Discover Leith for a different Edinburgh experience - just add water.
Leith is one of Edinburgh’s most eclectic, exciting and trendy areas. With a very different atmosphere and feeling from areas like Stockbridge, Morningside or the city centre, Leith offers a more earthy, edgy and independent vibe and was recently named by Time Out as 4thon the list of coolest neighbourhoods in the world.
The main shopping area is Leith Walk, and it’s here that you’ll find everything from supermarkets to book shops. An eclectic mix of independent cafes, grocers and shops mean Leith still holds strongly onto its own identity, even over a century on from when it was officially incorporated into the city of Edinburgh in 1920.
Home to the city’s historic port on the Firth of Forth, the area’s marine heritage is still strong today – visitors can see a floating royal residence, stay in a 5-star floating hotel and enjoy waterfront views from an array of restaurants, cafes and bars. And in 2022, Leith’s legacy as a producer of whisky will once again be seen as Port of Leith Distillery open Scotland’s first vertical distillery.
A mile from the west of Leith is the neighbouring district of Newhaven. An important fishing village from the 16th century, between 1572 and 1890, Newhaven was a major port for oyster fishing, with millions getting caught each year – it even formed part of the villagers’ daily diet. The buildings that housed that 1896 fish markets still exist, and today they house a variety of delicious fish and seafood restaurants that are well worth visiting.
Most people visiting Leith come via Leith Walk – a mile-long street that links the district with the east end of Princes Street. On foot, this down-hill route can be completed in around 30 minutes, or you can jump on one of the many Lothian Regional Buses that serve the area on a regular basis.
Trams connecting the centre of the town to Newhaven, via Leith Walk, will be available in the near future.
A Brief History of Leith
The earliest record of Leith dates from 1128 when it is mentioned in the Foundation Charter for Holyrood Abbey when David I gave the existing harbour and land to the Abbey’s Abbots. Since then, it has had a long and fascinating history.
The area’s proximity to the coast made it much-desired land and for centuries it was fought over by Scottish, English and French troops. Following the Burghs Act of 1833, The Burgh of Leith gained its independence from Edinburgh - it was not until 1920 that it became part of the city.
Up until the 18th century Leith was Scotland’s main trading port and would have been a hive of activity with ships laden with wool, wine, raw materials and spices filled the harbour.
The area was also the city's whisky district. Having been a centre for the storage of wine and brandy in the 16th century, with access to as many as 100 bonded warehouses, in the early 1820’s Leith was granted one of only six licences issued to ports in Scotland allowing them to store whisky under bond.
But it’s not just for its maritime heritage that Leith is renowned – the area can rightly claim many notable historic achievements, including printing one of the first Scottish newspapers, “The Mercurious Scoticus”, in 1651; the first official rules of golf were written in 1744 for a tournament on Leith Link; Lachan Rose created the popular drink Rose’s Lime Juice in Leith in 1865; in 1841, using a drawing from his friend, printer & publisher Charles Drummond produced the world’s first New Year greetings card; and in 1910 John Gibson established himself as an aeroplane designer, selling his planes from his shop on Leith Walk!
In recent years, local author Irvine Welsh has catapulted Leith into the spotlight with Trainspotting and T2 Trainspotting, which were released in film adaption in 1996 and 2017 respectively. While the upbeat music of The Proclaimers takes centre stage in the musical film Sunshine on Leith, which was filmed in and around the area. Incidentally, the uplifting Sunshine on Leith is the adopted terrace-song of local football team, Hibernian FC, commonly known as Hibs.
Discover more about Leith's fascinating history with Leith Local History Society >