you are looking for reccomendations about my favourite budget places to stay in Edinburgh, check this post.

I spent a few happy hours revisiting in my memory all my favourite haunts. This post is the end result. I thought I’d share with you in the hope that one day you may visit this beautiful city and see it through my eyes.

It’s not your conventional walking tour of all the most famous sights. Sometimes you walk. Sometimes you will need to stop for a beer. A few beers. Sometimes you’ll need to hop on a bus. Sometimes I might have forgotten the odd place to mention and you’ll have to revisit the street again.

 

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To supplement the guide I’ve created my own illustrated map of the city.

I was never good at art but I try. I hope the map gives you some sort of a visual idea of the places I’ve mentioned below.

I’ve started the guide with one of my favourite walks in Edinburgh which starts from my old house in the Canongate where I lived for many moons….right uptil Morningside. It can take a few hours so make sure you have a pair of good walking shoes. Edinburgh is a city best enjoyed on foot.

 

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Canongate is on the bottom half of the Mile and is right near the Queens Palace.

My first port of call on most days in Edinburgh would be 1.Starbucks on Canongate. You come all the way to Edinburgh and the first place I ask you to go is Starbucks. WTF!!!!! I know.  The coffee is OK, wifi is good and the baristas here are friendly. This cafe was basically my office in my early days as a travel blogger so I have an emotional pull towards this place. I loved pulling up a stool in the front of the cafe from where you could watch the comings and goings of people. You could easily spend an hour of just drinking the dull filter coffee ( Brings back memories drinking their filter coffee.)

Across the road, I would love to see the astonished look of people as they would stumble upon the 2. Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe. Yes. A shop that celebrates Xmas 365 days of the year. Once upon a time Cliff Richard was here…..you may spot a dull yellow newspaper cutting glued to the shop’s display window with Cliff’s toothy smile burning through the paper. Here’s an interesting fact. Edinburgh has not one but three Christmas shops open year-round. So if you are the kind of person that wishes they could celebrate Xmas everyday of the year, you’ve come to the right city.

Right beside the Xmas shop you’ll find a little hidden alleyway that leads you into the 3. Victorian Garden. Beautiful place. Perfect, to escape the crowds and where you can even have your own picnic with a fish and chip supper from Bene’s. ( See later) Royal Mile has many hidden beautiful gardens like this.

Besides the Starbucks is a narrow alleyway- Crichton’s Close. On the left is the 4.Scottish Poetry Library. If you are lover of a poetry, like me, this library has a fabulous collection of poetry books. I would often pop in for readings from local poets and if you are keen to get feedback on your own stuff, bring your work along and share with fellow budding poets.

Do not leave Edinburgh without going to 5.Bene’s Fish and Chips ( 162 Canongate. Opens for Lunch, 12-2pm and then 4.30 till 12pm ) which is at the bottom of the Royal Mile. If you are keen to sample the fabled deep fried mars bar, this is the place to come to. They also do deep fried pizza. Other specialities to try here included haggis plus they do a pretty mean fish and chips. When you order chips here or in fact anywhere in Edinburgh, make sure you ask for the right dressing: ’salt and sauce.’ No tomato ketchup. You want those thick cut chips ( fried in lard) smothered in vinegar, salt, pepper with a liberal drizzling of brown sauce. Oh god. I am practically drooling on my keyboard as I write. If Maria ( or Maria’s husband- His name is not Tony. Damn, I’VE FORGOTTEN HIS NAME. Spoke to him so many times. Shoot me ) are in the shop, say hello from me.

Right opposite Bene’s is the 6. Canongate Church. This is the Queen’s church. She attends service here in the summer when she is in residence in her palace down the road. I love wondering the graveyard here. Sounds morbid but the tombstones are beautiful here. It is a very atmospheric place with a beautiful view of Calton Hill and the old Scottish Parilament. On the left hand corner you’ll find the grave of none other than Mr Adam Smith, the father of economics.

Now, instead of walking up the Mile. Reverse.

Walk to the bottom of the Mile and you’ll come face to face with three key landmarks.

To your right is the 7. Scottish Parliament , a controversial building which cost almost £1 billion to make and still incurs the wrath of locals. The architect Enric Miralles, died before completing it. It has many complex motifs that draw inspiration from Scottish history but I have never got my head around them. Love it or hate it, definitely has a beautiful location right at the foot of Arthurs Seat.

In front of you is the 8.Queens Palace. Do not enter and pay to see this place: for the price you have to pay, better splurging on one key historic attraction: 9. Edinburgh Castle which is on the top of the Royal Mile. Purely to see the Stone of Destiny. The stone of destiny ( also known as the Stone of Scone) is the Coronation Stone, an oblong block of red sandstone that was used for centuries in the coronation of the monarch of Scotland and later the monarchs of England and the Kingdom of Great Britain. The stone of destiny is kept in the crown room at Edinburgh Castle alongside the crown jewels of Scotland. The last time the stone was used was in 1953 for the coronation of Elizabeth II. In keeping with Scottish tradition there are many myths and legends associated with this stone. Some say that this is not the original stone of Scone but a replica. On Christmas Day 1950, a group of four Scottish students removed the Stone from its then location, Westminster Abbey to bring it back to Scotland. When the stone was ultimately returned, many people disputed whether this was the original stone. Some say that the  original stone is buried beneath Scone Abbey, near Perth. It is a story that has always fascinated me and one very good reason why you should visit Edinburgh Castle. Time your visit to the Castle around the 1pm gun salute from the Castle. Also unmissable is the dreamy and beautiful St Margaret’s Chapel, a 12th chapel in the Castle grounds. It is still used for weddings and is the oldest building in Edinburgh. The views from the Castle, looking down onto Princes Street gardens and the elegant Georgian streets of the New Town are one of the most beautiful views you will ever see.

The souvenir shop at the palace which is open to the public has excellent Royal memorabilia like commemorative mugs of William and Kate’s wedding that maybe your mum would like. The other reason I go here is that they have excellent and clean public loo here.

In front of you lies one of the key landmarks of Edinburgh- 10. Arthurs Seat, an extinct volcano. The views you get of Edinburgh from the top are beautiful from here. On a clear day you can see as far afield as Fife.

If it is a clear day, I recommend you go for a climb to the top. There is an easy path that you can follow just a few footsteps from in front of Holyrood Park which is right behind the Queens Palace. If you never make it to the Scottish highlands, you can experience the feeling of the beautiful Scottish wilderness right in the heart of the city, here in Holyrood Park. It has an array of hills, 3 lakes or lochs as referred to in Scots,  glens (lakes), ridges, basalt cliffs, and patches of gorse. It has also has a beautiful ruin, the 15th century St Anthony’s Chapel that stands above St Margaret’s Loch. The latter is beautiful lake right at the end of Holyrood Park where you can see ducks, geese and the most graceful elegant swans you will ever see.

Ok. Enough of walking. Time for some beer and food.

The perfect Scottish breakfast for me ( Haggis included!) is at 11.Holyrood 9A which is on the beginning of Holyrood Road. They also have an excellent burger menu and also over 50 beers from around the world to choose from. To get to Holyrood 9A, you have to walk down the Royal Mile until you come to a crossing. To your left will be a pub called the 12. World’s End pub.

This pub does also excellent fish and chips plus serves excellent draft ales- I recommend you make a pit stop here for a pint of Deuchars IPA which is the local ale of choice.

The reason this pub is called the World’s End Pub is that this building used to mark the boundary of Edinburgh in the ancient period. You’ll see some brass bars in the ground in front of the pub which mark where the wall used to be.

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To get an idea of what the wall looked like walk up the staircase of John Knox’s house, ( home to the protestant reformer John Knox and also the (most impossibly pretty cottage you will see in the city ) on your left which is now home to the 13.Scottish Storytelling Centre. Scotland is the land of stories and storytelling is in the blood of all Scots. The centre is an embodiment of that wonderful tradition of storytelling and you can experience here live storytelling, theatre, music, exhibitions, family events and workshops all year round so check ahead for any events.

On the top of the staircase you’ll see an illustration of what the gate used to look like. The wall ( also known as the Flodden Wall ) is still intact in some part of the city. Turn right onto St Mary’s Street and a few hundred yards forward, you can see the remainders of the wall on your right hand side.

At the end of St Marys Street turn left onto Holyrood road and you are at the Holyrood 9A.

They have an excellent burger menu and also over 50 beers to choose from.

From St Mary’s Street if you turn right…you are onto the Cowgate. 

Cowgate is filled with many excellent pubs and bars- it gets very lively at night.

My top picks here are 14.Bannerman’s for their live music nights. Also next to Bannerman’s is the 15.Banshee Labryinth– a exquisite labryinth of 6 or 7 vaults , each vault has something going on including a pool table , jukebox room, a live music ‘dungeon’ and even a cinema.

Further down from Bannerman’s if you fancy checking out a few clubs, there is the 16.Bongo Club which has a few nice bars and always has a bunch of great club nights, playing everything from garage, techno, old school hip hop, soul and house.

Further down from the Bongo Club is 17. Espionage which is a kind of superclub with 5 different clubs. The drinks are a bit expensive and the bouncers on the door can be arseholes sometimes. This maybe due to the fact that being a free club it can attract a whole bunch of weird, idiotic ( stag and hen groups) and wonderful folk from all walks of life but once you do make it past them, a decent club night awaits. My friends in Edinburgh will slaughter me for recommending this place but I’ve had many good memories here with friends. The 5 different themed bars means you have a wide variety of music to choose from. It always gets packed and sweaty here so be prepared for that. My love for this bar dates back to my time as an international student in Dundee when we would come to the Burgh for a big night out with the rest of the international student society. Everyone would refuse to pay entry into any of the nightclubs so we would always end up here 🙂

Walk further and you are in the Grassmarket.

Grassmarket is the place where once upon a time people were publicly executed. You’ll find the spot where they would hang the people. Right in front is the 18. Last Drop pub. This is would be the place where they would have their last drop of beer before being hanged.

However if I was to be fussy, I would not go for a beer here.

On the corner of the Grassmarket , beside the Grassmarket Hotel, you’ll see 19. Hula Juice Bar.

They do the best smoothies ( my favourite was Sunshine in a Cup: Peach, mango and orange ) delicious soups and also lovely coffee. Plus FREE WIFI. Yay.

Tip: If you check in on the Yelp App here, you get 10% off.

If you do pop in, say hello to Susan and pass on my best wishes to her please.

Hula Juice Bar marks the beginning of the prettiest street in Edinburgh and in the world in fact : Victoria Street!

Before we walk up Victoria Street, let me point out a few more key landmarks here in the Grassmarket.

Grassmarket has two famous shops which specialise in Vintage clothing which attract people from all over Scotland. Pop into 21. Armstrongs which is in their own words ‘a cornucopia of vintage and retro delights.’ So if you are looking for your vintage clothing fix, this is the place to come to.

Every Saturday they have a fab street market here where you can find great street food, sustainably sourced produce as well as just-cooked street food, sweet treats and seasonal crafts and gifts from local makers.

Also from the 22. West End of the Grassmarket you have one of the most photographed views in the city: a great panoramic view of Edinburgh Castle. It is beautiful when it gets dark and the castle lights up.

Ok back to the prettiest street in Edinburgh and the world: Victoria Street

It has a bunch of lovely shops and restaurants.

In Victoria Street you’ll find one of my favourite pubs in Edinburgh called the 23.Bow Bar. Proper pub which does a lovely range of ales and beers on tap.

They serve this lovely chocolate and lime stout that is made with real dark chocolate.

Wind your way up Victoria Street back onto George 4th bridge. Turn left and you are on the Royal Mile. Turn right and walk up George 4th Bridge.

On your right soon after 500 yards you’ll find yourself in front of the famous 24. Elephant Cafe. This is where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter Novel. JK Rowling still has a home in Edinburgh and still frequents many cafes around this area so keep your eyes peeled.

At the back of the cafe which in doubt will be crowded with people looking for a seat you’ll find a huge table and a bay window. Look through it and you will see probably the real-life model for Hogwarts: ‘St George’s Heriot Watt School’

Once you come out of the Elephant Cafe…walk further. You’ll soon come to a statue of a dog: 25.Greyfriars Bobby. You probably know the story of this dog? His grave is right in front of the entrance of the Greyfriars Bobby Kirk. Beautiful graveyard which has great views of the Castle. Some people say this is a haunted graveyard and ghost tours come here at night.

Come out. In front of you is Forrest Road, where I first lived when I came to Edinburgh.

I often started my night with a pint at 26.Sandy Bells (25 Forrest Road) which is a small wee pub that specialises in traditional music nights. It always has a great atmosphere with a mix of tourists and locals. They have a good selection of whiskies and beers at decent prices so do pop in here.

On your left is a place called 27.Mums ( used to be called Monster Mash) where they do an epic breakfast of 3 types of sausages with mash. I would go for their lamb and mint, the herby, pork and apple sausages sitting on a bed of delicious horseradish mash, smothered in a tomato and thyme (gluten free) gravy. Cost: £8/ Good hearty food, perfect for a cold winters day. Will keep you going for hours.

Forrest Road has one of my favourite charity shops run by the charity called 28. Shelter They always have decent clothing labels and selection of books so worth a good rummage.

To your left from Shelter you’ll see 29. Doctors-this is the pub which all the University of Edinburgh medical students frequent and has a nice ambience. Great selection of ales and ciders on tap and they do nice sharing platters. In front of the huge building you will see the medical school which marks the beginning of the University of Edinburgh campus. A certain Arthur Conan Doyle went to university here and also the doctor who discovered the anesthetic.

If you fancy a nice coffee, look straight ahead and you will see the beginning of the green lung of Edinburgh, 30. The Meadows. The air is heavy with the smell of BBQ’s and the grass is glowing with yellow and red cans of Tennents. At the beginning of the Meadows on your right you will see a few shops. The one right at the end is 31.St Peters Yard, a Swedish style bakery and coffee house. Coffee here is lovely and their bread has won many awards.

Before you enter to the Meadows , look straight ahead and on the right you’ll get a broad panoramic view of George Heriot school.

Opposite the gates of the school, you’ll see a  huge glass building which is the HQ for 32. Skyscanner So many an evening I have spent on the Skyscanner app looking for flights from Edinburgh and Madeira to everywhere in the world.

Ok. From here. If you still feel like walking. Walk past George Heriot, Skyscanner HQ on your left. You are now walking along Lauriston Place. On your right you will be seeing the Edinburgh School of Art.

105 Lauriston Place is home to the 33.Brauhaus Pub which has a great selection of beers from all over the world , especially Belgian and German beers.

Another few hundred yards, untill you come to the 34. Tollcross Junction. In the middle of the Junction don’t miss the distinctive ironwork pillar clock which has been one of the city’s landmarks since 1901.

If you walk to your left you are in Tollcross. This is a nice neighbourhood and has probably my favourite cinema in Edinburgh, 35.The Cameo.

If it is a typically blustery day/ rainy day and you need respite from the wind and the rain, escape here for a few hours.

They have a lovely bar , walls adorned with classic film posters. Wine is decent. They serve sausage rolls in a pint glass.The popcorn is excellent plus they have Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream. What more could you want?

If you still have the energy to walk…if you keep walking, you’ll be walking past by the Meadows (to your left) and come into Marchmont which then leads onto 36. Morningside, probably the most elegant  neighbourhood in Edinburgh.

The people of Morningside allegedly have their own medium posh accent so see if you can spot the difference. JR Rowling used to once upon a time live here, nearby Alexander McCall Smith and Ian Rankin, both key literary figures in their own right.

They are two gastronomic highlights of this area. You will find the cheesemonger, 37 IJ Mellis (330 Morningside Road) that does a heavenly range of cheeses from all over Europe. Talking about cheese, before you leave Scotland, try the cheddar from Isle of Mull. At the end of most meals in decent restaurants in Edinburgh you can order a cheeseboard where they will serve you oatmeal biscuits and cheese.

The other place not to miss in Morningside is the 38.Canny Mans Pub ( 239 Morningside Road) which serves probably the best bloody mary in Scotland. Plus they also sell Salmanazars (nine-litre bottles) of champagne! This place is an institution and another eccentric oddity of Edinburgh. Moment you walk in, you’ll know what I mean. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

So. Telling you way too much. Or maybe I am missing out a whole bunch of places. There is only so many places you can fit into a trip to Edinburgh.

Other key things to remember when you visit Edinburgh. On the Royal Mile , right in the middle there is a trio of pubs that do fantastic live music. My pick is the 39 Whiski Bar which does decent food too. Other great live music joints include 40 Whistle Binkies,  a subterranean cave just off Royal Mile that showcases the best local bands and attracts a quirky mix of students and classic rock, blues devotees. Also just beside Whistle Binkies is the 41.Oz Bar. It is your typical bottle bar with cheap beers ( £1.25 for a bottle of Carlsberg) cheap shots and they show Live Premier league and La Liga matches here.

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If you have some time to spare don’t leave Edinburgh without a trip to the Shore and a walk down the Water of Leith. In front of the John Knox house- you’ll see the number 35 bus stop. Direction The Shore, Leith. Get a day ticket. Think its £4.

Ask the bus driver to drop you off in the Shore.

There you have a range of amazing bars and places to eat. My favourites are the Shore pub and diner and also Fishers (same owners) which offers the best seafood in town.

 

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From here you can start you walk down the Water of Leith which is for me Edinburgh’s best kept secret where you come across gems like the quaint, historic 42 Dean Village .

Dean Village.

A photo posted by Kash Bhattacharya (@budgettraveller) on

 

The bridge in the village is probably my favourite part of the city. I feel like I have walked back in time when I come hre. Back in the day the village was the centre of the grain milling trade. At one point there were 11 working mills here , driven by the force of the strong currents of the water of Leith. Tranquil, peaceful, and an oasis of calm, walking down by the canal you will feel far removed from the city.

Walking past Dean Village you will come to 43. Stockbridge which is beautiful little neighbourhood. This is charity shop heaven. I could easily spend a day around these shops, gathering dust on my nose as I delve into the thousands of second hand books, classic records on their shelves. Pop in for a drink at 44.Hector’s before a sunset walk through the beautiful 45.Royal Botanical Gardens — 70 acres of beautifully landscaped greenery.

I’ve completely neglected Princes Street and George Street here. For good cocktails I would go to the 46. Dome on the east end of George Street, formerly the headquarters of the Commercial Bank of Scotland. The 1930’s bar has great ambience ( they have the best Christmas tree display ever) and they do a mean Long Island Iced Tea.

For the best views of the city, I would climb to the top of 47. Calton Hill.

My favourite museums in the city are 48 National Gallery of Scotland on the Mound, off Princes Street which has a brilliant selection of impressionist works from Van Gogh, Monet and Degas. Also pop into the newly refurbished 49. National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street ( right across from Greyfriars Bobby) where under one roof you can enjoy the natural world, world cultures, art and design, science and technology, and Scottish history. It’s a great day out for the kids, and the best thing is that it’s free, just like the National Gallery.

Ok. My last and 50th tip. I forgot to mention. For the best bacon sandwich in town I used to go to the 50.Larder ( 15 Blackfriars Street) which is Old Town’s best-kept secret. With its emphasis on high quality and local ingredients this is a truly special place. The prices are not cheap but the food here is an excellent value for money. I love their delicious streaky, smoked bacon from Ramsay of Carluke (which won the Gold Taste Award) in a fresh roll (£3.50).

There are so many amazing places I haven’t mentioned here. However, I hope this mini tour gives you a flavour of how magical and amazing this city is. Please feel free to leave your tips below and feedback. Thanks for reading!

PS: If you are in Edinburgh on a Friday, my good friend, Tania Pramschufer runs a fabulous marketplace inside Waverley Train station on Platform 2 where you can find wonderful food and gifts from local and international producers, all ethically sourced and made with love. Give Tania a hug from me if you do meet her.

Looking to book a tour for your stay in Edinburgh? I recommend Get Your Guide

10 Comments

  • I really like your map Kash. I’ve been to Edinburgh many times, as it’s one of favourite places but your map looks more interesting than your typical walking tour. Love it!

  • Su says:

    Hi Kash! Great article – thanks for sharing your tips. Will check them out as I will be in Edinburgh beginning of August as a starting point for my Scotland holiday 🙂 Many greetings from Graz / Austria

  • Sherrie says:

    I totally disagree with you about the weather. I love the weather in Edinburgh. I was there once in early November and it was in the high 70’s. I also enjoy mild, cooler weather. If you don’t like this kidn of weather, um, don’t live in the UK. Don’t diss it. Some of us LOVE the weather in Edinburgh and I’m here to stand up for it! I dont’ want 80 degree humid weather. YUCK! I want people in great clothing, snuggling and having a great time.

    • Hello

      Did I say I hated the weather in Edinburgh? I must admit it has its moments and the ‘four seasons in one day’ is one of the unique charms of visiting the city and Scotland. I am glad you stand for the weather and everything about Edinburgh but some people may not find it easy to handle given that they come from warmer climes. People enjoy the warmth and hospitality they find in the pubs and cafes which they seek refuge in because of the bad weather. So see, every cloud has a silver lining?

  • Glen says:

    Love the map and all the pointers!!! How many day would you recommend to explore all our main points. Will definitely try and use some of this for my trip

    • Hey Glen

      Glad you loved my hand drawn map-art was never my strength at school but I tried 🙂
      I would leave 2-3 days to comfortable fit in all the sights. You could dedicate a good few hours to walking the Water of Leith from Leith all the way to the Gallery of Modern Art. Please do tell me how you get on and if the tips delivered plus any personal tips of your own. Thanks for dropping by and stay in touch

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