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Edinburgh and the Lothians Travel Guide

Wander Down Edinburgh’s 10 Most Magical Streets

Discover the winding and entrancing pathways of one of Europe's most beautiful (and historic) cities.

Edinburgh is a city to be discovered on foot. Just ambling along cobbled streets and hidden alleyways, often in the shadow of the looming castle, you can always feel the ghosts. The rich history of this city hangs in the air amongst its winding streets and medieval architecture, infusing any stroll with beauty and history. There are pockets of the town that feel like a quaint village and hills that provide grand, sweeping vistas. Magical streets, yes, but also magical views and magical nature. Practically speaking, you can cover much of the city in a few days, offering easy access to many bustling and aesthetically pleasing strolls (or epic hikes, if you are so inclined).

1 OF 10

Victoria Street

WHERE: Edinburgh Old Town

Victoria Street is arguably the most famous and picturesque street in Edinburgh. Centrally located, this winding cobbled hill connects the Grassmarket (a historic marketplace and now a bustling haven of shops and cafes) with the Royal Mile (the center of historical and tourist Edinburgh) and is peppered with a charming independent business. As you look up at the curved rainbow of painted stone storefronts, you can’t help but feel that you are stepping through a children’s book illustration. This street is known as the real-life Diagon Alley (sit up, Harry Potter fans) and inspired that famous magical on-screen location. Yes, this illustrious street may be clogged with tourists on some days (especially in August during the International Festival), but it is worth the visit.

2 OF 10

St. Stephen Street

WHERE: Stockbridge

It is hard to pick a single street in Edinburgh’s prettiest neighborhood, but my favorite is St. Stephen Street. Circus Lane is the famous one with its terraced mews houses straight out of a romantic comedy. Deanhaugh Street into Raeburn Place is the main drag with the picturesque bridge, but this lovely street has its own quiet charm. Set off from the main bustle, it has a lovely cluster of boutiques. Vere off onto St. Stephen Place for a delightful walk under the historic and very photogenic Old Stockbridge Market Arch. The whole neighborhood is elegant, expensive, and beautiful.

3 OF 10

Cockburn Street

WHERE: Edinburgh Old Town

Once a sight of teenage counter-culture thanks to hippy tie-dye shops and record stores, this central street has become more touristy in recent years but still warrants a visit. Winding elegantly from the Royal Mile down to Waverly Train Station and the beautiful Princes Street Gardens, you can practically smell the fetid history of the medieval closes and alleys that zig-zag on and off the street. Cockburn Street is a good spot to refuel with a coffee (The Milkman) or a glass of wine and antipasti  (Ecco Vino).

INSIDER TIPAn important lesson to avoid pronunciation embarrassment: the “ck” in Cockburn Street is silent.


4 OF 10

Arthurs Seat

WHERE: Holyrood Park

Disclaimer: this is not a gentle city walk. Arthur’s Seat is a bona fide, albeit extinct, volcano in the heart of the city center. Now more of a steep grassy verge, it’s climb and views remain somewhat dramatic nonetheless. If you come in Spring, enjoy the sunshine yellow (but aggressively spiky) gorse bushes, which grow abundantly, adding welcome color to an often grey city. It is worth battling the famous Scottish winds to reach the top and feel part of those equally famous Scottish skies, which will be lilac and scattered with pink clouds if you are lucky, or deliciously grey, moody and (as the Scots will say) “dour.” Enjoy feeling like an extra from Outlander wandering the moors, gazing out to the castle and dreaming of lost love.

5 OF 10

Calton Hill

Another extinct volcano, Calton Hill provides both historic architecture and the most beautiful views in the city. A five-minute climb up some rather steep stone steps from Regent Road grants you access to one of Edinburgh’s more eccentric spots: a patchwork green space incorporating a replica of the Athenian acropolis (begun in 1816), two observatories and now also a dynamic contemporary art gallery (The Collective). There is a kind of magic up here, a meeting of old and new that feels somewhat sacred, especially if you time your visit to take in one of Edinburgh’s beautiful sunsets.

INSIDER TIPCalton Hill is also home to the restaurant with arguably the best views in the city: The Lookout by Gardener’s Cottage. They offer elegant tasting menus from locally-sourced ingredients.


6 OF 10

Leith Walk

If you tell anyone in Edinburgh that you think Leith Walk is “magical,” they will almost certainly laugh. This is not a pretty street. In recent history, it was grimy, unsafe, and then torn up for new tram tracks. This long, wide, and busy street takes you from the center of town down to the neighborhood of Leith (also previously seen as grimy, unsafe, and primarily famous for being the location of Trainspotting) in 30-40 minutes. While this might not immediately sound appealing, it’s worth a visit because (although largely gentrified) this area still feels somewhat scrappy and youthful; it is a departure from the fairy-tale cobbled streets dominant in this city. Walk like a local and explore Edinburgh institutions (Italian del Valvona & Corolla), independent shops (Bard), and a great assortment of charity shops, thrift stores, and vintage shops (Pascal & Co.).

INSIDER TIPThere are endless coffees, bakeries, and restaurants scattered the length of Leith Walk, so you can shelter from the Scottish weather if needed.


7 OF 10

The Shore

WHERE: Leith

After your amble down Leith walk you will likely be in search of a cozy pub. I encourage you to continue down through Leith to The Shore, the old harbor, which has been the port of Leith since Anglo-Saxon times. This ramshackle street brings to mind the novels of Dickens, rich with history. Old stone buildings are peppered with pubs and restaurants, offering lovely views. Nestle in and enjoy a vibrant and warm atmosphere on a summer’s evening or feel cosy and magical on a cold winter’s afternoon, the water glittering outside.

INSIDER TIPTry The King’s Wark for a cozy pub offering great food. Book ahead if you want to go for dinner.


8 OF 10

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

A gentle stroll through the tree-lined paths of the Botanical Gardens of Edinburgh is such a balm for the soul. Nestled between delightful Stockbridge and elegant Inverleith, the gardens are surrounded by lovely urban streets on all sides. Climb the gentle hill within and treat yourself to sweeping views of the city. Especially worth the trip if you visit in the Spring, to see the vibrant rhododendron collection bloom forth.

INSIDER TIPThe Gateway Café is a great spot for coffee and cake or lunch.


9 OF 10

The Water of Leith Walkway

Another calm offering of nature, The Water of Leith Walkway follows the main river that winds through Edinburgh. The full route is 13 miles but you can pop in and out at many points. There is a wild untamed beauty here that creates a peaceful haven. I would recommend beginning in picturesque Dean Village (Stockbridge), taking in both the neo-classical St. Bernand’s Well and Antony Gormley’s contemporary Standing Man river on your way to the National Galleries of Scotland: Modern.

INSIDER TIPIf you are lucky you may spot otters, kingfishers, herons or one of the many other creatures who make their home here.


10 OF 10

Teviot Place

WHERE: University of Edinburgh

It is hard to pick from the cluster of bustling old town streets that surround the Museum Of Scotland and the University of Edinburgh, but short curving Teviot Place is a charming street for two reasons. First, it borders both the path down to The Meadows (Edinburgh’s famous open green space) and McEwan Hall (the beautiful grade-A listed domed building, which holds the graduation ceremonies for the university). Second, it houses two of the best boutiques in Edinburgh, W. Armstrong & Son and Napiers, and offers a nearby cluster of easy eateries. Special mention goes to Paradise Palms (serving hip vegan and vegetarian fare) and Thomas J Wells Coffee (elegant coffee and brunch).