It never fails. You find “the best” restaurant in your guidebook and it’s teeming with out-of-towners. You order what’s supposed to be a cultural dish and a smirking server calls you a tourist. You clamor up a hilltop for a sunset picnic and a crowd obstructs your view with their selfie sticks.
We polled our Edinburgh team: Cat, Graeme, Ignacio and frequent visitor, Caroline to create a list of local-tested-and-approved spots in and around the city.
Experience the real Edinburgh.
Handpicked Tours and Attractions
Whether during the Fringe or year-round, wile away the hours in one of the city’s museums. If art is your thing, head to the National Gallery to marvel at the artwork, then plan your next move over tea or coffee.
National Museum of Scotland: Animals, dinosaurs, space, world cultures and Scottish history make this a must-see for families. Although it’s slap bang in the middle of the action on Chambers Street and could hardly be called a local secret, it’s amazing. And massive—expect to be there longer than you planned. Local secret: Sneak up to the rooftop terrace for one incredible view.
Get a tour into Auld Reekie’s history and a real eye-opener of how people used to live with Mary Kings Close—they had no time for such joys as the Fringe, that’s for sure.
Edinburgh Castle: This stunning landmark is no secret, but our team has a hot tip—get there when it opens at 9:30AM, so you can be done and out when the masses arrive at lunchtime.
The best things in travel are free. Where do you go in this pretty city to find breathtaking vistas, backgrounds for that “look-I’m-in-Edinburgh” travel pic, spots where not a single photo-bombing tourist can be found? Our locals tell all.
Head to the top of Inverleith Park. Next to the Botanics has a cracking view of the Edinburgh skyline.
Accessible by car, a sweeping view can be found on Braid Hills Drive. Bring golf clubs with you and play Braid Hills golf course. Take a tranquil stroll around Braid Burn (easily accessible by bus) and take in views from another amazing vantage point. Watch ducks and swans paddle the pond.
One of the more popular views (and for good reason), Arthur’s Seat Summit is an ancient volcano, 251 meters above sea level. It is also the site of a well-preserved hill fort. If the weather is agreeable, plan early, as you won’t be the only person headed up there.
Escape Edinburgh and bum around on a beach. Head to North Berwick, a vibrant, scenic harbor town in East Lothian, a mere thirty-minute train whisk away. Explore an eclectic mix of shops, cafes and bars or tee-off at one of its renowned golf courses.
Easily reachable by bus, galleries, delis, top Scotland eateries line the shore in Leith.
Looking for a good side trip? Read our post on Edinburgh escapes.
‘Where Dae Ye Git Tha Best Haggis?’
According to Wikipedia, haggis is a “savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck; minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach, though now often in an artificial casing instead.”
Traditionally, you will be served haggis, neeps and tatties, (haggis, turnip and mashed potato). Some say the best way is with lashing of HP broon sauce others prefer a drizzle of whisky sauce, maybe even a gravy or just plain. It really all depends. Our Edinburgh office loves the McIntosh microwave haggis, neeps and tattie meals.
Leithers love Los Carlos, the Mexican-inspired street food joint. Choose the dish: burrito, quesadilla, etc., then pick the filling—chicken, beef, pork, haggis or veggies. Haggis-Mexican food. Genius. And they even offer vegetarian haggis.
Other top picks for best bites:
The Marshmallow Lady: Handmade gourmet marshmallows. Sandwich-sized s’mores. Local secret: You can find the Marshmallow Lady at the famous Stockbridge Sunday market.
Welcome to cocoa-paradise. Choro Chocolate Café serves slow-melted Belgian chocolate, chocolate drinks, shots and fondu. Need we say more?
Lickety Splits is a childlike sweet shop and art gallery run by former fashion designers.
Comfort food made from fresh ingredients at reasonable prices. MUM’s Great Comfort Food is a hit.
Crombies of Edinburgh Butcher: Order the Stronoway blackpudding.
A lovely little place for brunch or lunch. The Pantry is the place for crispy golden waffles, ambitious brisket burritos….mmm. Fresh food, made with care.
Where oh where can you find Haggis bon bons? The Rollo, a staff favorite. Features food influences from around the globe. Save room for dessert.
Where do the city’s denizens go for a pint? Secret watering holes, favorite gastropubs, dance clubs to pick up hottie Scotties …
Kay’s Bar: Belly up to Kay’s Bar an incredibly well-preserved Victorian bar that was once a Georgian coach house. Take note of the original fittings: cast-iron pillars, barrels, the safe and some of the internal signage.
If authentic is what you want, Bailie Bar is your bar. Located in Stockbridge, it offers cask ales, a wide array of local brews and a gourmet take on pub grub—Haggis-stuffed chicken for example.
Explore the Botanics and Inverleith Park, then pop into the Raeburn, a cosy hideaway offering a range of libations and live music every weekend.
To fulfill both your alcohol and dancing desires, head to the Hive—open 7 nights a week and “‘Til 5” during the festival. Plus, they offer student prices. Local secret: During the festival, most clubs have a late hours licence, so you are never far from a place to dance and drink the night away.
Star Bar: A classic hangout spot, popular with students just two blocks from the Fringe action. Darts, table football and a jukebox. Take one of the secluded tables out back and you’ll hardly believe you’re at the festival.
A convivial atmosphere and karaoke twice a week make Café Habana the place to go when “best night ever” is what you’re after. Bar stays open midday until 1AM, seven days a week, possibly later during Fringe. Located next to several other LGBT bars, so you’ll have your choice of where to continue the party. Local secret: Café Habana is near Café Piccante. Stop in when you need deep-fried food to soak up the night’s libations. Try the BBQ King rib supper, broon chip sauce and a deep-fried Mars bar.
Insider Sports Spots
Sporty traveler? Read on.
A must visit for raucous rugby fans. Stop into BT Murrayfield Stadium, the national stadium for Scotland Rugby Union—easily accessible by public transport. Even if you’re not there for a match, go to get a keek behind the scenes of the largest sports venue in Scotland.
Don’t know what a keek is? Brush up with our Scottish slang infographic.
Right next door to the stadium, Murrayfield Ice Rink is the place to get your skate on (literally)—take a lesson or come out for ice skating disco. All skill levels welcome.
Hearts of Midlothian Football Club: Peel back the maroon curtain on one Scotland’s most historic football clubs. Experience the players’ tunnel, manager’s office and directors’ suite. Or see a match.
If golf is your bag, head down to Musselburgh Links, the oldest golf course in the world and just outside Edinburgh. Purportedly, it dates back to 1672, but it is believed that Mary, Queen of Scots played on the course even earlier in 1567.
Photo Credit: Caroline Planque