Edinburgh Festivals 2014: The best attractions off the tourist trail

This article is from 2014

Edinburgh Festivals 2014: The best attractions off the tourist trail

Visiting the Fringe this August? Here are some lesser-known attractions worth visiting

If it all gets a bit much on the Royal Mile and you’ve had your fill of serious history and culture, Edinburgh still has a wealth of quirky places that even some locals don’t know about. Kirstyn Smith rounds up the secret gems that might not make the guidebooks, but will liven up your summer

Jupiter Artland

This self-described ‘garden of discovery’ is a treat for those seeking some non-traditional art in a natural setting. Upon arrival, visitors are given a map of the grounds with no set route, and are let loose to discover a wealth of site-specific artworks. The sculptures and installations all have a strong relationship with their environment and works include pieces by Nathan Coley, Sara Barker and Charles Jencks. Add to this a rich programme of workshops and activities for children and adults, plus an on-site café and the hope of some sunshine, and it all adds up to an art lovers’ dream day out.

National Museum of Scotland Roof Terrace

Sure, take a day to explore the exhibits – this summer there’s ‘Commonwealth Scots and the Great War’, looking at the emerging Commonwealth identities postwar, as well as an overview of the legacy of the Ming dynasty. It would be truly remiss, however, not to take a breather on the museum’s roof terrace. Hidden in plain view, the terrace is a peaceful site accessed by lift from inside the museum. There’s artwork by Andy Goldsmith to admire, but the real masterpiece is the panoramic view of the city. In any weather, it’s the perfect spot for a few moments of calm before plunging headfirst back into the Festival.

The Scotsman Steps

Revamped in 2009, a mere 110 years after they were first constructed, the Scotsman Steps take stairs to a new level (ha, puns). Originally a shortcut from North Bridge to Market Street, the Steps received a makeover in the form of artist Martin Creed’s commission to help bring out their inner glory. Work 1059 is 104 stairs, each clad in a different colour of marble, the artist describing the work as ‘a microcosm of the whole world’ – each new step is a new location. At the very least, it makes the hop from the Old Town to the New Town that bit more artistic.

Water of Leith Visitor Centre

Edinburgh’s own river is something of a hidden gem, springing up from its source in the Pentlands and secretly wending its way through the heart of the city to come into its own in Leith. The route takes in Colinton Village, the Union Canal and Stockbridge and links up with other trails and cycle paths. The Water of Leith Conservation Trust work with the Visitor Centre to educate and curate conservation events throughout the year. Once you discover the rabbit’s warren of a walkway, you’ll forget you were ever in a city to begin with.

Royal Observatory Visitor Centre

After a day of packed shows and tourist avoiding, a twilight escape to the Royal Observatory is a welcome change of pace. There are monthly public astronomy evenings, with a focus on the moon rather than stars, because even Scotland manages to squeeze in a few more hours of sunlight during the summer months. Alternatively, groups (10 to 30 people) can book ahead to visit the observatory’s dome, observe the night sky, handle some real life space rocks and learn more with astro talks.