Festival Fatigue? Tourist Trouble? If you need a break from the city’s madness, there are lots of great caffs, restaurants, and watering holes on Edinburgh’s northern fringes.
This week has been hectic, culminating with an action-packed weekend of celebrations in Carlisle, for the 60th birthday of a much-loved uncle-in-law. There was a lot of eating, though no drinking, as I fight to regain some fitness ahead of my first triathlon in September. I was going to write a bit about holidaying with a toddler tonight, but I’ll keep that for next week. Instead – and since the Edinburgh Festivals are hurtling toward us with unrelenting pace – I figured I would post a few tips on escaping the city for food and drinks on the northern fringes, the Forth coast.
This list was written for a magazine, so it’s quite succinct, but I thought you might enjoy a break from my verbose loquacity. The word limit was tight, so there are plenty of places missing. Let me know your favourites in the comments!
Escaping to Edinburgh’s Northern Fringe
Festival season is almost upon us, and Edinburgh is already jumping. It is not long now before every corner sports a busker; every venue fizzes with activity; and bars, cafes, and restaurants are full to capacity with refuelling revellers. As the city swells to bursting with the welcome influx of summer visitors, it’s worth remembering that there are real delights to be enjoyed outside the radius of the festival buzz.
Short journeys by public transport will take you to some of the city’s lesser-explored northern suburbs, where thriving food and drinks scenes have yet to be fully co-opted by festival-goers. Here are three of the best:
The Shore, Leith
Buses (20 mins from town): 22, 25, 36, 300
To Edinburgh’s immediate north lies the port district of Leith. Once a separate burgh, the area has it’s own character, and many residents still identify primarily as ‘Leithers’. The area has seen a great deal of regeneration over the past few decades, and is now home to some of the city’s finest restaurants (e.g. the Kitchin and Restaurant Martin Wishart).
From the team behind the highly acclaimed Gardner’s Cottage – Quay Commons combines the effervescent culinary creativity, seasonality, and attention to provenance of its older sister, with the comfort and easy familiarity of an old friend. Cakes, pastries, sourdough, and pies are the stars, backed by an excellent supporting cast of hearty fresh salads, soups, coffee, and booze.
Thin and crisp, and topped with seriously good ingredients. The list of local producers (within 30 miles) hangs in pride of place. Specials change regularly, and there’s plenty of choice for veggies and gluten avoiders.
Old-school Italian trattoria, that is easily missed, but for those in the know this is a lunchtime takeaway Mecca. If you fancy wandering Leith’s shore whilst you eat, Domenicos is hard to beat for filled rolls and wraps.
This micro-roastery, and coffee shop on Custom Lane know how to handle coffee. Their house espresso is exceptional, and they do a mean pour-over, too. Just what you need after Edinburgh’s famous 5am Festival license!
‘Wine cafe,’ Toast, sits serenely by the Water of Leith, peddling top notch wine by the bottle and glass.
Boasting a vast whisky selection (90+), great beer, hearty food, and ample outdoor seating, Teuchters is a great place to escape for a quiet ‘hauf and hauf’ (half of beer, and a nip of whisky). Ask about the ‘hoop of destiny.’
Bus (30 mins from town): 26
A quiet seaside suburb to the east, Portobello’s promenade and beach are a popular summer day out. There are lots of great cafes, pubs, and wee shops to explore.
Portobello branch of this much-loved bakery. Very strong doughnut, pastry, and bread game – and coffee to match. Minimal seating – maybe get it to go.
A Portobello institution serving great coffee and tasty food right on the beach. Add a few scoops of Chocolate Tree ice cream, and you have the recipe for a runaway summer success!
This Canadian bakery is a relative newcomer to Portobello, but has already built a solid reputation. Nobody in the city is doing bread-with-a-hole better right now. Fresh chewy Montreal-style bagels can be bought by the dozen, or filled with NY deli-style combos.
Edinburgh’s bar on the beach – the Dalriada offers cask ales, whiskies, and more, with a beautiful beach-side beer garden. Live music and events throughout the summer.
If you fancy a drink on the sand (it’s allowed!), Beer Zoo has huge selection of beers from around the world, and plenty of local brews to take home as souvenirs.
Bus (40 mins from town): 43 (train from Edinburgh to Dalmeny – 20 mins)
‘The Ferry’ as locals know it, is a picturesque town to the north west, boasting three record-breaking bridges – including the new Queensferry Crossing and the iconic red rail bridge (a UNESCO Heritage Site). There are great views of all three from the high street.
Seriously good homemade Canadian comfort food, served up in Port Edgar Marina. Quality ingredients, and an ever changing daily special. Try the poutine, you won’t be disappointed.
Edinburgh bakery’s Ferry outpost. Fresh bread, pastries, and cakes shine alongside simple salads and soup. Perhaps pick up a sandwich for a stroll along the coast.
Worth a mention: The Little Bakery for the best scones!
This bar has arguably one of the best views in Scotland. Opposite the iconic rail bridge, Orocco pier does great wine, craft beer, and cocktails, with panoramic views of the crossing.
Near Dalmeny station, this multi-award-winning brewery has a small tap room for a pint or two. You can pick up a few bottles to take home, as well.
Where do you like to eat or drink when the Festival is in full swing?
(none of the images used in this post belong to me)