24 things you won’t know about Edinburgh unless you’ve lived there

Views of Edinburgh taken from Calton Hill.
Views of Edinburgh taken from Calton Hill.
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Forget the guide books… Morgan Cranch and Harris Brine offer up 25 things you won’t know about Edinburgh unless you’ve spent some time there.

1. Don’t panic if you hear a gun go off (at 1pm)

It’s just the One o’Clock Gun at the Castle, and hopefully you’ve been lucky enough to witness an unsuspecting tourist duck. If you hear a gun go off at 1am that’s a different story entirely.

2. You get salt ‘n’ sauce with your chips

Salt ‘n’ sauce is Edinburgh’s signature chippy condiment. It’s a mix of vinegar and brown sauce, and also goes by the name ‘chippy sauce’. If you really want to mark yourself out as an exotic outsider you can still ask for salt and vinegar, or salt and ketchup, but be warned: this can lead to all sorts of legal challenges – and you might have to pay an extra 25p for a sachet.

3. The Edinburgh skyline inspired The Wizard of Oz

Before George Gibson emigrated to America, a particular view of Edinburgh Castle caught his eye. It must have made a deep impression, because in later life he designed the backdrop for The Wizard of Oz, and, from his birthplace on the junctions of Bread Street and Spittal Street at dusk, you can almost see the Emerald City come to life.

4. Don’t mention the T-word

You know the one… Tram. To anyone else in the world this four-letter word is merely a form of quiet, electrified transport, but to the majority of Edinburghers, it’s a byword for roadworks, congestion and eye-watering amounts of public money. Now they’re up and running they’re proving useful to some locals, but make sure you don’t mention them to a taxi driver, unless you want an earful…

5. The Fringe conundrum

Do you book a holiday? Go and stay with friends far away? Or remain in town and fully embrace the world’s biggest arts festival throughout its August run? While it’s obviously great to have so much culture on our doorstep, every local knows about the dawdling tourists clogging the pavements while you try to get to work, and the eager young Home Counties drama students shoving flyers in your face for their, like, totally awesome adaptation of Hamlet for the iPad generation, yah?

6. You don’t need to go to Washington to visit Lincoln’s statue

Abraham Lincoln famously radicalised America, most notably abolishing slavery through the Emancipation Proclamation. Visit the first statue of the 16th President to be erected outside of the US, where it has been standing in the Old Calton Cemetery since 1893.

7. You can spit on the street (in the right context)

By now you probably don’t even notice when people gob on the pavement outside St Giles Cathedral on the High Street. So what if the hordes of tourists are probably a little disgusted – it’s all in the name of history. The Heart of the Midlothian marks the site of a former prison where executions were carried out, so people now spit on it for good luck.

8. You can escape the city on the 44

Jump on the No.44 bus in town and before too long you’re in Balerno. The historic village is a great entry point to the magnificent Pentland Hills, which offer bracing walks with none of the rigours of a Munro. If you make it to the other side of the Regional Park, you can reward yourself with a pint at The Flotterstone Inn.

9. It’s known as Auld Reekie for a reason

You’re coming back from a weekend away and you know you’re home when you smell that distinctive aroma of yeast or malt, or both. Edinburgh is home to a couple of breweries and a distillery, and you notice it most around the west side of town.

10. The Costa del Edimburgo

Most tourists think Edinburgh exists within a mile’s radius of the Castle, and only see the sea away in the distance over the spires and rooftops of the centre. But as any local knows, all you have to is jump on a bus to Portobello for a Copacabana-style experience. OK, not quite, but during those rare heatwaves it still gets very busy with pink sunbathers, and the rest of the year it’s a great place to blow away the cobwebs, and has a few good bars and cafés on the seafront.

11. Forget the sun when the Haar rolls in

It might be perfectly sunny one day and then the next day you wake-up to a thick cloud of fog enshrouding the whole city, a misty cloud that makes it really hard to even see the Castle. The ‘Haar’ is a uniquely Scottish word used to describe the cold sea mist that drifts in from the Forth, and usually takes an entire day to evaporate.

12. Some people take Harry Potter very seriously

You could be minding your own business on a summer’s afternoon in the Meadows and all of sudden you’re struck dumb by people playing Quidditch. Yes, the mythical game of Quidditch that J.K Rowling coined from her own imagination for the Harry Potter series, where people ride broomsticks. You’ll also notice gaggles of camera-wielding ‘Potterheads’ outside any café where Rowling once sat down to write her wizardly tales.

13. Some people take historical re-enactment very seriously

Don’t be surprised if you also spot people dressed in armour battling it out with swords in broad daylight on Bruntsfield Links or the Meadows. It’s a free country, and how they spend their spare time is up to them.

14. You can visit the Marshallow Lady

If you were anywhere else and you told people you’re going to spend Saturday afternoon visiting the Marshmallow Lady, you would most likely get some worried looks, but not in Edinburgh. Each Saturday she, along with a whole army of other traders, come to the Grassmarket to swap your coins for things you don’t need and probably shouldn’t eat. Except, of course, for marshmallows.

15. Fireworks aren’t just for Bonfire Night

You don’t have to wait till Bonfire Night here in Edinburgh. We have a whole month of fireworks in August, as a nightly display blasts out for the finale of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo at the Castle. There’s also the big Fireworks Concert in Princes Street Gardens in early September, and the pyrotechnics of the Hogmanay Party at the end of year.

16. Tartan tat is EVERYWHERE

If you’re looking for cheap imitation kilts or See-You-Jimmy hats, or Loch Ness Monster onesies, you won’t have far to look. So-called ‘tartan tat’ shops have sprung up on every corner of the Royal Mile, Princes Street and the city centre. Just listen out for the sound of bagpipe music set to bad house beats. Or rather, avoid them like the plague.

17. Leith is not part of Edinburgh

If they’re from Leith, then they’re ‘Leithers,’ and they are proud of that fact. Walk down Leith Walk and at some barely discernible point you will unwittingly cross the border into this separatist Republic, without any checkpoints.

18. You don’t confuse green and maroon

As any local knows, Easter Road and Leith is the Hibs (green) end of town, and Tynecastle and Gorgie is Hearts (maroon) territory. Best not walk into a pub emblazoned with either colour, wearing the shirt of the opposing team. But that’s just common sense.

19. You can stay at the house where Robert Louis Stevenson grew up

Stevenson’s literary impact was profound both during and after his lifetime, with his influence rippling through the work of writers like Hemingway and Proust. At Stevenson House on Heriot Row you can tuck up for the night at the B&B within the same walls where the writer first fired his imagination some 150 years ago. Don’t worry, they’ve changed the sheets since then.

20. Edinburgh is full of famous graves

In Edinburgh economists can pay homage to Adam Smith in the Canongate Kirkyard, fans of bad poetry can give a nod to William McGonagall in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, and don’t forget a trip to the National Museum of Scotland, where the revolutionary cloned creature Dolly the Sheep is eternally interred.

21. Edinburgh is a beer-lover’s paradise

At a recent count, Edinburgh had well over 700 pubs, which is even more than the so-called big city along the M8. The good news for local beer fans is that many of them take pride in stocking a range of interesting ales. The Brauhaus (Lauriston Place) is an absolutely minuscule taproom that cares not for size but for continent-stretching quality, and craft beer guzzlers are also well catered for at The Hanging Bat and Red Squirrel on Lothian Road, the Holyrood 9A on Holyrood Road, BrewDog on the Cowgate, Bow Bar on Victoria Street and the Stockbridge Tap on Raeburn Place. What’s more, there are quality local breweries like Caledonian, Innis & Gunn, Belhaven and Stewart Brewing. A great website to keep up to date with this burgeoning scene is The BeerCast.

22. You can see the remains of one of the city’s most infamous criminals

As any Edinburgh school pupil knows, the two Williams, Burke and Hare, were a sinister pair who sent 16 people to eternal oblivion for financial gain, because corpses were worth quite a bit of money for anatomical purposes back in the 19th century (as the rate of executions decreased). They were hanged for their crimes, which took place in a 10-month spree in 1828, in Edinburgh. Burke’s skeleton lies at the Anatomy Museum, his death mask at Surgeon’s Hall, and a skin-fashioned calling card case at The Cadies & Witchery Tours shop. Cheerful stuff.

23. There are no less than five Michelin-starred restaurants

While its Clyde-side counterpart has the grand sum of zero restaurants with those prestigious Michelin stars, Edinburgh boasts five to make your bank balance evaporate. The centre alone has three: Number One (1 Princes Street), 21212 (3 Royal Terrace) and Castle Terrace, named after the street it’s on. Leith’s waterfront has Restaurant Martin Wishart (54 The Shore) and The Kitchin (78 Commercial Quay). But even if you don’t have a wad of cash to spend, there are still plenty of great budget restaurants too.

24. You can easily source a smoking jacket

Ballroom dresses, Masquerade attire, smoking jackets, even 1950s prom dresses… There are enough strange clothes in Armstrongs for your friends to think you’re a Russian double-agent. Forget briefly that beauty’s skin deep, but remember, it’s not all fur coats and there’s definitely no knickers.