Are you thinking of visiting Edinburgh soon? That’s great! Despite the often dreary weather, the Scottish capital is an incredibly welcoming, fun place to explore. Packed with history and culture, this vibrant city is home to many festivals and events throughout the year (and especially in August). You will find interesting museums, castles and royal palaces and much more.
However, being such a beautiful city Edinburgh can get crowded, and being in the United Kingdom, it can be more expensive than you’d wish. If it is your first time there, there are some things you should definitely know before going as they will help you plan your visit. Don’t worry though – I have been there twice and I am about to share all my useful tips for visiting Edinburgh.
Speaking of the UK – here are a few words of warning: remember that Edinburgh is in Scotland, not England, and that together with Wales and Northern Ireland they are part of the United Kingdom. You’ll actually hurt locals’ feelings if you refer to Scotland and even the UK as simply England (it’s a common mistake here in Italy, so I thought I thought I should let you know).
Make sure to also read my post The Best Things To Do In Edinburgh.
The Best Tips For Visiting Edinburgh
The best time to visit Edinburgh
In theory, any time is a good time to visit Edinburgh – there’s always something to do, a festival to attend, an interesting exhibit at a museum etc. The main issue when visiting Edinburgh may be the weather. No matter the season, you may have sun, rain, wind and what not. I was very lucky to have bright sunny days on both my visits – and I actually went in late fall both times! But I have heard plenty of horror stories of persistent rain and bitterly cold days.
All in all, the best time to visit Edinburgh if you want to have better chances of good weather is the summer – that’s also when days are much longer, which means you have more light and time to explore.
August is a very good month if you are into festivals – this is when Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh Military Tattoo and Edinburgh Fringe Festival take place. The main issue with visiting Edinburgh during festival season is that it can get very crowded and the prices of accommodation tend to go up – you’d have to book well ahead of your visit for a better deal.
Late spring (May or June) or early fall (September and October) are also good. There will be less tourists compared to the summer months, the days will still be very long (daylight savings is on until the end of October), and it’s usually a bit cheaper. If you visit in the fall, you may even be able to get a bit of foliage.
Finally, if the cold doesn’t bother you, you could visit for Hogmanay, a massive festival that takes place on New Year. Fireworks, people dancing (and drinking) in the streets, live music and much more are all part of the fun, if you like this kind of celebration. Once again, however, the city can be very crowded!
Dress for success
No matter when you are planning on visiting Edinburgh, you should plan to pack so that you can dress in layers and have clothing for any season – and this pretty much applies to any season. Items that should not be missing in your suitcase include:
- A good pair of walking shoes – in fact, you could consider bringing a pair of water proof cross trainer / light hiking shoes as they are way better for walking on the slippery cobbled streets when it rains.
- A waterproof jacket – this can be heavier or lighter depending on when you are traveling. You could even throw in a light poncho, for measure.
- A folding umbrella – personally I am not a fan of walking around crowded cities in umbrellas, but if the rain is persistent and you need to walk from one place to another, it may be helpful.
How many days in Edinburgh?
A weekend in Edinburgh is enough time to see all the main sights. I spent three days the first time I visited and found it was enough to get a good idea of the city and visit all the main attractions.
However, if you are planning on venturing out of the city, of course you will need longer. Edinburgh is also well positioned to visit Glasgow, which is just an hour away by train or car. Alternatively, you go on a road trip to the West of Scotland or the North Coast 500.
Book attractions in advance
Edinburgh is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United Kingdom. With so many tourists, it’s inevitable that the most popular tourist attractions will be packed and there’ll be a line at the ticket counter. This means that planning is key, and wherever possible you should book your visit in advance – either getting tickets or guided tours.
You can get your tickets for the Edinburgh Dungeon on the official website here.
You can get your tickets for the Camera Obscura in advance here.
The same actually goes for restaurants and even pubs on occasions. If you are keen on eating somewhere specific, give them a call or send an email before going to avoid showing up only to find out you can’t be accommodated – in fact, booking a week or two in advance may be even better for some places.
Go on a guided tour
If this is your first trip to Edinburgh, you may actually be better off joining a guided tour to get at least acquainted with the city. There are many you can pick from – specific tours of attractions that will include a skip-the-line ticket, walking tours of the city, and even day trips to outer destinations (more about that below). Here is a selection of tours you may want to consider:
Free walking tour of the old town – it takes you around Edinburgh to see the highlights of the old town. The best tour is with City Explorer – remember that while the tour is free, you are expected to leave a tip for the guide.
You can also sign up for this Edinburgh Old Town tour – it’s a great way to get to know a bit more about its history.
Royal Mile walking tour – it goes along the famous Royal Mile to take in all the sights and admire the many attractions along the way.
Real Mary King’s Close tour – it’s a fun tour of underground Edinburgh, to discover a lesser known part of the city. You can book it here.
Harry Potter tour – it’s a great tour if you are visiting Edinburgh with kids, as it goes to all the places that inspired J. K. Rowling to write her books. You can book it here.
To try the national drink you should join The Scotch Whisky Experience. You can book it here.
Get out of town
Edinburgh is actually a great base to explore many other places in Scotland, so if you are staying for a bit longer definitely consider getting out of town – you can either rent a car or join one of the many guided tours that depart daily, either for just a day or for a few days. Below are some great options:
Rosslyn Chapel & Scottish Borders Tour from Edinburgh – Quite the perfect tour if you are a fan of Dan Brown and have read The Da Vinci Code.
‘Firth of Forth’ Three Bridges Sightseeing Cruise – This boat tour allows you to admire the iconic Forth Road Bridge, UNESCO World Heritage Forth Bridge, Queensferry Crossing and Inchcolm Island.
Loch Ness, Glencoe & the Scottish Highlands Tour – Look for “Nessie” and “hairy coos” on one of the most popular day trips from Edinburgh. If you have time, you could also consider this Loch Ness and Inverness two-day tour.
St Andrews & Fishing Villages of Fife Tour – This highly reviewed tour goes to the “Kingdom of Fife” and allows you to explore the ancient town of St. Andrews.
Loch Lomond, Kelpies & Stirling Castle Tour – An excellent tour if you are keen on exploring the Scottish Highlands and their history. You’ll visit Stirling Castle, Loch Lomond, and Kelpies. If you have more time, you can even join this 2-Day Highlands Tour with Hogwarts Express.
Hadrian’s Wall & Roman Britain 1-Day Tour from Edinburgh – Probably the best day trip from Edinburgh for history buffs!
Isle of Skye 3-Day Tour with Accommodation – This 3-day tour is actually quite conveniently priced considering you even have accommodation.
For places that are in the more immediate surroundings of Edinburgh, consider going to the quaint Dean Village, a 20-minute train ride from Edinburgh Waverley Station; and Blackness Castle, 35 minutes from the center and a great place to learn about the history of the Crichtons, one of the most powerful families of Scotland.
Pick where to stay wisely
If you are visiting Edinburgh for the first time, opt to stay somewhere comfortable and convenient in the city. I recommend something near Waverley Station as it is central, safe and from there it will be easy to reach the many attractions. Whether you’re looking to have a luxury weekend or a budget trip, there is something for you. Below is a selection of the best places to stay in Edinburgh, by budget.
High Street Hostel is has both dorms and private rooms. It is situated on a side street from the Royal Mile and has a friendly atmosphere.
Wilde Aparthotels by Staycity, Grassmarket is located near Edinburgh Castle and from there you can easily explore the city on foot.
Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa is actually located in the West End. If you’re going to splurge, then you will be able to access the One Spa included in your room price, so you can unwind and relax on a rooftop pool after exploring the city.
The Witchery is located at the top of the Edinburgh Castle and having only 9 suites, you will have to book in advance if you want to stay at this gothic hotel. It’s known for its quirks and charms and you will certainly feel like you’re treating yourself.
Don’t have misconceptions about local food
Eating is hardly considered one of the perks of visiting Edinburgh, but I promise that despite its reputation you will find something palatable – and this comes from a very picky eater who can’t even stand the smell of offal.
If haggis – a mix of sheep heart, liver and lungs cooked with onions, fat, oats all stuffed into a sheep’s stomach and served with what locals call “nips and tatties” (mashed parsnips and mashed potatoes), black pudding, cullen skink (smoked haddock, potato and onion soup) and stovies aren’t what you’d call a glorious meal, look for less traditional restaurants where you can have a burger, fish and chips, and even lots of vegetarian and food options.
These are some places you may want to try:
ELEMENT ON ROSE STREET: This is actually one of the best places to try traditional Scottish haggis and to have some gin or other Scottish dishes.
BREWHEMIA: Located opposite the train station, Brewhemia offers seasonal Scottish produce. Prepare for an adventure in your taste buds, whilst enjoying the vibrant atmosphere!
TIGERLILY: Not only is the food to die for, the interior of this boutique restaurant is quirky and the relaxed ambience is welcoming.
CIVERNINOS: A fun, quirky Italian restaurant that serves delicious pizza for everyone. There are meat, vegetarian and vegan options. If the weather allows, you can sit outside in the popular Hunter’s Square and if not, ask for a table downstairs because the décor is beautiful and fun.
Try local drinks too
If you are looking for a fun night out, you won’t have troubles having one during your trip to Edinburgh. Just head to a pub and ask the bartender for his or her favorite Scotch Whisky. To discover the secrets of Scotch Whisky you may even go on a guided tour – there’s one called The Scotch Whiskey Experience that’s super popular.
You can book your Scotch Whisky Experience here.
If you don’t want to go on a tour you could simply go to Ox184 and have the Oban Whisky from the extensive list, or head to the centrally located Holyrood Distillery for a tasting experience.
Decide how to get to Edinburgh
Getting to Edinburgh is actually very easy even if you don’t have a car. The city is well connected to the rest of the United Kingdom with flights, trains and buses. Here’s how to get there.
There is only one airport in Edinburgh (EDI) and it has great connections to other cities in the United Kingdom, Europe and beyond. To get to the city from the airport you can either take the bus or the tram. The tram will take around 35 minutes and the Airlink 100 Express Bus will take around 30 minutes.
You can book the Airlink bus here.
The main train station in town is Edinburgh Waverley and it’s in the heart of the city. A journey from London will usually take 5 hours and 20 minutes. What is useful to know about the London to Edinburgh journey is that it is picturesque through the marvelous countryside. Just remember to buy a ticket in advance, as the trains can be pricey in the UK. You may even stop in York or Newcastle on the way if you want to break up the journey.
The train is definitely more comfortable but if you are on a budget you’ll be happy to know that there are many different options to choose from and that National Express and Megabus are cheaper and well connected all over the UK. Arriving by bus simple and stress free, no matter where you are coming from.
And how to move around
What is great about Edinburgh is that it’s easy to walk everywhere. This means that unless you go out of town, you won’t actually need to get any public transport. Besides, traffic in the city can be quite hectic so it often is just quicker to walk, and taxis are crazy expensive.
However, if you’re feeling tired or don’t fancy walking too much, there are convenient trams and buses that offer services all over the city. In particular, the buses are reliable, run 7 days a week and are quite budget friendly.
If you prefer paying by cash, just bring the exact change as you won’t be able to get change otherwise. However you don’t need to bring cash at all as you can use your contactless card to pay, or simply get tickets via the TFE app (Transport for Edinburgh). Just pay attention to your stop while on the bus – it’s easy to miss!
If you simply want to visit the main tourist attractions in town, you also have the option of getting the hop-on hop-off bus.
You can get your hop-on hop off bus tickets here.
Don’t spend a fortune unnecessarily
If you are visiting Edinburgh on a budget, you can rest assured you will still find many things to do. First of all, there is the free walking tour that you can join – though you will still have to leave a tip. Then, many museums in town are actually entirely free to visit, and you can explore the city parks (including the Botanical Gardens, except for the Greenhouses), climb Arthur Seat and Calton Hill and much more.
Here are a few more tips to help you save some money during your trip:
Edinburgh doesn’t have its own City Pass, so you will have to shop around for the various attractions separately. Generally, if you buy all your tickets online you will be able to save a bit, especially when there are special offers.
Another good idea if you are planning on visiting Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and the Royal Watch Britannia is to get the Royal Edinburgh Ticket. You will get an overall 25% discount on the final total price of all attractions and also a 2-day hop-on hop-off bus pass which is very convenient to move around town.
You can get your Royal Edinburgh Ticket here.
Wi-Fi is free in Edinburgh, as well as limitless – you have to look for the EdiFreeWifi and log in using your Facebook or email address. This helps you save on data – just make sure not to use it if you are dealing with sensitive data!
To save some money on currency exchange, opt to be charged in local currency (its the British Pound, or GBP, even though bank notes are different from that you’d find in the rest of the UK) to avoid the extortionate conversion rates. The same applies to credit card payments. It’s actually cheaper to pay in GBP.
Have a try with local words
Here’s the thing: everyone speaks English in Scotland, albeit with an unimaginable and impossible to understand accent. It’s fascinating actually. I once watched this video on repeat and cracked up every time just because of the accent (in fact, I’ve just done it again and yep, still laughing). However, you won’t have trouble communicating.
Having said so, it may actually be fun to learn a few local words before your trip. Here are some you may want to add to your vocabulary:
- Aye = Yess
- Ault = Old
- Braw = Excellent
- Dreich = Gloomy
- Haar = Fog (it’s specifically used to refer to the cold fog that hovers over town)
- Loch = Lake (ok, we all knew this one already)
- Dram = Shot of Whisky
- Piece = Sandwich
- Scran = Food
Planning a longer trip to the United Kingdom? The following posts will help you plan your trip:
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