‘LEITH’S motto is ‘Persevere’ and we’ve certainly had to with the trams,” says lifelong Leither and tour guide Paul Stewart.

“We’ve been waiting a long time, but there is a real buzz about their arrival and what it means for Leith and Leith Walk. Just walking the streets you can see the changes they have already brought.”

I’ve been patiently waiting to as a travel writer too. 

I covered the supposed rebirth of Leith that the opening of the first Malmaison Hotel in 1994 on the spruced-up Shore was meant to herald; then again the wave of positivity and massive missed opportunity of the MTV Awards in 2003.

This time, it is different – no longer does the mention of the Trams to Newhaven eight-stop, three-mile extension, elicit unprintable comments from Leithers.

There is tangible hope, change and positivity

Paul Stewart knows all about positive change. Once he lived on Leith’s streets; today he takes tourists on tours of his beloved home. He is thinking of replacing his Trainspotting tours around the rougher sides of Leith, with Tramspotting ones showing off today’s dynamic Leith.

Stewart proudly shows me the whirl of new cafes, bars, shops and restaurants, not just on Leith Walk, but spilling out onto Easter Road (drily now locally nicknamed “F-easter Road”) and the surrounding streets too.

READ MORE: Filmmaker nears donation target in To See Ourselves donation drive

It all starts with the brand new Edinburgh Street Food market at the top of Leith Walk, just across from the Picardy Place tram stop, and buzzes all the way down to the Forth.

In Laila, an Instagram-friendly cafe bedecked in pink flowers, I meet food blogger (Plate Expectations) and street food award judge Ailidh Forlan – who is also involved in the Edinburgh Street Food Market. She now sees Leith as a serious food and drink hub: “Leith and Leith Walk are a real paradise for foodies.

“We aim to bring plenty of that spirit into Edinburgh Street Food Market – we’re an extension of the pavement really and you can walk straight in off the street. Leith and Leith Walk are where it’s at for eating and drinking in Edinburgh.”

BBC Radio DJ and Leith resident Vic Galloway is positive too when I meet him over lunch in Leith Depot. The setting is apt – this alternative culture hub, bar and restaurant thrives today after being saved by the community from being turned into flats.

The National: Vic GallowayVic Galloway (Image: Robin McKelvie)

Galloway too has just kicked off VITAMIN C, a new monthly club and gig residency.

The story of the community coming together is one I hear over and over in Leith – remember, Leith resoundingly rejected becoming part of Edinburgh in a referendum in 1920 (but was still incorporated into the capital) and that cohesive local passion still burns. Leith too had the highest proportion of EU residents in Edinburgh in the build-up to the Brexit Referendum, returning the highest Remain support.

“I really think Leith Walk could become Edinburgh’s Las Ramblas,” beams Galloway. “This is a real sense of culture and a palpable buzz, and with the trams, Leith Walk becomes a boulevard sweeping down to the water that you can easily hop up and down. It’s important things don’t change too quickly and we keep our soul, but Leith has always been careful with that.”

Leith’s soul is literally singing

I join Redolent, a young Edinburgh band who have just signed to Columbia, recording at the Post Electric Studio part-owned by Rod Jones of Edinburgh’s Idlewild. Young Fathers still live in Leith too, where their just-released album was recorded, and Hamish Hawk released his Leith-recorded album earlier this year.

There is excitement too about Leith’s Callum Easter.

Things have moved on a lot since The Proclaimers shot the video for Letter From America, their elegy to The Clearances and attack on Thatcherite economics, against a bleak Leith backdrop.

While Leith Walk is the scene of the greatest changes, The Shore is on the move too. When I visited the superb Heron back in February I said they deserved a Michelin star. At the helm are talented young chefs, Tomas Gormley and Sam Yorke, alongside Edgar Lumsden-Morris as pastry chef.

READ MORE: Pink Floyd's Roger Waters gig should be cancelled, says MP

In April they were awarded that star to pull them alongside Leith neighbours Martin Wishart and The Kitchin. Few cities I know savour three top-notch Michelin restaurants so alive with local produce, so close together.

It’s not just world-class restaurants either. There are a swirl of craft breweries – Campervan, Newbarns and uber-creative Pilot Beer (peach melba beer anyone?) – that not only brew here, but have set up taprooms in Leith.

Patrick Jones, Pilot Beer’s co-founder, tells me, “The Covid lockdowns were hard for everyone, but Leith really pulled together, all the independent businesses helped each other and worked with the community. That is the collaborative spirit we’re pushing on with as the trams finally arrive. Leith is on the up.”

Whisky is back too. Leith was once awash with whisky warehouses. The new star paying homage to those days is the Port of Leith Distillery – the UK’s first vertical distillery, a sleek black tower soaring above Leith’s expanding port and green energy hub.

The distillery swirls open this summer with tours, local produce and whisky tastings. On a hard hat tour, I climb up high above Leith, peering down on the tram artery that is finally injecting new life into Leith and Leith Walk.

For more information on Leith, head to Forever Edinburgh: www.edinburgh.org/neighbourhoods/leith