Scotland’s largest city, Edinburgh is a contradiction in its unwavering commitment to traditional Scottish culture and its simultaneous embrace of international trends. Add to this that it’s a veritable mecca for Harry Potter fans, and it’s easy to see why so many people come to visit. But the lovely thing about Edinburgh, really, is that it lives up to all those expectations and also exudes an irresistible charm. I don’t know anyone that’s been to Edinburgh that hasn’t come away saying that they love it. Many can’t even explain why they love it so much, but it really does have that effect on people. If you’re not instantly turned off by the seven flights of stairs you must climb to get into the old town, or by the dreary weather, or by the blackened facades of all its gothic architecture….if you give Edinburgh even just a few days to win you over, it surely will. So in your quest to explore the city where Scottish traditions meets international culture, here’s my Edinburgh Visitors Guide to help you!
Edinburgh Visitors Guide
When To Go
Scotland isn’t known for its good weather. Quite the opposite really. I was there in August and found myself shivering cold surrounded by people in winter coats. I suppose the summer is the best time to go but you should know that if you’re looking for a sunny holiday, Edinburgh isn’t the spot. It’s also worth considering coming for the Fringe Festival in August, which is the world’s largest arts festival, drawing over 50,000 artists from around the world for three weeks of performances and nonstop entertainment.
How To Get There
You can fly straight into Edinburgh airport, or if you’re coming from London you can also take the train or bus. The latter options are of course longer, but generally cheaper and bring you straight into town.
What To See
Without a doubt, the biggest attraction is Edinburgh Castle, perched high up on a cliff in the center of town. It’s beautiful from the inside and outside, and can be seen from all around the city. The Royal Mile is the central artery through the city, on which you can find all sorts of stores and restaurants and historic sights. Escape the bustle of the city streets in The Meadows, a sprawling public park. And then pop over to the Grassmarket, which is a central square with pubs and shops.
What To Do
Don’t leave Scotland without going to a whiskey tasting and buying some tartan! There are plenty of options for this in and around Edinburgh. Also check out the many second hand bookstores, which have some antique gems! You should also visit the National Library of Scotland, which has a free exhibit and when I was there it was a collection of historic maps. The museums of Edinburgh and Scotland both offer free entry as well!
Where To Eat
Deacon Brodie’s tavern and Greyfriar’s Bobby are classic Scottish pubs where you can enjoy a meat pie and ale, perfect to warm up on a cold rainy day. The Halfway House is a pub halfway up those stairs you have to take to get into town, so if you’re exhausted halfway through, just stop in for a beer and some haggis (better than you’d think!) before continuing up. The White Hart is one of the city’s oldest pubs at 500 years, and that’s enough reason to stop in for dinner I think! Try some of the quirky independently owned cafes around town, often with a flair for international trends, like Lovecrumbs Café and Hula Juice Bar. Finally, don’t leave without stopping for lunch at Elephant House, where JK Rowling famously wrote much of her Harry Potter series. (And if you’re keen, visit the various spots around the city that inspired her work!)
Where To Drink
Edinburgh has more pubs per head than anywhere else! So of course when you’re here, you’ll need to join in and drink up. The Pilgrim Bar has a very cool bar made out of antique suitcases (so of course I loved that!), Frankenstein’s has a creepy but cool vibe from it’s monstrous namesake, and Maggie Dickson’s has an interesting story behind it which the bartender will gladly tell you! And if you want to find your favorite variety of whisky, go for the whisky flight at Albanach’s.
Where To Stay
Edinburgh has this lovely habit of putting hotels right above pubs, often owned and operated by the same folks. So you can go into the pub and have the bartender show you to your room, only to then find yourself down in the pub again enjoying a pint. It’s the Scottish way and I can’t argue with that! Try Malone’s or Beehive to get in on this action. (Book it here!)
Need To Know
You really do need to walk up a lot of stairs to get into town. I think there’s an access road that circumvents the stairs though, so a cab might be able to help the mobility disabled. ATMs are easy to find, and you can use British pounds or Scottish pounds. The city is quite safe and it’s easy to navigate the old town on foot. If you have more than a couple of days, you should definitely explore the new town and further afield to some distilleries, castles, and natural landscapes that are a daytrip away!