Spending money was gifted by Hotels.com but all views are my own.
I’ve lived right next to Edinburgh my whole life. A whole city to explore just half an hour on the train over the water. And yet i’ve never done it…I haven’t even been to Edinburgh Castle before! They always say that you don’t do the touristy things in your own city.
But we’re not talking about the touristy spots today. Nope. So if you’re looking for recommendations for bars, cafes, hidden spots or hotels in Edinburgh, you’ve come to the right place.
Mary's Milk Bar
Mary’s Milk Bar is one of the cutest places i’ve ever found in the city centre. Located in the Grassmarket, just down from the famous Victoria Street (my least favourite street in the world, closely followed by Oxford Street), Mary makes the ice cream fresh every morning.
With new flavours every day and an adorable retro interior, they often sell out of ice cream on sunny days and you can absolutely see why. We tried out the Milk, Lavender Chocolate and Cherry flavours and they absolutely give you plenty of it. For £3.50 a scoop, we definitely felt it was a justified purchase.
I also had to go back and get a tote bag because they are adorable. We sat down with our ice creams and i just could not stop thinking about this bag, so i went back and picked one up. It’s been my go-to everyday bag since.
Miss Jean Brodie Steps/The Vennel
Right next to Mary’s Milk Bar, there’s a set of steps you would miss completely if you weren’t looking for them. These are the Miss Jean Brodie Steps, also known as The Vennel.
The Vennel joins the Grassmarket with Heriot Place and Lauriston, and boasts some of the most impressive views of Edinburgh Castle. Even i was stunned, and i’ve seen that castle so many times over the last few years. It was a spot i knew had existed through Instagram, but had no idea where it actually was.
We accidentally stumbled across it after getting our ice creams, so we ended up sitting on the steps for a little while, just taking in the view and enjoying our treat. Totally cliche but it was such a lovely moment. I’m glad i looked to the left as we walked past, and saw those steps.
The Fruitmarket Gallery
Straight outside the Market Street exit from Edinburgh Waverley, the Fruitmarket Gallery was a place i always walked past but didn’t really know what it was. Turns out, it’s an art gallery, appropriately named the Fruitmarket because it used to be a fruit and veg market in 1938. Go figure.
Full of weird yet wonderful Scottish and International art, books galore and little trinkets for you to get in and around, the Fruitmarket is one of the best hidden gems in Edinburgh. There’s also a little cafe if you fancy some refreshments.
We’ve been in a few times since discovering it, mostly just for a little look around and peruse around the various feminist books they have on offer, and to admire the neon sign they have in the back that i’m too nervous to take photos near.
Hula Juice Bar
Located on Victoria Street, but you may walk right past it as i’ve done many times, Hula Juice Bar is one of my favourite places to stop for a refreshment in the city. And boy, is it refreshing.
Hula Juice Bar serves some of the most delicious smoothies, detox drinks and juices that i’ve ever tasted. If i ever have a craving for fruit and something hydrating, i go straight to Hula. The interiors scream “beach hut cocktails” and the drinks are just as refreshing.
We picked up a Betty Ford (peach, strawberry, banana and apple) and a Sunshine in a Cup (mango, peach, pineapple and orange) and i’m not gonna lie, all that fruit made my tummy a little funny. Still, absolutely delish though. Would get the craps again.
Here we go, a proper unknown Edinburgh gem. John Kay’s is a classic independent bookshop at the very top of Victoria Street, and if the exterior doesn’t catch your eye immediately, you are probably too blinded by Victoria Street itself.
It didn’t always look like that, though, it used to be this little dark blue shop that you could easily ignore. It got the Instagram treatment, and now it’s one of the most beautiful down that end of Edinburgh.
Inside, you’ve got everything from tote bags to flavoured shortbread to classic books with first edition covers. The staff in John Kay’s are also the loveliest and will chat with you about anything. It’s a must visit, in my opinion.
The Museum of Context
Yet another Victoria Street gem, but you can tell which order we did this day trip in. I promised we went to other places! I’ve never bothered to have a look at what shops were actually on Victoria Street because i find it unbearably busy, so even if they aren’t hidden gems for you, they are for me!
The Museum of Context is a good one for all you Harry Potter fans out there. I know there’s a lot of Harry Potter shops out there, but this one is different. There’s no gimmicky things, no overpriced tat, and it’s all perfectly decorated to feel like you’re in Diagon Alley.
Just in front of the Chamber of Secrets mirror, there’s a little photo op where you can sit at a desk with a quill and robes on, and it’s the most wonderful thing. The Museum of Context has quickly become my favourite Harry Potter stop in Edinburgh. They take it seriously, which is rare!
Let’s talk Stockbridge! It’s a favourite area of mine in Edinburgh and Kim’s Bulgogi was my favourite place to go and get lunch on a Friday. It’s hidden away on St Stephen’s Street, away from the main part of Stockbridge, and you wouldn’t think to go in if you didn’t have me raving about it.
Kim’s Bulgogi is a tiny little family owned Korean restaurant, and they are the loveliest family ever. They always welcome you with a smile and ask if you want a fork if you seem to be struggling with the chopsticks. I didn’t think i liked Korean, but i’m obsessed with Kim’s.
I always get the chilli chicken with rice and it’s like sweet chilli but not too sweet, and it’s crispy chicken which is just the best. They also offer vegetarian options and if you take it away, you get it in a cool little cardboard box like in Friends. I’m really sad i don’t work around the corner from Kim’s anymore.
Golden Hare Books
Perhaps not so hidden since it was voted the UK’s best independent bookshop, but Golden Hare Books is very much out of the way on St Stephens Street, just like Kim’s Bulgogi. I’d always admired the outside but it took me the longest time to actually go in.
Once i did, i became a regular browser. They have LOADS of books and no duplicates so it’s all one of a kind. My favourite area is the surprise books, where you get a little tag describing the book but no idea of what it actually is. I just love this idea – don’t judge a book by its cover.
They also run a ton of author events throughout the month and are really active on social media so you’re kept up-to-date with everything that’s going on. They’re also dog friendly! Does it get any better than that? No.
Hopefully some of you will have discovered some must-visit places in Edinburgh that you didn’t know about before, whether you’re local or not! I love exploring Edinburgh, there’s always places that i don’t visit enough or have never been to before.
Next on my list: spend more time in Portobello, visit Edinburgh Castle, climb Arthur’s Seat, spend more time in Cramond. There’s not enough days in the week.
Big thank you to Hotels.com for providing the spending money we used to explore these places!