Edinburgh is a really interesting city. The capital of Scotland, it’s split into two distinct ‘towns’. The Medieval Old Town and the Georgian New Town. It’s packed with everything you’d expect from a major city. History, famous stadiums, shops, restaurants, parks, hotels, museums and cathedrals. It’s hilly but compact which makes it easy to get around most of the main attractions and the architecture throughout the city is stunning.
These are just some of the reasons why we think Edinburgh is worth a visit and we hope this destination guide will help you plan yours.
Getting to Edinburgh
You can fly into Edinburgh Airport with plenty of airlines including EasyJet, Ryanair, Jet2.com, British Airways, Aer Lingus, KLM, Virgin Atlantic, United, Lufthansa, Austrian, Etihad Airways, Tui and Airfrance. We flew to Edinburgh from Cardiff and booked our flights through Skyscanner.
Return adult fares cost us £72.30 (including taxes) and for the teens it was £46.30. Scheduled flight time is 1 hour 25 minutes, although the actual flight was more like just over an hour.
We booked parking at the Airport short stay car park through Holiday Extras which cost £35. The car park was very well sign posted from the main road into the Airport and everything ran smoothly. Your vehicle’s number plate is automatically read and opens the barrier both on your arrival and exit. On the way back we were in the car and on our way within 20 minutes of landing despite having baggage in the hold. It doesn’t get much more efficient or convenient!
Transfer from Airport
Edinburgh Airport is around 8.5 miles from the city centre and transfer time is approximately 30 minutes by taxi, tram or bus and prices vary. Lothian Bus has a transfer service which works out at £30 return trip for a family of four and will take you to Waverley Bridge. The tram costs £6 each one way and stops in Princes Street. A taxi will cost approximately £25 from the airport to a city centre hotel.
We decided to take a taxi for the convenience of being dropped off right outside our hotel and because our return journey would be too early to use Public transport anyway. As a bonus we were lucky enough to have been driven by someone who had lived and worked in Edinburgh all his life. He had lots of interesting information and made our journey very enjoyable.
Where we stayed in Edinburgh
We decided we wanted to stay in the Old Town for a number of reasons. Its buildings are obviously older and we really like the architecture here. It’s also very convenient for the Castle, Museums, the Scottish Parliament building and the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
We liked the look of the Hilton Edinburgh Carlton and, being just of the Royal Mile, about half way up, is in a great location. We got a great deal through booking.com bagging a double room (2 double beds) on a bed and breakfast basis and were not disappointed with our choice. It was perfect for a family of four and we were very impressed with the hotel. The public areas had a decadent feel and our room was spacious and very comfortable with views of the city and partially of The Royal Mile.
Prior to travelling we had contacted the hotel to ask whether we would be able to check in early (or at least leave our luggage with them) and also to arrange an early breakfast on our last day as we had an early flight. The hotel were very accommodating and agreed both requests. As it happened our room was ready on arrival which was around 11 am. This was a huge bonus.
Breakfast at the Hotel was very good. Serving all the usual fare including continental and cooked buffet breakfast (including haggis), a great selection of pastries, waffles, fresh fruit, cereals, tea, coffee and juices. Eggs benedict and omelettes were available to order and both were great.
How we got around
We explored Edinburgh entirely by foot. We think this is the best way to see most cities. Especially where they are compact enough to do so. This guidebook and map helped.
We had been to Edinburgh once before and had researched, before our visit, some of the places we wanted to visit. All of them were within walking distance of the city centre and it was quite liberating not to have to rely upon any transport. There are hop-on hop-off buses operating in the city which can take you out to the Royal Yacht Britannia and other places just outside the centre.
Buses run 24 hours a day. There are a few companies but most notable are Lothian and First. Tickets vary in price but a single trip ticket costs around £1.70 (80p for a child). With Lothian you can get a day ticket for £4 which includes the trams for one day (£2 for a child). This however does not include transport from the Airport. They do however have a Lothian Adult Airport DAYTicket which is £9.
The tram system in Edinburgh has 15 stops running from Edinburgh Airport to the New Town. Trams run from 5.29 a.m. to 11.08 p.m. and the first tram leaves the airport at 6.15 a.m. Again you can buy single tickets, return tickets, day tickets or family tickets. Tickets can be purchased from the tram vending machines at each tram stop. transportforedinburgh.com
When we went to Edinburgh
A year-round destination we chose to visit Edinburgh in the February half term break.
The weather was cold then, but this is expected in Edinburgh in February. When we arrived at the Hotel we were surprised to see a snow shower but then the sun came out and the skies were blue. We also experienced rain and high winds. A bit of everything really! But it didn’t stop us from getting out and about or from doing the things we had planned to do.
Money in Edinburgh
Like the rest of mainland Britain the currency of Edinburgh is the Great British Pound and cards and cash are widely accepted. Prices are pretty much the same as anywhere else in the UK.
One of the great things about Edinburgh as a city is, like a lot of places in the UK, there are lots of things to do for free. You don’t have to pay to see any of the outdoor sights or to enter museums.
Food and Drink in Edinburgh
You will not have a problem finding somewhere to eat in Edinburgh. There are literally hundreds of places and you really are never more than a few paces from one. You can’t go to Edinburgh without trying at least one of the local dishes. We had haggis and oats a couple of times. We even had them at breakfast!
Most famous fast food restaurants have a presence in Edinburgh. Some even have views of the Castle. There are also lots of cafes, coffee shops and bakeries and you are never far away from one. We didn’t make any plans around eating during the day but if we saw somewhere we liked the look of we just stepped right in.
You will also find most high street chain restaurants all over the City.
We booked to eat dinner in the Marco Pierre White Steakhouse and Grill located within the Hilton Edinburgh Carlton. The menu was so good we had a tricky time deciding what to order. In the end we plumped for Fillet Steak and Fish and chips. The puddings were really good. We had the Sticky Toffee pudding with ice cream and Millionaire’s shortbread with bitter chocolate ice cream. The latter was so big we couldn’t finish it! But they were both delicious.
What we did in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is a fairly compact city with no real need to use transport. Especially if you, like us, enjoy walking. We got around the city centre several times during our visit and this is what we did.
We had read that Calton Hill is a great place to take in all the views of Edinburgh. In our opinion it’s the best without a doubt. Very accessible and close to the city, you get to see everything at a fairly close range. The walk is uphill but not too strenuous to this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As the sun had come out we decided to make this our first port of call as it was approximately a 10 minute walk from our Hotel. The views did not disappoint. From Calton Hill we could see right down Princes Street, up to the Castle, the Royal Mile down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the new Scottish Parliament building. On the other side we saw the Firth of Forth and right in the distance the Forth bridge.
As well as the views there are a number of interesting buildings and monuments on Calton Hill. The Dugald Stewart Monument, Nelson Monument (a tall tower shaped like a telescope) and the National Monument to Scottish soldiers and sailors who died fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. This monument was left unfinished due to lack of funds.
We happened to be on Calton Hill at exactlty the right time to hear the One O’clock Gun firing. One O’clock! Which was a bit of a shock as we weren’t expecting it! The gun is fired at this time every day (except Sundays, Good Fridays and Christmas Day) and it was great to be up there to experience it.
Dean Village is a picturesque residential area just outside the city centre. We walked here and it was only approximately 10 minutes from the end of Princes Street. It has some great photographic opportunities although the lighting didn’t favour us when we were there. We’d read a lot about this place before our visit and, maybe because of that, we were a bit disappointed. It’s a nice looking place, yes. But there wasn’t much to keep us interested there and we have to say that we wouldn’t go again. It was nice to have seen it but if you’re short on time our opinion would be to stay in the city centre. But that’s just our opinion.
One of us took the opportunity to climb Arthur’s Seat which was fantastic fun and something we’d definitely do again. Make no mistake this is a short but tough hike. Not a walk for the faint of heart. Especially in the wind. And the rain. In fact the final sections are more of a scramble. Getting off the summit isn’t any easier. Especially when the rock is wet. You have been warned! But if you have the time it’s worth doing. It took around half an hour to get to the top, around 20 minutes to get back down and offered great views over the city and out to sea.
Museum on the Mound
We thought this was a wonderful little Museum. Home to the head office of Lloyds Bank in Scotland The Museum has lots of interactive activities. We cracked a safe, won some chocolate money, constructed some buildings and saw what £1 million looks like. Although we weren’t here for a huge amount of time we absolutely loved it and thoroughly recommend it. Open daily (except Mondays) museumonthemound.com
The Royal Mile
The main street in the Old Town The Royal Mile runs from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. And it’s a mile long! It’s also a very atmospheric street with a bit of a Gothic feel.
It’s a hilly walk up to the Castle with an abundance of shops, restaurants, cafes and bars along the way. At the bottom is the Palace of Holyroodhouse and just before it is the Scottish Parliament Building.
Museum of Childhood
One of a number of museums on The Royal Mile, The Museum of Childhood, really did take as back. We’re sure that most visitors to this museum can lay claim to having owned or at least played with many of the exhibits. We didn’t stay long but, again, admission into the museum is free of charge.
The Writers’ Museum
We called into The Writer’s Museum and stayed a wee while. It is quite small but interesting nonetheless. Especially if you’re a reader, writer or historian. You access the museum through an alleyway off The Royal Mile (Lady Stair’ Close). Writers honoured here include Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. edinburghmuseums.org.uk/writers-museum
The Castle itself is magnificent. Standing high at the top of the Royal Mile it can be seen from just about anywhere in the city. But you also get some great views from here. You can walk right up to it for free but there is an entry fee payable to enter the Castle. www.edinburghcastle.scot
Victoria Street leads from Grassmarket to George IV Bridge. It’s a pretty, colourful street with what looks like an upstairs and downstairs. It is worth taking one of the staircases up to get the full experience. Full of independent shops there’s a Harry Potter store here and it’s said to be J K Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley.
Greyfriars Kirk and Kirkyard
Greyfriars Kirk is a church in Edinburgh surrounded by a large cemetery called Greyfriars Kirkyard. In the heart of the City it’s worth a wander. Especially for fans of Harry Potter. This is the home of the tomb of one Thomas Riddell Esq. Not Lord Voldermort you understand.
Also in the graveyard is a headstone dedicated to Greyfriars Bobby. Legend says that the Skye Terrier, visited the grave of his master every day for 14 years. A statue stands nearby on Chambers Street.
National Museum of Scotland
This truly is a great museum. There are some fantastic exhibits over 3 levels and the architecture inside is simply stunning. We didn’t but you could probably spend an entire day here. There’s a restaurant and a cafe and also some areas to picnic although these were very small and always occupied. It was busy on the day we visited but it was raining so that could’ve contributed to the number of people.
Exhibits range from Dinosaurs to Dolly the sheep and Ancient Egypt to Nintendo games consoles. Something for everyone. national-museum-of-scotland
Admission free Open daily (except Christmas Day).
Scottish National Gallery
We’re not really huge fans of portraits. Or galleries. So it came as a bit of surprise that we enjoyed the Scottish National Gallery. And we really did. A truly beautiful, quiet, calm and serene interior houses portraits painted by greats such as Botticelli, Raphael and Titian. It’s also home to the famous Monarch of the Glen by Edwin Landseer. It was a real privilege to see these paintings.
Admission free Open daily (except Christmas Day).
We love Edinburgh and even enjoyed it when we visited in February. There are so many things to do in Edinburgh that a few days is not really enough. We haven’t got around all of the things we’d like to do and see here even after 2 visits. We’ll probably drive next time but we will definitely be going back!
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