Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Living like a local in Edinburgh

I cannot begin to tell you guys how much I love today's destination, and guest writer. Euan and I met back in 2007, in Prague, and though we've lived 3,000 miles apart for most of the intervening seven years, we've somehow stayed pen pals through it all. 

I'll be in Edinburgh next month, visiting friends for Thanksgiving, and plan on asking Euan to show me around - so I'd be remiss if I didn't share his city knowledge with you all, too.


Some cities in the world you walk around and you could be anywhere - Edinburgh is not one of them. The city has a unique atmosphere that I particularly enjoy; it helps that we've a castle right in the middle, a historic Old Town and, obtusely, an almost equally historic New Town. Edinburgh is a popular tourist city and during the August festivals it more than doubles in size, so the Edinburgh visitor is spoilt for choice, here are just a few bits of the city I personally enjoy.

Museums worth a look

There are a million things to see and do in Edinburgh and many of the ones on the tourist trail really do deserve the attention they get. I particularly love the National Museum and return to it regularly. Mostly because, like all museums and galleries in Edinburgh, it's free. If you really want to live like a local in this city, only visit things that are free.

Grand Gallery of the National Museum of Scotland, via

Museum of Edinburgh, via
Overlooked, forgotten, and barely modernised, the Museum of Edinburgh is a large, old house with some stuff in it, like museums used to be. Poke around here and you'll find some bizarre gems, including an incredible case of random artefacts, all linked to famous Edinburgh residents and visitors. My favourite, a bit of 200 year old oatcake made by Robert Burns' wife. Its survival is intriguing, though perhaps an indictment of Mrs Burns' cooking. The museum also boasts a lot of old maps, and uncool though this might make me, it means I can spend ages here.

Blackford Hill

Robert Louis Stevenson described Edinburgh as the “ancient and famous metropolis of the North" where no "situation could be more commanding for the head city of a kingdom; none better chosen for noble prospects." He continued by waxing lyrical about the spectacular views the city offers. Blackford Hill is my personal favourite. Looking north you see all of Edinburgh's delights laid out in front of you. Perfect for taking pictures, or taking a load off your feet and just admiration.

The view from Blackford Hill, via under Creative Commons

I should point out that Stevenson adds that "Edinburgh pays cruelly for her high seat in one of the vilest climates under heaven" and that it's "raw and boisterous in winter, shifty and ungenial in summer, and a downright meteorological purgatory in the spring." Choose a sunny day, or be prepared. I love Edinburgh, but you'll get no sympathy from the locals if you came here for the weather.

Dean Village

Nestled in a valley and bypassed by city life, Dean Village is five minutes from the busiest shopping streets but in terms of atmosphere, a world away. There isn't much to do there but you can pause and enjoy the peace and quiet or walk, cycle, run along the Water of Leith to either the Modern Art Galleries or Stockbridge and Leith. It's a lovely scenic route however you travel, though if you buy an inflatable mattress and raft down the river I'm not going to be held responsible for the legality of that action, though I will be jealous.

Dean Village from Water of Leith Bridge, via under Creative Commons

Food and drink

Despite Scotland's dubious reputation for cuisine (deep-fried pizza and macaroni pie anyone?) like all tourist cities you can get all types of food, for all types of budgets, in all types of places.

There are two choices for the most important meal of the day, the hungover fried-fest of a Full Scottish Breakfast, or something more conducive to an active day. For the latter there are many lovely caf├ęs, but for the former, choose Snax, on Buccleugh Street, near the meadows. The repeat visits from locals vouch for its quality, the presence of students and local labourers is testament to its good value. Fine dining it isn't but that shouldn't be your criteria for something as rudimentary as a fried breakfast.

Socially responsible and with a healthier focus than the traditional bar food and pub grub you might often have for lunch, bright and welcoming Hula on West Bow (Victoria Street) next to the Grassmarket is a great wee spot in the middle of the day. Bright and right in the heart of things so you can sit down and enjoy yourself before setting off on more adventures.

A sampling of Hula's menu, via

If you're looking for a place for dinner and enjoy curry then I'd suggest Mother India on Infirmary Street. This friendly restaurant down an unassuming street off Nicolson Street does one thing that I particularly enjoy, tapas style indian-food. Often when you go out for a curry you order poppadoms, starters, rice and naan and find yourself unable to finish your main course, yet remain jealous of all the other delights you didn't have room left to sample. Without breaking the bank you and a friend can try a bit of everything you desire and leave, still full, but without the guilt.

Pubbing like a pro

There are over 1000 pubs in Edinburgh and I'll wager than wherever you stay there's a nice place nearby. Whether beer, whisky, cocktails, wine or even a late night cup of tea, are your cup of tea, you're well catered-for. Remember, pubs in Edinburgh are all pretty modern now, it's not all beer (though most will serve a great choice of draught real ales, craft beers, plus local and imported lagers) and will serve food until late, some as late as midnight, and do a decent cup of coffee, so feel free to visit them if you want to enjoy something traditional but pints aren't your thing.

A cozy local pub, the Greenmantle. Image via under Creative Commons

I'm a beer and whisky man, and one nice pub I like is the Greenmantle. It lies between Central Edinburgh and the Southside and is bright in the day, great for an afternoon with no responsibilities, and welcoming at night, with a pleasant atmosphere that makes you feel comfortable while you drink and talk with friends. The staff manage to be that friendly type who will chat to you if that's what you want, but are never going to intrude. Basically like all bar staff should be.


Euan MacInnes is a local writer whose history book Edinburgh for Everyone is a light-hearted book aimed at visitors. His family come from Edinburgh and he's been living in the city since 2002.

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