Why Leith is Edinburgh’s Coolest Neighbourhood

Boda Bar, Leith
Boda Bar, Leith

At Condé Nast Traveler, I wrote about one of my favourite areas in Edinburgh: Leith.

Leith never used to be so cool; in fact it was a pretty bad neighbourhood when I lived in Edinburgh, just a few years after Trainspotting, which was set there, was made into a movie.

Now, the area is filled with hip bars (like Boda Bar above) and shops and is home to some really interesting festivals, particularly the arts festival LeithLate. One of LeithLate’s initiatives is the Shutter Project and Mural Project, which brings street artists to the area to paint shop shutters and other vacant spaces. This mural below was one of my favourites.  Painted by Guido van Helten, it depicts one of the last surviving members of the 1915 Quintinshill rail disaster in his old age. 200 men lost their lives in the disaster — the worst rail crash in the United Kingdom. Most of them were soldiers from the Leith Battalion heading to Gallipoli.

Guido van Helten, Leith
Guido van Helten, Leith

There are murals throughout the neighbourhood, including this one by Skint Richie on the shutter of Origano. But to see them, you need to get there early, before the shops open for business and the shutters go up.

Skint Richie, Leith
Skint Richie, Leith

Read more about Leith at Condé Nast Traveler.

Still Edinburgh

Prepping for my annual trip home to Scotland and browsing photographs from last August’s visit.

I lose a little bit of Edinburgh the longer I am gone. There is still a thin, but sturdy, thread of history that stretches back there. Edinburgh changes with every year, but some places stay the same.

 

The Toddle In sweet shop on Cockburn Street is piled to the ceiling with jars of old-fashioned candy.

I used to lose hours rifling through the racks at vintage clothing store, Armstrong’s.The window displays are always creative.

Victoria Street: Individual boutiques, art galleries, brightly painted buildings and a steep climb.

And this? Well, it’s the castle. And it’s beautiful.

Edinburgh Nights

Back in the day, Edinburgh was ours. Last night—our first night out in the city for many years—we saw how far Edinburgh had slipped out of our grasp.

We made our way up through the bars of Broughton Street—this one, too busy; that one, not busy enough—picking out a few familiar faces along the way. We worked our way up to the one we could depend on, opposite the club that used to be called Honeycomb and up from where Wilkie House was, before it burned to the ground.

I have such a strong attachment to this bar that my heart crumpled at the scene it had changed into: hens, stags, chavs (of course I’m a snob and precious for saying so). Louise and I sat sulking in the corner. What happened? This wasn’t what we wanted. I couldn’t pretend not to understand that what I had wanted was to resurrect a ghost. Was it just the bar, or had everything changed?

Across the street to the club that used to be Honeycomb, now called Cabaret Voltaire, Louise and I moaned to the bouncers—at least they were the same. “The people that used to go there have all gone to another place now, down on Candlewick Row,” they told us, agreeing in distaste about the new scene. We lingered for a moment, thinking whether or not to head down to the new place, still chasing ghosts, when the DJ spotted us outside: another familiar face, the pieces of ‘our’ Edinburgh were slowly starting to take form.

We descended into the basement to a sweaty, strobe-lit, banging club. It wasn’t our club—though half of the DJs were the same, just under a new name—but when Underworld’s Cowgirl came on, for five minutes I was back there: late nineties, young and filled with lust for the city.

The moment passed and we were back where we were. Saying our brief goodbyes—for how long? Another ten years?—we left. If I hadn’t have left Edinburgh back then, I wouldn’t have felt the disappointment so sharply. But really, how could I have stayed? I realized that though I was wishing places to stay the same, I always kept moving so that I wouldn’t.

“Free Today With Your Super Soaraway Sun!”

Here’s something you don’t see so much in America–freebies with your newspapers and magazines.

Within an hour of landing in Britain, I’d got myself a new shopping bag, Benefit mascara, and make-up case–all included free with glossy magazines I only bothered to flip through.
Evidently The Sun had gone all out on the day I spotted a copy in the magazine rack at City Cafe in Edinburgh: You got a free loaf of bread, free DVD, and a cryptic “free Oasis” with this one.