Creative Content Writer & former Tour Guide at HAGGiS Adventures. Scottish travel blogger and adventure lover. Kay enjoys travelling Scotland solo, and has visited 42 Scottish Islands. She loves to live up to stereotypes by dying her hair ginger, and regularly consuming haggis and whisky. A Scottish history geek and all-around chatterbox, she can literally talk for Scotland.
Local Gems in Edinburgh’s Old Town
Nobody likes a know-it-all. Unless you’re visiting a new destination, and you’re after all the local tips you can get. Aye, lists with the main attractions are easy to come by, but if you’re looking for inspo on less touristy places to eat, drink and explore, locals really do know best.
Even in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, there are lots of (not so) hidden gems to be discovered; some are actually in plain sight, while others require a wee wander down a dark alleyway. Not even joking.
Our Marketing Team was let loose on the cobbled streets of the Royal Mile, for a day of playing ‘Local Tourist’. These were our favourite spots. Mainly for eating and drinking, aye.
1) Devil's Advocate
Lots of visitors pause at the top of Advocate’s Close to snap the Insta-worthy shot of the old-school streetlight with the Scott Monument in the background. Only those who venture down the stairs will stumble upon The Devil’s Advocate, however. Cosy, dimly-lit, and totally falls into the ‘hidden’ category. The whisky list is insane, and the menu of Scottish produce will have you salivating. Whether you intend to share it or not, go for the House Board. You won’t regret it!
2) The Vennel
When you’re in and around the Old Town, Edinburgh Castle is never far from sight. Perched majestically on a stage of volcanic rock - ye cannae miss it! Our favourite view of the city’s epic castle is that wee bit extra special, and you’ll find it on a stairway leading down into the Grassmarket.
At the top of the stairs you’ll find one of the last remaining sections of the Flodden Wall, which was built in the 16th century after the Battle of Flodden (which saw a disastrous defeat for the Scots) to protect against any future English attacks. Descend the passageway between buildings – known locally as ‘The Vennel’ – to see an awesome perspective of Edinburgh Castle laid out before you.
3) The Waverley Bar
This classic watering hole is anything but modern, and that’s why we love it! The original owner, who was known to regulars as ‘The Captain’, strongly believed in keeping things traditional. When he passed away in 2015, there were fears surrounding the future of the pub. *Please not another trendy, hipster establishment*.
Thankfully, the new owners are keen to do things “the old way”. They also reintroduced the monthly storytelling sessions in the upstairs area; which was famously used for gigs back in the day – including the legendary Billy Connolly!
4) Dunbar Close Garden
Crowds of tourists, architectural eye candy, and a brownie-induced sugar rush. If it all gets too much, take yourself for a wee chillax and a breather in the Royal Mile’s 17th century-style secret garden. Stroll through manicured hedges and arched trees into this peaceful wee escape from the busy street outside. It’s sheltered, quiet, and never seems to be busy. Ssssssh!
Have your cake and eat it. Just dinnae expect your choice of cake to be a quick decision. A selection of heavenly sweet treats is displayed in a wooden cabinet; from rich, chocolaty brownies, to icing-loaded sponge cakes. All are best enjoyed with a quality cup of coffee. If you’re really lucky, you might even bag the best seat in the house… *in* the window.
6) The Jolly Judge
What better way to end your day than with a wee bevy in front of the fire? This tiny, hidden pub is just the place. Tucked away on James Court – next to the charming Writers’ Museum – this cosy wee gem has low ceilings, a relaxed atmosphere and plenty of Scottish branded drinks to choose from. If you’re around for pub quiz night on a Monday - even better!