The Skinny guide to Edinburgh's New Town
Look behind the chain stores and new developments, and Edinburgh's New Town is home to great pubs and cafes, exciting food and world-class art
Completed around 1850, Edinburgh’s New Town is not as new as its name might suggest. Designed as an escape from the medieval streets on the other side of the Nor Loch (now Princes St Gardens, then a pestilent swamp formerly used for witch trials), its Georgian grid plan is both an architectural gem and a physical demonstration of political propaganda, with street names chosen to solidify the Act of Union.
Princes Street Gardens lie on either side of the National Galleries of Scotland, and offer a pleasant space to walk or sit in the shade of Edinburgh Castle. There’s a playpark, public toilets and cafe in the West Gardens, plus the restored Ross Fountain looks great on the ‘gram. Beyond the centre, enjoy gazing upon the fences of the many and various private parklands which are only accessible to keyholders from very specific catchment areas.
The Rose Street pub crawl is legendary among stag dos – we don’t recommend you do that, as the pubs are largely homogenous, but rock bar The Black Rose Tavern (49 Rose St) and ‘Edinburgh's most outstandingly preserved Edwardian pub’ The Abbotsford (3 Rose St) are both worth a visit. If it’s Victorian grandeur PLUS oysters you’re looking for, the tile and gilt-covered Cafe Royal (19 W Register St) is the place for you. On the same block, The Voodoo Rooms (19a W Register St) offers similar gilt-covered vibes, but with a focus on cocktails and a live events space. Opposite, Lady Libertine in the basement of the Edinburgh Grand (25 W Register St) is also good for fine wines and fancy times.
Looking for more cocktails? Some of the city’s finest purveyors are on Queen Street. The subterranean Bramble (no. 16a) is internationally renowned for its mixology and cosy nooks, with a rotating menu of delicious cocktails also available at its above-ground sister Lucky Liquor Co (no. 39a). Panda & Sons (no. 79) really commits to the speakeasy concept – access is via a fake barbershop storefront – while the atmospheric Nightcap (3 York Pl) at the other end of the road has seats outside and in.
Lucky Liquor, Queen Street
Deeper into the New Town, a local Victorian pub experience can be had in the cosy and very red Kay’s Bar (39 Jamaica St). The Cumberland (1-3 Cumberland St) features possibly the city’s best beer garden; observe the area’s unique sartorial style, from Barbour jackets to the ubiquitous red trousers of the off-duty men of means.
Broughton Street is a destination in itself, home to lively bars, restaurants and small businesses selling local produce and design. On the corner, The Street (2b Picardy Pl) is a lively contemporary bar with a downstairs nightclub space, while Pickles (60 Broughton St) does amazing cheese, meat and wine platters. On a side road, The Outhouse (12a Broughton St Ln) has a relaxed atmosphere and good beer garden. Continuing a trip through Edinburgh's historic architecture told through the medium of pubs, the art deco Barony Bar (81-85 Broughton St) is a local insitution. At the bottom of the road, airy Harmonium (7-11 E London St) offers drinks, an all-vegan menu and occasional gigs in its basement venue.
The area is also well served for excellent coffee shops, if you can dodge the persistent chains. Fortitude (3c York Pl), Wellington Coffee (33a George St), Lowdown Coffee (40 George St), Cairngorm Coffee (41a Frederick St) and Artisan Roast (57 Broughton St) are all local favourites.
As you’d expect from the city centre, there’s a wide variety of food on offer in the New Town. There are all the usual chain restaurants clustered around St Andrew Square – Dishoom, Wahaca, Franco Manca etc. You definitely want to try something more locally owned, though.
For a sit down meal with a touch of class, Superico (83 Hanover St) serves Chilean-style small plates including excellent ceviche and (if you’re lucky) their millefeuille chip, along with delicious cocktails including the inimitable pisco sour. On Thistle Street, Fishers in the City (no. 58) celebrates Scottish seafood in a stylish bistro environment – their mussels are some of the best in the city. Opposite, Noto (no. 47a) focus on sharing plates, small domaine wine producers and bespoke cocktails. Tucked away on Rose Street Lane, Hakataya (122 Rose St S Ln) is a much-imitated sushi and ramen joint in a sleek minimal space.
Speaking of institutions, no night out is complete without a trip to Edinburgh’s premier disco chippy, Cafe Piccante (19 Broughton St). They will provide you with the deep fried Mars Bar Scottish people don’t actually eat, and also offer a pay it forward scheme where you can buy a meal for someone in need.
Down the hill, Fhior (36 Broughton St) serve up a menu of delicious small plates centred around carefully sourced local produce in an airy, minimal environment.
New eyesore shopping centre the St James Quarter also houses an extensive food court featuring a surprising number of local favourites. Highlights include Ka Pao’s pan-Asian menu, the presumably self explanatory Maki & Ramen, the ubiquitous Bross Bagels and much-trumpeted fine dining Bonnie & Wild.
Maki & Ramen, St James Quarter
Looking for booze? Bon Vivant’s Companion (51 Thistle St) offers an array of fine wines, beers and spirits, including an extensive selection of Scottish gins while Vino (30 Broughton St) is a local independent chain providing expertly chosen wine and beer.
Looking for meat? Newly renovated Broughton Market (97 Broughton St) is a local institution – go on Thursday for the full range of fancy sausages. And while not technically an indie, Scottish record shop institution FOPP (3-15 Rose St) can provide all the local music and film you could possibly need.
Things to do
On the Mound sit the neoclassical National Galleries of Scotland, home to such artistic treasures as Da Vinci’s Madonna of the Yarnwinder, Gauguin’s Vision after the Sermon, and Botticelli’s Madonna and Child. In front, on Princes Street, sits the columned Royal Scottish Academy, home to a year-round programme of contemporary Scottish art. On Queen St, you will find the Gothic spires of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Inside, a great hall features a processional frieze depicting great Scots from history, and an extensive collection of portraiture over three floors.
Standing on Picardy Place, you may enjoy the monumental bronze sculptures by Eduardo Paolozzi, The Manuscript of Monte Cassino. And, of course, the majestic golden turd atop the St James Quarter.