I used to think I knew Edinburgh. I’ve been traveling here since I was five, after all. But on recent trips I’ve discovered that while I know the Royal Mile and Princes Street well, I’ve missed out on a lot of the less obvious parts of the city. So I’ve made a point of going back to discover under-the-radar Auld Reekie. I doing so, I’ve found secret Edinburgh. And it’s beautiful.
The difficult thing about finding secret Edinburgh is that there’s not much motivation to do it. The city is so pretty that even the touristy parts dazzle me. I could walk up the Royal Mile, meander down Victoria Street, and take in Edinburgh Castle on every trip and not tire of it all.
But I’ve made three trips to Edinburgh in the last six months, and on each one I’ve uncovered a secret or four. Some are hiding in plain sight, others have taken a bit of exploring to find. But they’ve all given me a new appreciation for a city I didn’t think I could love more than I already do.
View from the Scott Monument
Starting with the view from the Scott Monument. Despite being the star of Princes Street Gardens, I never knew I could climb it for panoramic vistas of the city. When my boyfriend suggested we do it, I thought he was joking. When I realized he was serious, I wondered how I had traveled to Edinburgh so many times without knowing about it.
So we went. And we climbed. And we swooned (or I did, anyway). The views of the Old Town, the castle, and the buildings climbing the extinct volcano are amazing. Seeing Princes Street Gardens and the Scottish National Gallery and getting close to the Georgian facades of the buildings on Princes Street is breathtaking.
Mary King’s Close
But going up isn’t the only way to be enchanted by the city. Going down has the same effect. On one trip to Scotland I took a tour of Mary King’s Close, another part of secret Edinburgh hiding in plain sight. Located underneath buildings off the Royal Mile, this subterranean warren of 17th-century streets offers insights into the city’s past and evokes a lost era.
Away from the bustle, the third place I’ve discovered in secret Edinburgh is Stockbridge. This neighborhood is in the city center, but it’s just far enough from the big attractions that it manages to keep a low profile.
Stockbridge is worth exploring for cobbled stretches like Circus Lane that challenge London’s loveliest mews for the title of “Prettiest Street in Britain”.
Terraced houses line the roads like well-trained soldiers, and there’s no shortage of lovely cafes, shops, and restaurants on St Stephen Street.
Next to Stockbridge lies Dean Gardens, a beautiful green space bisected by the Water of Leith. The very name of the river enchants me, and as soon as I see it I’m besotted.
Beyond the river, Dean Gardens is full of surprises. St Bernard’s Well looks straight out of antiquity. Its neoclassical columns surround a statue of Hygieia, the Greek Goddess of Health. It sits on the site of a natural spring discovered in the 18th century, and adds an air of romance to the park.
Beyond the well are high bridges and fairy-tale woodlands, all of which combine to make this one of the most beautiful places in the city.
But just outside Dean Gardens is perhaps the prettiest place in all of secret Edinburgh. Dean Village is straight out of a storybook, from the bucolic river to the half-timbered cottages.
Once known for grain milling, Dean Village is now home to some of the city’s most beautiful historic buildings and an abundance of charm.
The maze of mews above it is equally picturesque, full of houses with high windows and colorful doors. Cobblestones round out the scene with their signature patterned lines, and the whole place is lovely.
There’s more of secret Edinburgh to discover, though, and I look forward to getting off the beaten path again on my next visit. If I can tear myself away from the main attractions again.
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