For the past 18 months, we’ve been privileged to live in our favourite neighbourhood in Edinburgh, Leith.
Leith is the sort of place that feels like its own entity despite being swallowed up by the city long ago to drop its port town roots. There’s a community here that you wouldn’t expect so close to the centre of a city, and there’s an unmatchable and unrelenting vibe that I haven’t really felt anywhere else.
It wasn’t always like this though. I’ve been visiting Leith since it had started becoming the cool kid on the block, but before that, it was a hive of drug dealers, slums, and generally wasn’t the sort of place you’d want to visit. Originally, Leith was the industrial part of town so it’s always been the “working class” area of town – and indeed there are plenty of warehouses and factory buildings still standing – and the docks made it a popular place for plenty of illicit activities for all the ship workers and residents. After all, this is where Trainspotting is set. (Spoiler: Trainspotting is not about trains.)
These days, Leith is one of the most desirable neighbourhoods in the city; it’s the ultimate story of regeneration and gentrification, and with it have come the price tags to match. What I love about it is it’s still rough around the edges; there’s still the notorious “banana flats” (where one of the characters in Trainspotting lived) and several others like them, but I’ve never felt unsafe. Not once. The dark history is still prevalent, but the people are fantastic, there are tons of great small businesses to support, and most importantly, there’s a huge heart in the community here.
I’ve been contemplating writing a Leith guide for a while – how long do you have to live somewhere before you can be “qualified” to write a guide? (For some bloggers, three days seems to be enough for an ultimate guide!)
And then of course, 2020 struck. We have barely been able to check out actual restaurants this year, including a bunch that should definitely be on here as we see constant recommendations for them, and I started to wonder if I’d even have enough content for this. Plus, without trying to sound too negative, who knows how many of my restaurant recommendations will be relevant once the fallout of the economic impact has been dusted off?
But, as with all great things, our time in Leith is coming to an end – we’re buying a house! I’ll reveal where in my next post, which will be an introduction to our new home.
So it feels like a good time to share our home for the past 18 months with you.
The Shore is where I consider the “hub” of Leith to be, and certainly it’s my favourite part of it. Packed with restaurants, bars, cafés and great takeaways across cobblestone streets on a waterfront, the Shore is probably the first place you should check out in Leith.
There isn’t much better than sitting along the water on a sunny day with fish & chips from Pierino’s – and if there is, it’s probably sitting in the beer garden of Teuchter’s Landing or grabbing some delicious cakes from Mimi’s Bakehouse.
It’s also just a lovely place for a wander – pictured above is the Fingal, a luxury boat hotel (boatel?) you can stay on, or eat at their top notch restaurant. Of course, we aren’t posh enough for that sort of thing, but it’s on my list as it would be a unique stay!
On Saturdays, you can check out the Leith Market, which is similar to Stockbridge Market (which I took you to as part of my virtual tour in my last post) although usually in my experience a bit smaller.
Leith Walk is the main road from the city centre to Leith. We have been living just off Leith Walk, and although it might not be much to look at (I don’t even have any photos to be honest – the photo above has a little peek of it at the end), it’s packed full of fantastic restaurants and shops that I might not have discovered if we hadn’t lived here.
At the moment, Leith Walk is heavily under construction while they build a new tram that will connect Leith with the airport via the existing tram from the city centre. This is a highly (and I mean HIGHLY) contentious subject amongst Leithers, with the strain it’s putting on local businesses while the entire road is essentially shut, for a benefit that remains to be seen. Plenty of people are for it too, and as such it’s a regular debate on the Leith Facebook group!
But, Leith Walk IS open for business. It houses some of our favourite restaurants in Edinburgh, a mix of hipster pubs and traditional sports bars (after all, Hibernian’s football stadium is right around the corner), and a plethora of specialist and local shops. It’s well worth a wander – and it takes a little over half an hour, perhaps 45 minutes, to walk from Princes Street to the Shore, so it’s not altogether too crazy to pop over from the city centre.
Some great shops to check out are Topping & Company bookshop (it’s not technically Leith, but close enough – nearby Black Books-esque McNaughton’s is also worth a visit, and is the oldest second-hand book shop in Scotland!), Epoca for vintage clothing, Valvona & Crolla for Italian deli goods and to feel like you’ve stepped back in time, and The Cat’s Miaou for gifts.
There are tons of great places to grab lunch in between browsing, such as Gaia (Italian, think paninis and pasta), Kukina (Turkish bakery, I highly recommend their gözleme) or our favourite: Bross Bagels (does what it says on the tin). If you want to keep it simple, you can’t go wrong with a Leith institution – a pie from Storries bakery!
For dinner, check out my recommendations below.
I’m going to throw it out there and say Ocean Terminal isn’t a great shopping centre. It’s actually a popular stop with tourists because it’s where cruise ships come in to Edinburgh, and it’s also where you can visit the Royal Britannia yacht which means it’s on the tourist bus route, however this is shut for the foreseeable future (and not, by the sounds of it, just while Covid is impacting everything).
However, my favourite shop here is the Leith Collective, which is a collaborative effort with local artists and designers to show off local products. They’re also sustainable – they’ve just announced that they are becoming the UK’s first plastic-free shop!
Once we’ve moved, I’m hoping to pick up a few unique homeware pieces for our new house as a reminder of the place we’ve called home for a while!
Pitt Street Market
I’ve already mentioned Leith Market, but if you want a great, local culinary experience, we absolutely LOVE Pitt Street Market! Set in an unassuming garage and outdoor area, it’s on every weekend, and is home to several great food trucks.
This past weekend, I had a pulled pork slider from one vendor, halloumi fries from another, and warmed myself up with an apple, ginger & cinnamon hot drink! Our friend had loaded macaroni cheese which he declared delicious, and Ash had the fried chicken burger he’d been dreaming about since the last time we went.
They also have initiatives for local live music, and in fact the indoors space is set up like a bit of a musical flea market in places, with an artsy vibe. Safe to say it’s my sort of place!
Where to eat & drink
So, um, as you may have gathered, Leith is a GREAT place for eating… a lot. I’m not a foodie so don’t expect all the high-end gourmet recommendations (though I do cover those at the end).
Here are just some of my favourites.
Vittoria On The Walk
Vittoria’s is a mainstay on Leith Walk, having opened in 1970 and is now run by the original owner’s grandson. Truly a family enterprise and therefore as local as you can get, Vittoria’s is genuinely probably the best place for Italian food in Edinburgh. We’ve been several times now, and we’ve also been to their newer location in the Old Town, which is a lot more modern so we prefer the traditional vibe of this one. Potentially my favourite restaurant in Edinburgh, to be honest!
The King’s Wark
If you fancy some really, really, really good pub food, look no further than The King’s Wark on the Shore. Every time we’ve been in there, the service has been top notch, the food fantastic, and compared to a lot of the high-end restaurants in the area, the prices are incredibly reasonable.
I highly recommend, if you find yourself in Leith on a nice day, treating yourself to some good old fish & chips and sitting by the water. Our favourite in Leith is Pierino’s, which is handy as it’s about a two minute walk from the Shore.
La Casa is a relatively new addition to Leith Walk, but this Mediterranean restaurant has already become one of our favourites! We’ve been there twice now; the first time, we picked a set menu of meaty tapas with a couple of extra, and the second time I was torn between tapas and their main meals. We ended up going for mains to try them out, with a couple of tapas on the side.
EVERY, SINGLE, THING, we have tried from there has been AMAZING.
Mimi’s has become a common name around Edinburgh, with locations on the Royal Mile, by the train station and even out at a castle. The original, though, is in Leith, right on the Shore. It’s one of the best places for brunch – last time I went, I had the most delicious French toast ever (I might be exaggerating, I might not – who even cares? It was freaking delicious). The problem is, you don’t want to fill yourself up too much because their tray bakes are TO DIE FOR. In fact, just fill yourself with cakes with their afternoon tea. It’s the best way.
Disclaimer: I haven’t eaten at Teuchter’s Landing, but it’s a GREAT place for drinks!
Teuchter’s Landing is set right on a quiet piece of water just off the Shore. The pub itself is quaint and used to be the waiting room for the ferry to Aberdeen (I’m pretty sure I saw in the Maritime Museum in Aberdeen that there used to be a ferry from Leith all the way to Orkney, too! That would be so handy now).
Unfortunately I don’t have any photos – we haven’t exactly had many chances to go this year!
The Mousetrap doesn’t really offer food (except, appropriately, cheese grills!) but it IS our favourite pub in Leith, so it’s making the list. It also features on my list of quirky bars & restaurants in Edinburgh. The Mousetrap is a board game-themed pub and it’s so much fun!
Another dive bar, the Port O’Leith looks rundown on the outside but attracts a stalwart crowd of Leithers. Apparently it’s not as good (read: debaucherous) as it used to be since it changed owners, but we think it’s still got a really cool vibe!
I’ve already mentioned Bross Bagels in this post, and you know what? They deserve two mentions. Like Mimi’s, they have a few locations across Edinburgh (and a slightly different menu in each), but I think Leith is my favourite for where it is! They recently moved to an outdoors location and I love how they’ve done it up. My favourite? The Chicken Parm or the Buffanono. Ash’s favourite is the Big Apple, and our friend loves the Goy. So basically, uh, try them all?
A surprising find recently is Orinoco on Leith Walk, a Latin American takeaway joint that offers so much more than empanadas! I absolutely love their cachapas, big pancake-like corn cakes with tons of filling. A great addition to the walk.
Unfortunately, due to 2020, we haven’t been able to experience pizzeria Origano in full, and even before that, half the reason we didn’t get around to trying them was because they kept being fully booked when we tried (always a good sign). However, we did recently finally get a takeaway pizza and we can confirm: THEY ARE GOOD. They also, and I don’t say this lightly, make one of the best banoffee pies I’ve ever tasted. Which was unexpected, but hey, if you’re one of the best in your game at one thing, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be good at something else!
Anyway, I’m really hoping we get a chance to check them out properly once things are back to normal.
The problem is, there are so many more places for us to try that I still don’t feel like I can give a “complete” guide here. We’ve never been to The Kitchin, lauded as one of the best restaurants in Scotland. We haven’t checked out Nobles, whose menu looks frankly fantastic and it’s been recommended to me several times.
The Shore, being by the water, has several highly-rated seafood restaurants (The Ship and Fishers are two) which we’ve never been to.
One place we are hoping to check out for our final meal out in Leith (as if we’ll never be back) is The Chop House, so I’ll report back on that! It looks ah-mazing!
It’s safe to say that we’re going to miss Leith. Luckily, we don’t need much of an excuse to come back, but we also have a few friends here which we’ll be visiting regularly. So although we might be leaving, we’ll never really leave. Leith is part of us now!
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