I am a Flaneur, an urban stroller. And when I travel to a new place I like to get acquainted by taking a slow stroll. A recent visit to Edinburgh provided the perfect opportunity to get to know the city as a Flaneur. My husband and I took a nice long stroll from the city center along the Water of Leith Walkway. The walk covered some of my favorite aspects of flaneuring: nature, art, architecture and delicious treats.
After your Leith Walk, buck the usual travel guides and check out these other things to do in Edinburgh.
What is the Water of Leith Walkway?
The Water of Leith is the main river flowing northeast through the city and into the sea at the port of Leith. The water was originally used to power waterwheels at over 70 mill sites along the river. You can still spot a few old mills there but the river has now been transformed into an urban greenbelt. Tucked away along river is a 12.5 mile (20k) walkway that provides a slice of wilderness right in the middle of Edinburgh.
Starting Point: New Town
We chose to stay at an AirBnB just northeast of the Edinburgh’s center in New Town near the foot of Calton Hill. The location was a perfect location for exploring Edinburgh. It was easily walkable to the main sites but away from the really busy tourist areas. It was also less expensive than a hotel. You can check Edinburgh AirBnB listings here. And check out these 7 tips for how to book on AirBnB.
Queen street creates the divide between Old Town and New Town. It seems silly to call a 350 year old neighborhood “new” but it is indeed newer than Old Town. No matter, this area has a lot of great Edwardian architecture so be sure to look up and enjoy the buildings as you walk. The whole of New Town is considered a UNESCO site. And if you are keen to learn more about these cultural treasures, you should check out Gary Arndt’s quest to visit all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites.
First Stop: Coffee in Bonnington
Sure, we had only walked .6 miles (<1k) so far, but we needed some coffee. Our AirBnb hostess didn’t stock it so before getting too far, we needed to top up. Part of being a Flaneur is taking it slowly and observing the street scene so we chose a seat in the window and watched the neighborhood walk by. This stop is also quite close to the Royal Botanic Garden and you could add on a visit there as well. But we finished our coffee and got directly onto the Walter of Leith Walkway.
The Water of Leith has a surprising amount of wildlife for such an urban setting. We spotted this beautiful grey heron. And there are also 79 other species of birds on the Leith including: cormorant, heron, kingfisher, swan and the great spotted woodpecker.
Second Stop: I.J Mellis Cheesemonger
Stockbridge is a cute little village well stocked with restaurants, stores and markets. Never one to pass up a good wedge of cheese, I was lured into the shop and picked up a tasty hunk of something local. Flaneuring is a tiring business and it’s important to keep up your strength. So we noshed on our cheese as we flaneured.
Stockbridge also has a market that is open on Sundays 10-5. I liked this area so much that I would consider an AirBnB here on a future visit. Ken and I wandered through the market area and then got back onto the Leith path.
The Walkway is so peaceful. The trees and embankment dampened any urban noise. We ran into several other urban hikers and people walking their dogs but it certainly wasn’t busy.
Third Stop: Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
You can step right off the Water of Leith Walkway and into the Gallery of Modern Art. The Gallery is actually two buildings separated by a large lawn and contemporary sculptures. They have rotating exhibitions of contemporary art, a library of prints and a fascinating reproduction of Eduard Paolozzi’s art studio. The picture above is an exhibit of hundreds of tiny birds that have been a painted directly onto the gallery walls. It was enchanting.
After visiting both galleries, we doubled back through Dean Village and over to Queensferry road where we picked up a bus headed for Old Town. Our next adventure was to hook up with Dobby from Harry Potter. He was our tour guide for afternoon and he showed us all of the magical Harry Potter spots in Edinburgh.
Map of Our Water of Leith Walk
Strictly speaking the walk was ~4 miles (6.5k). But with the detours and wandering around the Modern Art Galleries, it was certainly more. It was a perfect way for us to spend the morning and still left us with energy to check out the Old Town in the afternoon. If you would like to retrace our steps here is a map:
If this all sounds great to you, check out the post on becoming a flaneur, it will give you the historical background on the subject and tips for becoming an expert Flaneur. And get inspired for your visit to Scotland with this list of books set there.
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Wednesday 10th of June 2020
Stockbridge has always been a fantastic shopping area & has retained the feeling of being a village. I was brought up there next to river & still miss it.
Saturday 20th of April 2019
Was in Edinburgh in 70s,I had walk across the firth of forth. I remembered there many big rocks in the middle of river. Like to know is it still the same. I took a bus from Edinburgh to Firth of Forth
Wednesday 29th of March 2017
I have never been to Edinburgh, this makes me curious!
Thursday 30th of March 2017
The best way to introduce yourself to Edinburgh is on foot
Carmen's Luxury Trvl (@carmensluxtrvl)
Monday 12th of December 2016
I've been to Edinburgh a few times and have yet to go on this interesting walk! Thanks so much for sharing. I'm adding it to my list :)
Sunday 11th of December 2016
Oh Edinburgh is so magical-we spent a few days here this summer and wish we had way more time. I love the Dobby tour you included and the coffee and cheese shop sound delicious too!
Monday 12th of December 2016
The cheese was so tasty