Start: Foot of Leith Walk.
Finish: Newkirk Shopping Mall.
Time: About 1 hour.
Best Times: Daytime.
Worst Times: Late at night.
Edinburgh's port was established at a natural harbor, formed where the Water of Leith feeds into the sea of Firth of Forth. Briefly, Leith was Scotland's de facto capital during the interim rule of Mary of Guise. Her daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots, landed famously at the town in 1561, and almost a century after that Oliver Cromwell built a fort here that was later used by Highlanders trying in vain to reinstate the Stuart Line of Kings. Leith was long an independent burgh, only incorporated into Edinburgh in the 20th century.
From the statue of Queen Victoria, walk north on Constitution Street, turning right (east) at Links Lane, which leads to:
1. Leith Links
Older than Bruntsfield Links in Edinburgh's Southside, Leith Links is, by some accounts, the birthplace of golf. A version of the sport was possibly first played here in the 1400s. King Charles I apparently got in a round or two in the early 1640s. In 1744, the first rules of the game were laid down at Leith Links by the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. It was then a 5-hole course. Today it's just a public park, but running adjacent to John's Place you might just make out the first hole's fairway.
Go north down the west side of the park, turning left (west) on Queen Charlotte Street, and return to:
2. Constitution Street
At the intersection of Queen Charlotte and Constitution streets is Leith Town Hall. Originally constructed as the Leith Sheriff Court in 1828, adjoining property was incorporated later when the town became a parliamentary burgh. To the left, looking south down the street, is the fittingly named St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic church as well as the modern Port of Leith Housing Association building.
Go right (north) on Constitution Street and continue to:
3. Bernard Street
Bernard Street has been termed, architecturally speaking, Leith's "most formal space." At the east end is a statue of Robert Burns and the Leith Assembly Rooms, which include the original merchant's meeting place built in the 1780s. The Burns Monument was erected in 1898, and the buildings from here west to the Water of Leith are Georgian and 19th-century commercial buildings, such as the former Leith Bank.
Go left from Constitution Street and walk west on Bernard Street, turning left on Carpet Lane (marked by tiles in the pavement) to:
4. Lamb's House
The lane jogs a bit and becomes Water Street, facing a handsome, harled red-roofed building with an odd window built into the corner of the facade. This 17th-century merchant's house is a masterpiece of the type and era, with crow-stepped gables and corbels. It has been restored repeatedly.
At Burgess Street, turn right to:
5. The Shore
The port's first main street, running along the Water of Leith to the Firth of Forth, the Shore is now home to Michelin-star-winning Restaurant Martin Wishart and a clutch of pubs with outdoor seating. At Bernard Street, the King's Wark is a pub within a restored 18th-century building. The original King's Wark was believed to be a palace and arsenal that James VI had rebuilt and given over to tavern-keeper Bernard Lindsay.
Cross Bernard Street and follow the Shore north and:
Take a Break -- The Shore Bar and Restaurant (3/4 The Shore; tel. 0131/553-5080) is one that feels as if it has been sitting here and receiving seafarers for years. In fact, it opened in the 1980s, but it remains the best unpretentious pub in Leith. Food -- primarily fish -- is served at the bar or in the adjoining dining room.
Return to the bridge, turn right crossing it to Commercial Street and the:
6. Customs House & Dock Place
Designed by Robert Reid in 1810, the Customs House has strong fluted columns. Nearby is the original entrance to the Old East Dock established by John Rennie at the start of the 19th century and the modern Commercial Quay development. This area also skirts the walls of the citadel built for Cromwell, with fragments apparently still part of Dock Street.
Cross Commercial Street to Sandport Street, going left on Sandport Place crossing the Water of Leith to the top of the Shore, turning right on Henderson Street to:
7. The Vaults
Having passed the modern new apartments that are changing Leith's character, this handsome and broad stone warehouse dates to 1682, but the vaulted passage and cellar underneath may be 100 years older. Leith is where bottles and bottles of French wine were shipped. A link to that history is maintained by the Vintners Rooms restaurant and wine tastings that are held there. The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is located on the second floor.
Continue up Henderson Street, turning left at St. Anthony Place, passing the back of the Lidl supermarket to the Kirkgate and:
8. Trinity House & South Leith Parish Church
Trinity House is an early-19th-century survivor amid the urban renewal and tall apartment buildings of the 20th century. Owned by Historic Scotland, it is open to group tours by reservation. Across from it, a church has been standing since about 1480. This one was built in 1848. A plaque in the kirkyard details the intervening history. Almost back to the foot of Leith Walk (and the beginning of this perambulation), go through the Newkirkgate Shopping Mall, a mid-1960s development that now feels outdated.
Continue north through the mall and you're back where you started at the intersection of streets and the statue of Queen Victoria.
Several buses go up Leith Walk to the city center.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.