Edinburgh, a wondrous fusion of old and new, is Scotland’s most visited city. The capital of Scotland has it all: the nine volcanic hills that shape its skyline, the Queen’s palace, a world-class botanic garden with its own library that holds a collection of almost 4,000 rare books dating back to the 15th century and two castles.
There are a wealth of third-wave coffee shops, sandy beaches where you can see pink-footed goose from Iceland who stop off here for an autumn feast, 35 museums located in historic listed buildings and even a hidden lighthouse right in the centre of Edinburgh.
Edinburgh is also the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature and a host to the largest art festival in the world. If that’s not enough – Rosslyn Chapel (from “The Da Vinci Code”), the Bass Rock, once described by Sir David Attenborough as one of the 12 wildlife wonders of the world and The Forth Bridge, one of Scotland’s major landmarks, are all just a short ride away from the city.
On my last solo trip to Edinburgh, which now seems like an eternity ago, there was rain, cancelled plans and a couple of blisters. But it was still perfect for me because visiting Edinburgh was all about finding new expressions and refreshing old experiences.
Scotland’s second-largest city Edinburgh is a trendy destination for travellers who wish to see a new part of the world, it’s a city with an ideal blend of culture, fun, history and nature.
As you walk around Edinburgh where dark facades invite you to discover what’s inside, it doesn’t take much to imagine knights in shining armour and dragons looping over the castle walls.
“This is a city of shifting light, of changing skies, of sudden vistas. A city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again.” – Alexander McCall Smith
Things to know before you go
With the wet, grey and windy weather aside, Edinburgh is a dynamic and open-minded city and sort of perfect city too. So perfect in fact that it is the second visited city in the whole of the UK – every year, around 4 million people arrive eager to take delight in exploring its uniqueness.
- Crowds | That’s why one of the first things you have to expect in Edinburgh is crowds. And crowds come with congested tourist attractions, expensive accommodation and long queues at the airport. Trying to get through the swarms of tourists on the Royal Mile during the August festival can be quite an overwhelming experience. Nevertheless, you can avoid a distressing visit by planning ahead and doing your research.
- Local lingo | Local slang in Edinburgh takes some time to get used to. Scots are distinct in many ways one of which is their strong accent. For example, in Glasgow, you’ll hear the word ‘weans’ and in Edinburgh, you’ll more commonly hear ‘bairns’ – both meaning small children. Scots also use colloquialisms. Instead of saying ‘go away, they would often say ‘oan yer bike pal.’ Before you go, learn the definition of a couple of local jargons such as: ‘Shan’ – terrible, bad, disappointing, ‘Barry’ – good, ‘Ken’ – know, ‘Reeking’ – drunk and/or smelly, ‘Braw’ – brilliant and ‘Chum’ – accompany, ‘Scran’ – food, ‘A Kirk’ – a church and ‘Burn’ – a stream.
- Currency | The official currency in Scotland is the pound sterling (GPB and £) and the most common banknotes are £5, £10, £20 and £50.
- Walking is the best way to see the city | Skip the car and explore Edinburgh on foot – thanks to cities central layout and the new tram lines that locals love to complain about driving around and finding parking will only lead to frustration.
- Always plan ahead | Fringe Festival and Hogmanay party are the two most significant events on Edinburgh’s calendar. Anyone that plans on visiting – book your accommodation well in advance as the prices shoot up!
- Cockburn Street is pronounced CO-burn Street.
How to get to and around Edinburgh
• Flights | The easiest way to get to Edinburgh (EDI) is by plane. Edinburgh Airport, situated just 15 kilometres from the city centre, is very well connected with Europe, Turkey and the USA. It’s the busiest airport in the country, so use Skyscanner to find a convenient flight.
• Trains | Edinburgh’s railway station which has been operating since 1846 has fast rail services to London. If you live in the UK, taking the train from London, Leeds or Liverpool to beautiful Edinburgh Waverly Station is another great option if you are not in a hurry. The road to Scotland takes you through York, Durham and Berwick before you arrive in the centre of the city.
• Airlink 100 | The best way to get into the city if you arrive by aeroplane is by Airlink bus which travels all the way to the Waverly Bridge. The buses run 24 hours, leave the terminal every 10 minutes and take around 30 minutes to get to the city. Tickets cost £.4.50 for the single and £7.50 for the return journey.
• Walking | Once in Edinburgh, which by the way is an effortless city to navigate with the New Town on one and the Old town on the other side – you have several options. You can wander around on foot, use a bicycle or choose the bus or tram. Many of Edinburgh’s major attractions are located within walking distance from each other that’s why it’s best to wear comfortable shoes and explore the city on foot.
• Taxis | You can also use one of the black cabs (with the yellow light switched on), which you can pre-book or simply hail down, to explore Edinburgh. Central Taxis and City Cabs are two of the most reliable.
• Buses | Lothian buses run throughout the city and can take you to attractions like Royal Yacht Brittania and Edinburgh Zoo. Unlimited bus and tram tickets cost £4 for adults and £2 for children. Download their mobile app for live departure times and daily updates.
*Our Crossings Tip: Lothian Buses do not offer change, so have the exact amount of money when purchasing tickets from a bus driver.
When to visit Edinburgh
The impossible question – what is the best time of the year to visit Edinburgh?
Weather is unpredictable throughout Scotland with June, July, August and September being the warmest month with the most amount of daytime. Edinburgh is relatively cold throughout the year, so be prepared for variable weather by wearing layers and by bringing your umbrella.
Choosing when to visit will have an impact on your trip as every travel season comes with its own pros and cons. Deciding when to visit will also largely depend on what type of traveller you are because families, young adults, business travellers and domestic visitors all want different experiences.
In general, Edinburgh is one of those European cities you can visit all year round and don’t fear missing out on its food and arts scene – restaurants, shops, tourist attractions and music venues are all open even when the tourists leave.
If you can’t decide when to book your holiday to Edinburgh, consider these four simple questions to help you to make the most of your time and budget:
- Entertainment – what’s on
- Cost of staying in Edinburgh
- Weather and climate
- Accommodation availability
Edinburgh’s Travel Seasons
HIGH SEASON: JULY and AUGUST
With average high temperatures of around 19’C, summertime is the warmest time of the year in Edinburgh and it’s also a high season in tourism.
The advantages of travelling in high season to Edinburgh – plenty of festivals, blooming gardens, good weather, long days and it is when the most tourist attractions are opened. The disadvantages – high coasts, chaotic airports and large crowds of visitors.
SHOULDER SEASON: MAY and JUNE, SEPTEMBER and OCTOBER
Shoulder season is the best time to visit Edinburgh with May being the driest month. It sees a drop in visitors compared to the summer month, yet it is still lively. Rhododendrons begin to blossom in spring and autumn arrives with fantastic colours.
The Braemar Gathering, the most famous of Scotland’s Highland games are held in September.
LOW SEASON: NOVEMBER through APRIL
From mid-October to mid-April the weather is miserable, but the accommodation is much cheaper, and you’ll mingle with fewer tourists in cosy pubs.
Edinburgh rarely gets extreme temperatures during the low season, but it’s cold and dreary and the days are so short; think 4 pm sunsets. You have to pack more clothes than it is summer, yet it’s the time of Christmas markets and Hogmanay celebrations and if you are lucky you could also see snow.
Where to stay in Edinburgh
On your first trip to Edinburgh, you will most likely spend time visiting top tourist attractions, and that’s why staying central is a good choice. Edinburgh is a relatively compact city with the New town and Old town being the most central areas.
Depending on your length of stay Stockbridge with its two artisan cheesemongers and an award-winning bookshop, a coastal suburb of Portabello, Brustfield and the Meadows are all very trendy neighbourhoods worth booking your stay.
- Edinburgh’s Old Town which encompasses Royal Mile is an excellent choice for accommodation if you plan on visiting major tourist attractions and like to be centrally located. Don’t dismiss it for being touristy, after all – it’s been an official UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995 where some of the city’s oldest attractions are located. Here you’ll find a great variety of museums, the Scottish parliament building and Edinburgh castle among many others. Grab a coffee or freshly baked cakes at local favourites Lovecrumbs, Mary’s Milk Bar or Brewlab.
- Edinburgh’s New Town is another area you can look into staying as there are loads of shops, restaurants and tourist attractions to explore and visit. Blessed with beautiful Georgian architecture, high-end boutiques and fancy cocktail bars. It’s where Scottish National Portrait Gallery and Edinburgh Playhouse are located as well as beautiful Charlotte square and Gorge street. You’ll love a false bookcase doorway at Panda and Sons bar or enjoy your coffee fix at Artisan Roast.
Where to go for a meal in Edinburgh
From the sushi and deep-fried mars bars to fish and chips – a staple dish in Scotland – Edinburgh is a foodies haven. Scotland’s finest dishes can be found throughout the city as well as plenty of trendy cafés, upmarket dining rooms, casual bistros and Michelin-starred restaurants.
Once in Edinburgh, why not try Scotland’s traditional dishes such as Cullen Skink – a traditional Scottish soup made with potatoes, smoked haddock and onions. Or Lorne sausage, often known as square sausage or sliced sausage, is a local delicacy made with beef, pork, or both.
Scotland’s national dish is Haggis-made of heart, liver and lungs mixed with onions, suet, herbs and spices all packed into a bag made of sheep stomach. It’s a classic for the locals but can be daunting to visitors; give it a try anyway, it is said to be delicious.
For vegetarians | Fear not if you prefer plant-based dishes – as Edinburgh has just been named the UK’s Most Vegan-Friendly City, you’ll find plenty of super cool cafes and restaurants throughout the city catering to vegetarian/vegan needs.
For seafood | Fish and chips is a nation’s favourite you can sample at the seaside or at the takeaway in the city. Don’t forget to add a special chippy sauce – made from dates, salt and spices and available in all the decent shops around Edinburgh – when ordering fish and chips.
For breakfast & brunch | You’ll find plenty of trendy spots for that all-important first meal of the day. While the hotel and B&B breakfast is convenient, make sure you dedicate one morning or early afternoon if you love lie-ins, scanning local cafes and fresh bakeries.
Top things to do in Edinburgh
For travellers looking for traditional Scotland, Edinburgh is it. Whether you are looking to marvel at world-class museums or sample its cuisine or nightlife
- Dynamic Earth | Visiting Dynamic Earth, situated at Holyrood Rd, is taking a journey through time and space with cleverly created interactive galleries, visual effects and movies at its 360′ planetarium cinema.
- Surgeons’ Hall Museum | Explore the history of medicine in an award-winning museum and enjoy lots of interactive exhibits. The museum is very interesting although a bit gruesome, not many people will have a stomach for it – there’s a room with all body parts and lots of pathology specimens here in jars.
- National Museum of Scotland | A very remarkable museum, located at Chambers Street, with excellent exhibits about science and technology, the natural world, design and fashion all in one building. You can watch the Millennium Clock chime the hour and travel back in time with Scottish history.
- Edinburgh Castle | Edinburgh Castle is a wonderful place to explore and learn about history throughout various displays, see the Crown Jewels and marvel at the city below. It’s one of the most visited attractions in Edinburgh, it can get hectic during the peak season, so plan your visit accordingly.
- Free Stuff | If you are on a budget, there are loads of things you can do in Edinburgh for free. Visit Greyfriars Graveyard, see Scottish Parliament, hike Arthur’s Seat, explore Botanical Gardens, see all of the Harry Potter sites, visit Dean Village and many more.
Great day trips from Edinburgh
The Scottish capital is a perfect starting point for a day trip. Book an organised tour and head into Highlands or choose a multi-day trip along NORTH 500 to be inspired by the variety of scenery, adventures and places to explore because there is more to Scotland than guidebooks will tell you.
- Loch Ness | The most popular day trip from Edinburgh, usually around 12+ hours long, takes visitors through the varied landscapes of the famous Scottish Highlands with an opportunity to see Glen Coe, Highland Cows and Loch Ness.
- Rosslyn Chapel | A fantastic full-day tour where you get to travel over the UNESCO–listed Forth Bridge to visit Rosslyn Chapel, Stirling Castle and Dunfermline Abbey. Highlights of the trip – Wallace Monument and Abbey Kirk.
- Hadrian’s Wall | A great trip to see the UNESCO World Heritage Site Hadrian’s Wall as well as visiting Northumberland National Park, the Irthing Valley and the Southern Uplands.
- Stirling Castle the secret to staying warm while visiting countries with freezing temperatures is to wear a warm hat that covers your ears. Travel to Stirling to see one of the most important and largest castles in Scotland. Sitting atop Castle Hill, beautifully restores Stirling Castle offers fantastic views of the surrounding area and lots of Scottish history.
- North Berwick | A little seaside town, best known for Scottish Seabird Centre and Bass Rock makes for a lovely day trip from Edinburgh. Jump on a train, and within half an hour you’ll be walking on the beach.
*Our Crossings Tip: If you prefer to travel independently, there are loads of little day trips you can plan using public transport. We would recommend – St. Andrews, Stirling Castle, Glasgow and South Queensferry.
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Now, over to you!
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Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Edinburgh and have travel-related questions!