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 – Dorm rooms cost between 20-45 GBP per night. Private rooms in hostels start at 70 GBP for a double room. 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.
Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels begin around 70 GBP. They are more expensive down in the city center and along the Royal Mile, upwards of 100 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 groceries for between 25-50 GBP.
Transportation – Despite the hills, Edinburgh is a great walking city, but you can take the bus for 1.50 GBP per trip, or buy a day ticket for 4 GBP that gives you unlimited usage for that particular day. You can rent a bike for 12-17 GBP per day.
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, so take advantage of them, and save money in the process.
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, and Degas. 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 4 GBP.
Attend a Festival – During the summer, Edinburgh is awash with festivals. Every week there is a new one. The most famous, The Edinburgh International Film Festival, attracts people from around the world in August and showcases really good films.
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, but begin at 14 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. I finally got to experience it last year and it was everything I hoped it would be and more!