Hidden gems: Amazing attractions you may not know in Edinburgh

While Edinburgh stands out for its big features like the Castle, Arthur’s Seat, Scott Monument and Palace of Holyroodhouse, there are plenty of hidden gems that many visitors simply don’t realise are there. Some are even unknown to locals!

By Gary Flockhart
Thursday, 13th January 2022, 4:55 am
Edinburgh is full of hidden gems - some of which are even unknown to locals.

Blair Street Underground Vaults

One of the Capital’s most famous supernatural sites, a visit to the historic Blair Street Vaults is not for the faint of heart.

Whether or not you believe in ghosts and spirits, the vaults – the spaces beneath the vast arches of South Bridge, completed in 1788 – are one of Edinburgh’s must-see attractions.

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Cold and damp seep from the crumbling grey brick walls, and the darkness is almost absolute – light seems to simply dissipate in the cavernous space, a maze of tunnels and nooks, sometimes opening up into cavernous spaces, other times leading into claustrophobic corners.

Mercat Tours run regular trips down into the vaults for those brave enough, and until February 18 they are working with VisitScotland to offer visitors a special gift – 50% off on all tickets across all toursVisit the website and book now with the promo code VSDAYSOUT21.

Note: This offer does not include private or on-request tours. Tickets are subject to availability.

28 Blair Street, Edinburgh

0131 225 5445

St Cecilia’s Music Museum & Concert Hall

St Cecilia’s may be Scotland’s oldest music hall, but it remains something of a hidden gem, with many locals unaware of its existence.

Originally built by the Edinburgh Musical Society in 1762, the Georgian venue is tucked away in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town.

St Cecilia’s Hall is home to University of Edinburgh’s collection of historic musical instruments, which ranks as one of the most important historic musical instrument collections anywhere in the world.

Having undergone a £6.5million renovation, St Cecilia’s comprises of a Concert Room, hosting a range of concerts and public events, and a Music Museum, which is open to the public.

The Music Museum displays the University's unparalleled collection of musical instruments from across the globe, including its world-famous harpsichords, some of which are playable – making this the only place in the world, it is claimed, that you can hear 18th-century music being played on 18th-century instruments in an 18th-century setting.

St Cecilia’s is open Thursday through Saturday through a free timed ticket system.

50 Niddry Street, Edinburgh

0131 650 2600

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Gilmerton Cove

A network of secret underground tunnels is one of the last things you'd expect to find lurking beneath the streets of a typical suburb – but Edinburgh isn't your typical city.

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

The origins of the hand carved tunnels remain a mystery, with rumours of them being used as a drinking den for 18th Century gentry, a lair inhabited by Knights Templar or a refuge for Covenanters fleeing persecution – the network has even been linked to Mary Queen of Scots.

Gilmerton Cove consists of a 45ft corridor with rooms off either side – the 45-minute tour starts at a small mining cottage in Gilmerton, where visitors descend 16 steps to reach the chambers below.

You can visit this unique hand-carved subterranean attraction – though its not suitable for children under 5 years. (5-15 years must be accompanied by an adult).

Note: Gilmerton Cove is currently closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but when the venue reopens, tours will run every Saturday and Sunday at 12 noon and 2pm – and also some weekdays at 11am.

16 Drum St, Gilmerton, Edinburgh

07914 829177

Dovecot Studios

Established in 1912, Dovecot continues a century-long heritage of collaboration with international artists to make exceptional handwoven tapestries and gun-tufted rugs.

Alongside the tapestry studio, Dovecot runs an exciting programme of exhibitions and events to further explore contemporary art, craft and design.

This winter you can get up to 50% off exhibition tickets at Dovecot Studios with the Great Days Out in Scotland campaign.

Take inspiration from stunning design and textiles, reconnect with family and friends or get back in touch with your creative side.

To claim up to 50% off when booking for exhibitions running until February 18, visit the venue’s website and enter the code ‘DAYSOUT50’ at the checkout.

If booking in person or over the phone, just quote ‘days out offer’.

10 Infirmary St, Edinburgh

0131 550 3660

The Writers’ Museum

Although still closed due to the pandemic, those keen to learn about Edinburgh's rich literary history should make a beeline for The Writers’ Museum when it reopens.

Located just off the Lawnmarket (the top part of Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile) in Lady Stair’s Close, The Writers’ Museum celebrates the lives of three giants of Scottish Literature – Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.

This free-to-enter museum is a treasure trove of portraits, rare books and personal objects – including Burns’ writing desk, the printing press on which Scott’s Waverley Novels were first produced, and the rocking horse he used as a child.

Visitors will also find Stevenson’s riding boots and the ring given to him by a Samoan chief, engraved with the name ‘Tusitala’, meaning ‘teller of tales’.

There is also Stevenson’s wardrobe, made by the infamous Deacon Brodie, whose double life may have inspired the novel The strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Another highlight is a plaster cast of Burns' skull – one of only three ever made.

Outside The Writers' Museum you will find Makars' Court – a stunning public space that offers a peaceful sanctuary from the bustling Royal Mile, with beautifully inscribed flagstones celebrating Scottish writers from the 14th century to the present day.

Lawnmarket, Lady Stair's Close

0131 529 4901

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