The Skinny guide to Edinburgh's West End
Edinburgh's West End is a hive of arthouse cinemas, picturesque courtyards, great coffee and some brilliant pubs
Once you look beyond its big banks and hotels, dominating office blocks, seemingly constant building work, busy roads and commuter train station at Haymarket, the West End has an awful lot going for it. From its theatres, arthouse cinema and celebrated concert venues, to the National Gallery of Modern Art in the picturesque Dean Village, there’s also an abundance of excellent coffee shops, bakeries, bars and restaurants waiting to be explored. All this makes the West End perfect for a big day out in the capital.
In the shadow of Edinburgh Castle you'll find a proper boozer in the Blue Blazer (2 Spittal St) with rotating cask ales and an impressive rum selection. For country pub vibes, head to Teuchters (26 William St). Offering up traditional Scottish fare in mugs, their cask ales are only one-upped by their single malt whisky selection; play the Hoop of Destiny (booze hoopla!) to be in with a chance of winning a rare nip. Craft beer fans should avoid the chains and wannabe punks and head instead to The Hanging Bat (133 Lothian Rd), or the Innis & Gunn Brewery Taproom (81-83 Lothian Rd); gin lovers should go to The Jolly Botanist (256-260 Morrison St) or the tasting tour at the Edinburgh Gin Distillery (1A Rutland Pl), and for grown-up cocktails with an Italian twist try Hey Palu (49 Bread St).
Edinburgh’s coffee culture is exemplary, and you'll find some of the best cups in the West End. A few minutes from Princes Street, Cairngorm (1 Melville Pl) is a must for a batch brew (aka filter coffee), while near the Edinburgh College of Art, you'll get a wicked on-the-go coffee from Brew'd (4 Spittal St). The sweet-toothed will want to try Tasty Buns (67 Bread St) for their cake within a cake within a cake creations (imagine a turducken, but with baked goods!). And the OG coffee and cake hangout in the area Lovecrumbs (155 West Port) is a charming space decked out in mismatched furniture and gorgeous cake-filled armoires.
Just down the road you'll find their sister cafe, the stylish Nice Times Bakery (147 Morrison St), while near Haymarket be sure to visit new kid on the block, Little Collingwood (10 Haymarket Ter). Run by the team behind Abbeyhill’s Little Fitzroy, flat whites and vegan bakes are all served out of a teeny tiny hatch in the excellent Stag Barber hairdressers.
Some of our favourite eateries can be found in the West End too. Specialising in Syrian and Levantine cuisine, the shawerma and mana'eesh (Palestinan flatbread) at Taza in Town (69 Bread St) are unreal, as is their veggie meal for two. You’ll find American-style burgers at Bread Meats Bread (92 Lothian Rd), Thai street food at Ting Thai Caravan (55-57 Lothian Rd), fragrant bowls of pho at Vietnam House (1-3 Grove St), Greek gyros at Ola Kala (202 Morrison St), Punjabi cuisine at Omar Khayyam (1 Grosvenor St), and authentic Mexican food at Taco Libre (3 Shandwick Pl).
For a slightly more high-end dining experience try the five-course tasting menu at Timberyard (10 Lady Lawson St), and for the best takeaway breakfast in the city grab a morning roll with homemade tattie scones from Preacher’s (24-26 Lady Lawson St). For artisan bread, head to the weekend market at award-winning wholesale bakery Company Bakery (5 Devon Pl).
One of the best record shops in the city can be found in the West End. With an excellent section devoted to Scottish artists and passionate knowledgeable staff, make sure you leave town with a musical souvenir from Assai Records (1 Grindlay St). Book lovers should visit Edinburgh Books (145 West Port) with its shelves stacked high with rare and second-hand books, while cute stationers and gift shop Paper Tiger have two shops in the area (6a Stafford St; 53 Lothian Road).
Things to do
Keen art lovers will want to visit the National Gallery of Modern Art (73 Belford Rd); set aside plenty of time to explore its surrounding sculpture park which features works by Henry Moore and Scottish-Italian Eduardo Paolozzi, as well as Charles Jencks' breathtaking landform. While you're in the area be sure to have a proper wander around Dean Village, a former grain milling village on the Water of Leith. Cinephiles will want to take in a movie at the Filmhouse (88 Lothian Rd) while in town.
Across the road from the Filmhouse is the grand Usher Hall which over the years has hosted everyone from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra to The Flaming Lips. It's been running as a COVID-19 test centre for most of the past year, but from the end of August gigs are back, with Teenage Fanclub (14 Sep), Belle & Sebastian (1 Feb 2022) and Lorde (26 May 2022) set to play in the coming months. Flanked by a theatre on either side – Traverse Theatre (10 Cambridge St) and The Lyceum (30b Grindlay St) – it's a great part of town to soak up some culture.
Leave the city
If the excitement of the West End is all too much for you, or you just fancy getting out of Edinburgh for the day, then jump on a train from Haymarket to Glasgow’s Buchanan Street station and you'll be there in approximately 40 minutes. Yes, it’s that close. Alternatively, take the train to North Queensferry, walk over the original Forth Road Bridge and have lunch in Port Edgar; spend the rest of your afternoon in South Queensferry (a town famous for 'The Loony Dook' where people (see: lunatics) throw themselves in the Firth of Forth on New Year's Day) before heading back to the city. To visit Edinburgh's sculpture park, Jupiter Artland, board the X27 bus from the West End exchange.