As a local, I want to offer some alternative things to do in Edinburgh that may not be on your radar!
Edinburgh is painted as gothic and mysterious. There’s often haar in the air that comes in off the sea, but it’s also a lush, green city making it the perfect destination for walking and adventuring! The bus service is also pretty good if you don’t feel motivated to walk everywhere. It is, after all, a city built on seven hills…
As my home city and Henry’s adoptive home, we know our way around the affectionately named ‘Auld Reekie’ and we’ve put together our favourite lesser-known spots.
Get out of the city centre bubble and explore the city!
Please note any recommendations are based purely on our own experience and there are no affiliations in this post.
Alternative things to do in Edinburgh: Dr Neil’s Garden
A true secret garden, this is hidden behind a 12th-century church in Duddingston, a beautiful village at the foot of Arthur’s Seat.
Dr Neil’s Garden is the creation of two local doctors Nancy and Andrew Neil in the late 1960s. It was originally a therapeutic garden for patients, and it grows medicinal plants. It overlooks Duddingston loch and it’s a bit of peace and quiet away from the hustle of the city. You might even spot a heron – they come here to find a partner in their masses!
To get here a 42 bus will bring you to Duddingston village or walk around Arthur’s Seat. Please check opening times, it tends to close over winter and open again in spring.
Hoopla Tip: Pop into The Sheep Heid Inn (a 600-year-old pub) for lunch or dinner after your visit and play a game of skittles, it’s just around the corner!
Alternative things to do in Edinburgh: Cammo Estate
In the lush Barnton area, travelling in the direction of South Queensferry is this pretty park and nature reserve.
Inside Cammo Estate are walled gardens, a grand house now in ruins and a water tower perched behind a hill, the perfect spot for a picnic.
It’s about a mile circular walk with gorgeous trees and buildings that have been transformed by vines and wildflowers. These beautiful walkways have been reclaimed by nature and doggos LOVE roaming around these grounds.
From Cammo Estate, pop across the road to the River Almond and experience a tranquil and quite hidden part of Edinburgh. This leads to our next location!
Hoopla Tip: If you take a number 43 bus to Barnton you can easily walk from the main road.
Alternative things to do in Edinburgh: Cramond Village to Cramond Island
This isn’t a secret to locals but for visitors to Edinburgh, you might not think to visit Cramond Island on the River Forth.
Another village suburb of the city on the estuary of the River Almond is Cramond village and Cramond Island.
Extremely popular with dog walkers, come here for quaint pubs and strolls along the beach. Walk to the island in the River Forth when the tide is out to enjoy a different view of the city! There’s not much to enjoy on the island, but it’s fun to get here and it does offer a different perspective of Edinburgh and Fife.
Hoopla Tip: Get the 41 bus here and check the tide times before walking out to the island – don’t get stuck!!
Alternative things to do in Edinburgh: Blackford Hill
In my university days, I lived in Morningside as did a certain JK Rowling! It’s a posh part of the city, with its chic eateries. It’s also home to the city’s best charity shops!
Behind Morningside is Blackford Hill which is well worth the short climb for spectacular views over the city. It seeps into the Hermitage Braids, a local nature reserve. There’s also an old observatory which still holds public events today. From here you can also head to Craiglockhart Hill which is where Edinburgh Napier University has an alien-esque campus. Catch a number 11 or 15 bus to get here!
Hoopla Tip: This is a perfect spot for photos of the Edinburgh skyline.
Alternative things to do in Edinburgh: Lauriston Castle
There’s probably no way that you’ll miss Edinburgh Castle on a short visit but for me, Lauriston Castle conjures up blissful childhood memories.
The Lord Provost has his annual garden party here and it’s home to the Edinburgh-Kyoto friendship (Japanese) garden. Don’t miss the gorgeous bluebell wood either! You can also take tours inside the castle and it has a café in a beautiful courtyard. There is a huge expanse of green space to enjoy with views across the River Forth and it’s just a splendid way to spend part of your day that doesn’t involve crowds of tourists.
Hoopla Tip: It’s not too far from Cramond so you could combine the two places in one afternoon.
Alternative things to do in Edinburgh: The Water of Leith
This runs throughout the whole of Edinburgh, so really you can pick your starting point and walk along as far or little as you like.
In Longstone, you can visit the Water of Leith Centre in a renovated old schoolhouse and see the Slateford Aqueduct which carries the Union Canal. Here you’ll find the aforementioned beautiful old aqueduct, a woodland trail and a cute country pub!
From Murrayfield to the city centre brings you to the prettiest part, Dean Village down to Stockbridge. This now “Insta-famous” destination is the perfect place to capture some fairy tale-esque buildings.
Stop off in Stockbridge for a walk down Circus Lane, cafés and vintage clothes binge in the charity shops!
For the ultimate slice of true Edinburgh culture head to The Shore area at the other (north) end of the river. Down here discover Leith, it’s varying styles of architecture and restaurants and cafes galore.
Hoopla Tip: On your travels visit Stockbridge for vintage/charity shop bargains and on The Shore, we recommend micro-roastery Custom House Lane for a coffee stop.
Public Transport in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is a very walkable city but for most of these destinations a bus is to be recommended. The local bus service is Lothian Buses, they are super regular and go everywhere in and around the city!
Hoopla Tip: Don’t forget to thank the driver – an Edinburgh tradition!
Edinburgh has a whole lot to offer, which is why we spent the time writing a mindful neighbourhood guide to the city and educate yourself on how to speak and act like a local with our Edinburgh cultural guide!