In honour of Valentine’s Day, I asked my dear sweet boyfriend, fiance, life partner, to make a list of the most romantic things to do in Edinburgh. These are dates we’ve been on, some of our favourite places to visit, things we do on an average Sunday, and things we do on special occaisions. It takes you from otter spotting to hill climbing. From museum hopping, to the pizza wars of Dalry Rd, to vintage cinemas: these are the most romantic things to do in Edinburgh…
Stroll along Holyrood Park
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had nine children. How did they keep the romance alive? By taking lots of long walks in the 17th-century royal grounds surrounding Holyrood Palace. One presumes. And if it was good enough for the notoriously hard-to-please Queen Vic, it’s probably still a top date idea today. Though maybe not in February…
Holyrood Park encompasses the tempestuous cliff faces of Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags. Take a walk along one of the well-trod paths towards the summit. Look out to sea and kiss your date like a yucky teen. It might be clichéd – and likely to attract the attention of tourists – but smooching on Arthur’s Seat definitely warrants a spot on any list of romantic things to do in Edinburgh.
Visit the Gallery of Modern Art
There’s nothing better than an art gallery date, right? Modern art? Even better! Wander round a big old building; pretend you’re not getting flustered by all the nudity. Waffle a lot about ‘how you just really feel’ the De Koonings.
Edinburgh’s Gallery of Modern Art is the ideal art date. It sits in a sculpture garden nestled near historic Dean Village. The stunning Georgian building houses works by Matisse and Picasso, and Scottish artists Peploe and Fergusson. Though its gardens are equally beautiful, if you’d rather forgo the pretentious art bit.
Wander down to Granton
The most romantic things to do in Edinburgh are often coastal. This is because roaring waves and rippling sea winds are a natural aphrodisiac (disclaimer: I am not a doctor). While Leith has become hipster central, and Portobello has long been Edinburgh’s traditional seaside resort, Granton harbour is the city’s most under-appreciated waterfront locale.
Amble along the front from Leith, or walk an hour from the city centre through the leafy streets of Goldenacre and Trinity, until you smell the cold Forth air. Once you hit the beach, don’t stop. Granton harbour pier is close to a mile long. From the end, you get a great view of the Forth bridges and the Isle of May. It’s also a perfect smooching spot. Though be careful – it can be dangerous in bad weather. So, take care all you stormy-hearted heartthrobs!
Pizza hopping in Dalry
Italian restaurants are always popular for date nights. This because the food has fancy sounding names guaranteed to impress your partner AND is tasty! Dating denizens of Edinburgh are in luck. Dalry Road, just past Haymarket station, has become the epicentre of The Pizza Wars. Umpteen delicious pizza restaurants now vie for the attention of the city’s dough-eyed lovebirds.
Pizzeria 1926 is the best of these. Rustic, classic Italian pizza is served straight from a stone oven by thoroughbred Neopolitans in light blue Maradona jerseys. If you’re more Darth Vader than Diego, try Pizza Geeks, a little further down the road. They have a cool sci-fi theme along with all the classic toppings – and they deliver!
Winding walk along the closes of Old Town
Edinburgh is, after all, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And, as a history graduate, I have to agree that history is sexy. The city’s Old Town is especially romantic at night. It’s many narrow alleyways – ‘closes’ in Scotland – and cobbled steps provide the perfect backdrop to recreate your favourite scenes from Outlander, or Braveheart, or whatever the kids in America are watching these days.
Walk up the Royal Mile to the castle and take in the view. Then, walk down Castle Wynd steps to the Grassmarket, before warming up in the Bow Bar pub on Victoria Street. How romantic!
Browsing love poetry in old book shops
Poetry is the language of love. Thus began one of my early attempts at Keatsian genius aged 14. I may have failed, but many whistful beardy fellows have successfully recorded the pangs of their heart on the printed page. And, luckily you can find their oeuvres on sale in many of Edinburgh’s book shops. Even if you’re not a big reader, books smell great.
Take the bookworm in your life to Typewronger on Leith Walk, or McNaughton’s next door. Get lost in the labyrinth of Armchair Books in the West Port. Let them peruse the Verlaine and Rimbaud while you enjoy a free coffee. Or Vodka if there’s a bottle lying around…
What’s more romantic than music?
Live music is always a great idea for a romantic date. You get to share the memory of a unique night, showcase your perfectly curated and not-at-all pretentious taste AND you can dance! And I mean really boogie. Scottish crowds are famously raucous. Don’t be surprised if you end the night soaked in sweat and other people’s beer, wearing a massive grin on your face.
If this sounds like a fun, if unconventional, date night, check out the gig listings at The Caves in Cowgate. The venue is seriously atmospheric, dug into a cavernous underground lair in Edinburgh’s Old Town. If you can’t find a band cool enough for your ultra hip other half, try Sneaky Pete’s just down the road. If you’re under 22, bop the night away in The Hive (open till 5am).
Otter spotting on the Union Canal
I used to be scared of canals. When I was growing up, the towpaths were littered with of hordes disaffected youth burning household furniture and small cars. Not to mention the swans. Angry swans that honked at babies in prams. Ugly swans that could eat a Yorkshire Terrier whole. The type of swans that took glee in breaking a man’s arm.
Times have changed. Canals have been gentrified. The Neds replaced with bearded hipsters. Cute little otters now paddle where swans once tyranised. Edinburgh’s Union Canal makes for a gorgeous morning walk with that special someone. Stroll from the trendy bistros of Fountainbridge along the cobbled towpath to watch the dog walkers in Harrison Park. Then, further along to the visually stunning 42-foot-high Slateford Viaduct. Let me know if you see the otters.
Edinburgh’s many parks and peaks
Rome, the city of romance, is famously built on seven hills. It’s a little known fact, but so is Edinburgh. As tourists only visit Arthur’s seat, you’ve got a great chance of getting a spectacular view, and some personal space, on one of the city’s other six hills.
Calton Hill has fabulous vistas of the Forth and the Old Town (Pro Tip: approach from Waterloo Place for a much easier climb). Blackford Hill has just as good views as Arthur’s Seat, but is an easier assent and much less tourist-y. My favourite is Craiglockhart Hill. It’s not too high but still has rugged windswept views. There’s also a bench and plenty of space for a picnic, which creates a really cute evening with little effort!
Cameo cinema (for the socially awkward)
What’s the most romantic thing to do in Edinburgh if you’re socially awkward? What if you’d rather sit in a dark room eating chocolate while crying, than make small talk with your Tinder date? If this sounds like you, don’t fear. Try the cinema.
The silverscreen has always oozed romance: Bogart and Bacall, Tracy and Hepburn, Brangelina… And, luckily for all you cinemaphiles and misanthropes, Edinburgh has a glut of magical movie theatres. My picturehouse of choice is The Cameo in Tollcross. Incredibly, it’s been open since 1911 – a whole 84 years before teen-heart-throb-of-the-moment Timotheé Chalamet was born. They show all the classics regularly. I’d recommend quintessential rom-com ‘It Happened One Night’, in which Claudette Colbert builds a pillow fort to protect her from Clarke Gable’s wandering hands. Peak romance!