7 Non-Touristy Things to Do in Edinburgh

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When I first visited Edinburgh back in 2011, I managed to do most of the touristy things on my list in just two days. I walked up Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill on the same day (I was 21 and in a much fitter state than I am now), popped into every shop and museum along the Royal Mile and High Street in one afternoon, ventured into the haunted underground chambers and experienced the city’s pub scene on the same night, and got assaulted by a seagull in Princes Street Gardens twice in two days.
I re-visited Edinburgh in 2012 and again in 2015, and yet I found myself doing many of the things that were on my 2011 to-do list – I joined a different ghost tour, went back to all museums in the city centre, and climbed up Arthur’s Seat again (although this time I took an easier route). I did all of those touristy things again because I was unfamiliar with the lesser-known, yet equally amazing parts of Edinburgh. In 2017, I moved to Edinburgh, and since then I’ve been busy exploring its quirky neighbourhoods and spending hours browsing through books in the city’s second-hand bookshops.
If you are visiting Edinburgh for the second or third time and would like to explore the city beyond the guidebook, here are 7 unusual and non-touristy things to do.

1. Go on a coffee and cake crawl in Bruntsfield

Bruntsfield is my favourite area in Edinburgh, mainly because this neighbourhood is teeming with coffee shops serving artisan brews. Bruntsfield is also the place where you can find some of the best cakes in the city. If you want to get away from the crowds without straying too far from the city centre, go for a walk up Bruntsfield Place, a long street lined with gift shops, food stores, cafes and coffee shops. On a nice day, you can sip your coffee in Bruntsfield Links, a gorgeous park right across the Meadows.
In June 2017, I moved to Polwarth, a neighbourhood close to Bruntsfield, and since then I have spent many days drinking coffee at some of the wonderful places in Bruntsfield Place. These are my favourite coffee shops in Bruntsfield:

2. Walk along the Water of Leith

Did you know that Edinburgh has a small river? The Water of Leith Walkway is a beautiful walk through some of the the city’s most beautiful residential areas. Start your walk from the scenic Dean Village or Stockbridge, and keep walking until you reach The Shore in Leith (although you may turn back or leave the walkway at any point, of course).
Once you get to The Shore, pop into The Clock on the Shore for a spot of lunch (I used to eat here frequently when I lived in Leith), and afterwards head to Mimi’s Bakehouse for some delicious cakes.
Once you get to The Shore, pop into The Clock on the Shore for a spot of lunch (I used to eat here frequently when I lived in Leith), and afterwards head to Mimi’s Bakehouse for some delicious cakes.

3. Go cycling or hiking along the Union Canal

Another thing I love about my current neighbourhood, Polwarth, is that it’s right next to the Union Canal. The route along the canal is perfect for walkers, joggers and cyclists – although some parts of the path are a bit bumpy. The canal starts from Edinburgh city centre – more specifically, an area called Fountainbridge, where you can find a few nice restaurants, including a Swedish cafe – and goes all the way to Falkirk.
The route runs through some of the city’s most scenic neighbourhoods. If you don’t want to travel far from the city centre, you could stop at Harrison Park for a wee picnic or to snap photos of the colourful barges in this area. You could also stop for a coffee from The Counter on the Canal, a canal boat that serves lovely coffee and treats.
The route runs through some of the city’s most scenic neighbourhoods. If you don’t want to travel far from the city centre, you could stop at Harrison Park for a wee picnic or to snap photos of the colourful barges in this area. You could also stop for a coffee from The Counter on the Canal, a canal boat that serves lovely coffee and treats.

4. Explore the Hermitage of Braid and Blackford Hill

Want to go on a wee adventure in the city? The Hermitage of Braid is a walk through the city’s woodland, where you can do some wildlife-spotting or just enjoy a peaceful hike along the stream. If you’re staying in the city centre, you will need to get a bus that stops at Comiston Road. There is a cafe at the entrance of the Hermitage, although I do suggest you pack some food and water before heading there.
Next to the Hermitage you’ll find Blackford Hill, which offers panoramic views of the city and the Firth of Forth. The steps leading up the hill are a bit exhausting – but you won’t be disappointed when you reach the top!

5. Visit Craigmillar Castle

It may not be as popular and majestic as Edinburgh Castle, but Craigmillar Castle is still worth a visit. This medieval castle has starred in Outlander and it is one of my favourite places in Edinburgh. There are many secret passageways and chambers in the castle, making it a joy to explore, especially if you’re visiting Edinburgh outside the peak travel season. I visited in December and had the whole castle to myself! Entrance fee is just £6.00, and you get some impressive views of the city from the tower.
Recommended hotel: If you’re looking for a central hotel in Edinburgh, I highly recommend staying at ibis Edinburgh Centre on South Bridge (just around the corner from the Royal Mile). It is very clean and modern – and the beds are super comfy!

6. Lose yourself in the city’s second-hand bookshops

Edinburgh is home to several quirky second-hand bookshops, which makes the city a mecca for bookworms and collectors of old books. A great place to start your ‘bookshop crawl’ is West Port, near the Grassmarket. Armchair Books, Peter Bell Books, Cabaret Antiques & Curios and Edinburgh Books are the main bookshops you’ll find in this area, and they are packed with literary gems and surprises.
Edinburgh is home to several quirky second-hand bookshops, which makes the city a mecca for bookworms and collectors of old books. A great place to start your ‘bookshop crawl’ is West Port, near the Grassmarket. Armchair Books, Peter Bell Books, Cabaret Antiques & Curios and Edinburgh Books are the main bookshops you’ll find in this area, and they are packed with literary gems and surprises.
Edinburgh is home to several quirky second-hand bookshops, which makes the city a mecca for bookworms and collectors of old books. A great place to start your ‘bookshop crawl’ is West Port, near the Grassmarket. Armchair Books, Peter Bell Books, Cabaret Antiques & Curios and Edinburgh Books are the main bookshops you’ll find in this area, and they are packed with literary gems and surprises.
Edinburgh is home to several quirky second-hand bookshops, which makes the city a mecca for bookworms and collectors of old books. A great place to start your ‘bookshop crawl’ is West Port, near the Grassmarket. Armchair Books, Peter Bell Books, Cabaret Antiques & Curios and Edinburgh Books are the main bookshops you’ll find in this area, and they are packed with literary gems and surprises.
If you want to sit in a cosy place with a cuppa after your book haul, head to Lovecrumbs; a coffee shop in West Port that serves amazing cakes.

7. Have a picnic in Inverleith Park

Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre, Inverleith Park is a nice, quiet park where you can just unwind with a bottle of wine and absorb the beautiful views of the New Town and the castle. Inverleith Park is situated right next to the Edinburgh Botanic Garden, and boasts a large pond and a hill that serves as the perfect viewing point for the fireworks on Hogmanay and during the festival season.
Princes Street Gardens and The Meadows tend to be a bit busy in the summer, but Inverleith Park remains fairly off the tourist radar, which makes it an ideal place for picnics or sunbathing.
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Daniela Frendo

Daniela Frendo

Hi! I'm a Maltese blogger based in Scotland. I created Grumpy Camel to help travellers connect with places through culture, history and cuisine.
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