Owen O’Leary, Local’s Guide to Edinburgh. Edinburgh, Scotlan

Local Knowledge: Owen from Edinburgh

We’ve resisted using mainstream guidebooks on our grand tour this year, choosing instead to rely on local people for advice. However, wherever possible we’ve sought out local guidebooks written by residents of the places we’ve visited.

In Venice, we used the illustrated My Local Guide to Venice, and in New York City we used the tiny but comprehensive Not For Tourists guide, and in both cities we met the publishers and editors of those books.

When Jessie from Wandering Educators suggested we check out the wonderful Local’s Guide to Edinburgh and connect with its publisher/editor and co-founder of Word of Mouth Travels, Owen O’Leary, we set up a coffee meeting right away.

The Local’s Guide to Edinburgh is exactly the kind of guidebook we love and takes the same approach as books we’ve been developing in recent years — local people sharing their local tips and their unique perspectives on their hometowns. We asked Owen to explain how it came about.

“I’m initially from Cork, but I’ve lived in Edinburgh for ten years, while my co-founder/publisher Claudia is from Lisbon,” Owen explains. “As outsiders or new people in a place you end up exploring more than a local does. Claudia and I were like magpies — everything was shiny! We think that fresh perspective and enthusiasm for the city was important in developing the book.”

“When you go on a holidays and you have a local pal, he’s a short-cut to experiencing that place,” Owen tells us. “We went to New York for the marathon and we had a hook-up there and it was like having a pal in your pocket. Essentially, we wanted to create a book that was something like that.”

Q. What do you most love about your work?

A. Getting to talk to people I don’t know. I recently went to Glasgow to check out places for a new book we’re doing and I loved talking to people along the way, chatting to locals to get all those nuggets about places. My work is a good excuse to talk to people, it’s a reason to talk to people.

Q. Why should people come to Edinburgh?

A. If you heard about Edinburgh and tried to imagine it, I don’t think you could imagine it. You have to come and experience it for yourself. It’s an explorer’s city and it benefits from a good wander. The whole city is accessible by foot, and there are so many nooks and crannies to discover. The time you spend in between sights can be the best time you’ll have.

Q. 3 words to describe Edinburgh?

A. Jeckle and Hyde. It’s a city of contrasts and it totally fascinates me.

Q. And the people of Edinburgh?

A. Slow burn. It takes a while to get to know the locals. It’s one of those places where everyone seems to be from somewhere else, and it’s easy to meet people, but while the locals are initially warm and welcoming, it takes some time to get ‘in’. But once you are, you’re set.

Q. Your top recommendations for visitors?

A. Go to Hideaway Garden on Sandeman Close off the Royal Mile to escape the city — you turn a corner and you discover this unexpected place, a beautiful round walled garden, and it’s very peaceful. I love to go there and eat a sandwich.
Visit Artisan Roast on Broughton Street for the best coffee in the city — they grind the beans there and the café is like a warehouse with old coffee cases for furniture.
For a drink, go to a bar called The Pond — it’s a bit random, on the edge of the city in a dodgy part of town. The décor is a bit higgledy-piggledy with old furniture and fish tanks, weird stuff always seems to happen there, and you can meet some really interesting people there.

Q. Best souvenir from Edinburgh?

A. It has to be tablet. Not shortbread. Not fudge. Not toffee. But tablet. To the uninitiated it looks like a lump of solid sugar. To the untrained palate it tastes like a lump of solid sugar. But to those who fear no tooth decay and embrace the good side of all that is bad for you, tablet is the best medicine! The best place to buy it from is Valvona and Crolla on the top floor of Jenners. There’s a selection of some really nice tablet there. Enjoy it best with a cup of coffee and a strong stomach.*

Q. Must-do eating experiences?

A. Hog rolls at Edinburgh Farmer’s Market on Saturday below the castle — you’ve got to get up early out of bed to get them, as they can go fast some days.
The Dogs — I like this restaurant because it strikes a good balance between casual and formal; they do well-priced Scottish fare but not as you know it, and they do wine in carafes; it’s accessible, but it’s a bit different.
The Witchery — this is the place to go for a romantic dinner; the interior is what you’d like the exterior of Edinburgh castle to be like.

Q. An essential thing to know before coming here?

A. You need to be prepared to scratch below the surface and get off the beaten track to really discover Edinburgh.

Q. Most important phrase to learn?

A. ‘Coorie in’ — which means to ‘cosy up’, as in come in close and let’s cuddle up! You say it to a loved one. Sometimes in Edinburgh — especially in winter — you need to cosy up!

Q. Any other advice?

A. Be prepared to walk. Public transport is good, but it doesn’t always get you to where you want to go. It’s far better to walk in Edinburgh.

There are 9 comments

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  1. jeannie

    Thank you for this! This is great information for my plans to visit Edinburgh in October – that is if all goes well from now to then! And I will make sure to get The Local’s Guide to Edinburgh! 🙂

  2. Sandrine R.

    That’s great and makes me want to go there, since it’s the country of Kevin’s ancesters!
    Now, I’m waiting for the recipe from Edinburgh!

  3. Keith


    Is that anything like Kendal Mint Cake? (Which, I believe is sugar, mint flavour and not much else)

    Liked the Jekyll and Hyde reference … RLS based his character on Deacon Brodie, an Edinburgh native; there’s a pub called the Deacon Brodie commemorating him.

    Nooks and crannies? You mean, wynds and ginnels! 😀

  4. Lara Dunston

    Thank *you* for connecting us and recommending the guide! I was so glad to have found it. It is *exactly* the approach – the local insight and insider’s perspective – that we love in a guidebook. Owen is such a lovely guy too. It was a fun coffee morning!

  5. Lara Dunston

    You *must* get it. There is a good book store on Princes Street (overlooking Edinburgh Castle) where we found it – I think it’s Waterstone’s. I can connect you with Owen too and some other brilliant Edinburgh bloggers like Kash and Jools who you may know from Twitter, who I’m sure would love to meet.

  6. Lara Dunston

    Hola amiga! You *must* go. We are very keen to return, but next time we’re going to go in summer and hire a car and drive all over the country. Recipes from Edinburgh coming in the next few days! 🙂

  7. Lara Dunston

    ‘Tablet’ seems to be what the Scottish call fudge.

    Maybe he didn’t think we – or our readers – would understand ‘wynds and ginnels’ but Owen should have educated us, shouldn’t he? I’ll have to talk to him about that 🙂

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