THOUGH formally now a suburb of Edinburgh, Portobello retains a look, feel and atmosphere all of its own.

Equal parts elegant, charming and quirky, “Porty” as the town is known, has a beautiful beach, proper seaside vibe, stunning views over the Forth and a fascinating history to explore. Popular with young families and commuters, and just three miles east of the city centre, it also has great independent cafes and shops, beautifully restored Victorian baths and a strong community spirit. Just don’t forget to bring your swimsuit.

Historic highlights

Populated by sailors and smugglers for centuries, Portobello is believed to be the place Oliver Cromwell held a meeting with Scots leaders in 1650. Previously known as Figgate Muir, the name changed to Portobello – “beautiful port” – in the 1740s, after a local cottage.

An industrial base that manufactured everything from bricks, pottery and glass, to lead, paper, soap and mustard, by the early 1800s the town had reinvented itself as a fashionable spa destination, catering for Edinburgh’s wealthy middle-classes, who built elegant houses there. In 1822, Walter Scott brought King George IV to Portobello beach to inspect troops.

The promenade was built in 1866, adding to the town's popularity with daytrippers from Edinburgh and Fife. The beach and the prom are still the focal point for the town, attracting year-round walkers, dogwalkers and pleasure-seekers, regardless of the weather.

Famous faces

Actors Ewen Bremner and Shauna Macdonald, TV presenter Gail Porter and music hall entertainer Sir Harry Lauder all hail from Portobello.

Things to do

On arrival, head straight for the seafront and find your bearings with a stroll along the promenade, taking full advantage of the views across to Fife and North Berwick Law. Keep your eyes peeled, too, for the skiffs of community rowing club Row Porty. If the weather is fine, you may wish to take a dip or at least throw off your shoes and put your toes in the sand. On Saturday August 31, listen out for the annual Big Beach Busk, where anyone can turn up and sing their heart out.

As you pass Figgate Lane, don’t miss the A-listed Tower, a summer house built in 1786 using medieval stones. The classic 99 cone is believed to have been created in an ice-cream parlour in Porty, and there are still plenty of places along the prom to enjoy one. You can also get excellent coffee at the Little Green Van.

Walking from the two old kilns, remnants of the town’s industrial past, you’ll come to Portobello Swim Centre, a gorgeous Victorian swimming pool and Turkish bath complex run by the council. Keep going to the lovely Community Garden, with its three pillars, then cut off on to the High Street.

The handsome Town Hall is the third to be built in Portobello (numbers one and two are now a church and police station respectively) and the surrounding streets are notable for the beautiful Georgian architecture. Other landmarks to look out for include Harry Lauder’s birthplace on Bridge Street, and Bellfield, the former church bought over by the community as a space for performing arts. Other culture hubs in the town include Tribe Porty on Windsor Place, and The Wash House community centre on Adelphi Grove.

Where to eat

For brunch, it’s hard to beat the Beach House Café on Bath Street. “Whether it’s smashed avocado, eggs benedict, porridge or pancakes, this place has it covered,” says Maria Bond. Nearby Butternut Squash is also popular with weekend brunchers, as is Miros on the Promenade.

If you love home-made bread, bagels and doughnuts, Porty is definitely the place to go. Twelve Triangles, on the High Street, serves stupendously good sandwiches and doughnuts. It’s dog friendly, too, so you can pop in for a quick bite before taking your pooch for a walk on the beach.

Bross, also on the High Street, has the tastiest bagels in Edinburgh – the pastrami, swiss cheese and sauerkraut is delicious – while Breadshare Community Bakery in Seafield Road offers courses and workshops in bread and pizza-making, as well as selling delicious home-made loaves, rolls, scones, cakes and tarts.

For a memorable evening meal, The Skylark, back on the High Street, offers a warm welcome and neighbourhood cooking at its very best. There’s often an exhibition of local art on the walls to admire while you eat, too.

Nearby Malvarosa, meanwhile, serves authentic Spanish cuisine, including an impressive selection of tapas. Fan Sally Jenkins says: “The best tapas and paella I’ve eaten outside Spain. Some lovely wines, too. And it’s great value for money.”

If it’s a fish supper you’re after, the award-winning St Andrews chippy, also on the High Street, doesn't disappoint.

Where to drink

A friendly and fun Porty institution, The Espy has been serving pints to generations of locals and visitors. Tasty food, too.

Further along the promenade, The Dalriada has two lovely beer gardens, a real fire and panoramic views across the Forth. It’s also a great place to catch live music.

On the High Street, The Galleon is lively, unpretentious and has an enviable jukebox. Further along the road, the cosy Guild of Foresters stocks an impressive range of real ales.

Where to shop

Portobello High Street has a fine selection of independent shops.

Friday Street Antiques is a must for fans of mid-century furniture, while Cove and Two Sisters sell quirky gifts, cards and accessories.

If it’s hip and obscure craft ales from around the world you’re after, Beer Zoo is the place.

Your four-legged friend can also get a beer in Porty thanks to Harry’s Gourmet Treats. As well as pet toys, blankets and accessories, there’s a full dog bakery with canine cupcakes, muffins and dog beer.

Look out, too, for the town’s new bookshop, due to open in the High Street on 24 July.

For vintage clothes, try Martha’s Attic on Brighton Place.

Where to stay

Architecture to admire: the Georgian Guest House, just a short walk from the beach, has high ceilings, big windows and a sweeping staircase. Rooms from £110.

Cute and compact: Ben the Hoose is a quirky, beautifully decorated one-bedroom apartment with its own patio and garden. From £75 a night via Airbnb.

Sea view: Airbnb also offers a number of beautifully appointed two-bedroom beach front flats, sleeping four to six. From £80 a night.

What to do nearby

Walk south along the seafront towards Joppa, and you’ll come across 400-year-old Rock Cottage, the oldest house in the area, lived in by generations of salters.

The hills, lochs, glens and ridges of Holyrood Park are only 40-minutes away on foot. A walk up the park’s main attraction, Arthur’s Seat, is never anything less than spectacular.

Craigentinny Golf Course has stunning views of Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill, not to mention some tricky par threes. Just a 10-minute drive from Porty.