This week I move away from Edinburgh to the south of England. I know already that I am going to miss it very much. It is a great and vibrant city, that elegantly united the traditional and forward-looking. Going through my memories of this place, I noticed a few places that I would not want to have missed while living here. They are not secret or unknown, but in case you are in town a little while longer and seek something other than old town and Princes street, these might be places for you.
1 Armstrong and Son:
From the first time I ever went to Edinburgh in 2006, visiting this shop is my earliest memory of the city. It is a vintage clothing store. I don’t know where it gets most of its stock, but a lot of it is of very good quality. Things that you may have found on the high street a few decades ago. In case of timeless classical clothing, you may find quite the bargain here. Aside from all that, the atmosphere in that store is just delightful and going through their stuff even without the intention to buy quite entertaining.
2 The Wild West of Edinburgh:
Somewhere between the busy streets in Morningside on Springvalley Gardens in EH10 lies a part of town, which seems so removed and at odds with the rest of the historic city, that you’ll think that you left Scotland altogether. There are wooden sheds labeled saloon, horse stables and a jail with bars. It looks bizarrely authentic and while there is nothing really to do there besides marvel, I’d say it is worth a visit.
3 Glen Rosslyn:
Especially after the movie “The Da Vinci Code”, for which Tom Hanks walked through the chapel at Rosslyn just south of Edinburgh, the number of tourists asking for hidden messages in that medieval church has risen drastically. Most treasure hunters turn around though before discovering the valley just behind the chapel. You need to turn right before entering the chapel, follow a path always downwards until you hear water. Allegedly, William Wallace hid in a cave somewhere in this glen at some point. I would have, since it is beautiful. (Bring your wellies though, it can be muddy..)
4 The Water of Leith:
A stream of water that flows right through Edinburgh. In most places it is neatly tucked away that while you walk on its shores, you entirely forget that you are in the centre of the capital. My recommendation would be to apporach the water walking north from Haymarket station. Then turn right and walk along the trickling of water downwards towards Stockbridge. You will meet locals with their dogs mostly, chasing squirrels and taking a short bath. It may be a bit chilly, since most parts of the walk are in the shade, but certainly the most relaxing walk in the city.
Located on Clerk street in Newington, this little tea shop sits right on the top when it comes to atmosphere. Only open some days of the week, it is primarily an antiques shop. Among all the nifty little gimmicks, the vintage furniture, the old china and 30s music you can also sit and enjoy a wide selection of high quality tea. Their home-made scones are divine and the overall experience so stimulating that I have had some of the best conversations in that place. Never ever bring your work here, only friends.
6 The Craigs and Arthur’s Seat:
If you want to see the city from above, apart from airplanes, helicopters and dragon-riding, you need to climb up a hill. The obvious choice is Arthur’s seat. There is a saying in Edinburgh: “If you are in town and can see Arthur’s Seat, it is going to rain soon. If you are in town and cannot see Arthur’s Seat, then it’s raining.” The mountain is right in the middle of town, high enough to see as far as forth bridge and well into Fife and an easy climb. You might see even more of the city if you don’t go up the Seat, but on top of the Craigs, the cliff-face facing north-west. It is so central that I went up many times with friends for just a quick walk and it feels truly refreshing if the weather is nice. It is the nicest though on it’s east slope protected from the usually opposing wind during a sunrise on a clear morning. It may take a few attempts to get that right, but is worth trying.
7 For cats and dogs:
There is a host of strange places in Edinburgh which specialise on the welfare of our quadrupedal endothermic friends. In my first year of living in Scotland, I resided directly above the Scottish Dog Aid Society and just opposite the road from the Veterinary Cat Clinic. A mocking statement goes that Germans love their cars more than their wives and the British their dogs more than their children. While I certainly do not believe this to be true, one does notice a high number of people and places in Edinburgh devoting themselves to the happiness of animals. One shop that I have been to a few times despite my lack of canine companionship is “Just Dogs” in Stockbridge. It is a delightful store of everything your dog may want, from organic dog food to tooth-cleaning chewy-toys. While this truly is not a tourist attraction, visiting can be entertaining.
8 Cycling to Cramond Island:
There are a number of cycle paths in and around Edinburgh that are beautiful and really make your life easier and less dangerous in comparison to normal roads. In particular, cycling along the channel from Tollcross towards the west of Edinburgh is a lovely weekend activity. Cycling to the north west on, almost on a direct path from the new town, you will find Cramond island. About a mile of walking over a bridge that is consumed by water during high tide will get you onto that piece of green, which can be wonderful for little picnics. Make sure to look up the timetable for the tides beforehand so not to get stuck on it though.
9 The Philosopher’s Graves:
Edinburgh is the home of the Scottish Enlightenment, a fruitful humanist philosophical tradition that took off in the 18th century. It brought the title “Athens of the north” to Edinburgh. A great many thinkers of that age, including David Hume and Adam Smith were part of a society called the Poker Club. Today, some claim to know where these gentlemen used to meet in old town. Revisiting some probable sites can be quite stimulating for thought of your own, though truly, the spirit of the great thinkers seems to still reside around their graves. Two of them stand out: David Hume is buried just by Calton hill and Dugald Stewart by the Canongate. These graveyards offer a less touristy alternative to Greyfriars and are worth a visit.
10 Reid Concert Hall:
Last on the list is the concert hall directly between Teviot Row House, home of the Edinburgh University Student Union, and McEwan Hall. It is itself not as impressive as some of the other halls scattered around Edinburgh, but has something special to offer. It is associated with the Edinburgh University Music Department, which very regularly asks its students to perform publicly in that building. The quality of the music is exceedingly high, yet often no admission is required. If you are in central Edinburgh and need a short break, have a look at their website and see if you like anything.