Scotland’s capital and second largest city, Edinburgh has to be the second coolest city in the UK. I’m not referring to temperature, although it is a bit chilly, I’m referring to its laid back atmosphere, wonderful people, and abundant awesomeness around every corner. Edinburgh is instantly likeable. The beautiful architecture of the old town, untouched by the devastation of war as London was, gives an old-world charm to its streets full of cafés, bars and pie shops. It is one of the world’s most beautiful major cities.
Each summer between July and September Edinburgh is the centre for the world’s largest international arts festival: the Edinburgh Festival. This festival encompasses The Fringe Festival, The International Festival, The Military Tattoo, The International Book Festival, as well as various film festivals, music festivals and ‘whatever else’ festivals. Festivals.
We were there to stay with friends for four nights either side of our dream Scotland whisky tour. Coincidentally, our trip that was planned to be specifically during Scotland’s warmest week, coincided with the start of The Fringe Festival. Cue beers, great food, whisky, comedy, and walking everywhere.
We arrived to Edinburgh on a flight from Bergen, via Oslo, courtesy of SAS airlines. We had purchased ‘SAS Go’ tickets four months in advance, which included a 20kg luggage allowance for £85 each. Flight time including delays, changed flights and a stop-over in Oslo, was four hours. Actual in-air flight time was 1h45m all up for both legs.
Flying is the only option from Bergen to Edinburgh.
If you are coming to Edinburgh from within the UK, you will find it connected by train and bus services, as well as domestic flights. Here’s a quick summary of your options from London to Edinburgh, with prices for peak season (outside of fringe festival), booking three months in advance.
London to Edinburgh bus – the cheapest and fastest option on the bus is the overnight service with National Express. This bus will get you from London Victoria to Edinburgh in 9h30m, for £10.50. Quite how they manage to do it for so cheap I don’t really know, but keep this in mind: YOU HAVE TO SLEEP ON THE BUS. Ugh. Maybe it’s better than wasting a whole day on the bus. If you want to travel during daylight you can get the 10 hour service that costs £12.80.
London to Edinburgh train – by far the cheapest and fastest train service is provided by Virgin Trains East Coast. These guys have tickets from £25, and the journey takes 4h20m. I’m fairly sure the Virgin Train search function aggregates services from other providers, but if you can’t find a good ticket on their site, try Trainline.
London to Edinburgh flight – Ryanair have flights from £15 that take 1h20m. It seems crazy, but it’s true. When you factor in airport transfers and wait times, you might be looking at more like a four hour trip in total for something like £30, which depending on your situation might be the better option.
If you land at Edinburgh airport you can catch the bus or tram into the city. The Airlink 100 bus costs £4.50 and takes 30 minutes, the tram costs £5.50 and takes 30 minutes. We actually caught a local bus on advice from our friends, which cost £3.20 each.
Once you’re in Edinburgh you can get around the city easily by walking. If you want to travel further than walking distance try using Lothian buses, tickets start from £1.60 and you need the correct change in cash if you aren’t a regular user.
Hint – Edinburgh is another city where walking will be rewarding. Not just for the exercise to work off all the drinks, but the architecture and local shops are worth seeing at street level.
We actually stayed with awesome friends in their awesome flat on Easter road, near Hibernian FC, so we didn’t pay for accommodation.
**Please note – prices are based on July rates, outside of the Fringe Festival.**
I would say with the large student population, and the general friendly nature of Scottish people, couchsurfing would be a great option for free accommodation in Edinburgh.
Using a site like Airbnb, you can find private bnb rooms from £27 per night, with an average of around £55. Whole apartments start at £65 and average around £120.
Hotel rooms in the city start from £70 per night for somewhere with good reviews (7.5/10 or more). For a hotel with a review rating of 8.5/10 or higher you should expect to pay upwards of £100 per night.
From our spot on Easter road we were able to walk anywhere we liked within a reasonable amount of time. Stay within two miles of Waverley station, anywhere further out is probably unnecessary. Edinburgh is quite condensed and most of the action is near the Royal Mile, so the closer you stay to there, the better.
I’ve got a special treat for this post. The one and only Amy Stewart; kiwi ex-pat, Edinburgh local, breakfast connoisseur, and all around art-extraordinaire, has agreed to contribute her thoughts on the best bars, coffee, beer, breakfast and non-breakfast food Edinburgh has to offer. This is inside info, people. Take note and once you’re done, go and read her excellent blog The Spruce Moose, which also has an Edinburgh guide map to use while you navigate the city.
Take it away Amy.
Even at the height of the Fringe you can find some central city solitude if you know where to look. The upstairs-downstairs layout of Edinburgh’s UNESCO-listed Georgian New Town is to thank for some great hidden bars. Labyrinthine servants’ quarters are now home to genius bars like Nightcap, which looks too small to be bothered about from the street but actually descends two floors underground with hidden rooms and private spaces (and great beer and wings with proper buffalo sauce). Incidentally, directly above Nightcap is Fortitude Coffee, which does excellent coffee but also the best hot chocolate in town.
There is a lot of good coffee in Scotland, and in Edinburgh it’s at Brew Lab, Century General Store, and Artisan Roast. There’s a lot of good beer too, and the best, friendliest places to find it are Jeremiah’s Taproom, the Stockbridge Tap, the Hanging Bat and (if you just want to buy it) Cornelius on Easter Road, which is famous for a reason. The prettiest pub is undoubtedly Bennets with its heritage-listed windows and super-friendly bar staff.
If you’re looking for whisky the Devil’s Advocate, hidden away just off the Royal Mile, has a lot of it by the dram. Touristy though it may be, the Scotch Whisky Experience is actually really educational and a good deal – and it has a barrel ride (as in, you go for a ride in barrel). If you’re looking for a special bottle to take home, head to Cadenhead’s on the Royal Mile – they rescue single and limited casks from distilleries that no longer operate or can’t afford to distribute and the staff, in our experience, are so good at finding what you’re after that they’re basically telepathic.
The best breakfast in town depends on what you’re after. The best full breakfast (with haggis) is to be had at a reborn old-man pub in the part of Leith that’s still a bit dodgy, The Roseleaf (you can book and I’d recommend it). The legendary bacon naan from London import Dishoom can now be had on St Andrew’s Square; for a killer Turkish mezze breakfast the only place is Pera on Leith walk; and for seasonal, Italian-leaning with a soundtrack of almost exclusively Biggy, there’s Polentoni on Easter Road.
Good Scottish fare can be had at quite a reasonable price at local institution The Dogs on Hanover Street (the owner is an infamous crank, so you’re not going for the service). For slightly expensive but awesome burgers (and poutine animal style – it’s all worth it) there’s Bread Meats Bread, and if you’re really skint head to the Mosque Kitchen for spartan, vegetarian, curry-based sustenance or to Oink for the exactly the opposite (pulled pork torn fresh from a carcass in the window).
A special mention in the sweets category goes to Mary’s Milk Bar, which is frequented by David Sedaris when he’s in town (his favourite flavour is milk). The flavours are sometimes bizarre but not in a try-hard way, just in a really, really good way.
As for my thoughts and recommendations:
The Royal Mile is the main thoroughfare of the old town, and where most of the action in the city takes place. When you’re in Edinburgh you will visit the Royal Mile at least 23 times. The mile connects the Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood palace.
The Edinburgh Castle is the city’s major landmark and Scotland’s most-visited paid tourist attraction. The history of the rock the castle is built on stretches back to the 2nd century AD, and the castle itself has the title of ‘most besieged palace in Great Britain’. It’s immense in more ways than one. Tickets to go inside cost £17 each.
Holyrood Palace, or The Palace of Holyroodhouse, is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland. If you pay £12.50 you can go inside and see all of the things the Queen has there.
The National Museum of Scotland is exactly what the name implies, and is definitely worth your time. It’s free to enter.
Edinburgh’s Camera Obscura is a cool place to get some history about the city, and perhaps look at it from a different point of view. Entry here is £15.
Arthurs Seat and the Salisbury Crags are located in Holyrood park. Definitely take a walk through the park and up the crags, the view over the city is incredible. If you are keen you can climb Arthur’s seat for the highest viewpoint.
Calton Hill is another fantastic spot for a view or a sunset. Situated in Regent Gardens, the hill is home to many of the city’s monuments, including the National Monument of Scotland, otherwise known as Edinburgh’s Folly.
Take a walk through the Princes Street Gardens for views of the Old Town architecture.
Edinburgh is a drinkers mecca. Even if you don’t like whisky (get out), the gin and beer scene in the city is exceptional. See Amy’s recommendations above, but here’s some more just in case.
The Halfway House is a traditional Scottish boozer, serving real ales and food.
Salt Horse is craft beer heaven just off the Royal Mile.
Cloisters Bar is another traditional bar that has a great selection of cask ales.
Summerhall Distillery is the home of Pickering’s Gin; if you like gin you need to try Pickering’s.
I second Amy’s recommendation of Cornelius and other off-license beer and wine shops. A important point to note is that you cannot buy alcohol from off-license shops after 22:00 in Scotland.
You can expect to pay between £3.50 and £4 for a pint of good beer in Edinburgh.
Amy has this sorted, but if you’re out and about check out The Piemaker for meat pies! If you fancy a good burrito, try Los Cardos, and another option for an amazing full-Scottish breakfast go to The Mash Tun.
Hint – Take a walk around Leith, it’s an interesting part of town and was the area that inspired Irvine Welsh when he wrote Trainspotting.
**A massive thank you to Amy and John for putting us up, cooking us amazing food, showing us around, and contributing to this blog.**
**excluding the meals our hosts cooked for us**
Edinburgh for four nights;
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