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Steeped in history, Edinburgh, Scotland is the capital of the country and a popular stop for visitors of the United Kingdom. The city is set on a hill, covered in green spaces and dark stone structures and the Old Town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The yearly Edinburgh Fringe Festival brings in performers from all over the world to present showcases of dance, theater and music. Hogmanay is the city’s New Year’s Eve festivities and the Military Tattoo features military bands. Come and see why there is so much more to Scotland than kilts, bagpipes, scotch and haggis!
If we’ve left anything out or you’d like to add to the conversation, please leave comments below!
Edinburgh Travel Expenses Tips
In comparison with other European destinations, Edinburgh is fairly middle of the road. It’s not quite as expensive as cosmopolitan London but not nearly as cheap as some Eastern European cities. But it is possible to see it without spending your entire budget.
Take advantage of budget carriers
You’re less likely to find a deal on a flight directly into Edinburgh, so fly into a major hub like London, Amsterdam or Frankfurt and take the train or fly a budget carrier the rest of the way. EasyJet, Ryanair and Vueling are just a few of the carriers that fly into Edinburgh.
Research free activities
A few museums and other attractions are free to visit, so take advantage of as many of these as possible. Then you can spend more money on seeing more outside of Edinburgh or splurging on fancier meals and accommodation (check out over 581 Edinburgh properties on Booking.com).
Edinburgh has some truly stunning green spaces, like Arthur’s Seat, so spend part of every day communing with nature. Bring a book and a picnic and you have an afternoon of fun without spending much money.
Save with day trips
Skip the night’s accommodation by making excursions further afield day trips instead of overnight trips. Edinburgh is a great base for exploring places like St. Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen and the Highlands. Trains and buses run between places in Scotland for less than £20 each way.
- Fun (Cheap) Stuff for Families in Edinburgh, Thrifty Travel Mama
- Edinburgh Free Things to Do, Telegraph
Essential Gear to Bring to Edinburgh
No matter the season, for any visit to Scotland you should be prepared for changes in weather. Even in the summertime, it won’t be as warm as other parts of the northern hemisphere. Also bring waterproof items for rainy days and winter travel.
Jacket– In the winter, be sure to bring a heavy coat with plenty of layers to go underneath. In the summer, a lightweight jacket should do and dresses can be worn with or without tights. It’s much easier to take off layers than to add ones you don’t have!
Boots– Treat your leather boots to keep the water out or bring waterproof rain boots that are also comfortable to walk around in for hours. Pair them with a pair of wool socks that will keep your feet toasty.
Umbrella– While some posts may tell you to bring a rain jacket instead of an umbrella, I recommend making room for both, as neither take up that much room. It’s good to be prepared either way.
Scarf– The ultimate travel accessory is a must-have for travelers to Scotland. It can be lightweight for summer months and thick wool for winter months.
- The Ultimate Female Packing List for the UK (Summer and Winter), Her Packing List
- What to Pack for Edinburgh in Winter, Her Packing List
Books to Read Before Visiting Edinburgh
Get inspired before your visit to Edinburgh with these novels and nonfiction to set the scene and learn more about the city.
- One Day by David Nicholls– Emma and Dexter meet and spend an evening together after university graduation in Edinburgh. The novel follows their relationship changes on the same day every year. Grab on Amazon*.
- 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith– In the first of a series, this book tells of the neighborhood and people surrounding an apartment in Edinburgh. The colorful characters include a young boy and his mother, a kooky widow and two twenty-something men. It started as a serial story in a newspaper. Grab on Amazon*.
- One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson– A retired millionaire and his on-and-off girlfriend travel to Edinburgh for a festival and stay when they witness a road rage attack. In the follow up to Case Histories, the ex-detective is pulled back in to solve the crime. Grab on Amazon*.
- My Heart is My Own: The Life of Mary, Queen of Scots by John Guy– For a bit of history before your visit to Scotland, read up on Mary, Queen of Scots, perhaps the most infamous ruler of the country that ascended to the throne as a child, saw her first husband assassinated and was executed by cousin Queen Elizabeth I of England. Grab on Amazon*.
- The Body Snatcher by Robert Louis Stevenson– In another tale of Edinburgh’s dark side, a young man studying medicine in Edinburgh recognizes a cadaver as a victim of murder. Instead of turning to the police, he tries to solve the mystery himself but instead finds himself as the target of suspicion. Grab on Amazon*.
Movies to Watch Before Visiting Edinburgh
While there are many films set in the Scottish Highlands and Scotland as a whole, namely Braveheart and Disney’s Brave, Edinburgh is a more unique backdrop for movies.
- Trainspotting– In one of Ewan McGregor’s early roles, a man attempts to give up his heroin addiction in the midst of the seedy Edinburgh underbelly. It begins to affect his relationships with his family and unusual group of friends who get themselves into trouble around town. Grab on Amazon*.
- Chariots of Fire– In the classic film, two sprinters, one Jewish and one Christian, compete in the 1924 Olympics. Both run because they have something to prove to their friends and family. It was filmed throughout England and Scotland, but filmed around Edinburgh, particularly at Arthur’s Seat. Grab on Amazon*.
- The 39 Steps– Directed by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock, a Canadian visitor to London meets a woman running from secret agents. They hide in her apartment, but she’s murdered during the night. Worried about being accused of the crime, he goes on the run. Memorable scenes were filmed at Forth Bridge. Grab on Amazon*.
- The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie– Dame Maggie Smith stars in one of her early roles as a private school teacher in 1930s Edinburgh. She teaches them about life beyond the subjects taught in school like art, politics and love. She later comes into conflict with one of her favorite students. Grab on Amazon*.
- Burke and Hare– In this dark comedy, a pair of enterprising grave robbers sell cadavers to an Edinburgh medical school. Based on a true story set in the nineteenth century, Simon Pegg and Isla Fisher star. Grab on Amazon*.
Top Things to Do in Edinburgh
Many of the major tourist attractions in Edinburgh relate to its history. There are dozens of museums, including art museums, but we’ve listed just the most popular. This doesn’t include the popular ghost tours and pub crawls.
Edinburgh Castle– The historic fortress is the most recognizable icon in the city that dates back to earlier than the 12th century. It was a royal residence until the 1600s and played a major role as a stronghold during wars. See the barracks and the Scottish Crown Jewels.
Holyrood Palace– The official royal residence of the British monarch in Scotland has been inhabited since the 16th century and is visited every summer by Queen Elizabeth. The State Apartments and the historic apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots are open to the public.
Arthur’s Seat– Rising over 800 feet above Edinburgh, it has sweeping views of the city below. It’s easy for beginners to climb and is a welcome change from the chaos of the city. It was made from an extinct volcano.
National Museum of Scotland– Get your dose of culture at this museum, which has exhibits on natural history, art and archaeology.
Royal Botanic Garden– Wander through the gardens that are known as the world’s largest collection of living plants.
Greyfriars Cemetery– In a city as old as Edinburgh, there are bound to be some ghost stories and most take place at this cemetery. Wander the graves of the famous Scots and hear the spooky stories about how some died.
- A Free, Self Guided Walking Tour of Edinburgh, Budget Traveller
- Things to Do in Edinburgh, The Trusted Traveller
Explore Edinburgh Castle independently and discover the delights of Scotland’s famous historical attraction at your own pace! Use your entrance ticket to head inside and walk around the public rooms and exhibition halls while learning about the battles and events that shaped Scottish history.
Whisky Masterclass Experience in Edinburgh – $61.40*
An in-depth tour for whisky enthusiasts: your Masterclass will start with an extended guided viewing of the world’s largest collection of Scotch Whisky over coffee and shortbread. A fun sensory perception test then prepares you for a comparative tasting of one Blended, one Single Grain and two Single Malt Whiskies, and nosing a new-make spirit.
Food and Drink in Edinburgh
Much of outsiders’ knowledge of Scottish cuisine is similar to dishes found in England and Ireland, which is partially true. You’ll find hearty stews, fish and chips and the breakfast fry ups. But there are also meals you won’t find anywhere else.
Haggis– Perhaps the most well known dish from Scotland, haggis is a savory pudding made of sheep’s lungs, heart and liver.
Smoked fish– Known as “smokie,” this dish of smoked haddock originated from a small fishing village. The fish are salted and hung overnight and are ready to eat the next day.
Cullen skink– Known as the national dish of Scotland, this dish is a soup featuring haddock in milky broth.
Porridge– The breakfast dish of boiled grains is similar to oatmeal and can be sweet or savory.
- 21 Incredible Things to Eat Right Now in Edinburgh Right Now, Buzzfeed
- 21 Delicious Scottish Treats Everyone Should Try, Buzzfeed
If you have any other suggestions for a trip to Edinburgh, please leave them in the comments!