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The best places to go shopping in Edinburgh

Edinburgh boasts a mixed retail experience unlike any other in Scotland. While it has all the big brands you’d expect in a major cosmopolitan city, there’s also a rich variety of independent stores you won’t find anywhere else and many are well worth searching out.

The city’s main shopping areas

The majority of the city’s shops can be found in the New Town, in and around the main thoroughfare, Princes Street. If you love shopping, you simply won’t encounter a more beautiful setting to indulge your passion. Shops line the north side of the street, overlooking Princes Street Gardens to the south, with Edinburgh Castle perched high atop the volcanic outcrop that rises steeply behind. Situated so close to the shops, the gardens also provide the perfect haven if all the hustle and bustle gets too much for you.

Princes Street itself is home to a number of well-known high street names and department stores, including Topshop, River Island, Marks & Spencer, Urban Outfitters, Zara, Gap, Levi’s and H&M all to be found on the mile-long stretch. Tech-savvy shoppers will probably enjoy a stop at the Apple Store, located at the east end of Princes Street, opposite the iconic Balmoral Hotel. Of course, no trip to Edinburgh would be complete without a visit to the world-famous Jenners, either. A 180-year-old Edinburgh institution, there are over 100 different departments within the store which occupies a magnificent building opposite the Scott Monument.

At the east end of Princes Street, there are two covered shopping centres. With plans afoot to create a new rooftop level and piazza, Waverley Mall, which forms part of the Waverley Station development, currently counts Oasis, New Look and Superdry amongst its tenants. The second shopping centre, the nearby St James Centre, is undergoing an ambitious £850 million redevelopment – one of the largest projects of its kind in the UK – that has seen the area completely transformed. Gone is the Brutalist shopping centre, office block and multi-storey car-park, and in its place will be the rebranded Edinburgh St James with more than 100 shops and restaurants, a multi-screen cinema complex and a luxury hotel, all due for completion in late 2020.

When the New Town was laid out, it was George Street, not Princes Street, that was earmarked as the main commercial strip, but lacking the spectacular views of its neighbour, it instead became the city’s financial district. However, as times have changed, George Street has come to more closely match the planner’s original intentions as the banks and insurers moved out, and traders moved in.

Some of the city’s best independents can be found here, and there’s a glamorous, upmarket feel to it all, home as it is to the likes of Whistles, Anthropologie and All Saints. It’s also where you’ll find White Stuff and Joules, while the younger generation is well-catered for too with favourites such as Jack Wills, Hollister and Fatface. For those who love to pursue a healthy lifestyle – or at least look like they do – activewear specialists Sweaty Betty and Lululemon both have outlets here too.

Shops line the north side of the street, overlooking Princes Street Gardens to the south, with Edinburgh Castle perched high atop the volcanic outcrop that rises steeply behind

Well-known brands

Hanover Street, Frederick Street and Castle Street, which each bisect both Princes Street and George Street, are packed to the gunnels with stores too, including well-known brands such as Barbour, The North Face, Schuh and Loake, where you can find the company’s classic hand-made brogues, boots, Oxfords and moccasins.

There’s plenty in the way of luxury beauty products as well, with established names Molton Brown, Jo Malone, Kiehl’s and SpaceNK vying for your attention. You can accessorise any outfits you’ve purchased with shoes, bags and extras from Church’s, Jones Bootmaker and Aspinal of London, and if you’re searching for something special, try a signature piece from one the district’s many marvellous jewellers; Laings, Hamilton & Inches, Joseph Bonnar, Rox and MacIntyres are all in the vicinity, as are Fraser Hart and Chisholm Hunter, while Goodwins, Alistir Wood Tait and Robert Anthony also offer antique and harder-to-find styles.

Jewellery shopping at Hamilton & Inches, Warrant Holders to Her Majesty the Queen

Jewellery shopping at Hamilton & Inches, Warrant Holders to Her Majesty the Queen

The George Street area is also home to some of the city’s most interesting men’s fashion retailers, including formal outfitters such as Hawes & Curtis, Ede & Ravenscroft and Slaters, plus a host of casualwear specialists. Cruise and Xile, both of which started out in the city more than 30 years ago and offer luxury denim, designer fashions and limited edition sportswear collectables, have become two of the UK’s leading independents.

At the east end of the New Town is St Andrew Square, where you’ll hit upon Edinburgh’s swankiest shopping address, Multrees Walk. Burberry, Boss and Louis Vuitton are among the high-end brands with outlets here. You’ll also find Kurt Geiger, Reiss and Max Mara, and there’s upmarket accessory specialists such as Mulberry, Coach and Michael Kors. The development’s flagship store is Harvey Nichols, the only one in Scotland. Spanning five floors and more than 100,000 square feet, the prestigious shop stocks everything from chic fashion to jewellery, make-up to lavish foodstuffs and, like Jenners, is a must for both casual and serious shoppers alike.

If you’re searching for something special, try a signature piece from one the district’s many marvellous jewellers

One-off boutiques and independents

The West End Village, just a few hundred yards from Princes Street, is a shopper’s dream. Centred around William Street, there are one-off boutiques and independents just waiting to be discovered, specialising in everything from elegant lingerie to quality accessories. Colourful shop fronts abound in this tiny, picturesque shopping area where you could easily lose yourself for an afternoon. With two stores, one for men, and one for women round the corner, the trendy Frontiers is home to an eclectic variety of hard-to-find prints and designers. Close neighbour Serap Couture provides individually-tailored pieces and there’s more cool menswear from Solo too.

The West End is also something of a haven for those seeking some pampering, with hair stylists including Ruffians, Charlie Miller and Freddy Antabi, plus salons and spas such as Glam Candy, Sleeping Beauty Salon, Claire’s Beauty Salon, Chamomile Sanctuary and Odyssey Boutique, which also stocks swimwear and lingerie. Supplying designer cards, stationery and small gifts, Paper Tiger is a godsend for the forgetful, and is the perfect place to pick up last-minute presents and cards. Liam Ross and Lily Luna both offer boutique and bespoke jewellery, and if you’re looking for something to hang rather than wear, you’ll want to pay a visit to both Gallery Ten and UNIONgallery.

In fact, if you’re more interested in dressing your walls than dressing yourself, there are a heap of excellent outlets across the city, like Victoria Street’s Red Door Gallery, or Flux down at the Shore in Leith, where you can pick up some art and crafts for your home. Like it’s counterpart in the west, Thistle Street over towards the east stakes a claim for being a true destination shopping experience. The narrow cobbled street is the domicile of some of the city’s most fashionable boutiques, and with stacks of hip cocktail bars nearby you won’t struggle for refreshments either should you need some mid-expedition fortitude.

Covet is splendid for accessories – this diminutive store is big on style and it’s full of handbags, purses, jewellery and belts. Next door, Biscuit, is equally small in stature but still manages to offer a terrific range of fashion, homewares and more. If you want to be sure you’re on-trend this season, look no further than Jane Davidson and Pam Jenkins; both of which have featured in style bible Vogue’s top 50 UK Retailers.

The family-run Jane Davidson has been keeping Edinburgh’s female half well-dressed for 50 years, and the converted Georgian townhouse has four floors of designer womenswear including Dries Van Noten, Diane Von Furstenberg and Helmut Lang. On the other side of the street, footwear specialist Pam Jenkins stocks labels like Christian Louboutin and Jimmy Choo and are sure to help you find that pair of killer heels necessary to complete the look. Further along the street, the award-winning ALC stocks different denim brands and styles, and owner Adele Crombie takes real pride in ensuring you find the perfect fit.

With two stores, one for men, and one for women round the corner, the trendy Frontiers is home to an eclectic variety of hard-to-find prints and designers

Stay on trend

Away from the city centre, Porta (formerly Ocean Terminal) at Leith Docks has a huge selection of stores under the one – giant – roof. Designed by Sir Terence Conran, the interior evokes the great age of the luxury steam-liner and features more than 50 outlets including high street brands French Connection, Debenhams, New Look and Trespass. There’s even enough to keep even the most devout non-shoppers entertained, with a cinema complex, state-of-the-art gym, plus a slew of eateries in the three-floored food terrace which looks out to sea – on a clear day the views over to Fife are fantastic. The Royal Yacht Britannia is also moored at Ocean Terminal and is open to visitors, should you want to see what life on the seven seas (in ultimate luxury) would be like.

Nearby in Leith, down at the Shore, is uber-trendy menswear specialist Kestin Hare. Not only are the clothes here on trend, but the shop, located in the former Customs House, is one of the city’s coolest spaces, with the interior inspired by the historic buildings’ nautical links.

Lovers of vintage clothing and accessories are in for a real treat, because they are certainly well-catered for in Edinburgh. The real bargains are to be had in the plethora of second-hand stores, charity shops and emporiums of curios you’ll tend to be seen grouped together in small pockets throughout the city – Stockbridge, Morningside, Dalry and Gorgie are all home to a good selection of these. You’ll probably have to wade through some dross to locate the gems, but they are there to be unearthed if you’re willing to look hard enough.

Pick up a good read when in Edinburgh

Pick up a good read when in Edinburgh

If you’d prefer someone else to sort the wheat from the chaff for you, then there are a profusion of stores that cater to almost every vintage whim and desire. You’ll pay a premium for that service, but on the whole, the price tags aren’t exorbitant and still offer fantastic value for money. Style guru Mary Portas and Save the Children collaborate with Mary’s Living and Giving Shop in Raeburn Place which is a sure fire bet for big name brands, but the daddy of them all is undoubtedly W. Armstrong & Son, which claims to be Britain’s largest vintage emporium. Spread across three tardis-like sites, the stores are a Mecca for vintage enthusiasts; if you can’t find it here, chances are it probably doesn’t exist.

Rammed full of little record stores, quirky gift outlets and clothing stores, the twisting, winding Cockburn Street which feeds up from Waverley Station and Princes Street Gardens towards the High Street also appeals, although it’s more niche than vintage. If it’s old books you’re seeking, then try any one of the half a dozen or so second-hand bookstores in the locale of West Port.

And proving that small can sometimes be best, the picturesque St Stephen Street in Stockbridge offers a diverse array of shops, from vinyl at VoxBox Music to beautiful books at Golden Hare Books, plus yet more vintage looks, including bridalwear at Those Were the Days and womenswear and accessories at Elaine’s Vintage Clothing. There are some hip independent clothing stores too including the achingly cool Dick’s (just around the corner), while Bon Tot ensures the wee ones are kitted out every bit as stylishly. There’s also some super-cool interiors ideas from Catalog if you like your home to be every bit as trendy.

Lovers of vintage clothing and accessories are in for a real treat, because they are certainly well-catered for in Edinburgh

Whisky business

For more cool furniture and homewares elsewhere, BoConcept on Rose Street is influenced by Scandinavian design with a contemporary focus, and continuing the Scandi theme is Life Story at the bottom of Broughton Street. A few doors down Moleta Munro will leave you wanting to refurbish your living spaces over and over again. For classy, Scottish-themed homewares, Anta on George Street stocks high quality furnishings and stoneware. Foodies are spoiled for choice in Edinburgh, thanks to the city’s flourishing deli scene. Over the last decade or so, there’s been a flurry of specialist stores spring up to complement those more established premises. Many are so well-thought of that most of the city’s best restaurants regularly use their produce.

For all things spicy, Lupe Pintos is an Aladdin’s cave of hard-to-find, authentic goodies from Mexico and beyond. George Mewes and Mellis the Cheesemonger both have terrific selections of cheeses (and all the necessary accompaniments). Bower’s is known for supplying the finest game, while fellow butcher Crombie’s is particularly famed for its sausages. The country’s oldest delicatessen, established in 1934, Valvona & Crolla offers the finest imported Italian ingredients, foods and wines, and is an aggregation of Mediterranean riches.

And for those seeking something distinctly Scottish, the Canongate’s Cranachan & Crowdie (named for a traditional Scots dessert and a crumbly cream cheese) offers a wide-ranging selection of local treats and delicacies. Once the home of Edinburgh’s aristocrats, the Canongate also houses curated independent shops that showcase gifts, clothes, art, antiques, home interiors, jewellery, food, whisky and much more. It’s the perfect way to satisfy all your retail therapy needs and quite easy to get to, just walk down the Royal Mile from the Castle towards Holyrood Palace and the Canongate begins at the crossroads of Jeffery and St Mary’s Streets.

In recent years, Scotland has seen a boom in brewing and distilling, particularly beers and gins, and off-licences such as The Beerhive, Bon Vivant’s Companion and Drinkmonger all stock a fabulous array of weird and wonderful drinks for almost every occasion. Bottle Baron specialises in all manner of collaborations, limited editions and other hard-to-source beers, while Appellation Wines raison d’être is to provide great quality wines from small producers that you won’t find on the shelves elsewhere. And of course, a visit to Scotland wouldn’t be complete without paying due reverence to one of its biggest exports – whisky. A stop at Royal Mile Whiskies, on the High Street, is probably a good place to start: Boasting everything from rare vintage whiskies to paraphernalia such as books, accessories and glassware, it’s a veritable treasure trove for lovers of the amber nectar. There are a number of other excellent whisky stockists in the capital too, particularly in the Old Town, so it pays to shop around for the perfect dram.

Over the last decade or so, there’s been a flurry of specialist foodie stores spring up to complement those more established premises

Keep it local

Dotted around the city as they are, it can be time-consuming to try and visit all the best food and drink emporiums, so if you are pressed for time, probably the most convenient option is to make your way along to the award-winning Farmers’ Market on Castle Terrace. It runs every Saturday, from 9am until 2pm, and many of Edinburgh’s finest stores and food producers have stalls there. There are some local markets which each run from 10am until 5pm in Stockbridge (Saturdays), Leith and the Grassmarket (Sundays), which offer more intimate, but equally enjoyable, alternatives. And if you enjoy food markets for ready-made delights rather than as inspiration for your own culinary aspirations, then The Pitt, a converted yard dedicated entirely to streetfood, open from midday on Saturdays and Sundays, should be high on your do list.

In Scotland, the kilt is traditionally worn at everything from weddings to funerals, black tie dinners and balls, and is perfect for almost any formal occasion. If you’re inspired to get one, then avoid the shops that offer complete outfits for little more than it would cost for lunch for two – if you’re going to buy one, do it properly; a kilt should be like a Savile Row suit, individually-tailored and fitted, and of a quality that should last a lifetime.

Visit the Farmers' Market which is overlooked by the castle

Visit the Farmers’ Market which is overlooked by the castle

A suitable place to instigate proceedings would be at Kinloch Anderson. As Highlandwear outfitters for the Royal Family, you can be confident that you’re in safe hands with them. For something more modern, head for the 21st Century Kilts, where owner Howie Nicolsby has created pieces for the likes of Robbie Williams, Alan Cumming and Vin Diesel and they are a stylish alternative to the traditional kilt outfit.

If the thought of baring your legs to the bracing Edinburgh weather makes you a little nervous, then you can still carry off some Caledonian stylings in a much warmer fashion, with a host of shops dedicated to the finest quality Scottish weaves and knits. Walker and Slater, for instance specialise in tweed clothing and accessories for both men and women. Calzeat is a long-established family business that specialises in woven textile manufacturing and design, while the husband and wife team behind Bill Baber produce fabulously chic, hand-made women’s knitwear.

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Image credits: ©Edinburgh Farmers' Market; John Michael Thomson/Sara Kurfess/Tim Meyer/Unsplash; Marketing Edinburgh; Nick Mailer Photography/Multrees Walk; VisitBritain/Andrew Pickett/Simon Winnall

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