Edited by Matthew Wears
Even though it’s only small, Edinburgh seems to have an awful lot of amazing attractions hidden away from the everyday tourist. There are plenty of hidden gems in Edinburgh that are crying out to be made into the next big thing, you just need to know where to look! I’ve been living in Edinburgh for seven years now, and there’s genuinely nothing I love more than exploring this city and all its many quirks. Over the years, I’ve come across a handful of hidden places in Edinburgh that I think are deserving of your attention. I’m going to be exploring Edinburgh off the beaten path, telling you about some of the city’s best-kept secrets that only the locals know about! There’s going to be secret bars, some great city views, and generally a whole load of unusual attractions that need to be on everyone’s Edinburgh itinerary. So, let’s go! Read on as I tell you my all-time top ten hidden gems in Edinburgh.
One of my favorite unique things to do in Edinburgh is to spend an afternoon in the coolest part of town; Stockbridge. This place feels like it’s in a little world of its own compared to the rest of Edinburgh, and it’s the perfect first stop after you’ve ticked off the city center. Even though it’s only small, it’s certainly not got a shortage of cool things to see and do. There’s the Stockbridge Sunday Market, a place where you can find all kinds of different local producers selling traditional Scottish food as well as a ton of tasty international items too (try the paella stand and thank me later). Some of the best-hidden gems in Edinburgh can also be found down here, especially when it comes to restaurants. Have a traditional Scottish breakfast at the Raeburn hotel, or feast on local lunchtime favorites at The Scran and Scallie.
The Surgeons Hall
The Surgeons Hall has to be one of the most unusual things to do in Edinburgh, I can’t think of anywhere like it. This place has the largest collection of medical artefacts in the whole world, with archives that date back well over four hundred years to when it was known as the Royal College of Surgeons. And oh yes, when I say ‘medical artefacts’, I mean body parts too! It’s a museum that is absolutely filled with weird and wonderful items, some of which probably aren’t for the squeamish, so stay away if you’re no good with that sort of thing. If you are interested in the oddities of the past though, this is the place for you. It’s important to see all of Edinburgh’s museums, especially this one. I think it’s just amazing to see how the medical world has changed over the years (thankfully), and it’s an alternative Edinburgh attraction that’s almost glorious in its gruesomeness!
S.Luca’s Ice-cream Parlour
This place is truly the stuff of legend for the people of Edinburgh. Although we’re not known for our good weather, we are known for producing some pretty amazing ice-cream, and there’s nowhere better than S.Lucas. This is one of the best-hidden places in Edinburgh for anyone who wants to indulge in either a wee sweet treat or a full-on chocolate sundae. The list of flavors is certainly a thing of beauty too; not only will you find all of the basics like chocolate and vanilla, but you’ll also get the choice of Scottish tablet or Turkish delight just to name a couple. Because it’s open until ten in the evening, one of my favorite things to do in Edinburgh at night is to go for some much-needed dessert at the end of the day. Sometimes it’s just the perfect pick-me-up after a long day of walking around the city.
Everyone knows that Edinburgh is a city with plenty of hills, but whilst people focus on either Arthur’s Seat or Edinburgh Castle for their city views, they often forget about Carlton Hill! Taking a walk to this beautiful spot should be a part of any daily local itinerary, and it’s totally one of the most unique things to do in Edinburgh. If you’ve seen any photos of Edinburgh’s skyline, then the chances are they were taken from up here. Not only this, but there’s plenty of historic attractions to see as well, such as the National Monument of Scotland and the famous Nelson Monument. Another little gem that you can visit is the City Observatory, it’s an iconic landmark of Edinburgh which has recently been completely revamped with an art gallery and even a restaurant with panoramic views. Even with all of this, it still remains one of the best hidden places in Edinburgh to catch a quiet few minutes.
Hoot the Redeemer
Located in the basement of 7 Hanover Street, Hoot The Redeemer is a cocktail bar like no other. To enter the bar you are asked a question by a tarot door. Once inside, you will be whisked away to a 1950s funfair complete with a boozy ice-cream vending machine. The attention to detail in the place is incredible, every visit brings a new discovery. If you’re one for whimsy, this is the place for you. It’s an amazingly original concept that’s easily one of the best places to go for anyone looking for some cool Edinburgh secret bars. This is easily one of the most vibrant parts of the city, especially at nighttime when it will be full of locals, tourists, and students all enjoying a wee drink.
The Union Canal
Stretching all the way from Glasgow to Edinburgh, the Union Canal a real testament to Scotland’s ingenuity. Nowadays, it’s the perfect place to come for a stroll or cycle to really begin to discover Edinburgh off the beaten path. My favourite spot along the canal has to be the Counter coffee shop, although it’s not really much of a shop, but actually a canal boat that floats on the water. These guys are known to produce some of the best coffee in the whole city, alongside a really good selection of home baked treats too for when you’re in need of something sweet. They also serve coffee from police boxes across the city too, so keep an eye out for them whilst you’re walking around. You can’t beat the amazing setting of the boat though, you can sit back and relax in one of their deck chairs whilst sipping a coffee from one of the finest hidden gems in Edinburgh.
The 10 to 10 in Delhi
If you’re looking for the very best Indian food in Edinburgh, then look no further than the 10 to 10 in Delhi. This place had become one of all-time favourite alternative Edinburgh restaurants, which is saying something in a city with so many good places to eat! Not only can you get pretty much any kind of Indian food here, but it also operates as an authentic tea house which is great for chilling out in. During the day, you’ll find loads of students from the nearby university enjoying a break from their work, giving the place a vibrant and energetic kind of vibe. The décor is also some of the most colourful and extravagant that I’ve ever seen, but it certainly gives it an authentic feeling that I don’t think many restaurants could hope to have. Spending a night here is easily one of the most unusual things to do in Edinburgh.
The Queen's Royal Yacht Britannia
As you could probably tell by the name, this was originally the former boat of the British Monarchy for just under forty years. These days, the Royal Yacht is permanently docked down in Leith Harbour, right next to the Ocean Terminal entertainment complex. In terms of some unique things to do in Edinburgh with kids, I’d really recommend spending a couple of hours exploring this historic site. On board you can visit the Royal family’s living quarters, including the beautiful sun lounge room which was the Queen's favourite place to relax. There are also all of the engine rooms to explore too, which offer an awesome insight into how this boat remained operational for all that time. All in all, whether you’re with a family or not, this is an educational and historic attraction that’s definitely a really interesting day out.
Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/hagdorned/11572237855
Morningside Western Village
This one’s a bit of a strange one, and when I say a bit, I mean very strange. Apparently for no reason whatsoever, a previous furniture store owner decided to turn his entire street into the façade of a wild west themed town. He has since moved away, leaving his really bizarre creation behind. These days, it’s looking a little bit worse for wear, but that only adds to that ghost town sort of vibe that he was probably going for. I think the best non-touristy things to do in Edinburgh are the ones that are just a wee bit weird, and this is definitely just that. It’s a bit of a hidden one though, so to find it you’ll have to go to Morningside, an area located just South-West of the centre of town. From Morningside Road, find Springvalley Gardens and look out for an alleyway with some car garage signs at the entrance. Good luck!
Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/angusmcdiarmid/20685987
The Cameo Picturehouse
For somewhere so small, Edinburgh seems to have its fair share of independent cinemas. One of the finest is Cameo Picturehouse, a historic landmark of the city’s art scene that dates back over one hundred years! This place is one of the best-hidden gems in Edinburgh, and although locally it’s very famous, tourists don’t seem to go there all too often. This is a truly independent cinema, so don’t go expecting to see the new Fast and Furious, think more along the lines of arthouse and foreign-language movies instead. If that’s not your thing, then you can always just enjoy a drink in the cinema's ever-popular bar area. For real cinephiles, there’s another alternative Edinburgh cinema called the Filmhouse. This is actually located on the same street and just as popular as Cameo, so why not do both!
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