In this post, you will find a very comprehensive first timer’s guide to Edinburgh, Scotland featuring the best Edinburgh travel tips, the optimal itinerary, the travel budget for Edinburgh and, of course, the best things to do in Edinburgh, the beautiful capital of Scotland. I will also mention the best restaurants in Edinburgh for any budget.
If you’re new to this blog, hi, I’m Liza. I used to live and study in Edinburgh back in 2014-2015. Then I lived in beautiful Edinburgh for another 6 months in 2017. I keep returning to this stunning city as I miss it a lot and it feels like another home away from home. In this guide, I wanted to share with you my knowledge and my personal tips on travelling to Edinburgh.
Here’s what you can expect to find in this post:
The Ultimate Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh is undoubtedly popular and famous destination. It probably doesn’t need more advertising, but what it really needs is more awareness about places to eat, stay, off beaten path attractions and appropriate gear for visiting the city. That’s why I decided to create this guide to Edinburgh – to help you get the most out of Edinburgh!
Edinburgh is a unique city: it combines a modern lifestyle with a medieval appearance. Imagine sitting in a modern restaurant located in the 16th-century tavern? Or shopping for fudge in a stunning medieval church? Or seeing a brand new tram making its way through the old Princes street or a Lothian bus going down the narrow streets of the Old Town. Edinburgh is a truly special city and you have to visit it at least once in your life. Having visited 93 countries, I must say that I haven’t seen anything similar to Edinburgh. Not even close!
The brief history of Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh, just as Rome, wasn’t built in one day. The story started in the 12th century, when King David I decided to build a castle on a hill and thus, established the city of Edinburgh (more like a town back then). Since that time, the town was growing and in 1437, became a capital of Scotland. In the Old Town of Edinburgh, the buildings were so tall (they could reach 15 floors), so the tiny narrow streets between them were called closes.
They are still called closes, despite the fact, that the tops of the most 15-floor buildings were demolished. Edinburgh used to be a crazy medieval city: it was overpopulated (imagine these unstable 15-floor buildings without modern facilities like sewers or water supply), dirty and full of sickness. Once a day the inhabitants of these buildings were emptying their baskets with trash and human excrements by throwing them into the window, shouting “Guard the loo!” All these masses would flow down the hill to the lake – the North Loch (Princes Street Gardens nowadays). And of course, all the water supply for the city came from the North Loch!
In the 18th century, the city expanded and the fancy New Town was built. New Town was (and still is) so different to the Old Town; so don’t forget to visit it during your travels in Edinburgh. For example, Stockbridge is a lovely place to visit.
Nowadays, Edinburgh is still the capital of Scotland, however, it’s not the biggest city anymore. Glasgow has the crown for being the biggest city in Scotland.
Best ways to get to Edinburgh domestically and internationally
Even though Edinburgh is not a big city – its population barely exceeds 500.000 people, it’s pretty well connected to the other cities in Europe, Asia and America. Moreover, the major European low-cost airlines operate in Edinburgh, such as Easyjet, Ryanair, WizzAir, BlueAir, Jet2airlines and some others. That means, if you’re lucky, you can buy one of these £10 tickets to the beautiful capital of Scotland. The other ways to get to Edinburgh include buses (it would take you ages, though), trains (pretty much the same as buses, maybe a bit faster, but at the same time 3 times more expensive) and even ferries (there is one from Amsterdam to Newcastle and then you need to take a train).
Getting from Edinburgh Airport to the City Centre
Once you landed at Edinburgh Airport, you’ve got 4 marvellous options to get to the city centre (or your hotel). The first option is to take a taxi (will be around £25-35 depending on your location). The second option (the fastest) is to take an Airlink – special express airport bus, which goes every 20 minutes and reaches the city centre in 20-30 minutes. The price is £7.5 for a return ticket or £4.5 for a single ride. The third option – the tram. It’s good when the city is stuck in traffic (yes, that happens in Edinburgh) or you simply live near the York place (and don’t want to walk at all). I recall the tram being £5 one way. The last option is the cheapest – the bus number 35 which has the longest route in the city and goes to almost all the possible places in Edinburgh (but be ready that it takes AGES to get to your location, especially if you’re closer to the end of the route – the Ocean Terminal). However, if you’re broke or have plenty of time, you can enjoy your £1.70 ride & free excursion of the whole city.
You can also hire a car in Edinburgh Airport. We recommend using rentalcars.com, as they have the comparison of all the car hire providers & the prices for renting a car in Edinburgh.
What to wear in Edinburgh? Most appropriate clothes for Edinburgh
The weather in Edinburgh is pretty unpredictable. Sometimes, the weather changes every 5 minutes. Like now, for example, I’m writing this post in front of the window and during the last 30 minutes, I’ve seen blue sky, rain, sun and clouds. If you’re going on long walks, don’t forget to bring a windproof umbrella or a raincoat.
The best months to visit Edinburgh are probably April, May and June, but I’ve seen the good weather in September and beginning of October as well.
What to wear in Edinburgh during cold months aka in autumn, winter and spring?
The very cold months in Edinburgh are November to March, so be ready for the grey sky, rain and cold strong winds. I recommend you bring some warm either rubber boots or proper hiking shoes, waterproof long parka and a waterproof backpack. Make sure to pack a lot of warm sweaters as well!
What to wear in Edinburgh in summer
If you’re wondering, what to wear in Edinburgh in summer, sometimes the warm months are as cold as the cold ones, but nonetheless, on a rare warm day, when the temperature reaches 20 degrees Celsius, you can even wear a t-shirt or a dress. Normally, it’s around +8 to +17 during the warm months, so prepare to bring a raincoat, maybe a leather jacket and a couple of hoodies.
What language is used in Scotland?
English is the main language in Scotland (sadly, you can’t find people speaking Gaelic these days), nonetheless, you will probably have some problems understanding Scottish people (unless you’re from the North of England). After more than 1.5 years in Edinburgh, I still struggle sometimes, when comes to communication in Scotland. Especially, if someone from Scottish Power phones me (Scottish power is a gas provider) and that’s quite embarrassing. So don’t worry, you’re not the only one. Scottish people are the friendliest and it’s such a pity I still have problems understating them!
Where to stay in Edinburgh:
It’s fine to stay everywhere in the city centre (well, beyond the city centre too, but you’ll end up spending a lot of time on getting to the centre). In case you’re looking for a budget accommodation, it makes sense to rent a room in one of the Facebook groups like EdinRoom.
If you’re looking for a hostel, check this list of 10 best hostels in Edinburgh City centre, which I created for you.
If you’d like a nice 3-4* star hotel in the city centre, you might like the Inn on the Mile or the Scotsman. Alternatively, check my list of the 10 affordable amazing hotels in Edinburgh City Centre.
Looking for something unique? Why not stay in a castle?
Things to see in Edinburgh:
There are plenty things to see in Edinburgh. We visited 98% of the attraction in Edinburgh and created a post for you, so you don’t waste your time (and money) and only visit the best attractions in the city.
Some of the top attractions in Edinburgh include:
The Edinburgh castle (I liked it, but don’t expect too much)
The Palace of the Holyroodhouse (Not my favourite one, but the excursion was interesting)
The Scotch Whisky Experience (One of my favourites in Edinburgh)
Edinburgh Zoo (in case you’re visiting with kids, the Zoo might be a good option)
Camera Obscura (the rooftop view is priceless)
The National Museum of Scotland (The exposition was interesting, but the best part is the view from the rooftop terrace, in my opinion, it’s the best place to see the Edinburgh Castle).
The National Gallery of Scotland (in case you’re interested in Scottish art)
Arthur’s Seat (one of the best views of Edinburgh, but requires a hike)
Edinburgh University Old College (Looks very impressive)
Calton Hill (The most beautiful panorama of Edinburgh)The National Portrait Gallery of Scotland (the building is really impressive)
Mary King’s Close – (I found it a bit overrated, too commercial and you can’t even take photos there)
The Royal Mile (the street connecting Edinburgh Castle with the Palace of the Holyrood House)
Grassmarket – one of the oldest squares in Edinburgh City Centre
Princes street and princes street gardens – the main street of Edinburgh, full of shops and the gardens next to it, which were drained a couple of hundreds of years ago (there used to be a lake)
Royal Yacht Britannia – the best-rated attraction in Edinburgh, according to Tripadvisor
Edinburgh Dynamic Earth – the best interactive museum we’ve ever visited
Check our post for 15 best free attractions in Edinburgh!
Off beaten path locations guide to Edinburgh:
In this guide to Edinburgh, I also wanted to tell you about the best off beaten path locations in Edinburgh, such as:
The water of Leith walkway from the Stockbridge to the Dean Village
The Dean Village – the cutest district of Edinburgh (looks like medieval Germany, you won’t believe your eyes)
The Shore on Leith – one of the loveliest zones in Edinburgh, which has many pretty buildings and restaurants
Fettes College – you can’t get inside, but it looks marvellous from the outside
Union Canal Walkway – if you like walking and exploring the city, you can totally go there and walk along the Union Canal for an hour – you’ll see a totally different Edinburgh
The Meadows – an amazing park behind the University of Edinburgh
Dr. Niel’s Garden – a secret garden on the way to Musselburgh
Stockbridge – a very nice district in Edinburgh New Town, it has a special market on the weekends
Royal Botanic Garden – it’s very lovely garden near Stockbridge
Cemetery on the Royal Mile (Canongate) – you can find the grave of Adam Smith
In case you’re an avid Instagrammer, check this guide to the most Instagrammable spots in Edinburgh!
Tours to take in Edinburgh:
Can you imagine a guide to Edinburgh without any recommendations on tours though? If you only have a couple of days in Edinburgh, it makes sense to take the Hop-on-Hop-off red bus to explore the city.
Some free walking tours are also great to learn more about the history of the city.
If you’re looking for something more special and are not afraid of ghosts and the darkness, you should go to Mercat Tours (Edinburgh Vaults) – we loved the tour with the best guide, Ciara. It was entertaining, engaging and interesting and we liked it way more than Mary King’s Close. Check more tours including the tours to Highlands, Loch Ness and the Isle of Skye on Get Your Guide!
Where & what to eat guide to Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh is not only the capital of Scotland, it’s also the capital of some really strange foods like deep fried Mars bar or deep fried pizza or Scottish Haggis (I love haggis, though).
However, there are plenty of nice places to have food in Edinburgh, ranging from budget to very very expensive. In case you’re a budget traveller, check, how to visit Edinburgh on a budget for some restaurant suggestions!
In case you’re in the mood for a burger, check:
Bread Meets Bread
Something quick and tasty:
Best panoramic restaurants:
SkyBar (only open on the first Thursday of the month)
Harvey Nichols 5th floor
John Lewis Café 5th floor
Best Scottish food:
The Last Drop
Deacon Brodie’s Tavern
Best cocktail bars:
The Bow Bar
The Jolly Botanist
The Guilford Arms
Best Afternoon Tea:
The Colonnades at the Signet Library
eteaket Tea Room (more budget-friendly)
Or check the 7 best afternoon teas in Edinburgh!
Best Asian restaurants:
Travel costs in Edinburgh:
In case you’re interested in tailored cost based on your own travel habits, don’t forget to check our free Travel App Tripsget.
However, these are the typical prices in Edinburgh (read this post about cost of living in Edinburgh for more information)
Bus ride – £1.6
Coffee – £2.8
Lunch in a budget place – £6-7
Dinner in a nice restaurant – £30 pp
Entry to the attractions – £10-18 per attraction
A beer – £3-4.5
A cocktail – £6-9
Planning to move to Edinburgh? Check this guide to moving to the UK and the guide to renting a flat in Edinburgh, Scotland. Or maybe you’re a future student? Here’s everything you need to know about studying in Edinburgh!
Hopefully, this ultimate guide to Edinburgh was useful for you. In case you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments or drop us an email. Liked the ultimate guide to Edinburgh, Scotland? Save it on Pinterest!