There are plenty of opportunities to treat yourself to time-out, not so far from the madding crowd of festival fans but close enough to Edinburgh’s coolest places toeat and drink, as Ailsa Sheldon reveals

Happily, the Edinburgh Festival returns for real this summer and with it all the energy, colour, and vibrancy we’ve missed. We’ll dash between shows, marvel at street performers and rely on food trucks to keep us fuelled. I can’t wait. 
However, it’s easy for the festival to feel overwhelming and exhausting, particularly when many of us haven’t been in crowded places over the past two years. 
So why not, as you book shows and make plans, schedule some downtime? While flaking out in the Meadows with an ice lolly is never a bad option, consider taking time to visit some Edinburgh neighbourhoods where the full festival frenzy doesn’t reach. Allow yourself to relax, recharge and explore, before returning to the fray. 
Each area here is easily reachable by bus from the city centre and I’ve shared some favourite places to eat, drink, stretch your legs and relax. 


Morningside
AN easy bus or walk from the Meadows through Bruntsfield takes you to the neighbourhood of Morningside. It’s the fictional home to both Miss Jean Brodie and Maisie the cat, real home to a variety of independent businesses and vibrant places to hang out. A first port of call should be Salt Cafe. This popular spot is in a league of its own. How many cafes have an onsite butchery and bakery? Inside there are sage green walls, neon signs, exposed brickwork and seating made from repurposed industrial piping. It’s very cool, but with a welcoming neighbourhood vibe. 
To experience Salt at its best, book in for a leisurely brunch. The menu is seasonal and interesting with the majority of ingredients coming from within 35 miles of the cafe, so swap avocado on toast for the much tastier braised garden peas, little gem and spring onions on toast, with perfect Corrie Mains poached eggs.
I’m really into the pea, broad bean and Edinburgh Fermentation mojito kraut fritters which arrive topped with poached eggs, chilli and garlic yogurt and flaked smoked trout. There are topped flatbreads, buckwheat and gooseberry pancakes and mighty cooked breakfasts perfect for big appetites (or hangovers), choose from Butcher’s, Greengrocer’s, or gluten free. The homemade sausages are excellent, haggis a hit, but it’s the little extras with the breakfast that really make it special: sriracha baked beans, tiny miso turnips and confit cherry tomatoes. I loved the spicy smoked tomato juice Virgin Mary and my kids were delighted by the skewer of toasted marshmallows in their hot chocolates. And the cakes? Outstanding. We tried a salted caramel dark chocolate brownie and a Biscoff rocky road. Both were ambitious post-brunch but too good to miss. Pair with a strong coffee from local roaster Mr. Eoin to power you back into the rest of your day. 
Along the road, Matto Pizza is another crowd-pleasing favourite. Choose a standard tomato base to your pizza or go matto (crazy in Italian) and opt for an artichoke, pumpkin or pea puree base. It sounds mad but try the pea-based pizza with mozzarella, gorgonzola, speck, rocket and figs before you make up your mind. Make sure to sample the arancini too, they might just be the best in the city (I’m still checking, it’s a tough job). 
From here stretch your legs on beautiful Blackford Hill, a real oasis in easy reach of the city. Walk through the woods and by the duck pond, then climb the hill and enjoy incredible views of Arthur’s Seat, the city and all the way to the Forth. From here you can choose to walk into the woods at the Hermitage of Braid. Deep in the ancient trees you’ll struggle to remember you’re not deep in the countryside. Alternatively, a mooch around Morningside’s excellent charity shops may provide the perfect outfit for your festival evening out. 
On your way back into the festival centre, stop by Modern Standard Coffee on the edge of Bruntsfield Links. 

HeraldScotland:

Stockbridge
An easy stroll down the hill from the New Town takes you to chic Stockbridge. With cobbled streets, a river running through it and many brilliant independent shops and restaurants, Stockbridge has retained a friendly village feel and it’s an easy place to while away a relaxed few hours. 
You could close your eyes and point and most likely land on somewhere good to eat, it’s that easy to find excellent eateries in Stockbridge. A favourite is wine bar Smith & Gertrude, where wine flights from unexpected regions are perfectly matched with cheese or charcuterie. You can of course just order a glass, the wines by the glass change daily so there’s always something new to try. For relaxed eating, head to Bell’s Diner. It specialised in burgers, steaks, and ice cream sundaes with a cheery vibe . . . what’s not to like? 
Across the road, traditional pub the Bailie Bar is the ideal spot for a quiet drink with friends. Brunch fans should try Hamilton’s, Cowan & Sons or Hectors. For street food The Neighbourgood Market is a large grassy space with food trucks open all summer and great fun on a warm day. 
Stockbridge has two excellent independent bookshops, Golden Hare Books and Rare Birds Book Shop, which only sells books by women. From here head to the Botanic Gardens (RBGE). A real jewel in Edinburgh’s crown, the Botanics are free to visit and provide tranquil leafy spaces and easy walks. Much of the garden is wheelchair accessible. From the centre there are lovely views of the castle.
From Stockbridge you can also walk along the river to pretty Dean Village and visit The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (there are two buildings, Modern One and Modern Two). There are sculptures around the gardens, including the striking Landform by Charles Jencks. Inside you could spend a whole day exploring the collections. 

HeraldScotland:

Portobello
How many festival goers make it to the beach? Many of the city’s students go four years without visiting but it’s actually very easy to get to; about an hour’s walk from the Old Town or half an hour on the bus. So grab your sunnies and head to Porty for some seaside relaxation. 
The long sandy beach is really popular with swimmers all year round. Along the Promenade there are food options a plenty. My favourite is Shrimpwreck, where from a tiny kitchen they serve up some of the best hot seafood in the city street-food style: think bowls of mussels, crab macaroni cheese, or how about Pittenweem lobster in a brioche bun with fresh remoulade and old bay fries? 
Next door pastel-fronted Civerino’s serve up enormous slices of pizza and the Beach House, Oscar’s and Miro’s all do great ice cream and cakes.
Along Portobello High Street there are lots of brilliant cafes, including Twelve Triangles, a branch of Bross Bagels, and Go Go Beets
Walk along the Promenade to Joppa and back, get an ice cream or perhaps a cold pint from The Espy and enjoy the city beach. 

HeraldScotland:

Leith
Leith has a year-round buzz that’s heightened in summer as people spill out of riverside pubs to sit in the sunshine but it’s never as busy as the city centre. There’s a wide range of pubs and restaurants, with the Water of Leith running through the middle and plenty of green space.
For hearty meals and a warm Leith welcome, head to family-run The Roseleaf. The Chunky Cullen Skink is a house favourite and the burgers always hit the spot. Pair with a cocktail, a pint of local beer and some local patter. On the other side of the river, Nobles also punches above its weight for pub food and the bar is gorgeous with stained glass, dark panelling, and funky art. 
Cocktail bar Three Marys has brought a new vibrancy to The Shore with regular live music and cracking cocktails. The bar is beautiful, with dark walls, stained glass, velvet seats and bold florals. The Lioness of Leith is another favourite. For a glass of wine, try stylish wine bar Mistral, for an aperitivo try newly opened Italian aperitivo bar Bittersweet – definitely order some focaccia and olives on the side. 
Leith is home to two Michelin starred restaurants: The Kitchin and Restaurant Martin Wishart. But the options for fine dining extend beyond the award winners, book a table at Aurora for a multi-course tasting menu with a difference, or try word-of-mouth favourite Heron for an excellent value set lunch or exciting evening a la carte menu. The bar snacks are incredible too. 
Nearby Leith Links is a grassy park with plenty of trees, a similar feel to the Meadows but no sign of a big top. It’s great for a picnic. The Water of Leith path follows the river to Balerno near the Pentland Hills and Leith to Stockbridge takes less than an hour.