Mini Guide | Edinburgh, Scotland
After an eight-year separation during which I pursued flings with other cities far and wide, I returned to Edinburgh – Scotland’s enigmatic, creative, coastal capital – to see the city again this summer, this time through adult eyes. Months later, I’m still thinking about it, entranced by the vertiginous curve of its hills, petrol-spill pavements slick with rain and slopes festooned with July wildflowers.
Tourists and ticket touts descend on the city in August for the world-renowned Edinburgh Fringe festival, but in other months – even in summer – the place is marked by its quiet, lingering charm. Situated in Lothian on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth, Auld Reekie (as the locals call it) is an eccentric, charming city, its plentiful hills studded with buildings carved from Georgian sandstone and Victorian gothic architecture built from dark purple sandstone.
If the sky is clear | Begin your morning by hiking Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh’s highest point and an ancient volcano. At 251m above sea level, it’s not for the faint-hearted or those without sensible shoes. But its elevation proffers (literally) breathtaking views across the city and the Firth of Forth. Up here, you can truly appreciate what local author Alexander McCall Smith once wrote about the city: “This was a townscape raised in the teeth of cold winds from the east; a city of shifting light, of changing skies, of sudden vistas.”
If the weather is wet | Edina, as Robert Burns called it, is not known for its sunshine. When the heavens open, as they inevitably will, seize the opportunity to sink into a velvet armchair at Lovecrumbs Bakery. It’s a low-lit, cosy spot made for people watching, Sunday morning coffee, midday brownie stops, takeaway carrot cake or for whiling away a rainy day. Draped in fairy lights, coffee served in beautiful block-coloured cups, cake in vintage floral porcelain, it’s a charming escape from the busy thoroughfare of West Port outside.
If you fancy a break from deep-fried Mars Bars (a Scottish specialty) | Head to Hula. Billed as a juice bar and gallery, Hula is also a perfect lunch spot right in the centre of the city (to be found just off Grassmarket). While I didn’t drink juice while I visited, I’m told it’s brilliant. There are seats outside for when the Scottish sun decides to come out to play and a cosy (often crammed, bustling with the chatter of other customers) interior, too. I had the leek and tattie soup served with a hunk of crusty brown bread and it was perfect fare for a day walking around the city.
If you’re a literary type | Edinburgh is full of independent bookshops, especially around Bread Street, West Port and Grassmarket. Armchair Books on West Port is a particular sanctuary for bookworms. Its rickety floor-to-ceiling shelves are crammed to bursting with all manner of secondhand tomes, from novels to poetry anthologies to plays to etiolated Scottish history volumes. The staff, usually taking the form of a lone student writing at a desk, are perfectly friendly and perfectly distant so it’s easy to while away an hour – or a day – here, completely undisturbed.
If you enjoy a good rummage | Stop by Armstrong’s Vintage, a vintage emporium brimming with traditional tartan kilts, cream fisherman’s knits and worn leather boots made for stomping around the city’s many slopes.
If you’re in the mood for a treat | Try Mary’s Milk Bar on Grassmarket, so popular you’ll often find a lengthy queue snaking far beyond its magnolia front door. You won’t find a nutritious meal here, that’s for sure, this pastel 1970s-inspired emporium trades in sugar (chiefly in gelato form). You’ll find all the usual suspects as well as seasonal scoops such as pumpkin spice, honey and lavender and walnut and liquorice. Visiting in winter? Don’t fret – Mary’s also specialises in chocolate, including a number of hot cocoa options, as inventive as they are tempting.
If you like to feel like a local | Leith Market, in a district to the north of Edinburgh, takes place every Saturday come rain or shine from 10-5. Small but perfectly formed, it offers a smattering of stallholders from the local area – from food trucks, to freshly made brownies, to tartan dog collars. Situated in a small courtyard off Commercial Street, you’ll find young lovers brunching on fromage and spinach galettes, local families wandering among the stalls and a musician to accompany the festivities. A lovely spot to while away a morning or afternoon and easily reached by bus from the centre of town.
If you’re craving the ocean | Portobello, or Porty as the locals call it, is Edinburgh’s answer to the seaside – a long stretch of shingle that looks out onto the Firth of Forth. It’s run-down, quiet, often cold, but it’s nostalgic as anything, too.
Louise is a writer, copyeditor and translator who lives in London, but left her heart in Bavaria. Read more on her blog Beside The Danube at www.frauleinlouise.com