Edinburgh is full of world-famous attractions. The Castle. Royal Yacht Britannia. The Royal Mile. But what about the lesser known sights? The things that only a local knows about, but well worth seeking out. Here are my favourite hidden gems.
1. Circus Lane, Stockbridge
Away from the crowds of The Royal Mile you can find a tranquil street with cobbles, gorgeous flowers and a view of a church steeple. The cute houses will inspire you to watch for one coming on the market and relocate. Get there for the clock chimes and it will feel even more lovely. Circus Lane is located in Stockbridge, a 15 minute walk or 5 minute cycle from the city centre.
2. Craigmillar Castle
Commonly referred to as "Edinburgh's other castle", Craigmillar is actually one of the most exciting castles in Scotland. It is awash with staircases, passages and turrets that provide endless exploring. It is also set in extensive parkland that feels like the middle of the countryside, but is only 3 miles from the city centre. Despite this the castle never gets crowded and many of those jostling around Edinburgh Castle will be blissfully unaware that Craigmillar exists.
Read my blog about Craigmillar Castle and how to cycle there
3. Swanston Cottages
Thatched cottages in a capital city? Who would have thought it? The ten white cottages at Swanston date back to the 1700s and they are clustered in a tranquil wooded setting on the slopes of the Pentland Hills. Do not miss the free range hens whose eggs are used in the nearby Swanston Brasserie. From the cottages there are marked hiking trails into the hills. Swanston is about 6 miles south of the city centre.
4. The Doors of Warrander Park Terrace
When you are on a city break you usually come across apartments that seem to be the dream place to live if you moved to that city. In Edinburgh, Warrander Park Terrace is that place. These are noticeably grander than the typical Edinburgh tenement with elegant doorways, some with a distinctive stone rope archway. They also boast magnificent views across the Meadows to Edinburgh Castle. Take a walk along Warrander Park Terrace and you will dream about living here.
5. Highland Cows at Mortonhall Estate
You don't have to travel all the way to the Highlands to see a Highland Cow. You can find them right here in Edinburgh. The Mortonhall Estate is only 5 miles from Edinburgh city centre, but is home to this iconic Scottish beast. The Estate is also a wonderful place for walking where there is a chance of seeing a variety of wildlife, including hedgehog, roe deer and fox.
6. Debenhams Staircase
The gallery of Jenner's Department Store, particularly at Christmas, is probably the most famous Princess Street interior. However, head inside Debenhams and walk right to the back of the ground floor cosmetics department and you will find a magnificent staircase. This dates back to the building's former life as the Conservative Club. It has a stained glass window featuring Benjamin Disraeli, a 19th century Prime Minister. My favourite feature of the staircase is the brass lions that appear to be spitting out the banisters. There is a cafe on the landing of the staircase so that you can enjoy it with coffee and cake. Also seek out the Library Room, which was a part of the Liberal Club, and features mahogany bookcases.
7. The Lodge Coffee House
It always surprises me that this gorgeous little cafe does not appear on blogs listing the best places for coffee in Edinburgh. It is located inside the former lodge house of Old Hermitage House. There are lovely original features like the fireplace, wooden doors and window shutters. The coffee is great and you can order sweet or savoury crepes. For sunny days there is a large outdoor seating area. The Lodge is the place to come after a Sunday walk in the Hermitage of Braid, a stunning area of forest trails. You will find it in Morningside, around 3 miles from the city centre.
8. The Secret Chocolate Shop
Edward & Irwyn is a chocolate shop that opens just once per week, on a Saturday. It is a magical experience venturing inside the small space, which is basically a kitchen for making the chocolates, where there is a cute display of sweet delights. You can also get a free sample! The flavours are unusual and you will find nothing like this in a standard chocolate shop- scots pine, juniper and smoked salt. Try the honeycomb chocolate, made from Scottish honey or the dark chocolate with Icelandic black lava salt. The shop is located on Morningside Drive, so you could combine this with a visit to the Lodge Coffee House.
8. Colinton Dell
The village of Colinton is around 5 miles from the city centre. It is a beautiful place to go for a weekend walk because of the extensive woodland paths running alongside the Water of Leith. If ever there was a place to shake off the noise and grime of city life this is it. Look out for the former mill buildings and cottages, which are unbelievably photogenic and will have you pondering how you can make this your home. Also look out for the old railway tunnel which is fun to walk through. Colinton Dell is easily reached using the traffic-free cycling route along the Union Canal and Water of Leith.
10. Dr Neil's Secret Garden
For years I had heard locals talking about Dr Neil's Garden and read about it in books, but I didn't think it sounded special enough to visit until recently. Wow! I wish I had come here sooner. It is utterly gorgeous and I instantly fell in love with it. The gardens are laid out on terraces that face Duddingston Loch. There are water features, bridges and lots of little pathways. You can easily spend several hours here, just relaxing, exploring and enjoying the great variety of flowers. If you only manage to do one thing on this list make it this one. The gardens are just a 20 minute cycle from the city centre.
Some of these hidden gems are included in this brilliant book. It is crammed full of unusual things to visit in Edinburgh, so if you have done the castle, the museum and Princess Street then turn to this book for plenty of inspiration of new things to see a do.
Click on this image to buy it from Amazon:
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.