Just 20 minutes from Princes Street, Portobello has 2 miles of award-winning sandy beach and offers a refreshing escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Ice cream parlours, arcades and beach-side cafes and bars are dotted along the prom, making it the perfect place to spend a sunny afternoon, or even a winter one, if you want to blow away the cobwebs.
An independent town until 1896, Portobello still retains its unique character. Georgian villas and Victorian tenements enjoy conservation area status, there are a number of attractive parks to enjoy, and the vibrant high street features a variety of quality independent shops.
The splendid Victorian swimming pool, featuring an original Aerotone (the forerunner to the modern Jacuzzi) and authentic Turkish Bath, is popular amongst locals. The area’s since-demolished Art Deco lido was also where the Bond legend Sir Sean Connery worked as a lifeguard in the 1950’s!
Several popular events are held on the beach front each year including the annual Big Beach Busk, international volleyball competitions and triathlon events. The Portobello Kayaking and Sailing Club is based here, along with RowPorty, a community-run coastal rowing club.
Lothian Regional Buses routes 19, 26, 42 and 124 all travel regularly from Princes Street to Portobello. If travelling from the North Bridge side of the city, services X7, 45 and 49 will get you there. An adult single journey ticket is £1.80, while an unlimited all-day ticket is only £4.50.
The History of Portobello
Portobello reputedly takes its name from a cottage built in the mid-18th century. The sailor who occupied the cottage had fought at Puerto Bello, a port in Panama captured by the British in 1739 and named his home after the battle.
Industrial development begun in the 1750's when brickworks and potteries were established to exploit the clay-beds. It was at this time that the more recognisable name of Portobello became more generally used.
With its long beach, the town became an increasingly popular leisure destination and by the beginning of the 19th century many fine new houses had been built either as summer residences or permanent homes for members of Edinburgh's middle-classes.
In the Victorian and Edwardian period, popularity of the area grew. Day trippers from Edinburgh and Glasgow came to paddle in the fresh clean water and stroll along the promenade, which was completed in 1866. A pier was built in 1870, although demolished in 1917. Portobello Pier was unique in Scotland for as well as being a pleasure pier with a concert pavilion at the end it was also a port of call for Firth of Forth pleasure steamers.
Portobello Pier, 1890 [Image provided by Capital Collections]
An outdoor lido (swimming pool) was opened in 1936, which could apparently accommodate 1,300 bathers and 6,000 spectators. One of its main attractions was the wave-making machine which was the first to be installed in an outdoor pool in the UK and could generate waves up to three feet high! It was open from May until September every year until the outbreak of World War 2 in 1939, when it was camouflaged to look like a field to prevent it being used as a marker for enemy bombers to target the nearby power station. By the late 1970s the pool's popularity was dipping and it was demolished.
Portobello outdoor pool, 1971 [Image provided by Captial Collections]
Today, Portobello remains a highly desirable residential area and on warm summer days the beach and prom are crowded with day-trippers dipping their toes in the water, or simply taking in the sights.