Edinburgh’s historic port of Leith sits at the mouth of the Water of Leith on the south shore of the scenic Firth of Forth estuary. For decades it was dismissed as a harbor of ill repute, where prostitutes lured rowdy sailors and the city’s poor lived in rough and squalid conditions. But now the harbor is gentrifying into a trendy locale. Upmarket cafes, restaurants, hotels, apartments and boutiques pop up frequently, and during the summer locals swarm here to bask under the sun while sipping chardonnay or Guinness at one of the many pubs or bars along the waterfront.
Even more exciting, another major renovation is in the works and will debut in 2020. The owner of the docks, Leith Port, plans to close the port and redevelop the neighborhood into a hub of residential and commercial leisure. 17,000 new homes are being built on the shore, as well as two large parks and several retail centers and pedestrian pathways. But the project is not without controversy; critics fear the upscale regeneration plan will further widen Leith’s endemic income disparity.
Regardless, Scots and foreigners alike don’t need to wait to explore the port’s aesthetic beauty and bustling vibrancy. Here’s where to go and what to see at the Leith Docks:
The Waterfront and Ocean Terminal
Nothing is more visually appealing in the summer than the cool blue waters of Leith Port. Pedestrians can stroll along Victoria, Albert and Edinburgh docks to admire the varied tall ships. The most famous is The Royal Yacht Britannia, formerly the Queen’s floating home. The yacht is now a five-star attraction, and visitors can see the opulent State Apartments, crew’s quarters and gleaming engine room. Highlights of the tour include the State Dining Room, the Sun Lounge and the Officers’ Wardroom.
On April 29th, the yacht’s elegant Royal Deck Tea Room will host a viewing party of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding. Every visitor will receive a commemorative rosette, a slice of wedding cake and complimentary whisky or rum. Be sure to book in advance.
The Royal Yacht Britannia is accessed through Ocean Terminal, the area’s main shopping mall. It boasts some 70 stores, restaurants, a large movie theatre and a workout centre. The mall hosts various events and promotions, including a Vegas Night where patrons can gamble and boozily dance throughout the night (visit the Ocean Terminal website for information).
Festivals and Fine Dining
At the end of March, the International Festival of the Sea takes over the docks as daily nautical parades and visual performances feature sea dragons, dancing octopuses and reenactments of the port’s maritime history. The Mela Festival, which celebrates Edinburgh’s cultural diversity, also takes place here in the summer at Leith Links.
As for satisfying your taste buds, there is no better place to feast on fresh, delicious seafood. Check out Ship on the Shore with its ship-like interior and decor, and the Malmaison Brasserie, a trendy French cafe that offers succulent salmon fishcake. The Mediterranean Cafe Truva is a good choice if you are looking for coffee or sweets to go. The Vintner’s Room, however, is the place for wine. The former 17th century vino warehouse is now a classy restaurant with fine selection of locally sourced seafood. Our advice: splurge for the lobster.
[Britannia by Geograph; all other images by Alex Demianczuk]