The Dickins Insider Guide to Old Town, Edinburgh
With Edinburgh Castle towering majestically over the city, the extinct volcano Arthur’s Seat looming in the distance, and early examples of skyscrapers rising in a disordered fashion in Old Town. Edinburgh’s Old Town is rich in history and its skyline is quite a sight to behold.
Furthermore, Edinburgh’s Old Town was the birthplace of several literary legends such as Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Sir Walter Scott, as well as the birthplace of Harry Potter. The cobbled lanes of Old Town have also featured in the popular series Outlander, and its dark and mysteries alleys make it the perfect setting for Ian Rankin’s murder mystery novels. To help you experience (and enjoy) the Old Town as a local, we’ve put together an Insider’s Guide to Old Town. Let’s begin!
9am: Tea and Coffee
You’ll be spoilt for choice with regards to your morning cuppa as there are countless cafés and coffee shops dotted around Old Town. To help you decide, here are a couple of our favourites. Located on historic and picturesque Cockburn Street is the charming and cosy Milkman (7 Cockburn Street), who serves up fresh homemade treats and wonderful tea and coffee. If you’re near South Bridge, be sure to pop into Brew Lab (6-8 S College Street) or Black Medicine (2 Nicolson Street) both are a great place for a cuppa or breakfast/brunch. If you fancy something a little quirkier, we’d recommend visiting Baba Budan (Arch 12, 17 East Market Street) located in newly renovated Waverley Arches.
10am: Morning Walk along The Royal Mile
After your morning cuppa you’ll be ready to get out there and start exploring Edinburgh’s historic Old Town and where better to start than the Royal Mile – which runs through the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, connecting the magnificent Edinburgh Castle, perched high on a base of volcanic rock, with the regal Palace of Holyroodhouse, resting in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat. Old Town is the oldest part of Scotland’s capital city and it forms part of a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We recommend spending your morning wandering along the magnificent Royal Mile and exploring its numerous closes. If you’re not from Scotland, a “close” is an alleyway which often leads to a courtyard. A few highlights are Advocates Close, White Horse Close, Dunbar’s Close, and Chessel’s Court. Also, be sure to visit the extremely picturesque Victoria Street which leads down into the Grassmarket.
Be on the Look Out for…
Be on the lookout for Deacon Brodie’s Tavern’s sign. It depicts the infamous double life of Deacon Brodie. Brodie (1741-88) was a skillful cabinet-maker and a respected member of Edinburgh’s society. However, he had several bad habits, including gambling, which meant he resorted to stealing from his customers’ homes. It is said that Brodie’s bizarre double-life inspired Robert Louis Stevenson, to write ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde’.
Also, if you have time head along George IV bridge until you see crowds gathered around an adorable life-size bronze statue of Greyfriars Bobby. Bobby is famous for his loyalty to his master, even after his master’s passing Bobby would lay on his grave in all weather conditions. Bobby has remained one of Edinburgh’s most loved residents.
12pm: A Hearty Lunch
After all the walking, you’ll no doubt be ready for a hearty lunch and Old Town has a plethora of fantastic places to eat and we think the only issue you’ll have is deciding where to choose. To help, we’ve selected a couple wonderful options. To start with, The Edinburgh Larder is extremely popular amongst locals and we can see why. Looking for a central cafe which serves up hearty lunch options, we’d recommend Deacon’s House Cafe. They are strong believers in seasonal produce and that translates into delicious dishes. If it’s a sunny day and you’d prefer to enjoy your lunch outdoors, we’d recommend a crepe from Tupiniquim (Green Police Box, Lauriston Place), delicious East African wrap from Nile Valley Cafe (6 Chapel Street), or a pulled pork sandwich from Oink (34 Victoria St or 82 Canongate). On the other hand, if it’s a slightly chilly day, a warming bowl of homemade soup from Union of Genius (8 Forrest Road) is a perfect choice you! Lastly, if you’re looking for vegan or gluten-free options, we’d highly recommend Pumpkin Brown and Hula Juice Bar.
1pm: Visit an Attraction or Enjoy a Spot of Independent Shopping
Most of Edinburgh’s well-known attractions are located in the capital’s Old Town. If you’re a first time visitor, you may want to spend time visiting Edinburgh Castle, The Palace of Holyrood, Gladstones Land, and St Giles. We’d also recommend visiting Edinburgh’s various museums as each one is unique and thoroughly enjoyable. The best part is they’re all free to visit. A couple to keep in mind is the National Museum of Scotland, Museum of Edinburgh, The Writers’ Museum, and the Museum of Childhood.
If you’re a return visitor and looking for something slightly different, Edinburgh’s Old Town has several independent shops well worth visiting. Pop into Pinnies & Poppy Seeds and the Fudge House for delectable treats. If you’re in the market for an authentic Scottish Kilt, Celtic Craft Centre Kiltmakers is tucked away down Paisley Close on the Royal Mile. Enjoy a rummage through secondhand clothes shops, Armstrong which is extremely popular amongst locals and has three locations dotted around Old Town. There are also several independent shops along Victoria Street, such as Walker Slater. Lastly, independent bookshops are alive and well in Edinburgh and we’d recommend popping into Till’s Bookshop, Armchair Books, and Edinburgh Books.
3pm: Enjoy a Sweet Treat or Take the Healthy Route
By this point, you may start to lag and if that’s the case what better way to feel a little more energised than a sugar boost. Edinburgh’s Old Town is crammed with delightful independent cafes that serve irresistible sweet treats, take for example the immensely popular Mary’s Milk Bar (19 Grassmarket) located in the Grassmarket, which has both locals and fans from around the world flocking for their delicious homemade ice cream. For those of you who would prefer a slice of homemade cake, head along to the extremely popular Lovecrumbs (155 West Port). If you’re looking for somewhere a little more traditional with a great story attached to it, Clarinda’s Tea Rooms (69 Canongate) – named after Robert Burns’ most famous illicit lover Clarinda – is the perfect place to enjoy a fresh scone or slice of cake while reading their gripping yet tragic love story.
If the sun is out, perhaps you’d rather forego a sweet treat and continue exploring Edinburgh and where better to head than an afternoon hike up Arthur’s Seat for wonderful views over Edinburgh.
6pm: Dinner & Drinks
If you’re staying at one of Dickins’ self catering properties, you have the wonderful option of heading home to cook up a lovely meal and enjoy a relaxing night in. However, if you’ve had a long day you may prefer to dine out and if that’s the case there are several fantastic options.
Located on George IV bridge, The Outsider Restaurant (15-16 George IV Bridge) laid-back eating using fresh, seasonal produce in split-level space with amazing Castle views. Perhaps, you’d like to indulge in Scottish cuisine and if that’s the case head to The Cellar Door (44-46 George IV Bridge) or the Whiski Rooms (4-7 North Bank Street), who put a modern twist on traditional Scottish dishes. Edinburgh was once famous for its oyster cellars and located on the site of the oldest inn on the Royal Mile, White Horse Oyster & Seafood Bar (266 Canongate), serves up scrumptious British seafood & shellfish. If you’re in the mood for a delicious pizza, head along to Civerinos (5 Hunter Square) for original, modern Italian street-food. Those looking for something a little swankier, there are several fantastic options to Michelin Guide restaurant Angel’s with Bagpipes (343 High Street) – there’s an interesting story behind the name so be sure to ask them, the extremely atmospheric Witchery Restaurant, or a seafood fan’s dream restaurant Ondine.
Where to stay in Old Town? 12(1F1) St Mary’s Street
Civilised and charming, this gem of a home is about enjoying the good things in life and there’s a sense of luxury with the space. The location just off the Royal Mile is perfect too whether you’re working in the city or here on holiday.