LESS than 20 minutes’ walk from the centre of Edinburgh, Abbeyhill, which sits below Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill, is still something of a hidden gem. At first glance it can appear rather quiet in comparison to other districts of the city, but take a couple of hours to wander the streets of this ancient neighbourhood and you’ll discover an under-appreciated part of the capital that is steeped in history, has plenty of character and is close to some of Auld Reekie’s most iconic landmarks.

Historical highlights

One of Edinburgh’s oldest areas, Abbeyhill takes its name from Holyrood Abbey, built in the 12th-century and about a five-minute walk from London Road. The Abbey’s next-door neighbour is the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s official residence in Scotland, which means a visit allows you to tick off other big landmarks in the vicinity, including Queen Mary’s Bath House and poet William Knox’s grave.

The area is a mixture of classic Edinburgh tenements, Georgian town houses, the “colonies”, a Victorian housing development. Wander down Milton Street and you’ll come across Tytler Garden and Tytler Court, named after James Tytler, who made the first British hot-air balloon flight from this area in August 1784.

It took two days for his balloon to reach a height of about 350-feet and he managed to travel half a mile to Restalrig, which at the time was a village outside the city.

On the north side of London Road you’ll find the Abbeyhill Colonies. Due to a working hour dispute in 1861, a group of builders were locked out of their building site for three months. This group of plumbers, stonemasons, and plasterers rallied together to form The Edinburgh Co-operative Building Company Ltd (ECBC).

This co-operative spirit was reflected in the homes they built; double four room flats, one above and below, each with their own main door, external toilet and garden. Due to the nearby railway line, the colonies were traditionally home to a large number of railway workers.

It is with these same ideals that The Colony of Artists Exhibition launched in 2005.

Their annual exhibition, held every September, opens up colony homes and venues to exhibit art, with the aim of bringing the community together.

What to do

Head west along London Road, laid out in the 1820s as a thoroughfare between the east and west. At Hillside Crescent Gardens lives The Manuscript of Monte Cassino, by renowned Scots-Italian artist and Edinburgh local Eduardo Paolozzi.

The larger-than-life bronze sculptures of a hand, foot and ankle were designed for passers-by to sit on and children to play on, simultaneously exploring the destruction of war while offering messages of peace and hope.

Across the road is London Road Gardens, designed in 1819 by architect William Playfair as an “informal recreational space”. With the noise of the road filtered out by the trees, it’s the perfect city oasis.

From the Gardens, walk up Greenside path to Calton Hill – which many locals reckon has a better view than Arthur’s Seat – and immediately you’ll be greeted by another of Playfair’s designs, The National Monument of Scotland. Built in the 1820s as a memorial to Scottish soldiers and sailors who died during the Napoleonic wars, it is modelled on the Parthenon in Athens, but was left unfinished due to lack of funds.

Calton Hill, home to the city’s first observatory in the mid-18th century, is often described as the birthplace of astronomy in Edinburgh.

Although rebuilt a number of times over the centuries, the City Observatory we see today was also designed by Playfair and inspired by Greek architecture. Since 2012, arts organisation The Collective, alongside City of Edinburgh Council, has led the transformation of this UNESCO heritage site into a contemporary arts hub and gallery.

Showing until the 24th November is Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa’s film Promised Lands, which examines differing world views in the wake of colonialism in east Africa.

It is all downhill from here as you make your way down the back of Calton Hill and onto Regent Road. Crafty types will want to pop into We Make, which offers a range of workshops making everything from terrazzo coasters to a festive wreaths.

Like their neighbours Mud Station Pottery, they also offer space to celebrate birthdays and other special occasions. Or, if you green-fingered, The Narcissus Flower School is just down the road.

Where to eat

One of Edinburgh’s best for brunching is Red Kite Café on Cadzow Place. Grab a bar seat at the window and enjoy a traditional Scottish breakfast or one of their seasonal specials while watching the world go by.

Resident Emily Liddle recommends fans of Indian and Nepalese cuisine pay a visit to Gautams Restaurant. Will Jones, meanwhile, is a huge fan of Polentoni at the top end of Easter Road, which offers traditional Italian home-cooking with “hearty portions, always delicious, lovely service and I’m always surprised at how cheap it is.”

Satisfy your sweet cravings at Manna House Bakery and Patisserie at the top of Easter Road.

Their raspberry tarts are baked fresh every day and are difficult to share. For excellent coffee, pop into Little Fitzroy, Think Pastry or BABA RISTA.

For a relaxed drink, The Safari Lounge and the LGBT-friendly Regent Bar on Montrose Terrace are popular with locals. If it’s gluten-free beer you’re after, the Bellfield Taproom – the UK’s first gluten-free microbrewery – is nearby.

Where to shop

If you’re after general homeware and eco-friendly cleaning products, the surprisingly cool Century General Store is the place to go.

A welcome new addition to the area is Easter Greens, a plant-based grocery shop at the top of Easter Road.

A few doors down is gift boutique, Cloud 9, which has a range of lovely cards, jewellery and plants.

Their home store House is across the road and stocks all the extras you need to bring a home to life - needless to say it’s ceramic bowl and textile heaven.

Where to stay

Affordable Luxury: The No11 Brasserie & Boutique Hotel on Brunswick Street offers a luxurious stay in a Georgian townhouse, with rooms from £100 a night.

Chic and picturesque: An executive apartment at 24 Royal Terrace starts at £139 a night.

Make yourself at home: There are plenty of Airbnbs in this area. A double bed in a private room on a pleasant colony street comes in at around £45 a night.

What to do nearby

Lucy Cardwell, who runs a skincare business in the area, recommends going for a walk around St Margaret’s Loch to say a “wee hello” to the swans. From here you can take an off-piste route up the back of Arthur’s Seat and compare the view with Calton Hill.

It’s less than 30-minutes to Portobello Beach by bus. Grab some fresh sea air and watch the sunset with a poke of chips.

For a free history of the city, take the short walk up the Royal Mile from Holyrood Abbey to the Museum of Edinburgh.