Leith

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Last Updated: by Craig Neil.

Leith is a historic district in Edinburgh that centres around the Water of Leith, Leith Harbour, and the restaurant-packed Shore. While visitors will discover a rich maritime history, Leith is now best known for its combination of fashionable bars, award-winning restaurants, and attractions that include the Royal Yacht Britannia and the Ocean Terminal shopping centre.

Leith
Address:Shore,
Leith,
Edinburgh
EH6 6QN
Opening Hours:Leith is accessible 24/7, 365 days a year.
Admission Price:There is no fee to visit Leith.
Parking:Roadside parking is possible in some backstreets (note: permit parking is in effect on some streets).
There is a large free multi-storey car park at Ocean Terminal (address: 74 Ocean Drive, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 6JJ).
Contact:NA
Facilities:Leith and Ocean Terminal have bus and tram stops, car parking, toilets, restaurants, bars and pubs, cafes, and shops.
Photos:YouTube Video

Overview

As any visitor to the city will know if they climb one of its many hills, Edinburgh borders the Firth of Forth along the entire length of its northern side. The location of Edinburgh and its proximity to the North Sea are the main reasons why it became such an industrial powerhouse, and the harbour at Leith was instrumental in the growth of Scotland as an important trading partner with Europe.

Although the industrialised areas of Leith are still in use today with the extensive dockyard welcoming ships from all over the world, Leith is nowadays recognised more for its trendy bars and restaurants than the ships that sail in and out of the port.

That wasn’t always the case, though, and for many years, Leith was a deprived area with high levels of poverty (Irvine Welsh based his story ‘Trainspotting’ on the area). Thankfully, the district has changed beyond all recognition since those days, and it’s now regarded as one of the best places to visit in Edinburgh thanks to continuous improvements that have been ongoing for the last twenty years.

Modern tourist attractions in Leith are the Ocean Terminal shopping centre, the Royal Yacht Britannia, and The Shore, a waterfront area that’s full of restaurants, many of which are among the best in Edinburgh.

The events staged throughout Leith are excellent, with highlights including the Saturday-morning Leith farmers market, which has become something of a foodie Mecca. Another popular event is ‘Leith Late’, an annual multi-arts festival held every June where some of the country’s best up-and-coming artists get to showcase their art to the general public.

If you want to get social, you’ll find Michelin-starred restaurants like The Kitchin and Wishart serving sumptuous meals in historic 17th-century buildings, and The Vaults, the main site of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, which is located close to the venue of the Edinburgh Blues and Jazz Festival.

The Highlights

1: The Shore is a picturesque area along the Water of Leith where visitors can enjoy a leisurely stroll along the cobbled streets and take in the charming atmosphere of the waterfront. The area comes alive in the evening, with many venues showcasing live music and entertainment.

2: A visit to Leith isn’t complete without stepping aboard the former royal yacht of Queen Elizabeth II, the Royal Yacht Britannia. Now permanently moored at Ocean Terminal, Britannia has become an award-winning visitor attraction and a unique glimpse into the lives of the royal family and crew.

3: It’s easy to walk to Leith from Princes Street by heading to Leith Walk. The route from Princes Street to Ocean Terminal is around 2.5 miles. If you don’t want to walk from the city centre, there’s a new tram system that now links Leith to St. Andrew Square (postcode EH1 3DQ).

Visiting Tips

1: Ocean Terminal shopping mall is a good destination for a family afternoon. Not only is the Royal Yacht Britannia moored there, but you’ll also find a cinema and restaurants on the upper level. If you don’t want to walk back to the city centre, you can catch a bus every 15–30 minutes from Ocean Drive.

2: If you like whisky, you’ll love a visit to The Vaults at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (postcode EH6 6BZ). This historic building has a superb lounge and features the finest collection of single malt whisky in Edinburgh, if not Scotland.

3: If you really want to treat yourself, book a table at the Michelin-starred The Kitchen on Commercial Street, which offers a delicious fusion of Scottish and French cuisine. Be aware that it’s a wee bit pricey, and tables are sometimes booked weeks in advance.

Leith in Edinburgh

Tourist Information

As far as the iconic areas of Edinburgh go, they don’t get much better than Leith. While the buildings aren’t quite up to the thousand years of history you’ll find in The Royal Mile, they’re just as attractive in their own industrial-revolution way, with tall Victorian tenements jostling for space next to converted 18th-century warehouses.

The heart of the district is arguably the Water of Leith, which winds its way from the Colzium Spring in the Pentland Hills to its final destination at Leith Harbour. The river sports a number of restaurants and bars along its length, along with kerbside cafés that overlook the river and the Firth of Forth beyond.

Lining the streets surrounding the Water of Leith is a collection of charming artisan shops where you’ll find everything from antiques to collectable books, but if you prefer your shopping to be more modern, you’ll likely want to head west a half-mile to wander around Ocean Terminal.

This shopping mall is often the first port of call for tourists who enter the city from the cruise ships that dock at Leith Port and it’s also the location of the Royal Yacht Britannia which is one of Scotland’s most-visited tourist attractions.

Ocean Terminal

Regular bus services are ready to whisk visitors from Ocean Terminal to the city centre and back but there are more than enough activities to keep you busy in the mall so you might like to leave the rest of Edinburgh for another day. Ocean Terminal boasts a cinema, a plethora of restaurants, a gym, and a play park in addition to the shops and cafés on the upper-level terraces that look out over Leith docks and the Firth of Forth.

If you take a walk back to the centre of Leith, I recommend following either Ocean Drive or Victoria Quay, which run either side of the Scottish Government building, before veering back to Commerical Street.

There are too many highlights to mention for grabbing lunch or an evening meal, but I have to give a mention to The Kitchin and Wishart for their fine dining and Tecuchters Landing for its fun atmosphere. If you’re feeling the need for a treat, take a walk to Mimi’s Bakehouse which serves some of the best baked treats in the city, and Crolla’s Gelateria, which has the best ice cream you’re ever likely to taste outside of Italy.

Leith in Edinburgh

The History of Leith

The earliest records of Leith date back to the 12th century, but it wasn’t until the 1500s that the port began to play an essential role in Scotland’s industry, when everything from glass to soap was transported in and out of Leith docks for domestic and overseas sale. This in turn led to the rapid development of many of the great industries that powered Edinburgh, with one of the most important being the now-long-gone shipbuilders.

Leith’s shipbuilders reached their pinnacle in the second world war with over 3,000 ships being repaired in the docks and dozens of merchant and Royal Navy vessels undergoing construction in the naval yards that lay between Musselburgh to the east and Granton to the west.

Most of the city’s shipbuilding and repair industries died away in the 1980s due to the shallow water in the mouth of the Water of Leith, which made modern ships difficult to work on. Fortunately, after the North Sea oil boom of the late 1970s, there has been an ongoing need to berth vessels heading in and out of Scotland’s North Sea oil fields, which has kept the harbour alive.

There are many other industries in Leith that have been lost over the years, although not all are missed. Commercial whaling is one example, which was big business in the 19th century, causing Scotland’s whale populations to become nearly extinct by the early 1900s.

With Scottish whale stocks depleted, Leith’s whalers spread far and wide, even hunting the animals as far away as the Arctic and Antarctic. A shift in Britain’s opinions on the treatment of animals caused the industry to abandon Leith in the 1980s, and by the mid-1990s, the businesses that had been built on whaling had all disappeared.

By this time, Leith had degenerated into a slum with a severe lack of jobs and an increase in drug use, causing many lifelong residents to flee to other areas of the city. However, a series of government-backed schemes began regenerating the area, which led many small businesses to relocate to Leith thanks to its cheap rental costs.

As wealth began to return to Leith, the number of bars and restaurants grew, and what was once one of the most impoverished areas of Edinburgh suddenly found itself to be one of the most visited by tourists. Today Leith is alive with a fantastic collection of bars, pubs and restaurants, and its growth as one of Edinburgh’s trendiest districts shows no sign of slowing down

Leith in Edinburgh

Things to Do

Exploring the Royal Yacht Britannia: Discover the royal’s former floating palace which is now a fascinating museum. Explore the decks, peek into the royal bedrooms, and experience the luxury of one of the world’s most illustrious yachts. Highlights include the onboard restaurant and the fascinating engine room.

Leith Market: Spend a Saturday morning browsing through the Leith Market where you’ll find a mix of fresh produce, handmade crafts, and local delicacies. This bustling market offers a unique opportunity to interact with local vendors while enjoying the sights and sounds of Leith.

Walk the Water of Leith: This lovely riverside walkway takes you along the water’s edge through beautiful scenery and historic sites including long-abandoned mills, old factories, and the stunning Dean Village. Start from the walkway’s endpoint at the junction of Shore Road and Sandport Place in Leith.

Leith Theatre: Catch a show at the historic Leith Theatre, a hub for local and international performances. Whether it’s a play, musical, or concert, the theatre’s varied schedule ensures there’s always something interesting to see.

Visit Leith Docks: The area around the Leith docks is rich in history and offers a picturesque setting for a leisurely stroll. Enjoy the view of the boats from Ocean Drive, have a drink at the Teuchtars Landing pub, and end your day watching the sunset over Newhaven Harbour.

Leith

Things to Do in Leith

Royal Yacht Britannia. Ocean Dr, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 6JJ. 12-minute walk.
The Royal Yacht Britannia is one of Scotland’s highest-rated tourist attractions. Britannia served the nation as the royal family’s yacht and was sent on diplomatic missions to every corner of the globe. Today, she is open to the public as a paid attraction and is moored alongside Ocean Terminal.

The Water of Leith. Leith, Edinburgh EH6 6HE. 6-minute walk.
A walkway that runs for 12 miles from the Colzium Hills outside of Edinburgh to Leith. The majority of the path is set on quiet pavement that runs alongside the river. Much loved by locals for its wildlife.

Ocean Terminal. 74 Ocean Dr, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 6JJ. 12-minute walk.
A large shopping centre that is one of the first arrival points for ships sailing into the Firth of Forth. Ocean Terminal contains a collection of restaurants, coffee shops and department stores.

Scotch Malt Whisky Society. The Vaults, 87 Giles St, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 6BZ. 5-minute walk.
The Vaults is the main site for the Scottish Malt Whisky Society in Edinburgh. Set in a historic warehouse in the centre of Leith, The Vaults houses a vast collection of single malt whisky from across Scotland and is highly regarded for its dining and whisky-tasting experiences.

Leith Links. 4 Links Gardens, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 8AA. 12-minute walk.
Informal gardens and play park that was historically a golf course but has been revamped into a recreation area.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Leith a rough area?

Leith is not a rough area – though it once was. Leith was an important maritime port for hundreds of years and was instrumental in the prosperity of Edinburgh. However, after WWII the area declined and it became synonymous with crime.

After a regeneration project was completed in the ’90s, Leith transitioned into a trendy district that’s now best known for its bars, clubs and restaurants.

What does Leith mean?

‘Leith’ originates from the name given to the river which runs through Edinburgh and exits at the historic port. The name means ‘flowing water’ in Celtic.

Can you walk from Edinburgh to Leith?

Leith is now part of Edinburgh and it is easy to walk from Edinburgh city centre to the port – a journey of 2 miles which takes 30-40 minutes.

It is also possible to walk and cycle along the Water of Leith path which takes visitors on a 12-mile journey from Balerno to Leith.

What visitor facilities are there at Leith?

Visitor facilities can be found in Leith’s bars and restaurants, as well as the Ocean Terminal shopping centre. The shopping centre includes a gym, car park, and public toilets. View the Ocean Terminal website for further details.

Which part of Edinburgh is Leith?

Leith is a district located in the north of the city of Edinburgh, Scotland. It is situated on the shore of the Firth of Forth, which is the estuary of the River Forth. Leith has a long and rich history, and it was once a separate burgh (town) before it was incorporated into Edinburgh in the 1920s.

How far is Leith from Edinburgh?

Leith is around 3.5 miles from Edinburgh city centre and takes around 15 minutes to drive or 45 minutes to walk.

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Craig Neil

Craig Neil is the author, photographer, admin, and pretty much everything else behind Out About Scotland. He lives near Edinburgh and spends his free time exploring Scotland and writing about his experiences. Follow him on Pinterest, Facebook, and YouTube.