Edinburgh Castle

Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG
0131 225 9846

Edinburgh most' famous landmark is obviously not a 'hidden gem' but few people realise that the custodians Historic Scotland, offer free access on the nearest weekend to St Andrew's Day (30 November) to Edinburgh Castle and some of its other properties. Free entry is via a ticket which must be booked online.

Edinburgh Castle is also home to the Scottish National War Memorial which can be visited free of charge on application to Visitor Information.

Dundas House

36 St Andrew Square, Edinburgh, EH2 2AD
0131 523 3636

Sir Lawrence Dundas made his fortune supplying goods to the British Army during their campaign against the Jacobites in 1745 and during the Seven Years War (1756-1763). He branched out into banking, shipping, sugar plantations and property.

In 1772 he purchased land at 36 St Andrew Square for £800 and employed royal architect, Sir William Chambers, to build a Palladian villa as his private mansion modelled on Marble Hill House in Twickenham.

When Sir Lawrence died in 1781, his son Thomas had no wish to live in the Edinburgh house – he hardly needed it, as he inherited £900,000 and a portfolio of eight properties – and sold it to the Commissioners of Excise.

In 1825, The Royal Bank of Scotland bought Dundas House for £35,300 and later added a domed banking hall with a star-adorned roof.

It is still a working branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland today with currency exchange service and cash dispensers if you need an excuse to gaze at the architecture.

Dunbar's Close Garden

Dunbar's Close, Canongate, Royal Mile, Edinburgh EH8 8BW
0131 529 7061

Every day, thousands of people walk past Dunbar's Close, one of the many alleyways off the Royal Mile, but most remain oblivious to what lies beyond the entrance. The long, thin, formal gardens were laid out in 1979 by landscape architect Seamus Filor in the style of a 17th century town garden. It is a perfect retreat from the hustle and bustle of the Canongate.

The Dome

14 George Street, Edinburgh, EH2 2PF
Telephone 0131 624 8624
Fax 0131 624 8649

This large domed structure was once a bank but is now a well-regarded bar, restaurant and venue. Everything about the place from the chandeliers to the marble mosaic floors screams opulence. Even if you just go to take photographs....go!

DHT Cafe

David Hume Tower. George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9JX
0131 667 1971

The DHT cafe is open to all staff, students and visitors, offering grab-and-go hot and cold food.
Open weekdays 8.30am and closing at 10pm Monday to Thursday (closes 6pm on Friday).

Perfect when you need a midweek late night snack!


111-112 Princes Street, Edinburgh, EH2 3AA
0844 561 6161

Prior to being the flagship store of the retail giant, this Grade B listed building was a theatre and cafe and, originally, the home of the Scottish Conservative Club. It still contains a beautiful curved staircase and three stained glass windows, dedicated to the memory of Benjamin Disraeli, which were constructed in 1884 and are the work of James Ballantine & Son (whose work can be seen in Greyfriars Kirk (1 Greyfriars, Edinburgh EH1 2QQ), St John the Evangelist Church (Princes Street, Edinburgh, EH2 4BJ) and St. Giles Cathedral, as well as the House of Lords).

Hidden incongruously amongst the ladieswear on the first floor, is the oak panelled Victorian library featuring antique books and a bust of Gladstone - a remnant of the Liberal Club which also used to be on this site.

Cockburn Street Owl & Pussygryphon

59 Cockburn Street, Edinburgh EH1 1BS

Many people have walked up the steep winding road, some may have paused for breath outside no 59, but not many will have looked up and noticed the carved figures at the top of the building.

The few people that are aware of them, are puzzled as to why a carving of an owl and a pussycat appear on an building older than Lear's famous poem. The simple answer is...it's not a cat, it's a gryphon. Mystery solved.

City Chambers

253 High St, Royal Mile, Edinburgh EH1 1YJ
0131 529 5974

Walk through the arcade into the quadrangle of Edinburgh City Chambers and you will notice a bronze statue of Alexander the Great taming Bucephalus.  Sculptor Sir John Steell was commissioned in 1832 but the money ran out before he completion and the statue remained in limbo before it was finally cast in bronze in 1883.  It is believed that Steell, disgruntled at having to wait over half a century for payment, made the horse's ears resemble those of a pig. 

Also in the quadrangle, set into flagstones, are the hand prints of the recipients of the Edinburgh Award which include: Elizabeth Blackadder, Richard DeMarco, Professor Peter Higgs, Sir Chris Hoy, George Kerr, Ian Rankin and JK Rowling.

Members of the public are welcome to attend meetings at the City Chambers and do not need to arrange this in advance. A list of forthcoming meetings can be viewed on the Edinburgh City Council website

Chessel's Court Garden

240 Canongate, Royal Mile, Edinburgh EH8 8AD

Walk through the arches that act as an entrance to the hidden courtyard.  There is a raised grassed area which is perfect for picnics. If you want to find an even quieter spot, head for the south eastern corner of the courtyard where you will find a tiny herb garden with seating and an elevated view over Holyrood Road and beyond.

Chapel of St Albert the Great

24 George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9LD
(Enter from George Square Lane)
0131 650 0900

Built in 2012 for the University Chaplaincy and friary for The Order of Preachers this award-winning chapel is scarcely visible from George Square Lane or the nearby Meadows.

The living roof is held up by steel 'trees' and the glass walls blur the boundaries between chapel and garden. It is a lovely, calming place which the public are welcome to enjoy.

Central Library

George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 1EG
0131 242 8000

Gifted by Andrew Carnegie, Central Library is a huge Edwardian building with its main entrance on George IV Bridge but actually descends 200ft to Cowgate below where Andrew Carnegie laid the foundation stone in 1887.

Carnegie's motto “Let There Be Light” is at the entrance of all libraries endowed by him, alongside the lanterns which symbolise enlightenment.

A huge collection, helpful staff and free internet access make the Reference Library the ideal place for study – or just relax in the beautiful surroundings, look up at the beautiful dome and enjoy the free wi-fi.

Take time to admire the dome in the Reference Library, the beautiful tiles on the staircase and the door marked private above which is “Tecum Habita 1616″ (roughly “live within your means”).

The building also houses Edinburgh & Scottish collections, a Fine Art library and a lending library and hosts many exhibitions and events.

A feasibility study is underway that will look at the options for a major refurbishment and restoration of the B-listed building.

Chalmers Close

This close runs from the High Street at the top, down to Jeffrey Street, making it is a handy wee short cut for Waverley Station.

It is also home to CarrubbersCafe, the quirky doily-clad Forsyth's Edwardian Tearoom and Trinity College Apse, the only surviving part of Trinity College Church founded in 1460 (see Gone but Not Forgotten).

Catherine Sinclair Monument

North Charlotte Street/St. Colme Street

It is ironic that the monument is so close to the site of the annual Book Festival (held in Charlotte Square every August), yet the works of Catherine Sinclair are largely forgotten in her city.

Born in Edinburgh in 1800, Catherine was a prolific writer of travel, biography, children's books, novels, essays, and reflections. Her most notable work is 'Holiday House' which, unusually for the time, portrayed a realistic middle class childhood, complete with mischievous and adventurous children.

The monument was built in recognition of her many philanthropic work which included setting up soup kitchens and funding the first drinking fountain in Edinburgh (fragments of which remain between Gosford Place and Connaught Place, close to the Water of Leith). Does it remind you of anything? A Gothic rocket perhaps? That's because the design of the monument was based broadly on the Scott Monument (East Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh EH2 2EJ) to which Catherine was a major contributor.

Statues of women are rarer in Edinburgh than hen's teeth. In fact, of the over 200 statues in Edinburgh, only two are of women (Queen Victoria – at the foot of Leith Walk, and an unnamed South African woman - in Festival Square) ...the same number as there are of dogs (Greyfriars Bobby – Candlemaker Row, and 'Bum' at the King's Stables Road entrance to Princes Street Gardens). There is a project called Putting Scotland's Women on the Map (womenofscotland.org.uk) which will hopefully redress the balance.

Carrubbers Cafe

Chalmers Close, 65 High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1SR
0131 652 3743

The cafe serves a variety of foods and drinks including, baked potatoes, salads, filled rolls, soups as well as various pastries, cakes, snacks, coffees, teas and soft drinks at very reasonable prices. Open from 10.30am to 2:30pm Monday through Friday. 

Chalmers Close runs from the High Street down to Jeffrey Street - handy for Waverley Station

Brass Monkey

14 Drummond Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9TU
0131 556 1961

At first glance, the Brass Monkey looks like a traditional Edinburgh pub but...there is a room full of mattresses which doubles as a mini-cinema!

The Archivists' Garden & Cafe

HM General Register House, 2 Princes Street, Edinburgh EH1 3YY
(enter via gates on West Register Street)
0131 535 1313

Every day, thousands of people walk past the bronze statue of the Duke of Wellington mounted on a rearing horse in front of General Register House at the east end of Princes Street. Few, have been inside the building, even fewer have ventured behind it.

Hidden between General Register House and New Register House is a unique garden which has been transformed with plants chosen to represent Scottish culture and the different aspects of the records held in the two repositories.

During the week, there is also a pleasant, quiet and reasonably priced cafe offering home baking and speciality coffee – a gem in such a central location.

Anatomical Museum

University of Edinburgh, Doorway 3, Medical School, Teviot Place, Edinburgh, EH8 9AG

TheAnatomy Museum is open to the public on the last Saturday of each month but closed throughout June, July and December

As well as various exhibition, there is a permanent collection which includes a collection of life and death masks, items relating to murderers and grave-robbers Burke and Hare and anatomy models.

Advocate's Close

Cockburn Street/357 High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1ND

Of all Edinburgh's 80+ 'closes' (alleyways), Advocate's Close probably best sums up what Edinburgh is all about - the old and new living side by side...preservation and innovation.

At numbers two and four, look up at the carved lintels which read “spes altera vitae” (“a second hope of life”) and “blissit be god of al his giftis” 1590.

At number seven is The Tower, a contemporary office development completed in 2013.

At number nine, in an old Victorian pump house, is The Devil’s Advocate bar & restaurant featuring a mezzanine dining area and a 200-strong whisky shelf.

Advocate's Close offers an alternative route from Cockburn Street at the bottom, to 357 High Street on the Royal Mile.  Since 2013, there has been a pedestrian thoroughfare linking Advocate’s Close with the News Steps.

In 2014, Advocate's Close was named Scotland's 'Best Building'

Wild West street, Morningside

off Springvalley Gardens, Edinburgh EH10 4QF

Hidden down a lane off Springvalley Gardens is a saloon bar, cantina, livery store and even a jail!

You could be mistaken for thinking you had stumbled onto a movie set but closer inspection reveals that the cantina is actually Morningside library's fire exit, people are working in the offices and it's just a facade.

Originally, built to promote an American furniture company that was based here, it is fading fast but makes a great photo opportunity.

A real hidden gem!

Absorb Cafe, Appleton Tower

11 Crichton St, Edinburgh EH8 9LE
0131 667 1971

Located on the ground floor of the University of Edinburgh's Appleton Tower, Absorb is open to the public and sells sells wholesome fare including fair trade refreshments, sandwiches, paninis, baguettes and salads.