Chart your own route through Edinburgh with Culture Trip’s ideas for free, self-designed art, cultural and food tours throughout the Scottish capital.
Lovers of art, culture and good food will have no problems filling their time in Edinburgh. The city is bursting with creative hubs, artisanal food markets and – if legends are to be believed – ghosts. Whatever you’re interested in, a self-guided tour is an excellent way to explore the city. Here are some ideas to set you on the right path.
Every Sunday from 10am to 5pm, the main street of well-to-do Stockbridge transforms into a thriving market with all kinds of artisanal foods, fresh produce and handmade crafts on offer. Browse the array of stalls, stopping at whatever catches your eye – there are always new faces to discover, whether it’s your first trip or your 100th. Follow your nose to find gourmet Scottish smoked salmon, jars of tart and sweet preserves, and enough cheese to feed an army of mice. You can probably make a decent charcuterie board from the samples alone, but make sure to buy something to support this local endeavour.
There’s no shortage of cosy pubs in Edinburgh; they’re the epicentre of local life, where victories are celebrated and misfortunes mourned. Rather than book a pub crawl that guarantees nothing more than cheap drinks and forced group fun, do some research and choose your own route through the city. As a relatively small capital, it’s easy to cover ground on foot or public transport, so have a look at some of the best traditional pubs in Edinburgh to create a bespoke tour. The White Hart Inn is a good starting point. This small, characterful pub has records dating back to the 1500s and claims to be both Edinburgh’s oldest (though it’s got some stiff competition) and most haunted pub, with previous patrons, including body snatchers Burke and Hare, roaming the property.
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Speaking of ghosts – there are numerous ghost tours that lead visitors through the cobbled streets of Edinburgh; some of these are more inclined towards jump scares and Halloween costumes than the true, and ghoulish, history of the city. Unless the tour is visiting areas that aren’t normally accessible to the public, such as the Blair Street Underground Vaults, you’re better off reading up on Edinburgh’s dark and tumultuous history and visiting the major sites yourself. One stop not to miss is Greyfriars Kirkyard, where the malevolent Mackenzie Poltergeist is reported to terrorise those who dare approach its crypt past nightfall.
If you’ve always dreamed of being a Hogwarts student, Edinburgh is the city for you. It’s where JK Rowling wrote the Harry Potter series, and there are magical corners all over the city to explore. Start your tour of wizardry and witchcraft with a coffee and cake at The Elephant House, where she scribbled away at the first few books. Make sure you visit the bathroom before you leave – while that sounds like an odd tourist attraction, it’s covered in graffiti from visiting fans. From there, explore the cobbles and eclectic shops of Victoria Street (said to have inspired Diagon Alley) and the Greyfriars Kirkyard where you can visit the tomb of the real-life Tom Riddle.
The benefits of visiting a small capital such as Edinburgh is that nothing is more than a short walk or bus ride away, and the art offerings are no different. Princes Street, the main shopping street, is also an artistic hub; a brief walk from any point will take you to the Scottish National Gallery, the Royal Scottish Academy, photography gallery Stills, exhibition space the City Art Centre, and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
In recent years, Leith has shaken off its divisive (and arguably undeserved) reputation as a bit of a rough area; nowadays, visitors are drawn to these pretty streets, lined with independent shops and creative spaces. Catch an exhibition or an open studio event at artist’s hub Coburg House, which provides workspaces for over 80 designers and makers, or head to The Biscuit Factory, a huge warehouse space now used as an arts hub and venue (no prizes for guessing what its original purpose was), to see what’s on its events calendar. When you’re done exploring for the day, stop to dine at Michelin-star restaurant The Kitchin, or savour a cocktail at incredible Victorian-era pub Nobles.
As the name suggests, this is the oldest surviving part of the city; it’s even part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. If you really want to tap into Edinburgh’s past, this is where to go. Venture down narrow cobbled closes (alleyways), grab a pint at one of the ancient pubs lining the open square of Grassmarket and finish up at the National Museum of Scotland, which traces the city’s recorded history from the very beginning.