Last Updated on 3rd July 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
As the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is a beautiful city characterised by its countless castles and abundance of summer festivals. But once you’ve visited the must-see city sights (Edinburgh Castle, Arthur’s Seat, and the Scottish Parliament), then where do you go? Well, if you’re looking for offbeat Edinburgh, then you’ll likely find it in one of these quirky, unusual, hidden, and downright secret spots in Edinburgh:
#1 The Wild West of Edinburgh
In Morningside, a former advertising campaign set looks like an abandoned ghost town. With its wooden façades and shuttered windows, the buildings wouldn’t look out of place in a Hollywood Film set. Instead, they can be found on the fringes of the Scottish Capital and are well worth a quick peek if you’re passing by.
#2 Dean Village
In what is likely the most picturesque area of the city, Dean Village is a beautiful place to go if you love history, photography, or simply want to find a quiet space to relax, away from the hustle and bustle of busy city life. First constructed for mill workers, today the village is some of the most prime real estate to be found anywhere in Scotland. Nearby, Dean Gardens are a lovely oasis of calm where you could easily while away a few hours reading a book.
#3 National Museum of Scotland roof terrace
Of course, everyone knows about the National Museum of Scotland, which is an absolute must-see on any trip to the Scottish Capital. But did you know that it has a hidden roof terrace, tucked away at the very top of the building? And with breathtaking views of the castle and beyond, you can’t go wrong by dedicating a sunset to admiring Edinburgh from above…
#4 Writer’s Museum
In a little courtyard, just metres from the Royal Mile, the Writers’ Museum is dedicated to all things related to the written word. Of course, Edinburgh is well known for as the home of Harry Potter author JK Rowling, but the city was also once home to great writers such as Robert Burns, Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. The Writers’ Museum is just one of the elements which contributed to Edinburgh being named as a UNESCO City of Literature in 2004.
Read more: How to spend three days in Edinburgh.
#5 Library of Mistakes
Open from Monday to Friday and dedicated to the study of financial history, the Library of Mistakes was set up to document all of the economic mistakes experts made in both 1929, and then again in 2008. The collection comprises of some 2000 economic and financial literature and can be visited by appointment only. In order to visit, you’ll need to first register as a reader. Discover more details about how to here.
#6 Magdalen Chapel
Just a little way along the street from Cowgate, a small chapel is open during select days of the week. Free to enter, the pretty interior contains the only set of 16th-century stained to have survived the Reformation. The chapel itself was constructed in 1541 for a trade guild and was where several protestant martyrs were taken prior to their burial during the 16th-century. Today, Magdalen Chapel is used as the headquarters of the Scottish Reformation Society.
Read more: A visit to Magdalen Chapel.
#7 Edinburgh’s underground town of Mary King’s Close
Today, the Royal Mile is a road spanning roughly a mile in distance between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. It’s probably the best known-street in the capital, if not all of Scotland, and thousands of tourists and locals meander along it on a daily basis.
But what many of these people don’t know- and you may not either- is that there’s a maze of alleyways and abandoned houses beneath the street. Head to the Real Mary King’s Close for the truth behind this long forgotten underground city in the heart of Edinburgh. Book a guided tour here.
#8 Tom Riddle’s Grave
Everyone knows that Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, visible from the Elephant House, inspired plenty of Harry Potter characters. Many wander through the ancient cemetery and yet few know that Tom Riddle’s Grave can be found in the very heart of this 16th-century graveyard.
Other names to be spotted amongst the tombstones are those of iconic poet William McGonagall and Mrs. Elizabeth Moodie, whose name is thought to have inspired the fictional character of ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody in the books. Of all the unusual things to do in Edinburgh, strolling through Greyfriar’s Kirkyard is certainly one of the quirkiest.
Read more: Harry Potter tour of Edinburgh.
#9 Craigentinny Marbles
The mausoleum is Craigentinny crescent is precariously perched in the most unusual place. Now surrounded by a housing estate, the 19th-century tomb is 30 foot high and was built in 1848, following the death of William Henry Miller, an MP and owner of Craigetinny House.
At the time, the mausoleum was on its own in the middle of nowhere. Its towering heights were meant to deter body snatchers, and the marble and granite work is reminiscent of ancient Greek or Roman marbles. A truly unique sight to see in the centre of the city!
#10 Museum on the Mound
Dedicated to all things money, the Museum on the Mound is a museum which is often forgotten in favour of local favourites such as the Museum of Childhood, as well as the National Museum of Scotland (home to Dolly the Sheep). However, if you want to see what a million (fake) pounds look like in real life, as well as explore the history of money in the Scottish capital, then you simply must head to this free museum!
#11 Water of Leith
Running through Edinburgh, the Water of Leith is a beautiful slice of nature, cutting its way through the industrial buildings of the Scottish capital. A dedicated walkway now follows the River’s course as it snakes its way through Edinburgh, passing by local favourites such as Colinton Village and Dell, the Union Canal, Saughton Winter Gardens, Murrayfield Stadium, the Royal Botanic Garden and Leith along. The river walk is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of busy city life for families and couples alike.
#12 The ruins of St Anthony
Sure, everyone’s heard of Arthur’s Seat. But did you know that there are the 14th-century ruins of a chapel dedicated to St Anthony around halfway up the steep slope? Little is known about the origins of its crumbling walls, though it’s thought that perhaps the chapel once had connections to nearby Holyrood Abbey (which also now lies in ruin and can be visited at the same time as Holyrood Palace).
Read more: Hiking an Extinct Volcano in Edinburgh!
#13 Kyoto Friendship Garden
In the grounds of Lauriston Castle and Grounds, you’ll find the Kyoto Friendship Garden. This calm space remains a hidden gem of the city to this day. Located in green and leafy Cramond, the green space is one of the top three Japanese gardens in the UK and celebrates the twinning of Edinburgh and the prefecture of Kyoto in Japan.
#14 Cramond Island
The pretty tidal island of Cramond lies just off mainland Scotland and can be accessed twice a day when the tide recedes. Now uninhabited, it’s thought that the island was once an outpost for Roman troops.
In the estuary nearby, the most important Roman find ever found in Britain was discovered in the form of the Cramond Lioness. The quaint village of Cramond itself is just metres from Cramond Beach, on the edge of the mainland. Just outside the village centre, Cramond Falls is Edinburgh’s (albeit small) answer to Niagra Falls!
Read more: Day trip to Cramond Island.
#15 Surgeons’ Hall Museums
The anatomical museums that form Surgeons’ Hall Museums are part of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. Open to the public every day of the week from 10 Am to 5 PM, you can see the collections for a small fee, though under 16s must be accompanied by an adult. The Royal College of Surgeons was first founded in the early 1500s, while the museum itself has been open to the public since 1832.
#16 Lauriston Castle
On the fringes of the city, one of the best secret spots in Edinburgh can be found in the form of the city’s least known castle. Lauriston Castle is the former mansion home of Mr and Mrs Reid and was first constructed in the 16th-century as a tower house. 19th-century additions were added before the castle and its grounds were donated to the City of Edinburgh in the 1920s. Today, you can visit the Castle for a small fee, while the grounds are free to visit and enjoy a picnic in.
Read more: Best Castles in Edinburgh.
#17 The district of Stockbridge
Though perhaps not so much ‘secret Edinburgh’ as some of the other suggestions to be found within this hidden gems guide, the district of Stockbridge is nevertheless a little more off the beaten path and unusual when it comes to the more unique things to do in Edinburgh. Home to an assortment of vine covered houses and cobbled lanes, it’s the perfect area for photography lovers.
#18 Dr Neil’s Garden
The seasonal botanical garden of Dr Neil’s is a true Edinburgh delight and attracts visitors from far and wide on an annual basis. Situated in the shadow of Holyrood park, the green spot is easily one of Edinburgh’s best hidden gems. Secret and off the beaten path, find out more information on how to visit the garden here.