Our new microguides series is inspired by the slow travel movement, encouraging travellers to relax their pace and take a deep dive into one particular neighbourhood in a well-loved city. Rather than a whirlwind itinerary which aims to hit up every must-see attraction, these compact, close-up guides encourage you to zone in, take your time and truly explore like a local.
You may not think you do, but you already know Calton Hill – or the views from it, at least. All those well-framed photos of Edinburgh, with the castle on her volcanic throne, surrounded by her loyal subjects – the Balmoral clock tower, the Scott Memorial, St Giles’ Cathedral and The Hub’s lofty spire – were taken from here.
The ostentatious Greek-style Dugald Stewart Monument, so often seen in the foreground of those photographs, is one of several conspicuous landmarks atop Calton Hill – the Parthenon-style National Monument is the most surprising. These intriguing structures entice some visitors to climb the hill for a closer look, while others come to watch the sun sink behind the city’s skyline.
Now, thanks to the city’s repurposing of the old observatory buildings for contemporary art, the addition of a stunning glass-clad restaurant and a newly restored historic holiday home, Calton Hill is shaping up into a buzzy place to stay and explore.
A 10-minute walk northeast up Princess Street brings you to Calton Hill’s steps, making it a much easier (and quicker) climb up here than to Arthur’s Seat, which incidentally you can see very well. Examine the monuments that prove this area was once earmarked for great things and follow the hill’s pathways for views from the Forth Bridge all the way to North Berwickshire.
Observe the old and new
Collective, the centre of contemporary art, has breathed new life into the old observatory buildings. Pop into the City Dome to see an exhibition, view a 19th-century Transit telescope up close, or try The Hillside, a creative space in an area of excavated hillside that supports up-and-coming artists.
Go gallery hopping
From Calton Hill it’s a short descent to the revamped Fruitmarket Gallery, with its excellent café, daring exhibitions and regular events in its new Warehouse annexe. Across the road, the City Art Centre champions Scottish visual and applied arts, while the private Ingleby Gallery is just a little further into the New Town.
For an architectural tour of Edinburgh without city centre crowds, drop down from Calton Hill to Royal Terrace, home to the longest row of Georgian buildings in the whole of Edinburgh. Follow the road as its curves round to Carlton Terrace and back along Regent Terrace, to see a side of the city many visitors miss.
At this glass-fronted building on the edge of Calton Hill, you can enjoy event dining with envy-inducing views. The menu is seasonal modern British with simple, earthy ingredients used to create feel-good fine-dining dishes – the tasting menu is encouraged – and is worth the hefty price tag as a one-off.
At the foot of the hill, Howie’s is a less showy alternative but reliably good. Served in a Regency-style dining room with high ceilings, the contemporary Scottish menu of the family-run restaurant includes hearty fare like venison haunch and Shetland salmon, and at least one decent vegan option.
This casual restaurant, just a short walk away on Broughton Street, serves global dishes such as miso-baked butternut squash and baby octopus tempura with a loving touch. Little sibling to Bruntsfield’s ever-popular Three Birds restaurant, you’ll get good service in a homely setting and will leave with tummies full, with no worrying flashbacks about the bill.
With a menu that changes weekly, the cooking is always on point at this Michelin-worthy restaurant with rooms on Royal Terrace. Crisp linen tablecloths and walls draped in curtains set a decadent scene, and with five-courses encouraged (the name is a reference to the number of dishes per course), you’ll be in no rush to leave.
Located in a grade-A-listed Georgian house, things are going so well at this neighbourhood bar and natural wines specialist that they are now expanding into the floor below. You’ll be glad of the small plates if you’ve missed dinner and all wines can be bought to go, so you can stock up for your holiday pad.
A charming under-the-radar bar within the 24 Royal Terrace Hotel, this place does delicious cocktails that will put you in a holiday mood. Its biggest asset is its beautiful secret garden – so plan for drinks here in the late afternoon sunshine.
For more of a pub vibe, try this beer-mad Scottish and German joint, which has several cosy corners for a quiet drink – including a couple of winged-back armchairs round a wood burner. They make their own small-batch gin in the distillery next door and will soon be brewing their own beer, too.
Even if you don’t have time to view the latest exhibition, make time to pop in and peruse the books at this well-stocked gallery shop, where you can buy artsy and culture-themed gifts – even if the only person you’re buying for is yourself.
Want to fill your pantry for the morning or just grab a scrummy lunch on the run? This Swedish bakery, which sells cardamom buns, waffles, cakes, and open sandwiches is so popular there are seven shops across the city. The Broughton Street one is the handiest, though.
Conscience-clear clothes shopping can be done at Treen, a vegan retailer that sells both womenswear and menswear you’ll want to be seen in, from select companies with a commitment to ethically made items that are cruelty-free.
Built by the man behind Edinburgh’s New Town, period features abound in this 18th-century retreat on Calton Hill. Dreamed up by the Collective, contemporary art is harmoniously woven into the house – from Rabiya Choudhry’s astronomy-inspired wallpaper to Thomas Aitchison’s kitchen, which pays homage to the columns of the National Monument. The latter is just one of many landmarks which can be viewed from its windows. This private rental sleeps a maximum of six (or you could just book the basement apartment for two).
At the bottom of the steps leading up to Calton Hill is this quirky self-catering pad, once the studio of pioneering photographers David Octavius and Robert Adamson (Octavius lived in Rock House next door, also available for holiday lets). Set across two floors, it sleeps two and comes with a four-poster bed, shower room and a bold octagonal living room with kitchenette.