There is something about Edinburgh that made me feel as if I was walking through a storybook. This city has a way of making you feel like your living out an old movie or one of the stories that you used to be told as a child. There are parts of the city that you almost wonder if you’re going to encounter a dragon, a knight, or a dazzling princess. However, there are also parts of Edinburgh that are modern and metropolitan. In many ways, Edinburgh has it all; and there is really no doubt to anyone who visits why this is one of the top attractions in all of the UK. Unlike any other city in Europe Edinburgh will steal your imagination and, in many ways, bring you back to a simpler time when the world was a place of bedtime stories.
Time Needed: 3-4 days
Backpacker’s Budget: 50-60 Pounds
Things to do for Free or Cheap
Most of the attractions in Edinburgh won’t destroy your wallet too badly, however if you pack things in your budget might deplete faster than you think. If you’re trying to pack a lot of things into a couple of days you’ll probably want to get an Edinburgh Pass which will save you a lot of money if you’re busy. Below I have listed some of the top attractions as well as some free things to do.
- Museums: There are actually a bunch of good free museums in town if your budget is really tight. The National Museum of Scotland is among the favourites of most and is quite a classic museum. As a writer, I really enjoyed The Writer’s Museum as well. Although I didn’t visit them, The Museum on the Mound, The People’s Story and The Museum of Childhood are also free.
- Edinburgh Castle: This is by far the top attraction in town. In fact, it’s so busy that you’ll need to book a time for your visit. If you book online, the price of a ticket is 14.50 pounds. http://tickets.historic-scotland.gov.uk/
- Arthur’s Seat: For a great view, the hill they call a mountain offers a beautiful overlook of the city and the harbour. Be warned, no matter what the temperature is like on the bottom, pack a jacket and something to keep you dry since the wind and rain can come up at any time.
- Carlton Hill: The best location in the city to shoot sunset. It’s beautiful up here.
- Forth Bridge: If you’re a photographer this is one of the great images in the area. If you’re not a photographer the beautiful bridge may still be worth the train trip out to see it. There is no price of admission or anything like that, but you will have to buy a round trip train ticket.
- Edinburgh Zoo: The main attraction of the zoo is that they now have two young panda bears. Otherwise, it’s a fairly typical zoo with monkeys, lions and zebras. If you have an Edinburgh pass it is free, otherwise the price is 15.50 pounds.
- Parks and Gardens: Beyond the architecture Edinburgh is also known for its parks and gardens, and the best part is that they are all free. The Edinburgh Botanical Gardens is a huge park that is easy to spend a couple hours wandering around. Nearby, there is also The Water of Leith which is a riverside pathway which is a nice stroll. Of course, there are a number of other more general park in the city as well.
- The Palace of Holyroodhouse: Often simply known as “The Queen’s Residences” Holyroodhouse sits at the bottom of Arthur’s Seat and is an impressive residence. It isn’t free to visit and will cost you 10.75 pounds unless you have an Edinburgh Pass in which case it’s included
- Scottish Seabird Center: This is perhaps one of the least visited of the tourist stops in Edinburgh, likely because it’s a ways out of town and you’d have to take the train. However, they are worth a visit as they are a great way to get in touch with the natural sid of things and besides: there are puffins there! Price of admission is 7.95 pounds for adults.
Eating on the Cheap
Like is the case in most of the UK, eating on the cheap isn’t as challenging as you might think. The tricky part, however, is doing so healthy. Most pubs offer great dinner prices, but the food is often going to go right to your belly. The best advice I can give you to eat on the cheap is to get off the tourist streets a bit. There are plenty of great sandwich shops and cafes down the back roads of the city. If you’re staying at a hostel you can always cook a few meals as well.
Where to Stay in Edinburgh
I stayed at the Westend Hotel which is a little bit like a hostel that thinks it is a hotel. I will have a review on it in a couple of days, but really don’t have any complaints. It is quiet, the staff is great, and there is a beautiful breakfast, and a bar with cheap drinks. What else could you ask for really? On the other hand, if you’re looking or a busier place where it might be easier to meet people I stopped in to visit some friends at the Castle Rock Hostel which had a really good vibe, although certainly louder and dirtier.
The second time I was in the city, I stayed much more upmarket. I stayed at Edinburgh Central Guest House, which was so good. It’s about $90-110 a night depending on the night, but the location makes it worth it. I don’t think you can get much more central.
You can check out all the Edinburgh accommodation here.
Getting out of Town
Edinburgh is really well connected to the rest of the UK by both rail and by bus. If you’re heading on a long trip, say to London, Liverpool or Manchester the train will be twice as quick but also cost twice as much. Check online to see if you can find cheap rail tickets though, because the quicker service is worth it. If you’re heading to somewhere like Inverness or Glasgow I would just hop the bus as it’s quite cheap and there is no major advantage to taking the train.
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