Edinburgh's hidden gems

Toured the castle? Ticked the palace off your list? We round up Edinburgh’s lesser-known gems, from neighbourhood eateries to waterside villages and stylish drinking spots

Towering views

The castle and Arthur’s Seat aren’t the only places in town where you can grab a terrific view. Take a stroll up Calton Hill at the east end of Princes Street and power up 143 steps to the top of the Nelson Monument (32 Calton Hill, 0131 556 2716). Completed in 1815 to commemorate Admiral Nelson, the tower features a time ball, installed in 1852 to assist sailors in the Forth. From the viewing platform, you can gaze over the city and across the water to Fife. Time your visit to coincide with the 1pm ball drop (daily except Sunday). Alternatively, head west of the city centre to Corstorphine Hill Tower (access from Cairnmuir Road), a little-known gem near the zoo with views of the Pentland Hills. This square tower was built as a memorial to Sir Walter Scott and is open on Sunday afternoons from May to September.

Neighbourhood nibbles

Head away from Princes Street and the Royal Mile, and it’s not long before you stumble upon favourite locals’ hangouts. In Bruntsfield, south of the city centre, you need to arrive early to bag a table at Falko Konditormeister (185 Bruntsfield Place, 0131 656 0763). This hugely popular German bakery specialises in traditional rye breads, layered baumkuchen (‘tree cake’) and indulgently sweet gâteaux and tarts. North of the New Town, Stockbridge is crammed with neighbourhood eateries. You can gorge on eggs benny topped with local smoked salmon at the Pantry (1 North West Circus Place, 0131 629 0206) or snack on Swedish crispbreads at Peter’s Yard (3 Deanhaugh Street, 0131 332 2901). The Scran and Scallie (1 Comely Bank Road, 0131 332 6281) is a smart, yet laid-back, gastropub dishing up seafood, steak and burgers.

Arty outings

Love art, but already know the city’s major galleries inside out? Drop into Dovecot Studios (10 Infirmary Street, 0131 550 3660), a five-minute walk from the National Museum of Scotland. A tapestry studio takes centre stage in these converted Victorian public baths. You can watch weavers in action where the swimming pool used to be, then check out contemporary art and craft in the Dovecot Gallery. Grab coffee and a chunky sandwich in the café and splurge on a one-of-a-kind tapestry in the studio shop. It’s just steps from here to the Talbot Rice Gallery (Old College, South Bridge, 0131 650 2210), the University of Edinburgh’s public art gallery. Two gallery spaces, including a cavernous William Playfair-designed hall, display local and international contemporary art along with works from the university’s collection.

River exploration

Tucked into a gorge in Edinburgh’s West End, the Dean Village is a former milling centre on the Water of Leith. Start by peering over the Thomas Telford-designed Dean Bridge, then amble down a steep cobbled hill into the village. Keep your eyes peeled for millstones and look out for St Bernard’s Well, a classical circular temple built on the site of a natural spring. Restored Well Court is a block of four- and five-storey tenements built around a shared courtyard in the 1880s as model housing for workers. From the village, it’s a short walk along the Water of Leith to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (75 Belford Road, 0131 624 6200). Or you can venture northeast, heading to Inverleith Park for views of the castle. Pop into the Royal Botanic Garden (20A Inverleith Road, 0131 552 7171) opposite the park to snap photos of rhododendrons, a Chinese hillside and indoor palm trees.

Seaside adventures

Hop on bus 41 to Cramond in the city’s northwest. A row of whitewashed houses lines the shore in this old fishing village, which tumbles down a hillside at the mouth of the River Almond. You can munch a picnic on the small sandy beach, explore the ruins of a Roman bathhouse, or visit Cramond Kirk, whose tower dates back to the 15th century. If you’re feeling adventurous, walk along the causeway to nearby Cramond Island. Make sure you check the tides though, or you might end up swimming back. In the opposite direction, catch bus 15 or 26 to Portobello for a mini seaside escape. When the Edinburgh weather’s playing right, you can spread a blanket out on the long sandy beach and take a dip if you dare. If rain threatens, soothe your muscles at Portobello Swim Centre’s Turkish Baths (57 Promenade, 0131 669 6888), complete with three hot rooms, a steam room and a cold plunge pool. Fill up on haddock and chips from St Andrews Takeaway (280-284 Portobello High Street, 0131 669 2850) before you head back.

Boozy treats

Had your share of whisky? Take your pick from more than 100 vodkas at Secret Arcade (Jackson’s Close, 48 Cockburn Street, 0131 220 1297). This Polish bar is hidden in a narrow Old Town close and pours a mouth-watering choice of classic, fruity and spicy vodkas along with its signature molecular cocktails. Polish snacks are on hand to soak it all up. Gin aficionados should head to the Edinburgh Gin Distillery (1A Rutland Place, 0131 656 2810) in the West End. Take a distillery tour or guided tasting and pop into Head & Tales bar for gin cocktails such as Prosecco-based Violet Fizz and the plum-flavoured Purple Rose of Tokyo. For a special treat, you can book a gin-making experience, creating and bottling your own custom gin.