The Skinny guide to Portobello

A burgeoning food and drink scene, a bustling high street, and all the joys of the Edinburgh seaside – here are our picks from Portobello

Feature by Peter Simpson | 18 Aug 2021
  • Portobello

Three miles east of the city centre, Portobello is ideal if you want a break from the wet medieval stone of the Old Town. It all centres on the beach – a two-mile stretch that’s not always great for swimming, but perfect for lounging about with a book and a coffee.

The beachfront promenade is a lively mix of food, drinks, amusement arcades, families, dogs and cyclists (so keep your head on a swivel). There’s also a healthy high street dotted with indie shops and eateries, and some very good pubs for when the rain inevitably comes on.

Food and drink

Down on the beach you’ll find a pastel pink outpost of Civerinos Slice, serving up slices so big that the wind might genuinely take them out of your hands. Just next door is The Little Chartroom on the Prom, who bring flashes of restaurant flair to their beachfront trailer. Incredible flavour and texture combinations abound, with an inventive and exciting menu that changes every few weeks but focuses on seasonal veg and meat, as well as a healthy amount of seafood and what we’ll call ‘lovely charred things’. One of the best dining experiences anywhere in the city, regardless of how much sand you’ll get in your mouth. Weekends bring the Little Green Van to the beach, serving up takeaway espresso by Edinburgh roasteries, and The Espy is a great beachfront bar for a pint and a gaze out to the water.

Over on the High Street, The Skylark and the Portobello Tap serve up tasty drinks in relaxed settings, while recent newcomer Tanifiki is the place to relax with a coffee. There are branches of the oft-mentioned Twelve Triangles and Bross Bagels if you’re in the mood for pastry/ holed bread, and, because it’s the seaside, we need to shout out one of the city’s best chip shops. St Andrews Takeaway, we salute you.

Things to Do

If after reading that first paragraph you’ve realised you don’t have any beach-friendly reading material with you, don’t panic! The Portobello Bookshop is here to help! The independent bookshop, which opened in 2019, has a bit of everything from local indie magazines to genre-busting fiction, and regularly hosts readings and events in-person and online.

If you’re feeling a bit peckish, Aemilia’s homemade fresh pasta was a big hit of the 2020 lockdown; they regularly sell out early at their new permanent home at the other end of the High Street, so get down early if you're keen for some ravioli. Looking for a memento of your trip that you can drink on the train home? Beer Zoo is one of the city’s very best bottle shops, with incredibly knowledgeable staff and a wide selection that includes beers and spirits from a host of local breweries and distilleries.

And if you want a bit of a break from the sand and the waves, look out for the latest from Art Walk Porty, which has in recent years grown from an annual celebration of the area’s artists into a multi-faceted programme of events and residencies. Their Art Houses event (4-12 Sep) will offer local artists the chance to open up their studios, homes and gardens, while AWP’s ongoing Assemble programme continues until October 2021. The Porty Light Box is a decommissioned phone box on the corner of Bellfield Street and the High Street that’s been taken on as a gallery space for the local community; it’s well worth swinging by and seeing what’s in the windows.

Getting There, and Going Further Afield

One of the best ways to get to Portobello from the city is by cycling. Just Eat Bikes are £1.50 for an hour, with a drop-off point at the north end of the promenade. Pay through the app, pick up your bike from one of the stations on The Meadows, head towards the police station at Sciennes, then it’s off-street cycle paths the rest of the way. Alternatively, use Lothian Buses to get there – the 21 goes from Leith, the 26 from Princes St or the West End, the 42 from the New Town or the 49 from the Southside. £1.80 each way, pay using contactless, wear a mask on board.

If you *do* fancy a swim, the beaches of East Lothian are closer than you might think. In fact, the 124 EastCoastBus from the city centre passes through Porty on its way to Gullane and North Berwick. The former is home to a beautiful, sprawling sandy beach with some of the best water quality around; the latter is a charming seaside town with the sea to paddle in, shops to peruse, and a large hill (Berwick Law) to climb should the mood take you. It’s around 75 minutes from central Edinburgh to Gullane, then another quarter-hour to North Berwick; you can also get to North Berwick in 35 minutes via hourly Scotrail trains from Waverley. The best waves around can be found at Dunbar, a hub of activity for surfers, paddleboarders and other wetsuited enthusiasts. It’s around half an hour on the train with either Scotrail or CrossCountry.