Edinburgh is renowned for its historic castle, narrow medieval alleyways, and many architectural gems. There are some tiny clustered parts in this city that will take you back in time. Circus Lane in Stockbridge is surely one of those fascinating places.
Until a few years ago, this small cobbled street was considered a hidden gem in the city. But with the arrival of social media, Circus Lane has gained massive popularity. Today it is an Instagram sensation. A meander around this historic street is one of the unmissable things to do in Edinburgh.
Recognised as one of the most photographed spots in Edinburgh, Circus Lane is full of history. Built in the early 19th century, the row of mews houses was initially used as equestrian stables and accommodations for the staff of the very wealthy residents of nearby Royal Circus.
The footsteps of galloping horses and the sound of busy drivers, footmen and stable boys running errands are no longer heard on these cobbled streets. Nowadays, it is an idyllic residential site. Many of the previous stables are now converted into garages.
Travellers from all over the world visit Circus Lane to admire the vibrant floral displays, cute Georgian mews houses, colourful doors and the picturesque setting with towering St Stephen’s church in the backdrop.
Here is our article on the best things to do in and around Circus Lane – from cheese shops to cool cafes, hidden flower gardens to local bookshops – plus how to reach out and suggestions on where to eat.
Where is Circus Lane and How to Reach
Situated north of Edinburgh City Centre, Circus Lane is a part of the bustling suburb of Stockbridge. A pleasant twelve-minute walk will take you from the busy Princes Street to this beautiful spot. Edinburgh Old Town is just over a mile from here. If you are not too keen on walking, you can also board a local bus or taxi to get here.
The best way to reach Circus Lane is by foot. From Princes Street, it’s a scenic and slightly downhill walk. It will give you an opportunity to admire the elegant neo-classical and Georgian architecture of Edinburgh New Town. Also, there are plenty of trendy cafes, delicious restaurants and cosy pubs on the way.
From Princes Street, take a turn towards Frederick Street, and continue on the road ahead. It’s an easy and straightforward walk. After a few minutes, you will see a stunning view of St. Steven’s church with Fife and the Firth of Forth on the horizon. As you approach the church building, look out for St. Vincent Bar to your left. Follow the road just beside the pub, and voila! You have reached Circus Lane.
Alternatively, you can take Lothian Bus services 24 and 29. Both of them run very frequently. On weekdays and Saturdays, buses run every 20 minutes, and on Sundays, every 30 minutes. From Frederick Street, it takes only 7 minutes on the bus.
You can also catch bus service 36 from Queensferry Street to Hamilton Place. After visiting Circus Lane, if you fancy heading towards nearby Dean Village and want to avoid the walk, this bus will drop you close to the village. Expect to pay £1.80 for a single journey and £4.50 for day tickets.
There are several licensed taxi ranks all around the city. You can easily get a cab near Castle Street and Waverley Bridge. Rather than hailing a taxi from the street, you can pre-book them on the phone or online. Also, you can book cabs online through different apps like Uber.
History of Circus Lane
Long before the creation of Circus Lane, this whole area was just a tiny riverside settlement and was not originally a part of the city of Edinburgh.
During the 18th century, the Old Town became overcrowded, and the living condition became poor and unsanitary. So, the wealthy citizens moved to the newly developed Edinburgh’s Georgian New Town.
With the growing popularity, further expansions were very much needed. So, the Stockbridge area was incorporated during the second phase of northern extensions of Second New Town in the early 19th century. Circus Lane was constructed around that time.
Originally, the mews houses were built to cater for the horses, carriages and stable-servants of prosperous residents of Royal Circus.
The elegant ring of grand townhouses was designed by reputed Scottish architect William Henry Playfair in 1820. Unlike the usual straight grid-like architecture of Edinburgh New Town, it was built as a pair of crescents and was one of the earliest non-straight roads in Edinburgh.
The name of the street comes from the Latin word ‘circus’ – meaning a ring, oval or circle.
Also, the imposing church tower that you see from the street was built by William Henry Playfair in 1827–28. He was responsible for the creation of many famous Edinburgh landmarks, like the iconic National Monument of Scotland and the Dugald Stewart Monument on Calton Hill. The clock tower is 162 feet high and houses the longest pendulum in Europe.
Things to Do near Circus Lane
1. Meander around Circus Lane and Stockbridge
It is a pleasure to walk along the cobblestone street and admire the picturesque old buildings. Circus Lane has all the simple ingredients for postcard-perfect views.
The gently curved street is lined with quaint terraced houses with many colourful hanging flowers and shrubs, gorgeous Victorian street lamps and a looming church tower – all make this place even more atmospheric. Undeniably there is a romantic vibe in the air – who won’t fancy a stroll?
It will take you only a few minutes to walk down Circus Lane. Luckily, there are plenty of things to do in the surrounding Stockbridge area once you’re done.
This lively neighbourhood has loads of independent coffee shops, brunch places and some of the finest restaurants in Edinburgh.
2. Take a Wander around Dean Village
The historic Dean Village lies only a few minutes away from Circus Lane. Originally a bustling site of a prosperous grain milling industry that lasted for eight hundred years, Dean Village today is a peaceful small hamlet on the Water of Leith.
Many remnants of the bygone era can still be found here. You can find stone plaques with engraved bread and pie signs on the historic buildings.
Like Circus Lane, it’s an absolute pleasure to explore the narrow cobbled streets of Dean Village. At the heart of the village stands the impressive Well Court. The red sandstone building with its iconic clock tower and conical turrets looks out from a storybook.
You can follow the Water of Leith Walkaway to visit the extensive collection of contemporary paintings in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art One and Two.
3. Sample Local Produce at Stockbridge Farmers Market
If you happen to visit Circus Lane on a Sunday morning, then take a wander around the nearby Stockbridge Market.
Popular with tourists and locals, it is open from 10 am to 4 pm. From tasty seafood paella to Japanese udon stir fry – this weekly market is a great place to sample some of the best street foods in Edinburgh.
Also, there are various independent small vendors selling Scottish cheese, jewellery, homemade soap, honey, fresh fish, organic vegetables, etc.
If you like exploring local markets, there are more farmer’s markets in Leith, Grassmarket and Castle terrace.
4. Explore the Tranquil Royal Botanics Garden Edinburgh
There are two entrances to access this vast garden. Coming from Circus Lane, the West Gate on Arboretum Place entrance will be closer to you. It takes only 15 minutes to walk there.
Wander around the 70-acre area, with various speciality gardens like Chinese Hillside, Rock Garden, Woodland Garden and the Alpine Houses. The lovely Victorian Temperate Palm House is a must-visit. Entry to the garden is free except for the glasshouse, which is £7 per adult.
You can also roam around the nearby Inverleith Park, a large urban park with a lovely pond and playground.
5. Shop and Eat near Circus Lane
From the peaceful atmosphere of Circus Lane, it is hard to imagine that this place is so close to busy shops and trendy restaurants.
There are a wide variety of independent shops and many charity shops on Stockbridge main street and the nearby St. Stephens Street. It is a bargain hunter’s paradise.
A few of our personal favourites are The Howdah Tea and Coffee Company which sells different kinds of roasted coffee beans and loose tea leaves; I.J. Mellis, a local cheesemonger, has an amazing selection of cheese, cured meat and jam; and Golden Hare Books is an independent bookshop and has an extensive collection of classic and contemporary books.
If you are hungry, visit the Pantry, just a stone’s throw away from Circus Lane. It is one of our favourite breakfast and brunch places in Edinburgh.
Pop inside The Scran and Scallie for a delicious lunch or dinner. To sample some freshly prepared Thai food, visit Nok’s Kitchen.
6. Walk along the Water of Leith
If you love tranquil nature and peaceful riverside walks, take a leisurely stroll along the Water of Leith Walkway. This area is a haven for various wildlife and birds. The part from Modern Art Gallery to Stockbridge is one of the most popular walks in Edinburgh.
The 12.25 miles long footpath was constructed in the 1980s. It is quite popular with local cyclists, joggers and dog walkers. There are different access points throughout the walkway.
From Circus Lane, walk over to the stone bridge. You can either follow the upstream path towards Dean Village to your left or walk towards Leith to your right.
Best Time to Visit Circus Lane
The cobbled street is a joy to explore any time of the year. It has something to offer all year round.
Usually, the hottest months are July and August, and the coldest is January. But the Scottish weather is notorious for being unpredictable, and it is possible to see all four seasons in one day.
The summer months of July and August are certainly the most wonderful time to visit Circus Lane. The days are long, and the colourful summer blossoms are on full display. However, these are the busiest months in the city. We would recommend visiting here in the morning. Also, this is Scotland, so you can never get constant dry weather.
If you want to avoid crowds, the spring and autumn months are perfect for you. In Autumn, you’ll be treated to an abundance of colour as the leaves change with the season. Spring is gorgeous for seeing wildflowers and daffodils.
Circus Lane looks very atmospheric and quite moody in the dark Winter months. This area looks absolutely stunning after a fresh coat of snow. Occasionally, the days might be crisp and clear. Therefore if you do not mind the cold, you might actually enjoy a winter stroll along the street.
Loved Circus Lane? Want to Explore More Similar Streets in Edinburgh?
The Scottish capital city has no shortage of picturesque streets. If you absolutely adore Circus Lane, here are some of our recommendations for discovering cute streets around the city.
Frequently referred to as Edinburgh’s Dragon Alley, the iconic Victoria Street is famous for its dramatic curve and multi-coloured shop fronts. The narrow and winding Cockburn Street is another must-visit site in Edinburgh Old Town.
You would also love exploring Melville Street at West End. It is lined with elegant Georgian houses and provides a spectacular view of St Mary’s Cathedral.
Not too far from Circus Lane, the cobbled street of Hawthornbank Lane is very photogenic and provides a glorious view of the nearby Well Court.
Another hidden gem is Belford Mews near Dean Village. The red-coloured mews houses were built in the late 19th century as workers’ housing.
We hope this guide on Circus Lane was helpful and you got all the information you were looking for.
Love, Moumita & Sankha