Ten reasons to visit Edinburgh
The Scottish capital is known for its castle and festivals but the quieter corners are alive year round
There’s a lot more to discover in Edinburgh than the castle and festivals. Photograph: Getty Images
Dovecot Gallery and Tapestry Studio
The Infirmary Street Baths, built in 1885, were the first public swimming baths to open in the Scottish capital, with the aim of improving public health. Today, the Dovecot Gallery occupies the old Ladies Baths space, while the Dovecot Tapestry Studio is in what was the main pool. Dovecot Gallery will appeal to anyone with a passing interest in contemporary art, but craft and textiles enthusiasts are especially well catered for. Exhibitions showcase art forms such as weaving and jewellery, and summer’s major show is Liberty Art, Fabrics & Fashion (July 28th to January 12th 2019), exploring 140 years of Liberty London. The tapestry studio, which makes tufted rugs, is not open to the public but can be observed from a viewing balcony.
10 Infirmary Street, dovecotstudios.com
The Lovecrumbs bakery has attained cult status since opening in Edinburgh’s West Port neighbourhood five years ago. Its moreish cakes – usually eight or so to choose from daily – have imaginative flavours, such as chocolate and orange, salted chocolate and rye, and cardamom and white chocolate. They also serve sandwiches and coffee, and are great supporters of local Scottish suppliers – there’s sourdough from Edinburgh-based Company Bakery, milk from cows over at Mossgiel Farm, and coffee from Steampunk, just down the road in North Berwick. Lovecrumbs buzzes with students, artists and tourists, but if you want something more peaceful, it has just opened a smaller outpost on St Stephen Street in leafy Stockbridge.
155 West Port and 22 St Stephen Street, lovecrumbs.co.uk
Edinburgh is not short on coffee shops, independent or otherwise, but Fortitude, right by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, is a strong contender for best speciality coffee bar in town. It’s small, with just a few seats, but the baristas take their lightly roasted coffee seriously (though not too seriously), using filtered water and single-origin beans. They also serve great sandwiches, and cakes from local bakeries and kitchens – Creamed and Glutteny(gluten-free) are among favoured suppliers.
3c York Place, fortitudecoffee.com
Cafe St Honoré
Not new, not trendy and not peddling any molecular wizardry, Cafe St Honoré is simply Edinburgh’s best brasserie. Two minutes’ walk from Princes Street, chef-patron Neil Forbes puts an emphasis on creating seasonal dishes with sustainable British ingredients; so as well as North Sea hake and Ayrshire razor clams, expect Wye Valley asparagus and Isle of Wight tomatoes when in season. And Neil’s fish cakes are unutterably good. (two-course lunch from £14.50/€16.30, mains from around £16.50/€18.50). Service is friendly and professional, and the atmosphere is relaxing even during the festival.
34 North West Thistle Street Lane, cafesthonore.com
Golden Hare Books
Edinburgh’s literary landscape is rich, and there are plenty of good bookshops. One, though, stands out. Golden Hare Books is on St Stephen Street, which is home to a string of “curated” shops, selling everything from velvety ikat cushions (jessicabuckley.co.uk) to minimalist childrenswear (bon-tot.com). As well as holding launch parties, championing independent publishers and supporting local authors, the team runs regular events and produces Bibliophile, a podcast recorded in the bookshop after hours.
68 St Stephen Street, Stockbridge, goldenharebooks.com
The Last Word
A few doors down from Golden Hare, in a badly lit, slightly damp basement, is The Last Word Saloon. It’s slightly grungy, and the bartenders mix out-of-the-ordinary cocktails and pour unusual single serves. Try The Botanist Islay gin with Kamm & Sons aperitif and cloudy lemonade (£4.50/€5), or cocktails such as Dead Man’s Legs, laced with SeaWolf, Scotland’s first white rum (£7.50/€8.50). Drinkers also have the chance to take a gamble on the bar’s “break even bottle”, usually a rare and expensive whisky, where you pay the price the bar paid for it (limited to one measure per person). Perhaps best of all, they play albums all evening long – which, if you share their musical taste, is a very good thing.
44 St Stephen Street, lastwordsaloon.com, open until 1am seven days a week
This lively cultural village runs gigs, events and gatherings most nights, from an outdoor ceilidh to an ambient jazz session. During the Fringe (August 3rd to 27th), Summerhall will host 120 shows, including a 10-day residency for Pussy Riot’s Riot Days, Maria Alyokhina’s live memoir of protest and imprisonment in Putin’s Russia, with a DJ set from Kevin Rowland of Dexys Midnight Runners. The Royal Dick, the friendly on-site bar, was once the Small Animal Hospital of the Dick Vet School. Dotted around the room are original vet school fittings, instruments and animal bones, which make for a weirdly wonderful setting.
1 Summerhall, EH9, summerhall.co.uk
It may look a bit austere from the outside, but Scotland’s National Library is very much worth a visit. Inside, there’s a free gallery where recent exhibitions have included The International Style of Muriel Spark, and Enduring Eye, which showed Frank Hurley’s photographs of Sir Ernest Shackleton and the men of the Endurance expedition of 1914-1917, alongside items from the library’s polar collections. Scotland declared 2018 the “Year of Young People” and this summer the library’s exhibition space is set to focus on that theme, with details to be announced soon. A small shop sells bookish souvenirs and the cafe always serves a decent soup (with oatcakes, naturally).
George IV Bridge, nls.uk
Right next to Stockbridge, Inverleith Park, with its allotments, marshland and sundial garden, is a good spot for a jog or a walk. It also makes for a green-lunged and leisurely alternative to yomping up Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park. On a clear day it offers sweeping views over the city, making it popular during the festival fireworks and at Hogmanay. It’s also excellent dog-walking territory. Edinburgh is an exceptionally doggy city, with many cafes, pubs and hotels welcoming dogs. If you’re visiting with yours, look for the Dugs Welcome stickers in windows.
Main entrance on Arboretum Road
Despite hotels opening regularly, Edinburgh struggles to keep up with tourist numbers, and there are often not enough beds to go round. Pricing reflects this, with even the most average of hotel rooms often shockingly expensive, especially in the summer. Newly opened Eden Locke has smart modern suites, a little smaller than a serviced apartment, with neat touches such as big windows, ample storage space, T2 teabags and a decent-sized sofa. The central George Street location means you are just steps away from restaurants, bars and shops.
127 George Street, from £114/€128 for a studio, lockeliving.com/eden-locke
Caroline Eden is a journalist living in Edinburgh, @edentravels
Best times to visit
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe has more than 3,000 shows in 300 venues from 3-27 August (some events free, tickets from £5, edfringe.com).
Edinburgh International Book Festival runs from August 11th to 27th (entrance to village is free, most tickets £8-£12) always offers a star-studded lineup, and this year it includes Philip Pullman, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Susan Calman and Ali Smith.
– Guardian Service