Edinburgh, Scotland is one of those iconic cities that travelers love on a deep level. With a rich history, tales of captivating Queens, and a people that welcome you with open arms, a laugh, and a pint, it’s no surprise that Edinburgh is atop many a traveler’s list.
Edinburgh’s Old Town is steeped in a gritty past, whereas New Town (which is still 200 years old), is full of classic Georgian architecture and opulent style, and both are split by the stunning Princes Street gardens, forming a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also recognized as a UNESCO City of Literature for all the great, creative minds that have sprung forth from it and brought us many classics.
From wandering down cobblestone streets to exploring hidden courtyards and hunting ghosts to ascending one or all of its seven hills for captivating views over the city and beyond, Edinburgh has a wealth of things to do and see.
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Getting To & Around Edinburgh
Edinburgh is a very accessible city, regardless of whether you’re arriving by plane, train, or bus. If arriving by plane, Edinburgh’s main airport is approximately a 20 to 25-minute taxi ride to the city center and will cost you around £20. There is also a tram running every 10 minutes with a cost of £5 one way or £8 return and takes around 35 minutes. There are also various bus options: the Airlink Bus (cost of £7.50 return), or the Lothian Bus 35 and Lothian Night Bus N22 (cost of £1.50 one way).
Another popular way to get to Edinburgh is by train. It has two main stations: Waverly Station and Haymarket Station. If arriving from London, you’re most likely to come into Waverly, which is right in the heart of the city.
There are various methods of getting around the city (walking being the most popular), especially if you are staying in New Town or Old Town. Most of Edinburgh’s main attractions are within walking distance. If you’re staying just outside the center or looking to make a trip to Leith, hopping on a bus is easy and affordable at £1.50 – but be sure to have exact change. There is also a day savers pass, cost of £4, and it’s good for unlimited use that day and can be purchased at travel shops, ticket vending machines, or aboard the bus.
An alternative option for getting around is renting a bike. Prices vary by time and company, with the average from £12 to £20 per day, while prices per day decrease the longer you rent it for.
Tips for Tourists in Edinburgh
1. It’s all in how you say it!
One of the biggest tips I can give you for your visit to Edinburgh is to learn how to say it correctly. For some reason, we as North Americans tend to pronounce it Edin”borough” (bur-oh) but the correct pronunciation is Edin”burra”. This will get you a lot farther with locals.
2. Pack/Dress Accordingly
Like most islands and coastal cities, weather can be unpredictable. You may find rain, cool winds, sun and warmth all in one day. Hence the phrase, “if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes.” So, be sure to pack accordingly with a good rain jacket and try dressing in layers to prepare for both cool and warm weather. For optimal weather, I suggest visiting during the month of May.
3. Don’t Miss the Views
Wherever we travel, many of us are on the hunt for where to find the best views, and Edinburgh has a wealth of great sites that offer awesome views. For views over Edinburgh and Leith, head to the top of Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill, Edinburgh Castle, the Albert Memorial, and the Walter Scott Memorial.
4. Check Out the Festivals
Edinburgh is home to some of the world’s best festivals. August is prime time for festivals, with the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and the astounding Royal Military Tattoo that takes place in front of the castle and brings musical artists from around the world together with military performances and pyrotechnics. At the end of the year, there is Hogmanay, a New Year’s celebration that is one of a kind and lasts for days with a street party, concerts in the gardens, a torchlight procession and more! But if you plan on attending or visiting Edinburgh during these times, be sure to book far in advance.
Things to do in Edinburgh
1. Edinburgh Castle
A trip to Edinburgh is not complete without a visit to Edinburgh’s Castle. This isn’t a typical castle in ruins. The Edinburgh Castle sits center-stage on a volcanic plug, making up one of the city’s seven hills. The Castle is very much intact and has a wealth of buildings to explore. From the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh (St. Margaret’s Chapel) to the oldest crown jewels in the British Isles, and the grand Great Hall to the traditional one o’clock gun salute, the Edinburgh Castle will transport you back in time!
2. Botanical Gardens
Edinburgh’s Botanical Gardens is set on 70 acres and is home to plants from around the world. It is home to greenhouses with over 3,000 plants from various climatic zones, and it has one of the largest collections of plants in the world. Here you’ll have another view over Edinburgh and a chance to breathe in the sweet, fresh smells of fragrant flowers and feel like you’re anywhere but in the city.
Free. Take bus 8, 23 or 27.
3. Calton Hill
One of Edinburgh’s hills is Calton Hill, which offers fantastic views over Edinburgh and is only a five-minute walk up a flight of stairs. Located at the east end of Princes Street, Calton Hill is home to the National Monument, which is molded on the Parthenon in Athens, the Nelson Monument, the 1800’s City Observatory, an obelisk that is the Political Martyrs Monument, and monuments to writer Robert Burns and philosopher Dugald Stewart.
4. National Museum of Scotland
If the free price of admission isn’t incentive enough, perhaps the wealth of history, from the mysterious miniature coffins found on the slopes of Arthur’s Seat in 1836, to the first successful clone of a mammal – Dolly the sheep (who is now stuffed), and galleries with meteorites to dinosaurs will draw you in, especially on a rainy day! This museum has it all, with over 800 items, a rooftop restaurant, a café, and even a quiet little rooftop garden with views of the city. Edinburgh is home to plenty of museums, many of which are free! Other free museums include the Scottish National Gallery and Writers Museum.
5. Ghost Walk
Edinburgh is considered one of the most haunted cities in the world! With plenty of ghost walks to choose from, you’ll have a good chance at experiencing some sort of strange occurrence or paranormal activity while you’re chasing phantoms. You might even run into one of the most popular ghosts of Edinburgh – Bloody Mackenzie, who haunts the famed Greyfriars graveyard and Covenanters Prison.
Prices range from £10 to £15.
6. The Palace of Holyroodhouse
Commonly referred to as Holyrood Palace, this is the official Scottish residence of the British Queen and has been home to the kings and queens of Scotland since the 16th century. Here you can visit fourteen historic apartments, the ruins of the 12th century Holyrood Abbey, 10 acres of gardens, and the Queen’s Gallery, which is home to part of the Royal Collection.
Price £12. Take bus 6 or 35.
7. Indulge in the City’s Literary History
Edinburgh is a UNESCO City of Literature with such strong, deep ties to the books and authors we love both past and present, and it is a treasure trove of sights and hidden gems straight out of a Potter novel. There is the Writers Museum, with rooms paying homage to Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Burns. If you’re up for a tour, check out Alan Foster’s Book Lovers’ Tour, which will take you to sights that helped shape some of our favorite characters like Sherlock Holmes, and where current authors like Ian Rankin grab a pint, and where Harry Potter was penned.
8. Explore secret courtyards
Edinburgh has quite the selection of charming and strange alleyways. The Scottish term for these is ‘close,’ of which there are over 70 in the Old Town. Some lead to dead ends, while others emerge into courtyards, and all are named.
The names of each close stem from either a memorable resident or trade. A couple of popular ones include Lady Stair’s Close, which will take you to the Writers Museum, and Mary King’s Close, which is said to be haunted. Curious and interested in learning more? There are walking tours of these alleyways, to show you these secret passageways and learn of their tales.
9. Hike Arthur’s Seat
For nature lovers and hikers alike, a visit to Edinburgh is not complete without a hike up to Arthur’s Seat. There are around half a dozen different paths up to the peak with varying degrees of difficulty. However you manage to ascend Arthur’s Seat, you will be rewarded with breathtaking views over Edinburgh and beyond. But note to hikers: make sure to wear proper footwear, as many paths are uneven and could be wet and hazardous, and check for path closures. Also, be mindful of weather conditions, as trails can wash out and become very dangerous in heavy rains.
10. Enjoy street performers
Sometimes one of the best parts of visiting a city is checking out its street performers. In Edinburgh, you’ll find some of the world’s best, from solo acoustic performers to classic bagpipers. Where can you find them? Head to the Royal Mile and you’ll for sure find some of the city’s great performers, and I’m sure you’ll love their awesome tunes! Enjoy the performance? Be kind and throw them some cash; it will be greatly appreciated!
For more on Edinburgh, read about our highlights of Edinburgh in 48 hours.
Where to Stay in Edinburgh
Budget – Castle Rock Hostel
Located near the Edinburgh Castle and in a historic building itself, Castle Rock Hostel is immensely popular among budget travelers. Along with a prime location, the hostel offers free Wi-Fi, breakfast for a small fee, and also has an on-site restaurant and pub. Other great facilities include a self-service laundry, 24-hour reception, tour desk, and it is also near the bus station. Dorm rooms start at £11.
Mid-Range – Tune Hotel Haymarket
The Tune Hotel Haymarket is located across from the Haymarket train station, near an airport bus stop and convenience stores and restaurants. It’s also only a 10-minute walk from Princes Street and a 15-minute walk from the Edinburgh Castle. This hotel is a great option for the budget traveler looking for privacy and comfort at an affordable price. This is a no-frills hotel that offers extras like a television, Wi-Fi, and breakfast at an extra cost to help keep the cost of the rooms reasonable. The best part is each room has a 5-star bed, which is incredible. Rooms start at £39 per night.