Lonely Planet Local Chitra Ramaswamy has lived in Edinburgh for more than a decade. Based in the north of the city in Leith, named one of the UK’s top hipster spots, she loves exploring the historic capital’s world famous architecture, eating out in its many excellent restaurants, sampling the city’s wealth of beautiful green spaces, and continuing on her hunt for Edinburgh’s best coffee.
When I have friends visiting … I order them to explore the narrow closes off the iconic Royal Mile, packed with hidden gems yet just a heartbeat away from the tourist throng heading up to the castle. My favourite is Dunbar’s Close, an elegant 17th-century style garden where you will have only a few locals eating their lunchtime sandwich for company. Towards the top (castle) end of the Royal Mile, folded away in Lady Stair’s Close, the quirky Writer’s Museum boasts evocative items such as Robert Burns’ writing desk and Robert Louis Stevenson’s riding boots.
For cheap eats … you can’t beat Ting Thai Caravan, a hip Thai cafe serving up delicious authentic curries, rice and noodle boxes at bargain prices – as long as you don’t mind queueing during busy periods. El Cartel (also be prepared to wait) is a must for Mexican lovers and anyone with a weakness for frozen margaritas, and the Mosque Kitchen is an Edinburgh institution, especially amongst the city’s student population, famed for the tastiest and cheapest curry in the city.
For fine dining … you’re spoilt for choice in Edinburgh. Treat yourself to lunch or dinner at Tom Kitchin’s Michelin-starred Kitchin (back in Leith), considered one of the best fine dining spots in the UK, if you can get a table. Restaurant Martin Wishart, nearby, is equally as good. Others I point foodies in the direction of are Ondine for the freshest Scottish seafood, Chop House for steak lovers, Gardener’s Cottage for wholesome loveliness, and Timberyard, probably my favourite restaurant in the capital, for, well, everything.
Take your kids … to the park. I love exploring the city’s exceptionally beautiful green spaces with my baby and four-year-old. The world class Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, based in leafy, elegant Inverleith since 1820, is a must, and from there it’s a hop across the road to Inverleith Park, with its generous pond and marsh area for duck-watching and breathtaking views of the castle and city. Dr Neil’s Garden, a truly special place overlooking Duddingston Loch, is one of my favourite spots in Edinburgh. Every time I go there I feel happy, at peace, and lucky to live in this beautiful city.
If the first thing you think about when you visit a city is where to get a good coffee … head to one of the capital’s three Artisan Roast cafes for exceptionally good coffee in small, dark, richly-scented surroundings. The original coffee house is on Broughton Street, which is great for browsing independent shops and restaurants in general. Elsewhere, Brew Lab, focusing on single origin pour over and espresso coffee, is amazing too.
For a unique encounter with public art … make sure you walk up (or down) Martin Creed’s elegant and harmonious Scotsman Steps: probably my favourite piece of public art on the planet. Built in 1899 to link the Old and New towns, in 2010 the Turner prize winning artist covered each of the 104 steps in a different shade of marble, regenerating a stunning but neglected piece of architecture for the city.
The best places for a drink … include uber-cool The Lucky Liquor Co, which serves up a leftfield menu of 13 cocktails made from 13 bottles changing every 13 weeks. I love Salt Horse for a beer, where there are 12 keg lines in the bar, an amazing bottle shop next door, and a secret beer garden downstairs. In summer the outdoor area of multi-arts venue Summerhall, which has its own on-site brewery and gin distillery, has a great atmosphere. If a traditional pub is your thing, The Oxford is where Ian Rankin’s famous detective Rebus takes a drink or the Cafe Royal is a Parisian style institution with its own oyster bar.
At the weekend … I love hanging out in Leith, my local neighbourhood, which is home to many of the coolest cafes, bars, and pubs in Edinburgh, as well as the two Michelin-starred restaurants mentioned above. In the morning head to Williams and Johnson at Custom Lane for a coffee by Leith’s own micro roastery. Wander along the Shore, lined with lovely bars, cafes and pubs, and then explore some of the paths along the Water of Leith Walkway or check out The Pitt, a bustling street food market in an industrial yard serving up excellent food, drinks and live music on Saturdays. In the evening, Nobles or the infamous Port O’Leith are atmospheric spots for a pint of craft ale before heading up Leith Walk into town.
When I want to blow the cobwebs away … I head for the rugged wilderness of Arthur’s Seat and the majestic surroundings of Holyrood Park. How many ancient capitals, after all, are laid out in the shadow of an extinct volcano? Walk to the rocky summit in 45 minutes where the panoramic views are magnificent on a clear day, or circle Hunter’s bog alongside the Edinburghers walking their dogs. Hangover cures don’t come more uplifting than this.
When I want to get out of the city … I jump on a bus to Portobello, a quirky Victorian seaside town with a strong community vibe and a stunning two-mile stretch of beach and promenade. Good cafes and charity shops as well.