Five activities in Edinburgh that have nothing to do with the Fringe.
The festival can be a bit much at times - so here are a few things to do to help you forget about it for a while.
Hello, and welcome to The Crush Bar, a weekly newsletter about theatre written by me, Fergus Morgan.
This issue is one of twelve specials I will be sending out during July and August. Most of them are focused on shows performing at the Edinburgh Fringe - you can find them all here - but this one is a bit different.
The festival can be intense, for performers, professionals, and punters alike. Sometimes, you need to escape it for a while and clear your head - so I thought it would be a good idea to do an issue of this newsletter full of ideas on how to do just that.
I’ve lived in Edinburgh since 2019, and here are my top tips for things to do in the city that do not involve watching stand-up in a sweaty room or stressing about ticket sales. And, no, climbing Arthur’s Seat is not one of them - because you’ve probably done that already.
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Go for a walk in the Pentlands
Everyone at the Edinburgh Fringe will have climbed Arthur’s Seat at some point. Most will have climbed Calton Hill, too. While both hills boast breathtaking views over the city and across the Firth of Forth to Fife, they can also get extremely busy, particularly during the festival.
For some genuine space without jumping on a train to the Highlands, you should go for a walk in the Pentland Hills south of Edinburgh instead. Jump on the 101 bus from Princes Street and get off either at the dry ski slope at Hillend, or the Flotterstone Inn a bit further on.
There are bunch of great walks starting at both locations. Look on the world’s greatest website, WalkHighlands, for some options. This ascent of Allemuir Hill is a good one from the ski centre and takes about two hours, but this circuit of Scald Law and Carnethy Hill starting at Flotterstone is a real belter, if you have five hours to spare.
Go for a swim at Portobello Beach
There are a few nice spots to swim in the sea around Edinburgh. If you have transport, then Gullane, North Berwick, Tyninghame, Seacliff and St Abb’s Head out in East Lothian are all stunning. If you are stuck in the city, then Wardie Bay and Portobello Beach are your best options. Cramond Beach is lovely, too, but swimming there is best avoided due to water pollution.
The 8 and 19 buses take you to Wardie Bay, where you can jump in the Firth of Forth then get the famous fish and chips at Newhaven’s Fishmarket. It is easily walkable from the city centre, too: you can get there by following the cycle path by the side of the Canonmills Tesco.
The 26 bus takes you to Portobello, where there is a kilometre of sand and plenty of seaside attractions. My five-a-side team play at Portobello Powerleague on Tuesday nights, too, and we are always short of players if you fancy a game.
Treat yourself to a tasty meal
There are some extremely nice, extremely expensive restaurants in Edinburgh, but there are also plenty of places where you can have a delicious meal in a lovely setting without breaking the bank. Here are some personal recommendations of independent places worth patronising.
I live in Stockbridge, so I am biased to the brilliant places near me: Bell’s Diner for burgers, Kenji Sushi for Japanese food, Pepe Nero for Italian, The Blue Parrot for Mexican, and Nok’s Kitchen for Thai. The Baillie and The Antiquary are great pubs, too, with quizzes on Tuesday and Wednesday nights if that’s your thing. The Last Word does classy cocktails late into the night, as well.
In Broughton, Spitaki does brilliant and cheap Greek food, and Eden’s Kitchen does nice pizzas and other Mediterranean dishes, and has the added bonus of being BYOB. Harajuku Kitchen does nice sushi in Bruntsfield. You can’t go wrong with Mosque Kitchen on Nicholson Street, either, obviously, and nearby Kalpna does seriously good Indian food, too, if you really want to treat yourself.
See a movie at the Filmhouse - or somewhere else.
The Filmhouse on Lothian Road is one of the country’s great independent cinemas, a mecca for movie fans with an always interesting mix of the latest releases, arthouse productions, and cult classics – plus it is playing host to the Edinburgh International Film Festival this month. The café/restaurant is lovely and very reasonably priced, too.
The Filmhouse is far from the only option, though. There is also the Cameo Picturehouse just up the road, plus the Dominion a bit further towards Morningside, both of which are great. I have also heard tell of an exclusive screen underneath The Scotsman hotel, but I’ve never been myself.
Then there are the big chains – the Odeon on Lothian Road, Cineworld at Fountain Park, and Vue Cinemas at the Omni Centre and Ocean Terminal. There’s a bougie new Everyman in the St James Centre, too, which is more expensive, but does have extremely comfy seats. Sit back, relax, and enjoy a story that isn’t being told in a sweaty cellar.
Go for a wander in the Botanic Gardens
I came to the Edinburgh Fringe six times before I moved here in 2019, and very rarely did I head into New Town beyond George Street. Now I live there, and realise what a fool I was. Yes, the festival might be focused on the streets south of the Royal Mile, but the best bits of the city are this side of the station.
It is more open and less busy in this part of town and, apart from Ian McKellen doing his Hamlet thing around the corner, you could almost forget the Fringe was happening. The walk alongside the Water of Leith is lovely, and so is Inverleith Park, and so is the National Gallery of Modern Art and its surrounding grounds.
Best of all, though, is the Botanic Gardens. You can enter either via Arboretum Place or Inverleith Row – entirely for free – and wander around for as long as you want. The glasshouses are closed for renovation unfortunately, but the rest of it is still great. Look out for blue plaques on trees as, thrillingly, that means they are “champion trees” of some sort. There are a few nice cafes, too.
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If you want to get in touch with me to ask about anything, or to suggest someone who deserves a shout-out in this newsletter, you can reach me on Twitter - I’m @FergusMorgan - or by simply replying to this email. That’s all for now. Thanks for reading.