Let’s go right to the northerly edge of Edinburgh and cast our minds back to the busy days of the working docks in the 18th century. The area of Leith was Scotland’s main port for trade, with huge ships sailing in and out brimming with products and goods such as wool, wine, raw materials and spices.
Since then, a lot has happened. The area became an official part of Edinburgh in 1920, The Royal Yacht Britannia made her final stop at Ocean Terminal, and Leith was catapulted into the spotlight by Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting.
But Leith has always done its own thing. The area slowly began to shed its industrial skin and embrace a trendy new guise – and is now one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the world, according to Time Out.
Here’s our guide to the area, with tips on eating, drinking and other fun things to see and do.
Leith’s dining scene is innovative, inventive and varied, with new restaurants cropping up all the time, each bringing with them something fresh and new. Not to mention it’s home to not one but two of the capital’s Michelin-star restaurants.
- The Kitchin Tom Kitchin and his team believe in the ‘nature-to-plate’ philosophy and rustle up some delicious dishes in one Edinburgh’s finest Michelin-star restaurants. Seriously delicious.
- Restaurant Martin Wishart The other star belongs to Martin Wishart. Experience a blend of classic French culinary techniques with Scottish produce and treat yourself to an unforgettable meal.
- Harmonium Meet Harmonium – the little sister restaurant of Glasgow’s vegan institution, Stereo. Everything on the menu here is free from animal produce, with pizzas, burgers and traditional pub grub to choose from.
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Contemporary cuisine in a cosy atmosphere, Borough’s wholesome seasonal ingredients make for delicious, ever-changing dishes and there’s a fine wine selection to match.
- Ship on the Shore Seafood lovers, there’s something for you too! Head here for fresh seafood and sparkling champagne.
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This restaurant’s interior is designed with reclaimed materials and is a stylish space on Great Junction Street, serving delicious dishes with locally sourced produce.
- Lucky Yu Enjoy the Asian-inspired offerings and tasty bao buns inside this gem of a restaurant on Elm Row. It’s the ideal place for a quick bite or cosy dinner.
- East Pizzas Try a sourdough sensation at this spot on Commercial Street and enjoy lovingly created pizzas with toppings you’ll love.
Cafes and bistro experiences
- Finn & Bear Stop here for a hearty brunch, lunch or dinner with a menu which will make your tummy grumble.
- Williams & Johnson For fans of the coffee bean, Williams & Johnson is a must-visit for delicious coffee and dairy-free latte options.
- Bross Bagels Pop in for a tasty bagel filled to the brim with delicious goodness. You’ll find great options for vegan and vegetarian friends too. And, the coffee is exceptional.
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Head to Alby’s for huge sandwiches! More than a regular sandwich shop, this is a deli with a difference, and the space also hosts evening events from Wednesday to Friday. Come yourself, or with your dog, friends and favourite beverages (it’s BYOB).
- Kcal Kitchen There’s something for health nuts and calorie-counting travellers too, with this guilt-free, clean eating restaurant. Protein-packed pancakes, halloumi fries and healthy burgers – yes please!
- Quay Commons Pick up a coffee and a delicious fresh pastry for breakfast or stop in for a bite to eat inside this former bonded warehouse where you can watch the busy bakers at work.
- Toast Raise a toast to The Shore’s first ever wine café! It’s also a great spot for breakfast and brunch, or Mediterranean-style sharing plates in the afternoon and evening. There’s also a deli counter, cakes and pastries.
- Mimi’s Bakehouse
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Get your sugar fix with a toppling tower of cakes from Mimi’s. The ‘Before-noon tea’ is another delight for all breakfast fans.
Drinks and cocktails
You’ll find perfect pints and cocktail combinations you’ve never heard of before at pubs and bars across Leith.
- Roseleaf Indulge in cocktails in tea cups and admire the wall display of extravagant hats inside this colourful little bar just along from the Shore.
- Campervan Brewery Tap Room Visit Leith’s first ever brewery Tap Room and try the range of Campervan brews available. It opens on Fridays and Saturdays.
While away the hours inside this gorgeous pub, originally opened as a Victorian café in 1896 with beautiful stained-glass windows.
- Lionness of Leith There are lots of lovely things to try on the cocktail menu here, and the bar also serves gourmet ‘Lioness’ burgers and homemade waffles in the morning, what’s not to love?
- The Barologist Find amazing cocktails on the meteorology-themed menu, as well as great food and friendly bar staff who look the part in their stylish top hats.
If you’re looking for a fine selection of pints, or a mug of stovies or mac ‘n’ cheese, Teuchters is the pub for you. Make summer memories in the beer garden which overlooks the Water of Leith.
- The Nauticus With a nod to Leith’s trading heritage, this bar takes inspiration from the time the area was key in the spice, gin, sherry and wine trades, and even has Harris Tweed bar stools.
- Scotbeer Join the Leith Brewery Taproom Trail, a walking tour through Leith’s historic brewing quarter. Explore the Shore’s best beer spots, stopping at some unique venues and sampling some of the capital’s finest beers and ales along the way.
Leith’s coolest events
There’s always something exciting happening in Leith. Be one of the cool kids check out on some of these events!
- Leith Festival Organised by a dedicated group of Leithers, this festival combines eight days of events celebrating theatre, music, arts and more from 13 – 21 June 2020.
- Biscuit Factory The Biscuit Factory is an arts and fashion hub inside the former Crawford’s biscuit factory. Keep an eye out for pop-up events and markets, including the Edinburgh Food Social events where you can try some truly tasty dishes.
- Leith Theatre Catch lots of events and cool goings on at the Leith Theatre. After a long history of ups and downs, the building is now open for community events, concerts, movie screenings and lots of other exciting things.
- The Pitt A street food market which has injected a new lease of life into an old industrial yard with foodie stalls, live music, a bar on Saturdays and Sundays – basically, the best of times.
More Leith attractions
Leith’s cultural attractions will introduce you to the area’s fascinating history and heritage and show you its creative side too.
- The Royal Yacht Britannia Explore the floating royal residence and see the ship that sailed the world with the Royal Family on board for over 40 years. See the Queen’s favourite viewpoint and have tea in the Royal Deck Tea Room.
- Water of Leith walkway Weaving its way through Edinburgh from the foot of the Pentland hills to Leith, this route is perfect for a peaceful leafy walk or cycle through the city.
- Trinity House Dive into Leith’s famous maritime history. This grand Georgian house was once housed the Incorporation of Mariners and Shipmasters, and is bursting with maritime gems including four portraits by Sir Henry Raeburn.
- Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop A hub of creativity, this amazing workspace offers lots of workshops for sculptors of all levels. Try clay portraiture, wood carving or metal work and see what masterpieces you can create!
Venture a little further and discover more scenic places to visit near Edinburgh. Have we missed your favourite spot in Leith? Let us know in the comments below.