One of the most common requests I receive here, via email and over on Instagram is for my Edinburgh recommendations and tips for visitors. I don’t need the excuse to rave about my city and will happily enthuse about my favourite cafés and places to visit until the cows come home. But recently, something hasn’t been sitting quite right with me and the tourist scene here in the capital and further afield (and on Instagram). Now, don’t get me wrong: Scotland – and Edinburgh in particular – thrive economically, socially, culturally in so many ways due to all our visitors. And I’m proud our wee country attracts so many people from near and far. But this year, the influx started well before the Summer hols had even begun and I noticed a trend I’ve been seeing more and more – certain Instagrammable sites with queues of people waiting for the shot, then leaving without even glancing at their surroundings properly; people standing in the way of cars on Victoria Street for the ‘gram; meals photographed, nibbled then left to waste in trendy spots; Greyfriar’s Bobby’s poor wee nose, immortalised in selfies but sadly wearing away in reality. Jump straight to the guide by clicking here!
Both Julia and Emma have written on the topic of influencer tourism and the pitfalls of travelling to emulate your favourite Instagrammers – please read their posts (here and here) to find out more. They really resonated. You might have noticed I’ve been posting less in the ‘Rosie’s Edinburgh’ category; this is partly because I want to try to live ‘in the moment’, more consciously and take life slower, and also because a part of me – maybe a selfish part – wanted to keep my favourite places in which to do so sacred. Of course I’m glad to send people custom and am over the moon when I hear that someone has followed up on a recommendation – but more often than not people don’t cite where they got the idea, or take an almost identical pic, or even don’t visit but steal my picture instead! I don’t usually talk about this for fear of sounding like I take myself a wee bit too seriously, or that I don’t want to support local businesses. But I do like to enjoy life offline too, and that includes frequenting spots I want to keep just for me and mine. I’ve even stopped posting so much on Stories, not least to try and savour the moment but also because if I don’t let on where x, y, z is I often get funny comments, questions and DMs asking for exact locations – even where a certain flower or pretty door is.
I’ve had many requests for an updated Edinburgh Guide (or Fringe Festival guide – as though I’m an expert!) and even asked people what they wanted to see but then thought twice about it. I wanted to keep my ‘secret spots’ secret and I didn’t want to rehash the same content that many of the so-called guides to ‘hidden gems’ regurgitate. I first posted about places like Mary’s Milk Bar and Timberyard five years ago so I wasn’t sure I had much to add. But then I thought, why not an alternative Edinburgh guide – a slow living guide for people who want to go off the beaten track, or find a new way to visit old favourites; to savour the moment and partake in tourism in a more conscious fashion. So, without further ado, here are some thoughts on how to do just that:
View things differently. Although the views from Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill are hard to beat (the latter in particular has a healthy effort expended to quality of view ratio) they’re best avoided at the height of tourist season. I had a vision in my mind of the exact shot I wanted to take for my collaboration with Dune, like its snowy equivalent from last Winter, but I had to get up early to miss the crowds only seeing the view through their camera lenses. Instead, climb Blackford Hill or head to the Pentlands like the locals where – bonus – you can see city panoramas complete with the aforementioned sites in sight! Even better, cross the Firth of Forth to Fife and view Edinburgh’s vistas from Silver Sands in my beautiful home village of Aberdour, pictured above.
Find other branches of local foodie faves. Twelve Triangles‘ doughnuts are famed for good reason and, as such, it’s tricky to get a table and if you leave it too late at the weekend you could even leave without pastries. Shock horror! Walk just fifteen minutes further from the famed Brunswick Rd branch to brunch at sibling Kitchen Table with Leith locals and sample a mind-boggling array of preserves and local produce, or head to the shop in Portobello (a short bus from town) and take your treats to the beach. The same goes for other local favourites like Scandi bakery Söderberg – they’ve recently opened another branch in Morningside, worth beating the crowds in town – and try the Stockbridge edition of famed cake emporium Lovecrumbs, who share the space with lovely homewares from Century General store.
Head to the suburbs. Edinburgh is great because it is so compact and walkable, but walking a wee bit beyond the Meadows or a swift bus ride can take you off the beaten track where there are some fantastic local spots – foodie and otherwise. For instance, Bakery 3.14 is an absolutely gorgeous cake emporium stocking deliciously creative seasonal bakes, from tahini cakes to chocolate babkas. It’s a cosy spot opposite the Commie Pool in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat, and rather like eating in owner Ashley’s front room – full of interior inspiration. Just a little further along the road, Prestonfield is home to the experimental Edinburgh Food Studio, a crowd-funded ‘food research hub’ with guest chefs and foodie events as well as a mean brunch, which you can eat then explore the beautiful surrounds of suburban South Edinburgh (I’m not biased, honest).
The Meadows isn’t the only greenery. Victoria Park in Leith, Inverleith Park, the Braids – Edinburgh spoils us with green spaces! Yes, the Meadows is central, but if you actually want to see the grass it’s best to take your BBQ elsewhere. While we’re on the subject of the Meadows, going off the beaten path here rewards you with lesser-known (read, less busy and generally better!) foodie spots too. In nearby Marchmont, Brochan’s porridge menu changes with the seasons and they make a delicious matcha; I heartily recommend any and all porridge toppings. Round the corner on Sciennes Road, Jessica Elliot Dennison – who used to work with Jamie Oliver – has just opened neighbourhood café, workshop and supper club, 27 Elliott’s. The menu changes week to week with a focus on seasonality and local produce. Try the dill scrambled eggs, and definitely don’t leave without ice cream for pudding. Salt chocolate ice cream with yoghurt, roasted almonds and sesame seeds – say no more.
Eat green. Veggies and vegans in Edinburgh are spoiled for choice! I used to envy London friends the sheer variety of green eateries, but Edinburgh has really upped its game in recent times. Vegetarian stalwart Henderson’s is well worth a visit of course, but you might have better chance of a table in their bistro round the corner, or at their smaller Holyrood branch. Recently opened Beetroot Sauvage is an all-vegan spot, with delectable beetroot lattes, plant-based cakes and lunches, with the bonus of yoga classes upstairs. Seeds for the Soul in Bruntsfield has excellent vegan versions of meaty brunch favourites using creative ingredients and flavours.
Sustainable reading. Second hand book shopping is one of my favourite activities (as an English teacher by day it surely comes with the territory?) and I’m often asked my recommendations for charity shopping in Edinburgh and the best shops or areas, especially for books. Truth is, I don’t think there’s just one – the key is to thrift little and often as that’s when you find those gems you didn’t know you were looking for. Well-heeled areas tend to have a matching pricetag, but look out for sales and deals. If you’re visiting one of the now-famous #bookstagram spots like (deservedly iconic) Armchair Books, try to go early! For modern independent bookshops, try Golden Hare in Stockbridge and The Edinburgh Bookshop on Bruntsfield Place.
Seek art off the beaten track. We have some amazing galleries, and I’m not saying you skip them completely – just find something outside the usual guides too! Hidden Door Arts and Coburg House in Leith, Dovecot Studios off South Bridge (currently home to the Liberty exhibition), and Jupiter Artland are all excellent, to name just a few indie spots. Plus if you visit in June, make sure you see the ECA Degree Show to spot the up-and-coming talent. While you’re at it, make sure you visit local shops such as Curiouser and Curioser and Life Story for beautiful curated edits of art, interiors and gifts to take home a more original souvenir than a See You Jimmy hat. Or what about chocolates from Edward and Irwin (Scots pine, juniper and smoked salt hot choc!) or irn bru macarons from Mademoiselle Macaron?!
Get out! Yes, Edinburgh is beautiful, but to me a large part of its allure is the close proximity of so many other wonderful places! If you’re visiting, you really must take a trip out to East Lothian (coffee at Steampunk and bostocks at… Bostock Bakery after a walk round the lovely local shops, or how about a trip to Tyninghame during one of the Garden Open Days?), Highland Perthshire (I’ve written about Aran Bakery and its beautiful surrounds before), Fife (food in St Andrews, fruit picking in Cupar), or a day trip to Glasgow (brunch at Papercup Coffee and a stroll round the shops and sites of the West End). You won’t regret it and will appreciate a broader picture of Scotland.
Lastly… Time it right. If you want to really experience the real Edinburgh, and if you can, visit outside tourist season. It’s a myth that conditions are Baltic (yes, even though there were blizzards in March this year) and if you layer up you won’t even need thermals. Christmas can be very busy and you need to get to the seasonal markets early doors if that’s your kind of thing! Autumn and Spring are a good bet for visiting, and in my opinion the city is all the more beautiful during these seasonal shifts. Plus, if you’re going to see one of the popular spots, try to go at an unusual time of day. For instance, I adore Timberyard, but these days it can be hard to get a table unless you’re organised – why not go for their beautiful cocktails or mocktails at the bar (all made in-house), or a coffee and petits fours earlier in the day instead? If you want to go to the Secret Herb Garden, try to go on a weekday outside of the school hols or go to a delectable Full Moon Dinner. These places are rightly famous for a reason, the key is planning to experience them at their best.
There ends my guide! If you’re visiting, I hope you enjoy different sides to my city at a slower and more thoughtful pace.