It may be built on seven hills but Edinburgh is a surprisingly compact and walkable city.

Visitors can easily saunter across the city center in an hour, making sightseeing simple. But to really get to know the Scottish capital, you’ll need to venture beyond the Old Town and explore its other areas.

From lovely green spaces, bustling street food markets, great til-dawn nightlife, amazing coffee and art galleries galore, these are Edinburgh’s best neighborhoods.

Outdoor seating at cafes and restaurants in the Grassmarket area of the Old Town, Edinburgh
Saturdays are the best day to visit the Grassmarket area of the Old Town © Jeff Whyte / Shutterstock

Edinburgh Old Town

The best neighborhood for sightseeing, live music and clubbing

With its centuries-old buildings, narrow alleyways and cobbled streets, the Old Town is by far the most atmospheric and bustling area in central Edinburgh. 

The Royal Mile, the Old Town’s main street, connects Edinburgh Castle to the Queen’s official Scottish residence, the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Nearby you’ll find Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano you can easily climb for panoramic views of the capital.

Some of the best traditional pubs can be found in the Old Town, while foodies should check out the street food and craft market in the Grassmarket (every Saturday). Those wanting a proper night out in Edinburgh should head to the Cowgate for its bars, live music venues and nightclubs, including the tiny, world-renowned Sneaky Pete’s

New Town's Circus Lane, Edinburgh, Scotland
New Town's Circus Lane, Edinburgh, Scotland © Doubleclix / Shutterstock

Edinburgh New Town

The best neighborhood for shopping and cocktail bars

Flanked on one side by Princes Street Gardens and an incredible view of Edinburgh Castle, the other side of Princes Street forms part of Edinburgh’s main shopping precinct, with George Street, Waverley Mall and the brand-new St James Quarter nearby.

The New Town is also stacked with chic restaurants, coffee shops and pubs galore, with a Rose Street pub crawl a must. Dig into the New Town’s side streets and down its staircases and you’ll find some popular places loved by the locals, such as three of Edinburgh’s best cocktail bars. Lucky Liquor, Bramble and Panda and Sons are all to be found on Queen Street.

Some of the best boutique hotels in Edinburgh can be found here; the super bougie Tigerlily and Le Monde on George Street pull out all the stops, while the 5-star Balmoral Hotel should be high up your wishlist.

Exploring Scotland's magical Hebrides islands

Dalry Road in the West End of Edinburgh
Dalry Road in the West End of Edinburgh © cornfield / Shutterstock

West End & Haymarket

The best neighborhood for theatre, art and film

The West End is a real cultural hub of the capital. Lothian Road alone is home to the gorgeous concert venue The Usher Hall, two of Edinburgh’s best theatres – The Lyceum and Traverse – and an arthouse cinema, the Filmhouse.

You’ll also find the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art on Belford Road, and visiting the picturesque Dean Village, a former grain milling village on the Water of Leith, is a must. 

There are loads of great bars and restaurants in the area too, and you’ll find some of the tastiest cakes and coffee in Edinburgh’s West End, from Lovecrumbs in the West Port to Cairngorm Coffee on Melville Place.

People drinking outside The Golf Tavern, Edinburgh, Scotland
The Golf Tavern is one of the oldest public houses established in 1456, located in Bruntsfield © cornfield / Shutterstock

Tollcross & Bruntsfield

The best neighborhoods for brunch and independent shops

These two neighborhoods are family-oriented areas, and it’s rare to find the lush grass of Bruntsfield Links not teeming with happy families out on their daily adventures.

Tollcross and Bruntsfield are brilliant for independent shopping, with Bruntsfield Place alone overflowing with great boutiques, artisan coffee joints and plant shops. Steak lovers should head for Chop House Bruntsfield, while classic brunch options can be found at Honeycomb & Co. and Project Coffee, or try the all-day breakfast at Tollcross’s SEVEN Neighbourhood Cafe.

Tollcross is also where you’ll find the iconic century-old Cameo cinema, a whole host of traditional pubs like Bennets Bar with its incredible whisky selection and the end of the Union Canal, which runs all the way from Falkirk to Edinburgh.

The 5 most beautiful road trips in Scotland

Stockbridge Sunday Market in Edinburgh
Head to the Stockbridge Markets on Sundays for some great thrifting © georgeclerk / Getty Images


The best neighborhood for weekly markets and thrift shops

Stockbridge is one of the more affluent neighborhoods in Edinburgh, and it comes alive at the weekend. The Stockbridge Market (every Sunday) is a must for soaking up some atmosphere while grabbing a quick bite to eat or a handmade souvenir from local vendors.

Raeburn Place is the main street with everything from homeware and gift shops to cheesemongers, patisseries and cafes. There are an exceptional number of thrift shops and charity shops, making Stockbridge great for bargain hunters. Shoppers will also love the idyllic St Stephen Street, with vintage boutiques on one side and a row of basement pubs and cocktail bars on the other.

The water of Leith leading to Leith Docks, Edinburgh
Just off the shore of the Water of Leith, you’ll find even more great bars, restaurants and cafes, as well as the weekly Leith Farmers Market © mark_holm / Getty Images


The best neighborhood for community spirit and LGBTQI+ nightlife

As well as being full of bustling pubs, bars and restaurants, Leith’s main street – Leith Walk – is busy with European delis, Asian supermarkets and almost every cuisine imaginable, such is the multicultural nature of this area.

Around The Shore, you’ll find even more great bars, restaurants and cafes, as well as the weekly Leith Farmers Market (every Saturday). Nearby is The Pitt, a weekend street food market with award-winning food trucks. Back at the top of Leith Walk you’ll find the best gay bars in Edinburgh on Greenside Place and Broughton Street.

For phenomenal 360 degree views across Edinburgh, head to the top of Calton Hill where you’ll find the National Monument of Scotland, aka 'Edinburgh’s Disgrace'. Don’t miss the Collective gallery while you’re up there – it’s housed in the former City Observatory.

Europe’s top 10 scenic train journeys

A dog running through Edinburgh Portobello's low tides
The low tides of Edinburgh's Portobello © otarikokojevs / Getty Images


The best neighborhood for families and the beach

While the beach might not immediately spring to mind when you think of Edinburgh, the seaside suburb of Portobello is perfect for a family outing, and it only takes 30 minutes to get there on the bus from Princes Street.

While Portobello’s most famous claim is that it is responsible for the 99 ice cream, the food scene is still going strong. The high street is home to a great selection of cafes, bakeries and bars, and you’ll find the best fish and chips in Edinburgh at the St Andrews Takeaway.

On the promenade you’ll find exceptional pizzas by the slice from Civerinos Prom Slice, high-end street food from The Little Chartroom on the Prom and great coffee from The Little Green Van, plus the retro Nobles Amusements arcade.

You might also like:
The best time to go to Scotland  
Top 18 beaches in Scotland  
The 13 best places to visit in Scotland  

Explore related stories

Venture into Scotland's wilderness or dive into Welsh history.

Tips & Advice

Scotland or Wales: which corner of the UK should I visit?

May 23, 2023 • 6 min read