The festival is crazy, frenetic, exciting and at times overwhelming time to visit Edinburgh. With so much happening sometimes you just want to take a moment, step back from the crowds and gather yourself before plunging back into the myriad of shows and street performances. This is our top 5 festival oases for you to seek some calm in from the festival madness.
Dunbar’s Close Gardens on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh’s Old Town is a real hidden gem. The garden has been laid out in the style and character of a 17th century garden which feels very fitting given its surroundings. To enter you travel along a narrow, cobbled close which opens out into a surprisingly tranquil and elegant sculpted garden of clipped shrubs under a cosy green canopy of trees. Beyond the entrance are further levels, each with different atmospheres and all are sheltered thanks to high church walls on the west side and clipped hedging on the others. The garden is special, particularly when the trees are in full leaf. It has such an authentic sense of place that you feel like you are one of the few to have discovered it. It is hard to believe that somewhere so peaceful was a building site up until 1976 when The Mushroom Trust funded the creation of a new garden by Seamus Filor, landscape architect. The Mushroom Trust handed the garden over to the City of Edinburgh on completion and is still involved in its management. The close was probably named after David Dunbar, a writer who owned the tenements at the garden’s entrance. Close by you will find one the Oink restaurants, a real favourite amongst the walking tour guides and often not as busy as it’s sister restaurant on Victoria Street.
The Archivist’s Garden is a little known green space that sits just off the bustling Princes Street. The open courtyard between General Register House and New Register House has been transformed into a unique garden planted with 57 plant species which are all connected in some way to Scotland’s collective memory, whether through myth and folklore, heraldry, or association with individual famous Scots. The garden was conceived and coordinated by David R Mitchell, Curator at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, who also researched and produced the interpretation. It is hoped the gardens can help reconnect Scots to the many traditions that used to exist between the people of Scotland and the flora and fauna of this beautiful country. For instance did you know there used to be a tradition of planting an apple tree on the birth of a baby boy or a pear tree on the birth of a girl?
Hermitage of Braid and Nature Reserve
The area is steeped in history, some of which is told in the old Hermitage House which is used as the Headquarter of the City of Edinburgh Countryside Natural Heritage Service who provide a visitor center’ full of displays, activities and information. You can also explore the surroundings to discover the Ice House, the Dovecot in the Walled Garden and even a clever water pump system along the burn that provided running water to the Hermitage House in the past! The first recorded owner of this area was the son of a Belgian knight called De Brad, in the 12th Century. His son, Henri De Brad, was Sheriff of Edinburgh. He and his guests hunted for deer and wild boar in the forest. In 1775 the architect Robert Burn was employed by Charles Gordon of Cluny to design the mansion house. The house was finished in 1788 and it was around this time that the dovecot, walled garden, stables and ice house were built. The dovecot housed pigeons which were eaten by the householders. The ice house was used to store food. It was kept cold by filling the base with ice collected from local ponds and wrapped in straw, so it melted more slowly. In 1937, the Hermitage was presented to the city as a public park by the owner John McDougal. The surrounding parkland offer some fantastic walks which will feel very different to the walking tours around the Old Town as the forests act as a natural haven for wildlife.
At one point Portobello used to be it’s own town and still feels very much like it’s own community despite now falling under the boundaries of Edinburgh City Council. In the summer month the main attraction here are the long sandy beaches stretching out into the Firth of Forth. If the sun is out and you are down enjoying the beach you may want to cool of with a 99 ice cream, something of a British summer institution that was first “invented” in Portobello. The name came from the address of the shop at 99 High Street where the Arcari family used to sell ice cream. The family moved to Portobello from Italy after the fightings of the Second World War. Portobello’s history covers a wide range of topics other than ice cream though. From a booming Victorian seaside town to an important Napoleonic defence garrison there is plenty to learn and discover if you decide to make the trip away from the Festival madness of the Royal Mile.
Leith was made infamous by Ian Rankins Train Spotting but Leith has come on a long way since the times of Mark Renton, Spud and Sick Boy. Leith Walk offers a fine selection of restaurants, pubs and cafes, many of which have interesting art spaces and music events but without the crush of people often associated with the Festival. Walk to the bottom of Leith Walk and you get to the Shore, an area of Edinburgh that well deserves it’s own walking tour. With a rich history of pirates, whaling, whisky and wars. There are many interesting buildings to look at and the bottom end of the Water of Leith to explore the shore has a lot to offer including some of Edinburgh’s top rated eateries. We recommend a visit to The Teuchters Landing for their wide whisky selection and floating beer garden!
We love Edinburgh during the festival and if you join one of our free walking tours of the Old Town we can make many great recommendations for you of shows or artists to see but if you are finding the Festival a little too much we hope this short guide will help inspire you to find something a little calmer away from the crowds.