A Local’s Guide to Dean Village, Edinburgh: 12 Things to Do

Filled with an impressive collection of colourful historical buildings and narrow alleys that lead away from the crowds, Dean Village was considered a hidden gem of Edinburgh until a few years ago. But today, a walk to the charming cobbled streets of this neighbourhood is one of the best things to do in Edinburgh.

Tucked away in a steep-sided valley on the bank of the Water of Leith, Dean Village would make you feel that you’ve stepped into a period-drama film set. 

The unspoilt charm of Dean Village compels visitors to take a detour from Edinburgh’s big-hitting sights, like Calton Hill, Edinburgh Castle and Arthur’s Seat.

Dean Village iconic view

This tiny hamlet is preposterously pretty at any time of year. It doesn’t take very long to explore this charming neighbourhood. However, if you would like to dig a little deeper, you would find many notable sites to explore nearby.

Having lived within a short walking distance from Dean Village for ages, we are perhaps biased. It is our regular go-to place for an evening walk.

Where is Dean Village

Nestled in a deep river valley on the Water of Leith, this place is just a ten-minute walk from the bustling Princes Street. Also, one of the popular routes to get here is from the vibrant neighbourhood of Stockbridge.

The most convenient way to get to Dean Village is by walking. You can also catch a local bus or taxi to reach this place.

From the far-west end of Princes Street, follow Queensberry Road. Look out for a slightly steep road called Bell’s Brae to your left. You will come across Bell’s Brae just before Dean Bridge. Don’t worry – you won’t miss it. 

Before you know it, you will be standing at the heart of Dean Village in no time. Follow our comprehensive guide to the best tourist attractions in Edinburgh.

A Little Bit about the Past of Dean Village

This village has a fascinating history to tell. The name originated from the old Scottish word ‘dene’ which means a narrow valley. 

The peaceful suburb that you see today was once a bustling site with various thriving industries and mills.

In the 12th century, King David I awarded income from one of his mills in Dean Village to the nearby Holyrood Abbey.

Well Court tower
Bridge over Water of Leith

The Water of Leith played a crucial role in Dean Village’s prosperity. There were around eleven working mills here. They harnessed the current of the Water of Leith to power the graining mills, which provided food to the residents of Edinburgh.

This area was particularly associated with the Incorporation of Baxters or bakers. They built a tollbooth here in 1675, which served as their official meeting place.

The remnants of the industry can still be found today. Watch out for mill stones and stone plaques with engraved baked bread and pies signs.

Dean Village in snow
colorful houses in Dean Village

For centuries, Dean Village was known as the “Water of Leith Village” by the locals. 

From the late 19th century, the economic condition of this place declined with the development of modern and more advanced industries in Leith.

In the 1970s, major redevelopment and restoration took place to convert the dilapidated mill houses into residential homes. 

Things to Do in and around Dean Village

1. Explore the Nooks and Crannies of Dean Village

We sometimes overuse the term ‘fairytale pretty’, but it happens to be accurate for this tiny hamlet. Villages in Scotland are undoubtedly very pretty and delightful to explore.

A leisurely stroll around the cobbled streets of Dean Village will transport you back in time. Compact and walkable, the best way to explore the neighbourhood is by simply following the streets.

Although the water-powered mills are a distant history, a few fragments of that heritage are still visible around Dean Village.

Many of the century-old mill houses are even present today. You will see carvings of crossed paddles of the bakers on the walls. This area used to source flour for the baker of Edinburgh many years ago.

At the centre of Dean Village stands a picturesque single-arched stone bridge, Bell’s Brae Bridge.

Admire the views of the picturesque half-timbered houses with the Georgian buildings of New Town looming over from behind. At the side of the bridge, you will find the Old Tolbooth. Built in the 17th century, this used to be a working granary.

sunset view from Dean Village
cute flowery street of Edinburgh

As you walk down Hawthornbank Lane, a very steep cobbled road, the striking clock tower of Well Court comes into view. 

For one of the best views of Dean Village, stand over the small metal bridge over the Water of Leith. The bright ochre-coloured houses and the stunning Well Court with the river flowing below give a fairy-tale vibe.

2. Uncover the History and Heritage of Well Court

One of the most impressive buildings in Dean Village is Well Court. The red sandstone building with its iconic clock tower, conical turrets and crow-stepped gables oozes charm. It is an excellent example of Scottish Renaissance architecture and looks very photogenic all year round.

It was built in the late 19th century as a philanthropic endeavour by local businessman Sir John Findlay, the proprietor of The Scotsman newspaper. He used to live at the nearby Rothesay Terrace and was not too happy with the decaying condition of the tenement houses.

So, he commissioned architect Sydney Mitchell to build a model housing for “a respectable class of working man” of Dean Village. The construction got completed in 1886.

The clock tower of Well Court
iconic view of Dean Village

Although the flats were modest in size, they were comfortable. Also, the building had a communal hall and a large central courtyard. But the residents were subject to strict disciplinary rules and regulations.

It was mandatory to attend the Sunday prayer held at the communal hall. Also, there was a night curfew in place for staying out late.

You can admire this lovely building from Hawthornbank Lane. Keep in mind though this is a residential area. So, be respectful.

The residents might not get too offended if you take a quick snap of the courtyard or the clock tower from a safe distance.

3. Discover St. Bernard's Well’s Unique Past

Located just a few minutes’ walking distance from Dean Village, St. Bernard’s Well is a hidden gem of Edinburgh.

The circular Roman temple-like structure houses a beautiful statue of Hygieia, the Greek goddess of health, at its centre.

Designed in 1789 by the Scottish landscape painter Alexander Nasmyth, this ornate structure was inspired by the Roman Temple of Vesta in Tivoli. The pump room is beautifully decorated with colourful mosaics and paintings.

St Bernard's Well statue
St Bernard's Well over the Water of Leith

The well sits on the site of a natural spring. Locals believed that the water here had magical healing powers. For centuries, people from the faraway land came here to cure various ailments.

You can admire the building from the Water of Leith walkway any time of the day. But the inside is open only on specific occasions, like the Doors Open Day. 

4. Explore Stockbridge & Circus Lane

If you love exploring neighbourhoods with distinct characters and a cool bohemian vibe, then Stockbridge is the place for you. It takes just 10-15 minutes to walk there from Dean Village.

From visiting the local farmer’s market on Sunday to walking the pretty street of Circus Lane, there are plenty of fun and lovely things to do in Stockbridge.

Walk along Miller Row, passing underneath the Dean Bridge to reach Stockbridge.

This lively neighbourhood of Edinburgh is lined with many cosy cafes, traditional pubs, top-notch restaurants, and shops selling everything from vintage clothing to local produce. Also, the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh is not too far from here. Read our guide to Circus Lane – one of the prettiest streets in Edinburgh.

5. Enjoy the View from Dean Bridge

Another point of interest in this area is the imposing 106 feet high Dean Bridge. Follow along the river path towards Stockbridge to admire the beautiful structure of this four-arched bridge.

Designed by legendary British engineer Thomas Telford, this towering bridge crosses a deep gorge and connects Edinburgh city centre to Queensferry.

View from the top of Dean Bridge
kirkbrae House

Before the construction of this bridge, the only way to cross the river was by fording. Later in the 5th century, a narrow wooden bridge was built for crossing the Water of Leith.

The construction of this bridge was essential at that time. It significantly improved connectivity to and from the western side of the city.

Tips: Before walking down the Bell’s Brae path, don’t forget to take a quick stroll on this bridge. You will get a stunning view of Dean Village houses, the Water of Leith and the Stockbridge neighbourhood. Find out more in our detailed guide to Stockbridge.

Also, the Kirkbrae House at the corner of the bridge looks very photogenic. This 17th-century building was once a tavern frequented by local bakers of the nearby water mills. 

6. Visit the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art One

The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is divided into two grand buildings – Modern One and Two. Both of them have an impressive collection of modern and contemporary art by reputed Scottish and international artists. It is a must-visit place for all art lovers visiting Dean Village. 

The Neo-classical building of Modern One was built in 1828 by William Burn and was originally a school. Later, Modern One opened in 1984. It houses paintings by Matisse, Picasso, Scottish Colourists and several other notable artists.

Before going inside, take a stroll around the sculpture park. You will spot several sculptures by famous artists such as Joan Miró, Henry Moore, Rachel Whiteread and Barbara Hepworth. The beautiful stepped landform in front of the gallery was designed by Charles Jencks.

From Dean Village, you can walk along the Water of Leith Walkway or Belford Road to the Modern Gallery. It takes only 10 minutes to walk there.

Opening Hours: Daily, 10 am – 5 pm. Free entry.

7. Visit Dean Gallery

Formerly known as the Dean Gallery, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Two houses an extensive collection of Dada and Surrealist art and literature.

As you enter the building, you will notice a giant, robot-man sculpture Vulcan, by famous Leith-born artist Eduardo Paolozzi. You can see the detailed recreation of the artist’s studio room here. Also, the gallery has artworks by Salvador Dali, René Magritte and Alberto Giacometti in its permanent collection. 

This elegant gallery building near Dean Village was designed by Scottish architect Thomas Hamilton in 1831. It used to be an orphanage once. Later in 1999, this place was converted into Modern Two. 

After visiting this art gallery, don’t forget a take a stroll around the adjacent historic cemetery.

8. Marvel at St Mary's Cathedral’s Architecture

Another architectural gem near Dean Village that not many visitors know about is St Mary’s Cathedral. 

The magnificent Victorian Gothic revival building was designed by famous British architect Sir Gilbert Scott, who also designed many iconic buildings in London and Glasgow.

st mary’s cathedral exterior

Built in the late 19th century, the distinct three spires of the cathedral dominate the skyline of Edinburgh. You can even see them from the top of Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat.

It takes only an 8-minute walk from Dean Village to get here.

Before stepping in, admire the stunningly ornate main entrance on Palmerston Place. The interior is beautiful as well. The colourful stained-glass window inside is made by celebrated Leith-born artist Eduardo Paolozzi.

9. Follow the Water of Leith Walkway

The small river you see flowing through the heart of Dean Village is known as the Water of Leith. It originates from Pentland Hill on the outskirts of Edinburgh and ends near the Port of Leith.

The 12.25 miles long walkway was constructed in the 1980s. The section from Modern Art Gallery to Stockbridge is one of the easiest walks in Edinburgh.

If you have time to see a different side of the city, you can walk or cycle along the peaceful river. The path is well-maintained and is popular with local cyclists, joggers and dog walkers. You can spot various wildlife and birds here too.

10. Contemplate at Dean Cemetery

Another historically important attraction near Dean Village is this Victorian cemetery. 

If you are a history lover, the ornate headstones and monuments will intrigue you. It’s a peaceful place to rest and reflect. The area looks very beautiful in autumn with amazing colours.

You can visit this historic cemetery through a small gate on the side of Modern Two.

headstones in Dean Cemetery

It was once regarded as the most fashionable cemetery in Edinburgh. Since 1846, it’s been the final resting place of many notable names in Scottish history. Francis Cadell, Sam Bough and JD Ferguson – painters from the Scottish Colourists, were buried here. You can see their celebrated artworks at the nearby Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

David Octavius Hill, the pioneer of early photography and William H Playfair, the architect who designed many landmarks of Edinburgh, were laid here.

11. Wander around Belford Mews

If you love exploring idyllic streets, you are absolutely going to love a quick walk around the sleepy Belford Mews. Overlooked by the tourists, this pretty street lies only a stone’s throw away from the centre of Dean Village. It is a hidden spot in the city.

Belford Mews

The lined red-coloured mews houses were built in the late 19th century as workers’ housing. We love the colourful doors and the gable rooftops. A few of them were used as horse stables and carriage houses in the past.

At the entrance of Sunbury Street, you will see a beautiful round-turreted building. Watch out for the Bentley Specialist sign above a pair of garages.

12. Discover the History of The Georgian House

The architecture of Dean Village is quite in contrast with the surrounding Georgian buildings of Edinburgh New Town. If you are keen to learn about the lavish lifestyle of Edinburgh aristocrats during the Georgian period, then step inside the Georgian House at Charlotte Square. 

Maintained by National Trust for Scotland nowadays, the house was designed by the famous architect Robert Adams.

The rooms are beautifully restored and furnished with artefacts, antiques and artworks to take you back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Inside the house, you will find many beautiful paintings by famous Scottish painters like Henry Raeburn and Allan Ramsay.

Map of the Attractions on Dean Village

Here is a map of all the attractions mentioned in this article. We have also marked some nearby restaurants, coffee shops and pubs for you. Save this Google Map on your phone to use it later. You can also use it offline.

Best Time to Visit Dean Village

Honestly, Dean Village looks ridiculously pretty all year round. 

Peak summer is the busiest time of the year for tourism in Edinburgh. So, sometimes this area gets too crowded with tourists and tour groups. But the warm and long day makes walking along the river paths and smelling the summer blossoms all the more inviting.

We recommend visiting this area at sunset or early morning to enjoy the place in peace.

Spring is gorgeous for seeing snowdrops and daffodils, while in autumn, the falling leaves paint everything more vibrant. Also, you will see fewer crowds during this time. While it’s slightly colder, the weather is still pleasant for exploring outdoors. Although, you might need to carry an umbrella for the rain.

Winter months are special as well. If you don’t mind the cold, seeing Dean Village in a fresh coat of snow is a fairytale experience.

How to Reach Dean Village from Edinburgh City Centre

Dean Village lies only half a mile from Edinburgh City Centre and is easily reachable from there. The best way to get here is by walking. There is no direct vehicular access to the village other than by taxi. But you can catch a bus or tram to get closer.

Walk

From the west end of Princes Street, take a right turn(near the Johnnie Walker shop) and walk for about five minutes along Queensferry Road until you reach Dean Bridge. Don’t cross the bridge. Instead, take Bell’s Brae Road to your left, which goes downhill into the heart of Dean Village.

Bus & Tram

The nearest bus station is located at Drumsheugh Place on Queensferry Road. Lothian buses run regular service to and from here. You can catch bus services 19, 36, 37, 41, 47, and 113 from various parts of Edinburgh to reach here. After alighting the bus, walk to Bell’s Brae Road.

If you are coming here by tram, the nearest tram stop is West End on Shandwick Place. You will have to walk ten minutes from there.

Car

Parking in the Dean Village is strictly for residents only. It’s not easy to find a parking space in the surrounding area as well. Most of them are for permit holders. You can try parking at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art if you don’t mind a bit of a walk.

Dean Village is a must-visit place for all travellers visiting the city. Undoubtedly it is one of the most photogenic places in Edinburgh. Even on the gloomiest day, Dean Village adds a flash of colour with its brightly painted cottages. 

We hope that our guide has given you all information you are looking for and has inspired you to visit this pretty corner of Edinburgh.

Love, Moumita & Sankha.

2 thoughts on “A Local’s Guide to Dean Village, Edinburgh: 12 Things to Do”

  1. I’am so happy to read the article.
    I’am from Canada, my grand-mother name is « Hazel Dean»
    His father Alexander was a director in a wood-paper mill in Québec city.
    He did mining exploration around Canada.
    Theirs friends were the Baker’s family ….
    We keep the name Dean in my son name ( Michael Dean) ..for tradition
    He wanted to go to Edimbourg for many years, with Outlanders he found himself…
    I never heard about Dean village until I began my vacation planning to Scotland.
    It will be the best surprise for my son next summer….
    Thanks again Kathleen from Montréal-Québec-Canada.

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