7 fascinating places to visit in Edinburgh which even locals may not know about

As Scotland’s capital slowly awakens from its long lockdown slumber, locals are gradually rediscovering their collective freedom.

Thursday, 29th April 2021, 7:00 am
Cammo Estate is perfect for a day trip.
Cammo Estate is perfect for a day trip.

But with foreign holidays and domestic travel still heavily discouraged and, in many cases, restricted, there’s never been a better time to explore home turf.

Lucky for us then that one of the greenest and most historic cities in Europe lies right on our doorstep – and it can still offer plenty of surprises, even if you’ve lived here all your days.

We’ve compiled a helpful guide to some of Edinburgh’s little-known gems, many of which are well off the beaten path, or are routinely passed by without so much as a glance.

Sign up to our Retro newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Millions of years of rock strata are on show behind Sainsbury's at Craigleith Retail Park.

The Botanic Cottage

The Royal Botanics is always worth a visit, and has remained open throughout the pandemic, albeit with some restrictions and the requirement to book a visiting slot. Situated towards the north side of the lush Botanics within the Demonstration Garden is a Georgian treasure that few visitors fully appreciate.

Built within two decades of the Battle of Culloden, the Botanic Cottage originally stood at the entrance to Edinburgh’s original botanical gardens, which were situated just south of Pilrig at Leith Walk.

Designed by renowned architects John Adam (brother of Robert) and James Craig (of New Town plan fame), the cottage was latterly used as a private residence, but, by the mid-2000s it had been abandoned and targeted by fire bugs.

Braidburn Valley Park and the open-air theatre.

In an incredible effort, a community campaign led by the Botanics stepped in to save the cottage, and meticulously move it, stone by stone, to its current site.

And thus, a vital piece of Edinburgh’s heritage was spared the indignity of falling into further ruin.

Adam and Craig’s cottage has been restored to something resembling how it would’ve originally looked and now hosts a variety of educational and community events.

Register House Rotunda

The stunning interior of Adam's rotunda at Register House.

One of the world’s oldest purpose-built public record offices, General Register House stands at the east end of Princes Street. Built in the late 18th century by Robert Adam in his signature neoclassical style, the beautifully proportioned edifice is stunning from the outside, but the interiors take things to another level.

Without doubt, the most impressive part of the building is Adam’s 50ft wide central domed rotunda.

Inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, natural light pours in from a single circular window in the 80ft high ceiling, and, spread over several floors, the extensive collection of records on display is a sight to behold.

Survey work is being carried out on the Adam dome currently, but, once fully reopened, this one is well worth checking off the list.

The restored Botanic Cottage in Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden

Braidburn Valley Park open-air theatre

With its verdant slopes and trickling burn, Braidburn Valley Park is seldom short of visitors during the summer months, but few take notice of the natural stage set within its centre.

As part of the coronation celebrations in 1937 for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, an open-air theatre was completed within the park, complete with tiered seating in the shape of the royal crown cut into the turf and a stage on the opposite side of the burn, around which was planted hornbeam trees on three sides.

While the theatre is rarely used these days, it has hosted all manner of events down the years, including sheep dog trials, dog shows, and performances during the Edinburgh Festivals.

Cammo Park

Situated on the western fringes of Edinburgh, the Cammo Estate is the perfect place to lose yourself for an entire afternoon.

Dr Neil's Garden is situated near the banks of Duddingston Loch.

The extensive green space is interspersed with paths that weave between the trees, while open meadows support and variety of birdlife.

While it lies today in ruins and is slowly being reclaimed by mother nature, the estate’s main house is believed to have been the inspiration for the House of Shaws in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped.

A great place to have a picnic is within the green open space overlooking the castellated Cammo water tower.

Dr Neil’s Garden

Edinburgh is well-endowed when it comes to green spaces, but few are as tucked away or as serene as Dr Neil’s Garden.

The herbal or “physic” garden near the shores of Duddingston Loch was named after Andrew and Nancy Neil, a GP couple who practised in the city for many years.

Possessing an almost magical air, the secluded garden covers almost two acres and boasts all manner of woodland plants, alpines, rhododendrons and azaleas, spead along terraces and around trees.

Dr Neil’s has been dubbed Edinburgh’s Secret Garden on account of the fact that so many locals are blissfully unaware of its existence.

Gilmerton Cove

Drum Street in Gilmerton is home to the ‘subterranean chambers of a remarkable cave’ thought to have been inhabited up to 300 years ago.

Gilmerton Cove is about ten feet below the surface and is reached by a flight of twelve steps which lead into a 40-feet long passage with an unusual series of rooms and passages on each side.

While a certain degree of mystery surrounds its origins, Gilmerton Cove is now among Edinburgh’s most highly rated tourist attractions since it reopened in 2003.

Exposed strata at Craigleith Retail Park

Concealed beneath the busy retail outlets of Craigleith Retail Park lies one of the Capital’s most celebrated geological sites and the source of much of its neo-classical architecture.

In 1993 the site of the former Craigleith Quarry, from which was built much of the New Town, was purchased by the Sainsbury group.

A large section of exposed sedimentary rock can still be seen today behind the Sainsbury’s supermarket. Representing millions of years of geological activity, the multi-hued layers of rock are a fascinating sight.

The Evening News is supporting Forever Edinburgh, a joint campaign between the City of Edinburgh Council, Edinburgh Tourism Action Group (ETAG) and VisitScotland This encourages people to rediscover the city, its stories and places while supporting local businesses, promoting attractions, shops, bars and restaurants as lockdown eases.

A certain degree of mystery surrounds the origins of Gilmerton Cove.