Are you looking for an insider’s travel guide on Edinburgh?
Jools shares with us his insider knowledge on what to do in Edinburgh for those looking for the best places to see, eat, stay, drink, explore, and hangout.
Take it away Jools…
Why Visit Edinburgh?
Edinburgh has pretty much everything a traveller could ask for, apart from decent summer weather.
Centuries of history, beautiful architecture, a great dining scene, tonnes of good pubs, lots of arts and culture, lovely green spaces, the works. It’s very safe too and easily walkable.
Best Things to See and Do?
Depends how you define an attraction.
Most people will want to see Edinburgh Castle. The national museums and galleries are all very good. The Parliament building is quite a structure and is certainly interesting to look at.
The Botanical Gardens are well worth a stroll around too. And of course we now have a pair of Giant Pandas at the Zoo.
I also like the Surgeon’s Hall Museum, which has lots of ghoulish things and connections with Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle.
Where to Eat in Edinburgh?
For tasty, good value food, Monpeliers in Bruntsfield is always a good bet. You’ll get a decent Scottish breakfast or Morning Roll there too.
The Outsider is one of my faves for dinner. Good menu of contemporary, modern dishes, high windows and great views of the Old Town.
For fine dining, head to Leith which is home to all of our Michelin starred restos.
My favourites are the Canny Man, partly because it’s just across the road from me, very atmospheric place with lots of quirky old paraphernalia hanging from the rafters and a good beer garden, which is rare here.
The Queen’s Head is a good option for a swift one in the city centre. Scotland’s oldest pub, the Sheep’s Heid (you have to say it with a Scots accent!) is also worth the country walk to Duddingston Village.
Best Area for a Night on the Town?
The Old Town has a good concentration of bars, spit n sawdust boozers and a few clubs and a decent mix of tourists, students and locals.
Though lively, I’d avoid the Grassmarket and Cowgate on a Friday or Saturday night, unless you like to run shoulders with the stag and hen party crowds.
Where to Stay in Edinburgh?
I’m a big fan of Malmaison hotel chain. Their one here is in Leith, right on the waterfront.
Bonham’s is a very cosy, genuinely boutique near the West End and close to everything. There’s a fair few hostels too. There’s a great one on Belford Road, in a converted church near a lovely river walk.
Best Neighbourhoods in Edinburgh?
I would say Leith, Stockbridge and Bruntsfield. The latter two are quite villagey and studenty.
Leith has been gentrified a lot since the days of Trainspotting, but still has a multi-cultural, earthy vibe. The New Town’s really beautiful too.
You can walk almost everywhere, if you don’t mind the odd hill. Buses are frequent and reliable and there’s a small tram line coming soon.
Make sure you don’t get suckered in by the extortionate tourist pass though and get a Day Saver ticket instead, which gets you unlimited rides on Lothian Buses for a day for just for £3.20.
Markets and Shopping in Edinburgh?
We don’t have much in the way of markets, but the Farmers Market on Saturdays is good for local foodie stuff.
Lots of little women’s boutiques around the West End. George Street and Rose Street are good for that too. Great little arts & design and vintage shops around Victoria Street and the Grassmarket.
Princes Street is the main shopping drag with all the chainstores you’d expect, and it’s a good deal more attractive than most cities’ as well, thanks to Princes St Gardens and views of the Old Town skyline.
Events and Festivals?
Festival madness descends on the capital in August, when we have the Fringe Festival (comedy, theatre, cabaret) the International Festival (more highbrow, opera, ballet, dance, big productions of classic theatre) the International Book Festival, plus an art festival and half a dozen other satellite festivals.
There’s other stuff on throughout the spring of course, most notably the Film Festival in June, but really if you’re going to come here, then August is the hot month (not literally though!), hands down.
Favourite Side Trip?
South Queensferry is a lovely seaside resort, dominated by views of the impressive Forth Bridge and boat trips out to Inchcolm Abbey, a ruin where you can sometimes see seals and dolphins en route.
North Berwick and Dunbar are other seaside towns which have retained their character very well, easily reached by a 30 minute train ride. Good coastal walks and nice independent shops and seafood restaurants.
Best Time to Visit Edinburgh?
August, see above!
How Many Days Needed in Edinburgh?
4 or 5 days should cover most stuff in the city centre and key neighbourhoods nearby, but the East Lothian and Fife coast is perhaps worth extending your trip by a few extra days for.
Glasgow too, since it’s less than an hour away by train and is very different type of city with great shopping and nightlife.
Good Resources on Edinburgh?
My local blogging pal Budget Traveller has some good budget friendly tips on the city too.
Getting There and Away?
There are plenty of flight connections from most of Europe, a few from the US and further afield.
If you’re coming from afar, your best bet is probably a flight to London, followed by the train, since there aren’t that many affordable direct long haul flights here anyway.
The train from London takes around 4.5 hours and you can break the journey in York, which is another fine, historic British city.
I wouldn’t bother with the bus (or coaches as we ll call them here) unless your budget is uber-spartan, but the Megabus sleeper bus from London is a low cost option.
Best “insiders” Tip?
When you first arrive, make sure you get yourself a ‘Jimmy hat’ to blend in properly with the natives
I Love Edinburgh because?
…it’s the best looking British city for its age!
More Resources for Edinburgh
Check out these helpful travel guides:
- Lonely Planet Pocket Edinburgh (Pocket Guide)
- Time Out Edinburgh: And the Best of Glasgow (Time Out Guides)
Bio: A freelance writer and social media junkie, Jools runs Trains on the Brain, a blog dedicated to trains and the places they take you. He also looks after the social presence of the Train Chartering Company, who run all sorts of fun events on rails and offer travel on all of the world’s greatest luxury train rides.