Lighting up Leith - venture beyond the centre
By Dan James, Festivals Edinburgh Blogger in Residence, August 2018
When it comes to planning your visit to the Edinburgh Festivals, it's very easy to centre all your time around the centre of the city and with so much going on that's understandable. But this year is the perfect time to explore a new part of the city as three festivals extend their programmes to Leith, an ideal getaway from the festival mayhem along the waterways.
This buzzing port district is quickly becoming one of the cool hangouts in the city thanks to its restaurants, bars and cafes along the water of Leith and numerous dining and drink options along Leith Walk, the road connecting this section of the city to the new town. But down in Leith proper, a few new venues are vying for your attention over August.
Edinburgh International Festival at Leith Theatre
The Leith Theatre is a labour of love for all those involved, and I was lucky enough to visit during the final days before it opened as the new venue for Light on the Shore.
Previously re-opened by the team at the Hidden Door festival, Edinburgh International Festival have added to their work by investing plenty of time and love into turning this former run-down building into an impressive event space that welcomes the likes of Alan Cumming to this year's Festival.
The historic building has seen a select amount of work done to it but managed to preserve much of its heritage and decoration. From original theatre style seats on the balcony to the ornate ceiling works, the team have only painted the walls to a certain height so you can still see crumbling paint and hollowed out ceilings which all add to the atmosphere of the venue.
I was a bit dubious about what the acoustics would be like for a live music venue but having been down to a couple of gigs here, including Lau and Joan as Police Woman, I'm happy to report the space is fantastic as a live-music venue and the buzzing crowd seemed to be loving it as much as I was. Drapes have been added to the balconies to improve the audio quality, and a state of the art audio and visual system has been installed for the festivals. Dare I say it, this might actually be my new favourite music venue in the city.
All profits made from bar sales are being pumped back into the Leith Theatre Trust, so hopefully soon enough we will see this space become a year-round venue hosting some of the top talents in the world. Look out for some of the unique details in the building such as original organ parts hanging above the bar or the now-exposed wooden beams on the second-floor balcony corridor. It really is a fantastic space that has been restored to the right level that it doesn't lose the heritage of the building.
Edinburgh Art Festival at DOK studios and Maritime Lane
Edinburgh Art Festival also has a presence down in Leith this year and offers two exhibition spaces perfect for a pre-gig browse.
Alongside one of Scotlands most famous tourist attractions, the Royal Yacht Britannia at Oceanside, the metal hut which is DOK studios is showcasing the work of three local artists in its lofty warehouse-vibe room. Yolanda McKean, one of the artists whose work takes the normal and piles it with psychological tension walked me around the gallery and seemed genuinely pleased that Leith was now more included in the festival programme and that with plenty on offer more visitors would be drawn to come to the spaces outside the city centre.
Just a moment's stroll from the plethora of pubs and restaurants along the canals is the Maritime Lane collective, which is hidden behind an arched stone wall and opens to a collection of colourful street art. Inside the gallery space, Andy Cumming has put together a collection of Adam Linklater's work, a unique thinker whose tours of Scotland performing 'shamanistic noise rituals' have been caught on film, and the first public screening of these can be seen here.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe at The Leith Depot and Coburg House Studio
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is also present in Leith with the Coburg House Studio showcasing a selection of contemporary artists in their studios which are open to the public throughout the festival. From paintings to printmaking and everything in between, it's a great spot not just to see local artists work but also pick up a few keepsakes to take home from your Edinburgh trip.
Back on the bottom of Leith Walk, The Leith Depot has a mix of music and theatre shows on the programme at this independent pub which is a great place to swing in for a refreshment and entertainment before walking back up Leith Walk to the city centre. For the lazy, or those that have had a few pints, countless busses are connecting the new town to Leith in under 20-minutes.
So whether you are looking for a little time out from the Royal Mile, want to explore beyond the Old Town or just fancy seeing one of the impressive acts at Leith Theatre, this wonderful part of Edinburgh is calling your name!