Orderly streets with a charming residential character occupy the former haunt of smugglers and Victorian sunbathers who came to take the waters of the Firth of Forth. Portobello’s popularity as a fashionable summer resort created a profusion of brick and stone buildings in graceful Edwardian and Victorian styles along the beaches. A landmark clocktower rises above the sandstone pile more private manor house than police station, and the most famous stamp of all is the two-storey Portobello Baths complex standing on the water’s edge. Slow decline through the last century erased gentility under splashy funfairs and amusement parks doomed by mini-breaks to warmer, if not sunnier, destinations. Recent revivals wiped away all but two amusement arcades confined to a dull stretch of the promenade where youths loiter about in front of touristy junk shops.
Portobello has become a bedroom community for Edinburgh today, but its wide, sandy beach and boardwalk promenade attract residents in droves. Colourful petunias and marigolds fringe the roundabouts and newly planted trees brighten housing estates attractive to young families and immigrants. Indian restaurants and Turkish nail parlours are slowly advancing into the Victorian pleasure palaces to match the changing face of the populace. Locally famed festivals fill high street and spill out onto the waterfront at all major holidays. Small craft bob alongside the quays at the Rowing and Sailing Club, a low plastered building that hosts weddings and private events.