In spite of it’s popularity for festivals and the Fringe, the cobbled streets of Edinburgh are best explored off season. You’ll have more room to explore it’s hidden neighborhoods and I’m excited to share two with you!
Arriving into Waverley station by train from London’s King Cross, we checked into our hotel just a few blocks away on East Market Street. We stayed at the Hotel du Vin on our last trip. Although it was lovely, we wanted a more convenient location to explore Old Town and New Town.
Be prepared with comfortable shoes to schlep up and down the hills from the station into Old Town. Your calves and thighs will get a workout!
Neighborhood: Grassmarket, Old Town
Edinburgh castle commands medieval Old Town and dominates the skyline over Princes Street Gardens and the Royal Mile. Just below the castle is a tucked away neighborhood of Grassmarket, filled with interesting shops, cafes and pubs. To walk there from the Royal Mile, head up towards the castle and then duck down Upper Bow to West Bow to Grassmarket. It’s downhill until Grassmarket bears right and straddles Grassmarket Square. Turning on Cowgate to the left connects you back up with the main street; George IV Bridge.
Facing the square is the posh 4 star Apex City of Edinburgh hotel if you fancy staying away from the crowds but close to everything. Next time we may check it out!
Grassmarket is an easy neighborhood to explore and is centered on the square and up W Bow. Shop for cashmere at Hawicks ($$$) and vintagey consignment at the bursting to the seams W. Armstrong & Son.
We popped into The Last Drop, (74-78 Grassmarket) a cozy pub with real ales and Scottish food. If you’re hankering for some neeps, tatties and haggis this is the place!
Grassmarket neighborhood is a welcome break from the Royal Mile madness. But once you’ve wandered to your heart’s content, head back up to the Royal Mile and then start your descent back down to Prince Street Gardens via Ramsey Lane or Bank Street.
Hidden gem: Just between Waverly Station and the Royal Mile you’ll find another hidden gem perfect for a casual breakfast or lunch. From the station, you walk up The Mound to N Bank Street and it turns into St. Giles Street after the curve. On your left you’ll see the Saint Giles Cafe & Bar. (If you’re walking from Grassmarket walk down the Royal Mile and turn left on St. Giles Street). We’re completely smitten by their special Saint Giles Waffle. A decadent pairing of Belgian waffle, brie, grilled bacon drizzled with maple syrup! Worth the calories. Breakfast is served all day and they’re open 9AM – 7 PM
Neighborhood: Rose Street, New Town
On the other side of Princes Street Gardens is elegant New Town with it’s lovely Georgian architecture. Tucked one block behind the main thoroughfare of Prince Street, running parallel to it, is Rose Street.
At the far west end near S Charlotte St. is the famous Dirty Dicks pub (and a TGIFridays if you’re homesick for American). The east end of Rose Street ends at S St David St. and in between are dozens of cafes, pubs and shops.
Lured by the sideboard promising local fresh fish and chips as well as a case of potential hangry, we stopped into The Black Rose Tavern. Probably rocks out at night but we weren’t overly impressed with what seemed like pre-frozen fish portions.
The real lure for me though were the shops. From Primark (very tidy!) to The House of Fraser, most high street retailers are here. You can shop without the crush of tourists (like you and I). I don’t know about you but my shopping mood gets deflated with masses of people milling about! As it happened, Primark came in very handy. It was a little chillier than I expected and I wasn’t prepared. Found a pretty little olive green quilted jacket that worked perfectly with what I’d brought with me. Score!
If you’re about ready to drop, you can always stop into the below ground floor Marks & Spencer’s cafe and have a cup of tea and some cake. Our last day was fortified by an excellent M&S full English breakfast before getting on our train.
I love traveling to Edinburgh by train, it’s so relaxing. The journey from London takes a little under five hours, which is perfect time to relax, chat or watch the scenery go by. Waverley station is centrally located between New Town and Old Town with ample hotels within a 5-10 minute walk.
I hope you get a chance to discover this compact capital’s hidden neighborhoods during the off season. Late September is a perfect time to experience Edinburgh’s cultural charms!
Need help planning your trip or want more details. Use my itinerary for London-Paris-Edinburgh!