Nature, city life and history come together in Scotland’s capital that offers a little something for everybody. It’s a beautiful place with lots to explore in the city and out of it with lots of attractions just a bus or train ride away.
If arriving by air, Edinburgh Airport is just outside the city and there are a couple of buses to take to the city center. One costs less but takes about an hour, the Airlink 100 costs a few more pounds at £5 for a round trip (so you can get back to their airport when you’re ready to leave), but takes a more direct route.
As for getting around the city once you’re there, plan to do a lot of walking. There are plenty of buses, but traffic can get pretty crazy and sometimes it might be quicker (and cheaper) to walk anyway. Just know that Edinburgh is a relatively hilly city, so you’ll definitely have some uphill climbs, but most of the city’s attractions and highlights are just a short stroll from the center of town.
Trains are also a valid option if you’re coming from elsewhere in the UK, though they take longer than flying and aren’t necessarily any cheaper. However, if you’re looking for a day trip out of the city, Edinburgh Waverly train station might be your best bet for both time and low fares.
Enjoy Ediburgh for Free
Scottish National Gallery: A beautifully arranged gallery with paintings, sculptures, etc. from the masters. Poussin, Rembrandt, even DaVinci’s work could be found on the walls. It also houses my new favorite sculpture: “The Kiss” by Rodin.
Arthur’s Seat: This extinct volcano will thrill the outdoor enthusiasts. It’s the highest point in the city, offering spectacular views of the city below beyond its waving grasses, but the climb to the top is not for the faint of heart. It takes quite a bit of exertion, so bring a snack (and a camera), but the effort is well worth it.
Monuments: Don’t forget to check out the monuments scattered around the city. The most prominent is the Scott Monument right in the center of town in honor of one of the city’s most famous writers, Sir Walter Scott. You’ll also find a statue of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on Picardy Place and the Melville Monument in St. Andrew Square.
The Writer’s Museum: This free museum celebrates the lives and works of three famous Scottish writers, Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott. The museum isn’t huge, but on display are articles that belonged to the writers as well as their books, notes and plenty of information about their lives. There’s also a great literary-minded gift shop inside.
Parks: Holyrood Park, outside of the Queen’s Scotland residence, is a relaxing place to sit and have a snack, as is Princes Street Gardens where visitors can enjoy green grasses, bright flowers and plenty of foliage in the center of the city.
Our Favorite Things
Edinburgh Castle: If castles are your thing, don’t miss this one. Guided tours occur frequently throughout the day and are included in the price of admission. The Scottish Crown Jewels are on display here and there is a military museum and war memorial, too. You’ll also enjoy impressive views of the city from the castle on a hill. Admission is a bit steep at £16 per person.
Edinburgh Dungeon: If you like your history presented in the guise of entertainment (who doesn’t?), be sure to check out the Edinburgh Dungeon. Actors in period costume lead you through the “dungeons” of the city, offering frights, laughs, and a few surprises in the interactive history lesson. We were surprised at how much fun it turned out to be. The actors were entertaining, the details gruesome, and it made learning about the grisly murders and plagues of the city fun. Admission is normally £16.50 at the door or £10.50 online in advance, but if you stop at the tourist center next door, you can pick up a map of the city with a buy-1-get-1 coupon.
North Berwick & the Scottish Seabird Center: Just a 20 minute train ride from Edinburgh is North Berwick, a quaint coastal town with a neat educational center perfect for all ages. After you’ve finished taking in the stunning views of the sea, tour the center to learn about the wildlife that graces North Berwick with it’s presence every year. Depending on what season you visit you might see puffins, seals, gannets or other birds on the several uninhabited rock islands off the coast. At the center you can learn about the wildlife and the islands, view their activity from live, interactive video feeds, and even watch them through high-powered telescopes. Admission is £8.95 but they also offer boat trips to the rocks to get an up close and personal look at the wildlife which start at £16.
Grab a Bite
Convenient marts like M&S and Tesco are a great place to find lunch or lunch fixings to enjoy in your room or at a park. They have ready-made sandwiches, salads and pasta dishes that cost less than a sandwich at a restaurant. It’s also a good place to grab a piece of fruit, bread and cheese for afternoon snacks.
Cafés abound. Treat yourself to an afternoon pick-me-up of a pastry or scone and tea or a mocha for a few pounds.
BHS (British Home Stores), on top of it’s clothing and goods departments, contains a supermarket and a small cafe with reasonable prices.
Money Saving Tips
As for the Edinburgh Pass, whether or not it’s worth the cash depends on what you plan to see and do while you’re there. Print out a list of the attractions included in the Pass, then make a separate list of things you plan on seeing and doing while you’re there and how much they cost per person. Compare the lists and if your personal list of desires adds up to more than the cost of a Pass, it might be worth it. But doing your homework first could save you a bundle!
If you’re backpacking the city and are stuck with your pack for the day, head to National Gallery, which is pretty much at the center of everything, and rent a locker for the day. It’s only £1-£2 but the literal weight off your back is priceless.
For a much longer list of Edinburgh attractions, including free ones, and info on prices and getting around, check out www.edinburgh.org. Enjoy your trip!