If you live in Edinburgh or even visit regularly you probably already know the Castle like the back of your hand and are on first name terms with the giant pandas in the Zoo.
But there’s no reason to tire of Auld Reekie. Take a look at our list of 25 things you (probably) didn’t know you could do in Edinburgh, and prepare to rediscover your hometown.
1. Hit the slopes
Edinburgh hasn’t had much snow this winter, but regardless of the season you can always don your salopettes at Hillend artificial ski slope to the south of the city (Midlothian, if you want to be all pedantic). There are skiing and snowboarding classes on offer for all ages and abilities, as well as general slope time that can be paid for by the hour.
Midlothian Snowsports Centre, Biggar Road, EH10 7DU – more info
2. Have fun on a farm
Believe it or not, you can have a hands-on agricultural experience without leaving the city centre. Gorgie City Farm is located a stone’s throw from Tynecastle Stadium, and visitors can feed and pet the collection of farm and domestic animals that live there. Anyone desperate to get their hands dirty can volunteer to help look after and muck out the animals on a regular basis.
51 Gorgie Road, EH11 2LA – more info
3. Borrow a barge
If you rarely venture away from Princes Street and the Royal Mile you might not have discovered the Union Canal, which runs over 30 miles from Falkirk to the Edinburgh basin at Fountainbridge. Why cycle or walk along the towpath as far as your legs will allow when you can hire a narrow boat for the day and cruise in style?
Re-Union Canal Boats, 1 Union Path, EH3 9QB – more info
4. Swim outdoors
The rather swanky One Spa (part of the Sheraton Hotel in Festival Square) is home to Edinburgh’s only open air swimming pool – a rooftop hydropool with mineral-rich waters intended to help the body rebalance. It’s no wonder there’s only one, considering the generally rubbish weather in Scotland. If you get a nice day and fancy a dip you can always head down to Portobello Beach (pictured, on a rare hot day), but the promise of a heated pool might convince you to shell out the extra cash for a trip to the spa.
8 Conference Square, EH3 8AN – more info
5. Scale the Scott Monument
You can’t miss the striking Scott Monument at the east end of Princes Street (built in honour of Sir Walter Scott in the 1840s) but not everybody knows you can climb 287 stone steps to the top. The spiral staircase is narrow and can be treacherous on a busy day, but the unusual view of Edinburgh and its surroundings is worth the extra effort.
East Princes Street Gardens, EH2 2EJ – more info
6. Sip cocktails in a barbershop (kinda)
Thankfully prohibition was never an issue in the UK, yet we all seem to love the romanticised idea of secret speakeasy style bars. That being said, Panda and Sons is an undeniably cool cocktail bar hidden behind the facade of a retro hairdresser. Head down the stairs and through a secret bookcase doorway to find the bar itself, and even if you can only afford one or two of their more elaborate tipples you’ll still love this unique and charming experience.
79 Queen Street, EH2 4NF – more info
7. Keep up with a keeper
If you love our furry friends at Edinburgh Zoo but have grown tired of elbowing kids out of the way in order to observe them through glass, perhaps it’s time to consider investing in a personalised keeper experience. For a fairly substantial amount of money you can go behind the scenes at the zoo for a day and learn how to look after the various birds and beasts that live there. For slightly less cash you can experience a ‘magic moment’ (otherwise known as half an hour) getting to know a particular animal.
134 Corstorphine Road, EH12 6TS – more info
8. Unearth an underground city
You haven’t thoroughly explored Scotland’s capital until you’ve discovered the bits that are literally hidden underground. Anyone can visit the spooky 18th century vaults built under the arches of South Bridge – reportedly used for everything from business to corpse storage – by way of a ghost tour. Not too far away lies Mary King’s Close – a street just off the Royal Mile shrouded in mystery after it was partly demolished and buried underground for many years. You can now tour the reopened close, although it’s probably not one for the faint of heart.
9. Keep your (sea) anemones close
Less than an hour outside of the city lies Deep Sea World – Scotland’s National Aquarium and a refreshing change of scene for any animal lover who has waited one too many hours for a brief glimpse of a panda. Here you can observe playful seals at feeding time, stroke a sea creature or two (with supervision, of course) and even dive with sharks – if you’re brave enough, that is.
Forthside Terrace, North Queensferry, KY11 1JR – more info
10. Play 36 historic holes
Hire clubs from the nearby Golf Tavern and try your hand at the oldest Short Hole Golf Course in the world, located on the Bruntsfield Links. You can focus on the stunning views of Edinburgh Castle and Arthur’s Seat – and winning, obviously.
30-31 Wright’s Houses, EH10 4HR – more info
11. Take a Turkish bath
Only three Turkish baths are still in operation in Scotland, and one can be found hidden inside Portobello Swim Centre. Designed to relax and refresh you after a hard workout or just a stressful day, the idea is to take a dip in pools of various temperatures as many times as you like before cooling down in the suitably grand-sounding Frigidarium.
57 Promenade, EH15 2BS – more info
12. Sample a Michelin starred munch
Despite being the capital city of the country where the deep fried Mars Bar originated, there are a fair few restaurants proudly displaying Michelin stars in Edinburgh. The newest of these is The Kitchin in Leith, owned by husband and wife team Tom and Michaela Kitchin. The restaurant opened in 2006 and was awarded a Michelin star just a year later for its seasonal British cuisine and French influenced cooking style. Book yourself in to try the seasonal tasting menu and prepare yourself for greatness.
78 Commercial Quay, EH6 6LX – more info
Find more great eating out tips in our Edinburgh restaurants guide
13. Cuddle a (borrowed) cat
Edinburgh is now home to Scotland’s first cat café. Maison de Moggy offers visitors a chance to spend some quality time with a feline friend or two while they sip a cuppa. The concept originally came from Taiwan and Japan in the late ’90s and has proved popular across Europe in recent years.
17-19 West Port, EH1 2JA – www.maisondemoggy.com
14. Eat exotic meats
They gained some exposure before Christmas after claiming that Rudolph and his reindeer pals were on their menu, but did you know Mongolian restaurant Kublai Khans serves exotic meat all year round? The thought may make some vegetarians want to run for the hills, but you can sample everything from kangaroo to zebra here – all cooked before your eyes in a Mongolian barbecue style.
43 Assembly Street, EH6 7BQ – more info
15. Walk across an iconic bridge
The Forth Rail Bridge that links Edinburgh to Fife steals the spotlight on virtually every Edinburgh-related calendar and postcard in existence, but its close neighbour the Forth Road Bridge is arguably just as striking a structure and offers a similarly beautiful view of the Firth of Forth. Best of all, pedestrians and cyclists can venture across the Road Bridge at their chosen leisurely pace and for free. Undoubtedly Edinburgh’s answer to the Brooklyn Bridge.
South Queensferry, EH30 9SF – more info
16. Watch a film on a comfy sofa
Chris Scott / Flickr / CC
We’re proud to say that you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to independent (or at least non-multiplex) cinemas in Edinburgh, but – in the words of Miss Jean Brodie – the crème de la crème of these has to be the Dominion in that infamous fictional teacher’s neighbourhood of Morningside. You may have to pay a little more for your ticket at this family run cinema, but you’ll be made to feel right at home in a cosy seat on a leather sofa or reclining armchair and a foot stool as you watch your chosen movie. Guests are basically encouraged to take their shoes off and relax during their visit, and some will actually turn up to a screening in their pyjamas. Honestly. Now and again you’ll even be offered complimentary crisps here – when was the last time the multiplex treated you so well?
18 Newbattle Terrace, EH10 4RT – more info
17. Crack the Da Vinci code
Or at least see where it was cracked… Rosslyn Chapel on the outskirts of Edinburgh played an important role in Dan Brown’s 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code and even featured in its film adaptation. The book might not be worth revisiting, but Rosslyn Chapel is a beautiful 15th century church with plenty of ornate features to admire and a fascinating history to learn about.
Chapel Loan, Roslin, EH25 9PU – more info
18. Cycle Edinburgh’s Innertube
Jason Jones / Flickr / CC
Google the slightly odd phrase ‘Edinburgh Innertube’ and you’ll find a colourful map (in the same vein as the London Underground map) highlighting around 75km of off-street paths all over the city that are suitable for cyclists. Mostly made up of disused railway lines, the route stretches from Cramond in the north west to Musselburgh in the south east, with plenty of locations in between. If you’re looking for a new biking adventure, set yourself the challenge to visit all of these secret paths and discover some less-travelled parts of your hometown.
Want more two-wheeled tips? Check out our cyclist’s guide to Edinburgh
19. Bring literature to life
Over the years Edinburgh has been home for whole host of famous authors, and even some of their fictional characters. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, JK Rowling, Ian Rankin and Irvine Welsh (pictured) are among those who have lived in and taken inspiration from Scotland’s capital. As a result, bookworms can visit countless literary landmarks in and around the city and even take part in guided walks such as the guided Potter Trail and the Rebus Tour.
20. Take a dip in a Victorian swimming pool
You might be fooled into thinking you’re stepping back in time when you walk into Warrender Swim Centre (formerly Warrender Baths) in Marchmont, which originally opened in 1887 and still boasts much of its original Victorian architecture. Once you get used to the quirky pool-side changing rooms you’ll feel like donning a full-body swimming costume to do a few laps under the pool’s grand glass ceiling. For a similar experience, try the Glenogle Swim Centre in Stockbridge.
55 Thirlestane Road, EH9 1AP – more info
21. Get a vintage makeover
Although it looks like a deceptively small boutique from the outside, Miss Dixiebelle in Bruntsfield is your one-stop shop for a complete retro makeover. As well as offering vintage-inspired clothes and accessories from the 1920s to the ’60s, the boutique is also home to a unique hair and beauty parlour where you can book everything from ’20s inspired fingerwaves to a vintage makeup look and nails.
19 Bruntsfield Place, EH10 4HN – more info
22. Mosey on down to the Wild West
— ewan kennedy (@ewanvegas) October 18, 2014
For a totally unexpected Edinburgh experience, get your Stetson on and take a peek behind Morningside library. You’ll find a weather-beaten but still perfectly charming replica of a Wild West town, complete with a cantina, saloon and jail. Built in 1995 to advertise a Southwestern-style furniture shop in the area, this cowboy town used to house Springvalley cinema but is now home to various workshops and garages.
Off Springvalley Gardens, EH10 – more info
23. Get a trim in a tiny hairdresser’s
Thought to be one of the smallest hairdressers in the world, Snip and Sip was actually the cupboard under the stairs of a youth hostel. It has since moved to a new location after a stint at the Forest Café, but you know what they say about the best things coming in small packages, and owner Magda’s snipping skills come highly recommended..
22 Argyle Place, EH9 1JJ – more info
24. Catch a ceilidh
As a nation, one of Scotland’s favourite pastimes has to be ceilidh dancing, yet you might find yourself waiting for Hogmanay, Burns Night or a wedding to roll around before you can slip on your dancing shoes and take part in a few reels. As well as being a quirky bar with a great atmosphere, Ghillie Dhu holds a ceilidh every Friday night in their stunning auditorium frequented by plenty of partygoers who enjoy a jig.
2 Rutland Street, EH1 2AD – more info
25. Explore a secret island
Miles Gray / Flickr / CC
With just a short boat ride away from the Forth Bridges you can take a day trip to Inchcolm Island and visit the ruins of its 12th century Augustinian Abbey. The lush green island is a breath of fresh air, especially for those who have been trapped within the city limits a little too long, and on a sunny day you won’t believe you’re less than 20 miles away from Princes Street.