Some slightly alternative things to do on a trip to Edinburgh

Where I get the train to Edinburgh, follow a river, visit the 4th coolest neighbourhood in the world, spy on the Queen’s bedroom, find a graffiti tunnel and visit an Insta superstar. In no particular order.

Last week I took a little trip to Edinburgh on the train.  

Travelling by train is a great eco friendly way to go, and probably less stressful than flying. You don’t have to get to and from an airport, you don’t have to pass through airport security and you get to take all your liquids and scissors with you. Yes, I‘m the sort of person who travels with scissors.

It’s been a long time since I was last in Edinburgh; probably a generation ago. We (yes it’s so long ago that I was a we) used to go up every year in August for the Fringe Festival, stay at the university (great cheap rooms available outside of term time) and visit all the art installations and comedy shows.  

Coming to Edinburgh in November is a different experience from coming in August of course.  It is a great deal quieter (although COP26 going on in nearby Glasgow was keeping Edinburgh quite busy too).  

Edinburgh New Town

I stayed in the New Town, just north of the main shopping street.  I’d certainly recommend the New Town; there were plenty of restaurants and shops nearby (any stereotypes you have about Scottish food being nothing but haggis and deep-fried Mars bars will soon be dispelled here). It was walking distance from the Old Town and Edinburgh Castle and there is some wonderful Georgian architecture to look at as you scurry around. 

The New Town was designed to house the wealthy of Edinburgh and to lure back Scottish noblemen who had fled for the bright lights of London. Hence the attractive Georgian houses and the wide carriageways. 

Some slightly quirky things that I found to do in Edinburgh

Best for a picturesque city walk: the Water of Leith from Stockbridge to Dean Village

Dean Village

This particular stretch of the river was recommended to me.  It’s hard to believe that this is so close to the centre of the city (I walked to the river from my hotel in the New Town in around 15 minutes).

Best for flooding your Instagram with cute photos Circus Lane 

Circus Lane

This is Edinburgh’s little Insta Superstar. Go early to avoid women in long flowing dresses posing themselves amongst the architecture to take their 700th identical photo.

Best for being where the hip and trendy are now living: Leith

Recently number four in a list of the world’s ‘coolest neighbourhoods’, Leith has transformed itself into a cultural hotspot; so much so that it is now appearing on lists like these.  Normally by the time a neighbourhood is declared cool it means it is completely beyond my price range; the trick is to get to these places before they’re cool (Brighton’s Kemptown also appears on the cool list and I know I definitely can’t afford to live there).

Leith was great to wander around and no, I wouldn’t be able to afford to live there. 

The Royal Yacht

Whilst you’re in Leith, if you enjoy tutting at the sheer waste and opulence of the British Royal Family then the former Royal yacht Britannia is moored nearby.  Really this is totally not my kind of thing but I was there and it was there so I decided to give it a go and found it actually surprisingly interesting.  

Best for street art/graffiti/murals: Colinton tunnel

Colinton tunnel has some amazing street art  hidden in an old rail tunnel on the outskirts of the city. Several buses go nearby (I used the 40 from Princes Street but the Citymapper app will help you out with transport links).

The tunnel is next to Water of Leith (albeit a long way from the section I explored by Dean village) and it’s a nice walk anyway, although it was very muddy when I went.

Looking for hidden nooks and crannies in the tourist-filled old town

The royal Mile is the tourist hub of Edinburgh’s old town. If you haven’t been you should do it but it is quite touristy, complete with kilt-wearing bagpipe players and shops selling every tartan product you can imagine (and probably plenty you can’t). It’s not unpleasant but it is what it is. 

My favourite thing about the Royal Mile is the little alleyways that branch off to the sides, which you can follow and never quite know what you will find. Some have spectacular little gardens hidden away. If you follow anything with the suffix Close or Court there’s a chance it will lead you somewhere interesting. 

Edinburgh in Covid times

There is an app to prove your vaccination status, which you only really need if you’re planning on going to a night club or a football match.  Rules are different in Scotland and you are required to wear a mask inside shops and on transport (unlike England where our own PM thinks it’s acceptable to wander around a hospital unmasked).  When we crossed the border the train manager announced that we were entering Scotland and so people who weren’t wearing a mask (about 50% of the train) were now required to use them.  A large groan went out and the refuseniks strung a mask around their chins so they could appear to be complying. 


I really don’t see what’s so difficult about wearing a mask on public transport or when you’re sat/stood next to other humans that you don’t know.  In a year where we’ve had so many freedoms taken away, the mask seems such a small price to pay for the freedom to move around and get on with our lives.

ok; I’m done.

4 replies »

  1. Hello Sarah love the rant snd agree totally. I’m feeling a trip to Edinburgh coming on. It looks lovely. I have t been there for years but it does look as if I may return. However, I think a trip to Brighton will come first! Karen 😊x

  2. Hi Sarah, your alternative guide to Edinburgh is fabulous, and I wish I’d had it sooner. Edinburgh was the last place I visited before Covid shut everything down. Like you, I loved the little alleyways off the Royal Mile, but I wish I’d discovered the Colinton tunnel. What a great collection of vibrant street art. And I totally agree with your rant. Wishing you a very Happy New year filled with more travel. ~Terri

    • Yes The good thing about going back to places you’ve been before is getting to find the less visited tourist haunts. I actually quite like the touristy bits but it was still quite busy

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