Away from the hustle and bustle of the Royal Mile and the ever-present skirl of the bagpipes on Princes Street, there is much more to Edinburgh than the typical visitor experience.
A stay at the recently revamped Leonardo Hotel near Murrayfield, on the north-western periphery of the city, offered the perfect chance to explore some of its lesser-known gems.
For instance, just a short stroll from the hotel there’s a former secret Cold War military bunker – which is embedded in Corstorphine Hill and can be used as the starting point for a scenic woodland walk.
The Barnton Quarry bunker was considered the “first defence against the Russians” when it was constructed 100ft below ground in the 1950s. It could hold as many as 400 politicians and civil servants for 30 days in the event of a nuclear attack.
The secluded site served as Sector Operations Centre for co-ordinating RAF fighter jets, and protected Scotland from attack by Russian long-range nuclear bombers until around 1960.
It remained a secret until the 1980s, but a dedicated band of volunteers are now working towards opening it up to the public.
The restoration project began in 2011 and it is hoped it will be finished by 2021, but there is still plenty for curious visitors to glimpse through the mesh fence today – a television screen mounted to an old satellite tells passersby the story of the effort to breathe new life into the 37,000sq ft site.
Turning south from the storied quarry, a woodland trail takes you past some fantastic viewpoints overlooking the Firth of Forth.
Another highlight is the stunning Corstorphine Hill Tower, which was built in tribute to Sir Walter Scott in 1871.
It was created as a viewpoint and can still be visited during planned openings across the summer months, where people can ascend an internal staircase to enjoy panoramic views of the city.
Anyone in need of a rest after the hilly walk can enjoy the peaceful surroundings of the Corstorphine Hill Community Garden.
The relaxing spot is carefully maintained by volunteers, and was recently awarded Green Flag status by the Keep Scotland Beautiful organisation.
This part of the city is also perfect to stay in for families wishing to see the animals at Edinburgh Zoo, or attend a fixture at the nearby national rugby stadium, without having to venture into the busy centre.
However, no trip to Edinburgh would be complete without a visit to the city centre.
After exploring the outlying area around the hotel it would have been easy to catch a bus on to Princes Street (upon arrival, guests are presented with an information sheet containing helpful public transport details). We decided to continue our theme of taking in some of the city’s less well-known gems by heading in via the Water of Leith Walkway.
The riverside path winds its way into the heart of the city, with the opportunity to go as far as the Royal Botanic Garden or the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
The walkway brings you underneath the towering Dean Bridge and past St Bernard’s Well – a circular Roman temple structure dating back to the late 1700s.
It was designed by celebrated Edinburgh landscape painter Alexander Nasmyth, who took inspiration from the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli in Italy. At the centre of an open-pillared dome stands a marble statue of Hygieia, Goddess of Health.
And in the evening, a pizza on Leith Street and a theatre show at the Edinburgh Playhouse proved the perfect way to cap off the weekend getaway.
The hotel itself was ideal, with a spacious room and comfortable beds. There was an excellent array on offer for breakfast, the perfect thing if planning a long walk in the morning.
I’ve been a regular visitor to the city over the years but my stay at the Murrayfield Leonardo made me realise that it has far more to offer than the sights routinely emblazoned on postcards or plastered on to the lids of shortbread tins.
I recently followed up this stay with a trip to the historic Duddingston area, in the east of the city, and will make a point of taking in similar hidden gems in the future.
While landmarks like Edinburgh Castle, Princes Street Gardens and Arthur’s Seat remain an attractive proposition for any guest, you find out more about its true character by straying from the beaten path.
- Murrayfield Leonardo Hotel
- 187 Clermiston Road
- EH12 6UG
- Call: 0131 535 9988
- Visit: leonardohotels.co.uk/hotels/edinburgh