Edinburgh is a city of secrets – from its hidden wynds and closes to restaurants and pubs tucked below the street level, with decades of history and legend buried beneath its cobbled streets.
Most of Edinburgh’s undisclosed gems are hidden in plain sight; Its nooks hide everything, from small museums to 17th-century gardens and world-class cocktail bars.
Many of these attractions are located near some of the city’s most tourist areas, but they still manage to go unnoticed.
Obscure vantage points
View from the top of Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat are some of the best in the city, but there are few alternate look-out points with equally great views.
The National Museum of Scotland boasts a quiet terrace on the 7th floor with a stunning view of the roofscapes city: a striking array of domes, towers, and tenement buildings.
For a bird’s eye view of The Royal Mile, book a rooftop tour of St. Giles Cathedral – a great and discreet spot to skip the bustling High Street.
You can get the stunning city and sea views near Edinburgh Castle without having to enter and pay expensive entrance fees. Next to the castle’s esplanade, a path descends through Princes Street Gardens, and the top of the aforementioned path provides a clear panoramic vista of New Town and Firth of Forth.
Tucked away pubs
Bramble’s reputation, clearly known – it’s renowned for some of the best cocktails in Edinburgh, but you can easily walk through its un-marked exterior. Located in the basement beneath a tailor shop on Queen Street, its dimly-lit, intimate atmosphere is perfect for sampling their professionally prepared cocktails.
The Jolly Judge is hidden in one of the busiest areas in the city – just outside the Royal Mile, within James Court. It’s a cozy, traditional-style pub with radiant ceilings, a log fireplace, and a variety of whiskey and beer.
Located along Advocate’s Close is Devil’s Advocate, a contemporary bar historically used as a Victorian pump house. They serve delicious Scottish-inspired dishes, great cocktails and an impressive selection of whiskies.
Nestled in plain sight near the East end of The Royal Mile, Dunbar’s Close Garden period is between Canongate Kirkyard and a nondescript apartment building. Its origins date back to the 17th century when a community of wealthy local citizens tended to go to regional gardens in the area. Manicured bushes and colorful flowers, and stone benches provide a sheltered peaceful slice in a bustling area.
Lesser-known attractions & tours
The collections at the Surgeons Hall Museum are a bit more appealing and terrible than the city’s other museum exhibits. It contains one of the oldest surgical pathologies in the world, with an extension of tissue and bone specimens on display. You can also see the death mask of William Burke – one of the country’s most notorious serial killers.
The Writers Museum is tucked away in Lady Stairs Close, near Deacon Brodie’s pub on Royal Mile. The works of famous Scottish writers like Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson are displayed in a historic building dating back to the 1600s.
Edinburgh has been dubbed the first literary city of UNESCO, and The Literary Pub Tour is a fun way to delve into the history of city literature, famous writers, poets, and their favorite drinking establishments. The tour is led by two professional actors, who created a funny and interesting action that highlighted stories, facts, and legends from Edinburgh’s extensive literary history.
If you think haggis and shortbread are the epitomai of Scottish cuisine, you may want to learn about Scottish and traditional dishes a little better on a food tour. Of course, included Haggis, but there are also special Scottish cheeses, locally sourced fish and a traditional dessert with whisky-infused.
Tron Kirk is a majestic 17th-century church on The Royal Mile, and it also happens to house an intimate store market. The Royal Mile Market may be on the small side, but it can still display everything from clothing to local artworks, natural skincare products and a cafe.
Waverley Market is a collection of small businesses, local selling ethically-sourced gifts, handmade jewelry, handicrafts, and food (don’t miss the specialty burgers from Edin-Burgers). It is open every Friday at Platform 2 of Waverley Train Station.
The Farmers Market is located outside Lothian Road in a scenic spot just below Edinburgh Castle. There are dozens of manufacturers selling specialty items like organic eggs and meat, seasonal products, local honey, handmade baked goods, and ready-made lunch options from some of the city’s best cafes and street food vendors.
What are your favorite hidden gems in Edinburgh?