The BEST cafes in Edinburgh for people watching

People watching in Edinburgh is a delight, it’s my favourite activity, my specialist subject and I could do it all day, every day, anywhere.

I am excited to share with you, the best people watching cafes in the city. As a general rule I try and support small and only use chains when I have some work to do and want to sit for a few hours. I don’t like to take up that valuable space in an independent shop. Edinburgh has some of the most beautiful buildings and the views are something else.

I am fascinated by people on their daily commutes. I love watching tourists arrive in the city and instantly lift their heads when they exit the station. The look in their eyes as they see a 200ft monument right out the gate and buildings that date back to the 12th century. I get a wee pang of jealousy that people are getting to see it for the first time and wonder what that excitement must feel like.

Starbucks Princes Street
My most asked for ‘where is this cafe’ on my instagram. I can almost hear the sigh of disappointment from the other side of the phone when I say it’s a Starbucks, but it has one of the BEST views in the city. You can see Princes Street, the Castle is right in front of you, framed by beautiful vintage windows. Don’t worry if you don’t get a window seat, the cafe space is pretty big and you can see the Castle from almost any seat.

National Museum of Scotland
It’s window view to the world outside is almost obscured by large gallery walls, but you can watch people roam around the museum while you enjoy your cup of tea, their scones are pretty good too. People from all walks of life visit the museum and you’ll never be short of something fun to see while you take a minute from exploring.

Sir Walter’s Cafe
This one sits right in the middle of Princes Street gardens. It’s outdoor seating is filled to the brim in the summer but you can get a wee spot on a near by bench or wall. It’s great to people watch in the gardens all year round. Especially on a blustery autumn day. The Scottish are never phased by the weather and we’ll enjoy a hot drink outside rain or shine. This is my favourite for autumn.

Burr & Co
This is a festive favourite. Burr & Co sits on the opposite of George Street from The Dome. It’s ideal during November & December when you can sit by the window and watch everyone run up and down the steps taking their festive family shots in front of the decorations.

Thomas J Walls
Between Old town and the Meadows, this spot has quite a bit of footfall. It’s a walk through from student accommodation to the university and the street is often a bustling one. It’s a cafe that’s often overlooked so a window seat is usually quite easy to get. Of course a rainy day is my favourite to sit by a window, but on drier days they will have seating available outside too.

Waterstones Princes Street
The spaces by the windows here are limited, but you can grab a new book while you wait on a prime spot, just a few doors along from Starbucks, but with the same impressive view. It not only has window seats but a balcony view too. I have NEVER managed to get a window seat here, may the odds be in your favour!

Wellington Coffee
Don’t let the fact that this one looks like it’s in a basement but you off, its an inconspicuous little window seat that gives you a sneaky peek onto George Street. You can people watch without being noticed and sit as long as you fancy. They do a pretty good English breakfast and people watching inside the cafe was just as fun as outside when I visited.

Starbucks Royal Mile
A view straight down Cockburn street and a clear view of the Royal Mile, you can sit here and hear the piper play the Skye Boat song over the bustle of the heart of the city. This cafe is open until around 9pm, where you can watch the stragglers under the festive lights. It’s an excellent spot all year round a one of my favourites for catching up on emails.

The Milkman
Would it be any kind of coffee list if this one wasn’t on it? I promise I am NOT on commission. Both venues at either end of the street are excellent for people watching. The bottom shop is my favourite one and I LOVE how many of you spot me and say hello when I am here, I think I will always be a permanent fixture in this window seat. It catches the tourists fresh from the station with their bags. The little shoulders dropping and the visible sighs when they are faced with those stairs to get to their hotels. (top tip, you can walk around and it will take you to the same place if you want to avoid 200 steep stairs).

This is a list that will be ever growing, I’ve worked on it for a while sharing the best ones for you with the festive season approaching.

If you do visit any I’d love you to share your favourite, or tag me so I can see your excellent stories on socials! Have fun!

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