When Ewan McGregor’s Mark Renton returns to Edinburgh after 20 years away in T2 Trainspotting, he soon discovers little has really changed for those he left behind.
Sick Boy might go by his Christian name of Simon, but he’s still hooked on the same heady mix of crime and narcotics. Spud is now a father, but remains the loveable heroin addict from two decades ago, while Francis “Franco” Begbie is still a very scary bastard.
Edinburgh has changed though and it’s only for the better. Embracing the same urban renewal seen across so many parts of the UK, it’s become a city that celebrates its past while looking to the future.
In that sense, it embodies the appeal of T2 Trainspotting to anyone who saw the original. Everything is a bit older and wiser but still offering plenty in the way of nostalgic sights and sounds for anyone with a lust for life.
So if, like us here at loaded, you still want to choose life and dive head first into the Trainspotting experience on offer across the Scottish capital, here are just a few handy things you can start with.
The Trainspotting Run
Take a walk down Edinburgh’s iconic Princes Street and memories of Renton, Sick Boy and Spud running at full pelt down this iconic stretch in Edinburgh are sure to come flooding back.
But it’s not the only bit of road to feature in that mad dash – you’ll have to head to Calton Road to find the spot where Renton nearly ends up being hit by a car and what most probably don’t realise is that that latter stretch is actually a dead end.
No run around Edinburgh would be complete without a lap of the Royal Mile, and a potential pit stop in one of the many bars and eateries that now occupy an area that will be familiar to Fringe Festival goers. Slip down another side street and you also come onto Victoria Street, which ranks among the most beautiful on offer in the city and has come a long way since the 1800s, when the street’s foul stench could be smelled for miles around.
The appeal of running through these famous cobbled streets is not lost on locals either, with a raft of running tours on offer and the city offering eye-catching, if slightly exhausting, experiences for Trainspotting fans.
Cocktails At Harvey Nichols
After a wash and relax at the Indigo, it’s on to Harvey Nichols on St Andrew Square, and up to the fourth floor for cocktails and conversation.
It’s here, sat close to the bar’s balcony seating area, that Mark begins to explain to Veronika in T2 Trainspotting about the boys’ “Choose Life” mantra, in arguably one of the most powerful moments in Danny Boyle’s follow-up film.
It’s also a scene that took some 13 takes to master, with Boyle and McGregor debating several different versions of the scene before settling on the powerfully bleak version present in the film that might have you questioning every life choice you ever made.
Fortunately, the stunning views of the surrounding city are on hand, alongside a menu offering everything from locally-sourced cocktails to North Sea oysters, to cheer you up.
The Grassmarket Pub Crawl
This historic market place in the Old Town of Edinburgh features briefly in T2 Trainspotting but remains a must-visit destination for anyone seeking a pint alongside a little bit of the city’s dark history.
It’s here that people used to gather for public executions, as was the norm back in the day and the square also boasts an impressive array of pubs that have stayed in place for centuries since and come with their own fascinating stories.
Chief among these is The White Hart Inn, which was first established in 1516 and whose past visitors include Robert Burns and William Wordsworth.
It’s also the place where infamous murderers Burke and Hare picked up their victims, often befriending them before taking them back to their lodgings to be murdered. Their bodies were then sold on to Dr Knox to be dissected by medical students. They were eventually caught and hanged in the square.
Arthur’s Seat and Holyrood Park
Some 350 million years ago Arthur’s Seat was an active volcano, which goes some way to explaining why the city itself is so hilly.
It’s just as well too, otherwise, Danny Boyle would have never been able to use it as the setting for arguably one of the brighter spots in T2 Trainspotting, with Mark taking Spud off on a run across the hills as a means of helping his old friend fight his addiction.
Alongside Holyrood Park, it’s as scenic a spot as you are likely to find, offering incredible views of the entire city, including Edinburgh Castle, to anyone willing to traverse the challenging terrain.
Like Spud, you’ll break a sweat for sure, but it’s all worth it for what you find at the top. With some 650 acres to explore either as part of a jog or walk, it’s the sort of experience that reminds you there’s more to life that screens and substances.
A Night In The Cav
No trip to Edinburgh would be complete without a visit to The Cav, where T2 Trainspotting’s main club scene was filmed, using extras who volunteered themselves for an entire day’s worth of filming and had the club literally bouncing – something of a tradition during big nights at the venue.
With the original film’s Volcano over in Glasgow and long since shut down, The Cav stands as a monument to the good old days of clubbing and is well worth a visit, even if it’s just to stop and stare and the club’s toilets – the scene of Begbie’s first reunion with Mark.
Danny Boyle actually visited the site on his own, on a busy night, to get a feel for the place and immediately saw it as fitting in with the Trainspotting ethos. Boasting a 60-year history and multiple dancefloors that include one 70s-inspired light up effort and the kind of sticky carpets to get nostalgic about, this is an absolute gem in Edinburgh’s nightlife crown.
Visiting The Port of Leith
Last but not least, a trip to the nearby Port of Leith provides an eye-opening look at the very essence of what made Irvine Welsh and Trainspotting in the first place and how things have changed since.
Once an area synonymous with drug problems – the number 14 bus was once referred to as the Methadone Express – Leith has undergone major changes with much of the social housing seen in the first film demolished and the area now a haven for fine dining and scenic nights out.
Leith Central Station, a derelict and disused site visited by Renton and Begbie in the novel and a key reason behind the book’s name, is now a Tesco supermarket, while there’s more green space and redevelopment in a move akin to the changes seen around London’s own dockland area.
Thankfully, some things haven’t changed, like the array of local pubs offering near-round-the-clock boozing to locals working irregular shift patterns.
With the pub from Begbie’s infamous pint chuck in Trainspotting over in Glasgow and long since turned into a restaurant, a quick pint in the Port O’Leith comes highly recommended and is rightly regarded as the spiritual home of the book and film, with Welsh a semi-regular.
Fingers crossed you see him in there – he’s got a habit of buying a round…
Trainspotting is out now on Blu-ray and DVD – head over to Visit Scotland to find out more about Edinburgh and tourism north of the border.