Though Trainspotting is applauded as one of the best Edinburgh-set movies – and one of the finest films of the 1990s – it wasn’t entirely filmed in the Scottish capital. In fact, the only flashes of the city we see in Danny Boyle’s decade-defining flick take up just three minutes of screen time – if that. Instead, director and crew travelled 45 miles west to Glasgow, a stand-in so convincing even locals couldn’t tell where one city began and the other ended. But what do the locations look like today? Do they still exist? Can I visit them? Well, some you can and some you can’t. After all, a lot can happen in 20 years.
Get the latest from the BFI
Sign up for BFI news, features, videos and podcasts.
The chase down Princes Street
The breathless opening scene, with Renton and Spud sprinting away from security guards, their ill-gotten gains spilling on the pavement behind them, was one of a handful of scenes shot in Edinburgh. The drug-afflicted antiheroes bolt down Princes Street, one of the city’s busiest high streets. Behind them, you can spot an old M&S, which still stands today, though its façade and logo has had a crisp makeover. But the Scottish newsagent they’re fleeing from – John Menzies – closed its doors in 1998 and was replaced with a Zara. Today, looking westward down the street, with the same grey sky looming above, it’s hard not to hear a loud echo of the opening drums to Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust for Life’.
Later in the film, Boyle cuts back to the moment leading up to the chase, right before they enter John Menzies on Princes Street. Framed in one of those wonky ‘Dutch’ angles the director is famed for, the gang crosses the road, with Edinburgh Castle looming above them. Since filming, stores have come and gone in the high street, and the main difference now is the arrival of the tram, which first opened in 2014. But opposite, in Princes Street Gardens, the Ross Fountain, The Royal Scots Greys Monument and, of course, the castle remain the same.
The chase continues on Hanover Street in front of the Royal Scottish Academy and a crowd of what we can only presume are stunned shoppers, unwitting extras in Boyle’s cult movie. The scene captures the daily bustle of the high street, as buses whiz past in the background and shoppers lug their bags along the pavement. It’s a far cry from the Google Street View image of today, captured in the early hours, where no one but a besuited man strolls, presumably after a long night out. But the buildings remain the same, and the location remains intact.
The last glimpse of Edinburgh we get is where the chase ends, underneath Regent Bridge. A car rams into Renton, and Spud sprints under the bridge, back towards Princes Street. In the distance you can see Edinburgh Waverley station, which is obviously still there. As for Calton Road, the small bar that they run past is now known as Pivo, a night spot with an Eastern European theme. It’s also interesting to note that the street from which the car emerges to stop Renton is actually a tiny driveway, not a through road as you may have presumed. Well played, Boyle.
In this old-school Glasgow diner (which wouldn’t look out of place in a Tarantino movie), Spud enjoys a milkshake and a little pep talk from Renton before his job interview. Still standing today, sandwiched between ‘The Codfather’ and a tiny launderette, Café D’Jaconelli and its nostalgic interior hasn’t changed much over the last 20 years. That’s probably because it knows to give the fans what they want: simply the feeling of being in the same café as Spud and Renton. Presumably the strawberry milkshake is the top seller here.
Volcano, the club where Renton meets schoolgirl Diane, was a real club in Glasgow, on Benalder street in Partick Cross. It used to be called Cinders Disco and, as in the film, it played music like Blondie and Heaven 17. But not now. Now it’s a big block of luxury flats – so often the case with lost movie locations, and especially the case with nightclubs, dropping like flies as they are. All traces of the 90s club scene have been erased from the area. It’s hard to imagine Renton and co hanging out here today, let alone underage schoolgirls out clubbing.
Not far from Volcano is Diane’s school in Jordanhill, where she threatens to call the police if Renton doesn’t see her again. They walk alongside the fence to the school gate, which still stands today. The lamp-posts are a bit rustier now, but you’d definitely recognise the filming location and observe where Boyle placed his camera. It’s a solid stop on the Trainspotting tour of Scotland; a good place to thrust your iPhone in the air and snap a selfie. If you’re that kind of fan, that is.