Sitting on the outskirts of Edinburgh, Portobello’s beautiful beach is the focal point of a short, simple walk around this vibrant town.
Having been a popular haunt for many centuries with seamen and smugglers, Portobello reinvented itself in the early 1800s as a fashionable spa town, after a number of mineral wells were discovered. This led to the town becoming the preferred location of Edinburgh’s wealthy middle classes, who spent their weekends and holidays here, taking advantage of the beautiful beach, relaxing spas and water baths.
Portobello continued to grow in reputation with the arrival of the railway and, although only 3½ miles from Edinburgh’s centre, Portobello was (and still is) a million miles from the busy, compact streets of Scotland’s capital. Several elegant Georgian streets and crescents were built (Portobello has since been designated an outstanding conservation area) when visitors realised that it was an attractive and healthy place to live all year round.
The Promenade was built in 1866, adding to the town’s popularity. It still attracts day-trippers and holidaymakers all year round, and there are few better places to recharge after a heavy bout of festive fun.
Don hats and scarves to keep out what can be a biting but invigorating east coast wind for a festive walk along the promenade. This route then passes through the town, taking in some of Portobello’s beautiful buildings. Its history, allied with several great pubs, restaurants and cafés, makes Portobello the perfect setting for a coastal Christmas day out.
Portobello walking route and map
2.7 miles/4.3km | 1.5 hours | easy
1. Town Hall
The walk begins facing the current Town Hall on Portobello High Street. This is actually the third of Portobello’s town halls and was built in 1914, replacing the second town hall (now the police station), erected in 1878. The original town hall was built in 1865 and is now the site of a Baptist church. Turn right, walk along Portobello High Street then turn right on to Bridge Street. Number three Bridge Street was where the great Scottish entertainer Harry Lauder was born. Continue to reach the Promenade.
2. Along the Promenade
Turn right and either walk along the Promenade or the beach, enjoying some fabulous coastal views. Across the soft sand, take in the crystal clear views of the coastline, particularly the prominent cone-like hill of North Berwick Law, standing at 187m (613ft) tall 20 miles to the east, and the Fife coastline, a few miles away across the Firth of Forth.
Although you’re much more likely to be wanting a hot chocolate, it’s worth knowing that a traditional icon of British summer was first created here – the classic 99 ice cream is thought to have originated at one of the High Street’s ice cream parlours.
3. Historic houses
The streets adjacent to the Promenade contain some of the stunning Georgian houses that Portobello is renowned for, while the Promenade is lined with fine buildings, including the gorgeous red sandstone façade of the historic swimming pool, which was opened in 1901.
The Promenade ends at Joppa Road, on the outskirts of Joppa, its unusual name thought to have been taken from a local farm, itself derived from the Hebrew word yapho, meaning beautiful. To the left, the 16th-century Rock Cottage is the oldest house in Portobello.
4. Shops and cafés
Turn sharp right on to Abercorn Terrace. Follow this towards the bustling town centre, passing Abercorn Park, on to Portobello High Street; its cafés, pubs and independent shops providing plenty of retail or relaxation options.
Just before reaching the Town Hall, turn left on to Brighton Place. Follow this past the distinctive St John’s Church, and then turn left into Brighton Park. Bear right and follow a path by a striking 18th-century sundial and exit right on to East Brighton Crescent. Cross Brighton Place on to West Brighton Crescent. Follow this quiet street, which is one of the most attractive in Portobello, for its eye-catching Georgian houses. Then turn right, walk through Rosefield Park on to Rosefield Avenue and continue back to Portobello High Street. Turn right and return to the Town Hall.
Click on the map below for an interactive version of the route.