This area starts directly beyond the Old Town and runs all the way to the city bypass. It is bounded on either side by a main route out of the Scottish capital: from the west end of Princes Street you can go via Lothian Road, Bruntsfield Place and Morningside Road; from the east end of Princes Street you go via North Bridge and South Bridge, Nicolson Street, Clerk Street and Newington Road. South Edinburgh sits between these arteries, firstly taking in urban neighbourhoods where the attractions, bars and restaurants congregate; then the flat, grassy expanse of the Meadows; further south there are handsome residential suburbs like Bruntsfield, the Grange, Marchmont, Merchiston, Morningside, and Newington.
It does have a student feel thanks to university buildings, halls of residence and student-occupied flats although there are parts of South Edinburgh, especially Blackford Hill and the Braid Hills, where it would be hard to believe you were still in a city despite the stunning views of Edinburgh to the north. It is also understandable that in the more residential quarters you might find the occasional café but few other venues of note. That said, where South Edinburgh adjoins the Old Town everything is close by and accessible. The much-lauded, multi-arts venue Summerhall at the east end of the Meadows is only 20 minutes’ walk from the Royal Mile for instance while you could get from the Grassmarket in the Old Town to Cloisters in Brougham Street, South Edinburgh’s best cask ale bar, in ten minutes or so. Around this part of the city you can find artisan chocolate, craft beer, good whisky, independent cinema, innovative cuisine and a great deal more besides.
Things to do in south Edinburgh
It may be part of the Picturehouse group that runs more than 20 cinemas across the UK but the Cameo has a long and illustrious history of its own. First opened in 1914 as the King's, it became the Cameo in 1949 and has been showing arthouse movies ever since. It benefits from listed building status and is a movie star in its own right – it has featured in a number of films including Sylvain Chomet's animation The Illusionist (2010). A great place to go and see a movie.
When this building opened in 1823 it was a church and it served in that role until 1976. Three years and some refurbishment work later, it reopened as a classical music venue with its current name. In decades since then it has become rather more eclectic; the Queen's Hall still hosts classical concerts but its programme also includes folk, easy listening, jazz, rock and stand-up comedy – it caters to any touring act whose audience fits into this 900-seater.
Housed in a former school of veterinary studies at the east end of the Meadows, Summerhall has been up and running as an arts centre only since 2011. In a very short space of time however it has established itself as a key venue for events, exhibitions and theatre – particularly during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. With its bar, café and courtyard beer garden it also allows for eats and drinks before and after performances.
Surgeons' Hall is home to the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, an organisation founded more than 500 years ago. Within the complex of buildings here you find collections of surgical pathology material, instruments, displays on radiology, a dental collection and more. In truth though, it's the gruesome pickled bits of people in jars that the public comes to see. Currently closed for redevelopment, the venue is scheduled to reopen in summer 2015.
Cafés and restaurants in south Edinburgh
It rhymes with hazel, there is no menu and it was Edinburgh's hottest opening in 2014. Chef and mixologist partnership, Stuart Ralston and Krystal Goff, have created a restaurant where there is a changing ingredients list, a set four courses, you choose what you do or don't eat, then Ralston and kitchen colleagues cook up a bistronomic storm while Goff makes the cocktails and matches the wine or beer to the dishes.
Providing vegetarian food with Gujerati, Punjabi and South Indian influences to an appreciative Edinburgh public since 1982, the Kalpna can pack 'em in at lunchtime with its cheap buffet then attract a much different crowd in the evenings for dishes like Palak Paneer Dosa (rice pancake stuffed with spinach, paneer, garlic, chilli, potato, onion and coriander – served with sambhar and chutney).
Prestonfield is a luxury hotel with its own grounds, overlooked by Arthur's Seat, around 3.5km south of the city centre. The premises were originally built as a grand country house in the late 17th century; Rhubarb serves as the hotel dining room. The art, the fabrics, the late Baroque aura of the interior and the ostentation of the menu (roe deer is flame-grilled, cod comes en papillote, guinea fowl is butter-poached and free range) all create a destination dining experience.
It's Thai, it looks fine from the outside but how can you tell it's any better or worse than the other Thai restaurants in Edinburgh? It is though. The service here, the commitment to good food, the cooking and the overall experience marks it out not simply as a good Thai restaurant but as a good Edinburgh restaurant of any genre.
Bars and pubs in south Edinburgh
Next door to the King's Theatre, authentically Edwardian, with an excellent whisky selection and a modest restaurant space called the Skean Dhu through the back, Bennets has a lot to offer. The best of Bennets however is a quiet afternoon, sun coming through the stained glass window and a fine single malt whisky in your glass.
The vaguely ecclesiastical feel to this bar comes from its neighbour, a church, and its former status as a parsonage. The décor is functionally sparse, there is an open fire and – crucially – one of the very best selections of cask ale in the entire city. Ally that to a decent burger and fries and you have a very attractive pub.
This is a new-style beer bar where the management believes craft keg can be just as interesting as cask ale. Given that they have 14 taps of the former and six of the latter, the beer choice is excellent – and there is more in bottles – while the menu largely comprises smoked hot dogs, meatloaf burgers and other smoked dishes. A big hit since it opened in late 2012.
It opened in 2014, it's near the University of Edinburgh, the food is interesting – sweet and spicy drunken chicken for example – and the draught beer choice is very good indeed: 15 keg and five cask on tap. This is where to come for beers like Long White Cloud from Tempest in Kelso, DNA New World IPA from Charles Wells of Bedford or Simco Hop Trial from the Loch Lomond Brewery of Alexandria.