The Trainspotting Guide to Edinburgh


Edinburgh is a city of literature; there’s no denying that. It’s hard to walk through the Southside without encountering a coffee shop claiming to be the place where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter, and with the dark gothic spires of the old town rising above you it’s easy to see where Robert Louis Stevenson got his inspiration for Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Of course, the most famous literary export of Scotland’s capital might be the one that discourages most trips to Edinburgh. There’s no denying that Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh’s ode to 1980s drug culture, is a cult classic. Take a Trainspotting tour of Edinburgh to discover a world far away from the tartan tat and bagpipers of the Royal Mile. The novel was set in the notorious Leith district, which can be reached by walking past the St James’s Center or by jumping on a Lothian bus.

Lust for Life

But first you’re going to need to re-enact the famous first five minutes of the film (one that you probably won’t be shown on Easyjet). For that, you’re going to have to head towards the hub of Edinburgh’s action: Princes Street. As Edinburgh’s shopping district, you might think it will be difficult to cut a clear path for a jaunty run ala Renton and Co. But fear not: the bungled tramline has put paid to city center visitors, and footfall on Princes Street has lowered dramatically since 2009. Cut up Hanover Street  like the Skag Boys did and admire the view of the art gallery below. At the top of Leith Street you’ll find the Black Bull pub: run straight down the stairs to find the backstreet where Renton tumbled over a car.


Leith Central Station

Trainspotting takes its name from a chapter in the novel where two of the characters are “train spotting in Leith Central Station”, a task which is actually impossible as the station was closed down in 1952 and during the 80s was a squalid husk of a building where homeless people would sleep. The station itself isn’t there anymore, although the architecture remains; in its place you’ll find a children’s swimming pool and a Tesco supermarket. If you stand at the Kirkgate Center across the road and look towards the clock you’ll have some idea of how the station looked in its heydey.

The Volley

“Picture the scene: The other week there, doon the Volley with Tommy, playing pool…” we all remember how Begbie’s rant against a “specky wee gadge” begins. Unfortunately if you fancy playing a game of pool in The Volley (The Volunteer Arms pub) you might have to wait a while, as the building fell victim to a fire in 2012. There are plenty of other pubs where you can enjoy the Trainspotting atmosphere, however: try the Port o’ Leith on Constitution Street. It’s widely acknowledged in Edinburgh that Welsh’s ‘Sunshine Bar’ was based on this notorious Leith boozer.

Yuppiefied Leith

Irvine Welsh recently complained about Leith becoming ‘yuppiefied’ and this was the subject of Trainspotting’s sequel, Porno. If you want to see exactly what Welsh was griping about, and enjoy a fine meal and a drink without getting your head kicked in, head down to the Shore area. The waterfront development is a combination of new flats, wine bars, and Michelin Star restaurants. It’s hard to believe that only twenty years ago it was Edinburgh’s tolerance zone, where prostitutes and drug dealers prowled freely.


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