Edinburgh local Katie Goh recommends the best walks, art spots, neighborhoods and craft breweries in her adopted hometown.

I’ve lived in Edinburgh for nearly seven years now, and I’m still discovering new places to visit in this ancient city.

My friends and I often describe Edinburgh as a village: in 10 minutes you can walk from the bustling shop-lined Princes St down cobblestone alleyways and be sitting on a bench in the woods listening to the Water of Leith flow by. Plus, you bump into everyone all of the time. 

Most tourists visit Edinburgh in August, a month of festivals that includes the fringe, international, book, art and film festivals – a time when the city doubles in size, and every street corner, pub and shop seems to host a performer. Yet Edinburgh has plenty to offer year-round. Here are some highlights.

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Woman standing at window hatch of coffee shop
Start your day off right with a coffee (and pastry) from Cheapshot © Katie Goh / Lonely Planet

I usually start the day in Edinburgh with…

A coffee. You need caffeine to tackle the city’s famous seven hills as well as its steep streets. There is no shortage of independent cafes to stop and people-watch in, but I usually take mine to go on my way to work. Cheapshot is a must-stop for busy students, workers and tourists. With delicious coffees starting from £2.50, Cheapshot lives up to its name, with freshly baked pastries on offer, too. But what makes the coffee spot so unique is its rolling management structure: each year, a new barista arrives to take up a residence for a single year. This means a friendly, supportive community has sprung up around the spot.

Woman walking in Scotland with Arthur's Seat in background
Katie takes her trusty Doc Martens on a stroll to Arthur's Seat © Katie Goh / Lonely Planet

In Edinburgh, you must try...

Climbing a hill to find a view of the city. Edinburgh has seven hills, and the most famous is also its highest: Arthur’s Seat. It’s a steep climb to the top (wear a good pair of shoes), with the 360° view across the city and the Firth of Forth well worth the effort. Once you get to the top and have regained your breath, climb down the other side of Holyrood Park and head toward quaint, historic Duddingston Village. There you’ll find picturesque streets and a 12th-century kirk (church) beside a small loch. Stop for a well-earned pint in the Sheep Heid Inn. If it’s a Sunday, treat yourself to a delicious roast lunch.

Edinburgh's best independent shops

My favorite neighborhood in Edinburgh is...

Portobello. This charming suburb sits next to Edinburgh’s coast. Jump on a bus to Portobello (or Porty) and you’ll arrive along a main street lined with charity shops, independent gift shops, cafes and chippies as well as the excellent Portobello Bookshop, which hosts author events just about every week.

Follow the sound of crashing waves along residential streets and you’ll suddenly find yourself on Portobello Beach, an open expanse of two miles of sand. In the summer, Porty Beach is a popular spot for swimmers and sunbathers, while in the winter it’s a perfect stretch of sand to walk along (just wrap up warm!). Along the seaside promenade you’ll find a selection of food, drink and gelato options as well as outdoor seating to take a break and watch the waves crash into shore.

Close-up of sandwich with hot stuffing in cafe
Alby's is the go-to spot for a filling hot sandwich © Katie Goh / Lonely Planet

The top spot for a sandwich in Edinburgh is...

Alby’s. In the neighborhood of Leith, Alby’s serves best hot sandwich in town. The menu changes every two weeks, but there’s always a vegan, veggie and meat option. These enormous, cheesy toasties are filled with fresh ingredients that will keep you full until dinnertime. Take a seat in the stylish cafe or get a greaseproof-paper-wrapped sandwich to go and enjoy it along Leith’s waterfront. Their sandwiches have been such a hit that Alby’s is expanding with a smaller takeaway shop opening in the summer near the Meadows in the city’s Southside.

Jupiter Artland park in Edinburgh
In Edinburgh you can find peace and quiet in Jupiter Artlands © Katie Goh / Lonely PlanetJupiter Artland

In Edinburgh, you can get away from the crowds by… 

Visiting Jupiter Artland on the outskirts of the city. A short bus ride away from Edinburgh on the grounds of a 19th-century country house, Jupiter Artland was established in 2009 as an open-air art museum. Spend an afternoon meandering through meadows and woodlands to stumble across the park’s permanent artworks, like Marc Quinn’s colorful Love Bomb and Charles Jencks’ immersive Cells of Life. It’s the perfect escape from the busy, narrow, winding streets of Edinburgh.

The one item I recommend bringing to Edinburgh is...

Flat shoes. Unfortunately, Edinburgh is not the most accessible city. As well as the aforementioned seven hills, the city’s streets are old and uneven, with plenty of rickety cobblestones. While this adds to Edinburgh’s charm, it can also mean tripping over uneven pavement edges. So if you’re planning on exploring the city on foot, a pair of comfortable shoes is a must. I like to stomp around in a pair of Doc Martens, but any flat shoe that can take you up a slippery hill and down a cobblestone lane will do the trick.

Cans of craft beer lined up in bottle shop
There's more to Scotland's drink offerings than whisky © Katie Goh / Lonely PlanetJupiter Artland

You should bring back from Edinburgh…

Locally made booze. Edinburgh has an impressive craft-beer scene as well as local gin and whisky distilleries. Support local and award-winning Edinburgh breweries like Pilot, Barney’s, Bellfield and Newbarns by bringing home a case of IPA, lager, sour beer or stout. Many of Edinburgh’s local breweries have their own taprooms and beer gardens where you can sample a fresh pint. Ask for recommendations in one of the city’s independent off-licenses, such as Beets in Leith, one of my favorites.

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