Edinburgh is one of my favorites cities in the world. I love the cobblestone streets, the free museums, the outgoing locals always ready to share a beer, and the insane whisky to be found! The city has many free activities, beautiful walks, stunning buildings, and a rich history (and especially a literary history!). There are even resident ghosts (and subsequent scary ghost tours). Edinburgh is a popular destination for many weekend getaways, pub crawls, and bachelor(ette) parties so to avoid the hordes of throwing up Europeans, come on a weekday! There is definitely an active nightlife here. Edinburgh has something for everyone and this travel guide can help you plan the perfect (budget) visit.
Hostel prices – The prices generally start at 10 GBP for a large hostel room with more than 10 beds, while the smaller rooms tend to range from 15-25 GBP. For a standard twin room expect to pay around 45 GBP with prices going up from there. Many hostels have free WiFi, and a good portion provide free breakfast. The best hostel in the city is by far Castle Rock near the castle. It’s in an awesome historic building and great for meeting people, as well as being quite cheap!
Budget hotel prices – Around the Royal Mile and Prince’s Street, the hotel prices start at roughly 100 GBP and only go up from there. Hotels that are further from the city center tend to cost about half the price, starting at 50 GBP. Practically all hotels have free WiFi, with many having additional services like heating, air conditioning, hotel bars and restaurants, and parking. On Airbnb, the average for private rooms is 75 GBP, but you can find options around 45 GBP around the city center as well. Entire apartments/homes are the most expensive option for accommodation here, averaging at 150 GBP.
Average cost of food – Many restaurants in Edinburgh offer a fixed price menu in which you can eat dinner including a drink for 20 GBP. Pub food costs around 10 GBP for a meal. McDonald’s and other fast-food is around 4-7 GBP and you can buy a week’s worth of simple groceries for between 25-50 GBP. Where alcohol is concerned, you should expect to pay around 3-4 GBP at the pub or 1-3 GBP at a shop. A double of nice scotch at a bar will cost around 7-10 GBP. Finally, a large portion of fish and chips from your local greasy Scottish chippy (fish and chips shop) will cost between 5-7 GBP. Some bars and pubs you should visit include Panda and Sons, Brauhaus, Brew Dog, The Beer Kitchen, and The Hanging Bat.
Transportation – Despite the hills, Edinburgh is a great walking city, but you can take the bus for 1.60 GBP per trip or get a full day ticket for 4 GBP. Past midnight, however, bus travel get more complicated. At that point, you can get a night ticket for 3 GBP but I wouldn’t recommend taking the night bus if you can avoid it. The service is infrequent and Edinburgh can be safely and easily walked around at night. Finally, if you’re looking for a more invigorating transportation method, you can rent a bike for 12-17 GBP per day. To get to and from the airport, there is a tram and a bus line which both take roughly 20 minutes. The tram ticket is more expensive at 5.50 GBP, while the airlink (the bus) costs 4.50 GBP.
Suggested daily budget – 40-50 GBP / 49-62 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- Walk – Save your money and walk around this friendly city. It’s compact, beautiful, and easy to get around.
- Spend time at the parks, gardens, and museums – Almost all of these are free (in fact, public museums in all of the United Kingdom are free), so take advantage of them, and save money in the process. You can easily fill your days without spending a dime!
- Eat at restaurants away from the city center – Generally, restaurants and bars around the Royal Mile and Prince’s Street tend to be far more expensive than restaurants in less central areas, with a similar quality of food. Take advantage of restaurants in Marchmont, Leith, and New Town. Your wallet will thank you.
- Enjoy the Prince’s street gardens – There’s a lovely park to the side of Prince’s street, right by the Scots monument and the national gallery. Seeing the sites, lazing around the gardens, and doing some shopping is a lovely way to spend a day.
- Shop at Primark – If you want to do clothes shopping in Edinburgh, but don’t want to spend a great deal of money, go to Primark. The prices are legitimately ridiculous, and they have quite a decent range of clothes for men and women alike.
- Stay with a local – If you want to save money on accommodation then Couchsurfing is your best bet. Not only will you save a few bucks but you’ll have a local to help you with your trip. They are the best resource for information, so if you want insight into the city then be sure to give Couchsurfing a try!
- Take a free walking tour – To understand the history of the city (while getting to explore it on foot) try one of the free walking tours. New Europe gives three free daily tours and they generally last a couple hours.
- Cook your own meals – Eating out for every meal will destroy your budget so be sure to try cooking some meals if you have access to a kitchen. It may not be luxurious, but your wallet will thank you!
Top Things to See and Do
- Hike to Arthur’s Seat – Although it can be a bit of a hike, the top of Arthur’s Seat provides a spectacular view of all of Edinburgh. Some parts of the hike are rather steep, so bring a picnic and spend an afternoon looking out over the city.
- Visit Edinburgh Castle – The Edinburgh Castle is an important landmark. Although it costs 16.50 GBP to enter, you can spend a good part of the day here, and it’s worth it alone just to see the Crown Jewels exhibit. You also get sweeping views of the city. Try to get on the guided tours as they give you more information and context.
- Walk down the Royal Mile – The most famous street in Edinburgh, this road is filled with pubs, restaurants, and shops. It takes you from the royal castle to the royal palace. While touristy, there are a number of historical monuments to check out along the way.
- Hang out in Calton Hill – Calton Hill is another great place to escape the noise of the city and admire the view from up above. Take a hike to the top of the hill and you can sit and relax in a quiet park-like setting.
- Explore Princes Street Gardens – For another free outing, spend the day at Princes Street Gardens. Vendors sell ice cream in an immaculate park, and you get an excellent view of the Edinburgh Castle. If you’re here at Christmas, the Garden turns into a German style winter fair, full of stalls selling food, mulled wine, toys, and rides.
- Tour the Museum of Edinburgh – When you’re walking the Royal Mile, don’t forget to stop at this museum to give yourself a better understanding of Edinburgh’s history. There’s a lot of good information here and the museum is free.
- Visit the National Gallery of Scotland – This impressive gallery is for anyone who can appreciate the great artists of our time – Monet, Rembrandt, Degas, and Vermeer (who has only 36 surviving paintings in the world). There are a lot of very good paintings here. It is also free, although some of the exhibits have an entrance fee.
- Stop by the Scott Monument – Built in 1846 to commemorate the life of Sir Walter Scott, the man who helped put Scotland back on the map, the Gothic spire monument allows you to climb 200 ft above the city center to enjoy fantastic views. Admission is 5 GBP.
- Attend a Festival – During the summer, Edinburgh is awash with festivals. Every week there is a new one. By far the most prominent is the Fringe festival, which brings in performers and entertainers of all kinds to the city. Just keep in mind that during this time, accommodation prices skyrocket and the city floods with people. If you make sure to book everything far ahead of time, you should be alright. The Edinburgh International Film Festival is also another big one worth attending.
- Take a Ghost Tour – Edinburgh has a spooky history and stories of ghosts and ghouls abound. There are a number of tours that take you around to graveyards and underground tunnels. I got spooked. Then again, I’m easily creeped out. Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, the tours take you to some old and interesting parts of underground Edinburgh.
- Tour Rossyln Chapel – If you read the Da Vinci code, you know this chapel supposedly helped guard the holy grail. It’s a very intricately-designed chapel and there are many mysteries surrounding it (why does it show corn when the New World hadn’t yet been discovered? Huh? Huh!). Though a lot smaller than I thought, the carvings in the wall are spectacularly done and mystery around it just gives it an aura of charm. The chapel is an hour from the city and easily accessible by public bus.
- Drink some scotch – The national drink of Scotland, Scotch Whiskey, has a world-renowned reputation. Learn how it’s made by touring the Scotch Whiskey Experience, which comes complete with a “barrel ride.” Prices vary depending on what type of tour you want and begin at 14.50 GBP.
- Celebrate Hogmanay – One of the world’s biggest and most-famous New Year’s Eve celebrations takes place in Edinburgh. Tens of thousands gather in the city streets to celebrate with torchlight processions, concerts, and fireworks. Prepare yourself for lots of drinking, holiday festivities, a series of colorful customs, and crowds. Book far in advance as tens of thousands of people descend on the city. It was everything I hoped it would be and more!