Introduction to Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh Festival has made the city a go to destination for travellers over the summer months, when the city is transformed from a relaxed student city to a buzzing centre of arts and comedy. However, this beautiful, vibrant city is an unmissable destination all year round, with visiting it outside of the festival season having the added advantage of tourist-free streets. Scotland’s capital is often called the Athens of the North and as soon as you step off the train at Waverly station it is obvious why-it must be one of the most stunning cities in the UK. Add to this a wealth of history and culture, wonderful places to eat and to stay, a vibrant night life, beautiful countryside and a youthful atmosphere provided by the city’s several universities, and you have a destination guaranteed to overwhelm you.

Edinburgh Castle

Flickr: dajobe

Best things to do and places to visit in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle

Probably the most iconic image of Edinburgh, the castle stands on a high, craggy hill towering over Princes Street gardens. If you visit one historic thing in Edinburgh, you should make it this. Situated at the top of the Royal Mile (or High Street as it’s really called), the castle is really a collection of buildings enclosed within the castle walls. These include the National War Museum, St Margaret’s Chapel, and the Royal Palace with the Crown Jewels and the Stone of Scone. Although the castle is expensive-an entrance ticket is £16 or £12.80 if you’re unemployed-it is definitely worth the price. Alternatively, if you visit the castle on 30th November, St Andrew’s day, entrance is free! What a bargain.

Royal Mile

This road, leading down from the castle to Holyrood Palace, is quite rightly a tourist hot-spot in the town. A beautifully preserved old street of hotels, pubs and the ubiquitous tourist shops selling tartan hats and bagpipe fridge magnets (Thistle Do Nicely winning the award for best name), the Mile finishes at the castle in a square with wonderful views over the city, where concerts and festival events are staged. Although there is fairly high concentration of twee tourism, there are also lots of little alleyways and courtyards to explore,  and a few genuinely old and interesting shops.

Holyrood Palace

At the other end of the Royal Mile, Holyrood Palace is the Queen’s official residence in Scotland, even though she prefers to stay in the countryside-set Balmoral. Unlike the craggy, forbidding castle, Holyrood is a lot more palace-like, with state and apartments to visit. Probably the most famous resident of the palace is the ill-fated Mary, Queen of Scots. It was in the palace that her secretary, David Rizzio, was murdered in front of her by her second husband, Lord Darnley. There is still a stain on the floorboards which is said to be a patch of his blood-although it would have to have survived a change of floorboards.  Admission is £11 or £10 for students, and includes a (very good) audio tour.

Arthur’s Seat

Edinburgh is actually built on, and around volcanos-the rock on which the castle stands is a volcano, and towering Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park, is another. Ascending Arthur’s Seat in good weather gives an amazing view of Edinburgh, Leith and across the Firth of Forth. There are various different routes of varying difficulty up the Seat, so whether you’re feeling healthy and up for some mountain climbing, or in the mood for a gentle amble, you’ll be happy either way.

Where to eat in Edinburgh

There are plenty of places to eat here in Edinburgh. Give these places a try:

  • For delicious, cheap comfort food, MUMS on Forrest Road, near the University of Edinburgh, is the place to go. They serve a range of traditional stodgy grub like bangers and mash, pies and fish and chips, all for reasonable prices (from £6.95 for sausage, mash and gravy, or shepherd’s pie), as well as haggis if you’re feeling adventurous. It’s also situated within easy reach of the Grassmarket and the Cowgate, so if you fancy a drink after you don’t have far to walk.
  • Elephant House is the café in which J K Rowling famously penned the first of the Harry Potter books, and is handily located on George IV Bridge, just off the Royal Mile. It offers  an extensive menu for all times of the day (including haggis, neeps and tatties!) and also serves wines and beers.  It’s rather more expensive the average café, but is worth it for the atmosphere, and the balcony at the back offering a stunning view of the castle.
  • Kilamanjaro café is situated on Nicholson Street-the studenty part of town-and is quite possibly the perfect café, with a relaxed, cosy vibe, comfy, mismatched furniture and delicious food. The staff are friendly and welcoming, and probably its only downside is its popularity, which can lead to queues outside the door. Coffee, cakes and smoothies are all on offer, but the real highlights are their soups and paninis.  Their coffee is delicious, and they also offer cooked breakfasts. Prices start from about £5 for a panini or £6.50 for a (highly recommended) Scottish Breakfast.

Nightlife in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Night

Flickr: the Magnificent Octopus

  • Where to go for a night out really depends on what you fancy. The bars and clubs of George Street, in New Town, such as PoNaNa, Lulu , Opal Lounge and Shanghai, are fairly notorious for being popular with Edinburgh’s rich young people, and so tend to have a fairly pretentious atmosphere. Having said that, if you choose the right night, they offer glamorous settings, fancy cocktails and well-dressed clientele for a reasonable price. Avoid WhyNot which has the high prices without the classy atmosphere.
  • The Grassmarket and the Cowgate, in the Old Town, are where to head for a relaxed, fun night, and tend to be the locals’ destination of choice.  The Last Drop is very popular-cosy, relatively inexpensive, and serving good food. Biddy Mulligans is a cheap and also does good food, but does tend to be a stag and hen destination at weekends. Maggie Dicksons is named after a fishwife who survived a hanging, and is a great little pub with an interesting history and a quirky décor. On the Cowgate, Sneaky Pete’s is probably the best venue-it’s cheap, loud and often has live music. It’s not the place to go for some quiet drinks, but for a fun night in a great atmosphere it’s the perfect place.
  • Cab Vol on Blair Street is a great club- set in Edinburgh vaults, it feels like an underground cave, with stone ceilings and a dark atmosphere. It often has live music, so it’s worth checking the website (entry prices vary as well depending on the night so check first). There’s usually a good mixed crowd and drinks aren’t too pricey either. A really good alternative club.

Where to Stay in Edinburgh

  • Budgetbackpackers on the Cowgate is highly recommended hostel and was voted No.1 in Scotland last year by hostelworld.com guests. The staff are very friendly and the food and drink reasonably priced. They also organise events such as walking tours and pub crawls. Typical rates are £17.00 a bed for a 6 person mixed dorm, or £27.00 for a twin room bed.
  • Castle Rock Hostel has a brilliant location right next to the castle, and is also a frequent recipient of Hostel World awards. It has very friendly staff and characterful rooms, as well as also offering the chance to do walking tours, pub crawls etc. Rates start from £11 for a 10+ dorm bed, or £45 for a double room.
  • Royal Mile Backpackers is another handily located hostel. It’s smaller than other hostels, with a cosy feel, and the rooms are given names to theme them, which adds to the friendly atmosphere. Rates start at £13.00 for a bed in 6-10 dorm.

Getting To and Around Edinburgh: Transport Options

  • Lothian Buses, which operate in Edinburgh, are reliable and regular. A ticket costs £1.40 (the price is the same regardless of the journey).
  • In terms of getting to Edinburgh, trains run there from most UK cities, and even if there isn’t a direct service,  you should be able to make the journey with minimum changes. Although the journey takes a long time (about 5 hours from London), both the East Coast and West Coats train routes go through some spectacular countryside, making it a much better option than flying. You can also take a sleeper train up from London.
  • If you do decide to fly up, the flight takes 45 min to an hour to UK destinations. Edinburgh Airport also has European flights. Ryanair, Flybe and Easyjet all operate from the airport. There is a shuttle bus which runs between Waverly Station and the airport and costs £3, whilst Lothian buses also operate a service for the standard price of £1.40, although it does take twice the time of the shuttle bus.

Written by Jessica Lee.

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