How to escape the crowds in Edinburgh

By Jon Price

A city of intrigue and drama, with backstreets that harbour haunted corners and cellar-dwelling bars, and where hidden villages stand frozen in old world splendour, Edinburgh is a place of timeless wonder. It’s also a place in the grips of overtourism, with scores descending on the iconic castle and Royal Mile as though it’s one of the kingdoms at Disney Land. A little creative thought is required if you want to escape the masses. Here’s our alternative guide on where to stay, eat and drink and how to spend your time in the fabled Scottish capital.

Where to stay

Don’t be put off by the name. The Witchery is a truly unique hotel that hoards of tourists walk straight past every single day en route to Edinburgh Castle. Tucked inside a beautiful baroque building lined floor to ceiling with devilish drapes and creepy crimson red fabrics, this bizarre ‘gothic hotel’ is by far one of the most atmospheric places to stay in the city. Opt for a romantic suite and don’t forget to check out the eerie restaurant, which boasts an award-winning wine list. 

Gorgeous gothic nightspots can be found all across Edinburgh, but the super-strange Glasshouse Hotel is one-of-a-kind, blending crumbling facades with ultra-modern giant glass walls. The sleek furnishings and whimsical design touches contradict each other in an old-meets-new kind of way, yet the rooms here somehow have a retro air of 1970s design about them. Some suites have balconies that leads to the rooftop garden. Don’t miss the superb Henderson Gallery, an art space dedicated to the kind of creativity that encompasses the hotel’s design mantras and ethos.  

Where to eat

Whether you’re looking for horror-inspired haggis fritters and macabre monster shows or lush street food in unexpected tropical surroundings, the Scottish capital is a treasure trove of quirky bars and restaurants. First and foremost, head on over to Frankenstein / Bier Keller on the George IV Bridge – arguably the city’s most unusual and novel place to eat and certainly the only one that’s home to animatronic monsters and daily Halloween-inspired shows. The entertainment is definitely the big draw but the food is decent too – think juicy burgers and sauce-smothered chicken wings.  

If the Scottish weather has you feeling a little chilly, another wonderful alternative Edinburgh dining experience can be found over at Boteco Do Brasil – a little slice of South America over on Lothian Street. Expect to find Brazilian classics such as Feijoada stew and watermelon martinis on the menu, served against a backdrop of salsa nights, live music and Mardi Gras-themed shows. It’s almost like being in Rio. Almost.  

Where to drink

Enjoy a tipple on Niddry Street, just off the Royal Mile, at The Banshee Labyrinth. Once part of the city’s infamous underground vaults, this twisting, turning rock bar is allegedly Scotland’s most haunted pub and is so confusing to navigate there’s a map by the main entrance. Wander through caves and caverns in search of small alcoves which may or may not already be occupied by the ghosts of long-deceased criminals. We recommend sampling one of the great local ales available on tap.  

Hidden around an unassuming bend just off Princes Street, The Voodoo Rooms is another Edinburgh institution often overlooked by tourists. This Creole-inspired cabaret bar continues the maze-like tradition of the Banshee Labyrinth, boasting six large rooms and four bars each adorned with pin-studded leather sofas and outrageous black and gold wall inserts. Sit back, sip a cocktail and check out a burlesque magic show or cabaret performance, both of which can usually be found here nightly during festival season. Check online for show times.  

What to do

Ditch the hop-on, hop-off buses for something altogether more fun, original and exciting. If you’d like to see Edinburgh from a rather different angle - and at a much more exhilarating pace - why not consider touring the city by trike? Grab your helmet, hold on tight and let one of your expert motorcyclist guide chauffeur you around the city’s New Town and Old Town on three wheels, pointing out plenty of peculiar spots along the way.

If that’s not adventurous enough take a deep breath and see if your lungs can master Scotland’s most iconic musical instrument: the bagpipes. Under the watchful eye of a professional piper, this hands-on experience will teach you the history behind this emblematic instrument from the top of Calton Hill and show you how to master the basics with the city spread out beneath you. Be warned: it’s harder than it looks.  

Don’t miss

There’s good reason to spend most of your time in the Old Town and New Town but don’t miss the neighbourhoods elsewhere. It always pays to venture off the beaten track. With this in mind, we recommend leaving the Royal Mile in your rear-view mirror and heading over to Edinburgh’s delightful Dean Village (pictured). This hidden gem is dotted with brightly-coloured buildings from the 19th and early 20th century dotted along the banks of a scenic river. What’s more, it’s only a ten-minute drive from the city centre and its attractions – including temples inspired by Ancient Rome - are easily walkable on foot. Bring its history to life on an insightful guided walking tour.

MakeMyDay offers unique and handpicked experiences and tours in exciting cities around the globe, including Edinburgh.

Image: Ellen26 from Pixabay