Edinburgh: The Ultimate Guide To Scotland’s Capital

Edinburgh Castle

~This post ‘Edinburgh: The Ultimate Guide To Scotland’s Capital’ is a tribute to one of our very first trips together~

Edinburgh is Scotland’s capital, one of the most visited cities of the United Kingdom, and the true Kingdom’s financial and political hub. Stretching over seven hills, Edinburgh maintains its old-fashioned style thanks to the many ancient remains which can still be found in the city, primarily in the Old Town and New Town, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There are plenty of things to do Edinburgh. It is a city we truly enjoyed. The locals are very welcoming and the whisky is…one of the finest in the world! From rich history to hidden gems, Edinburgh is the perfect place for a getaway. 

The Old Town and the New Town

The Old Town was the heart of the Medieval town and it is made of several labyrinths of narrow cobblestone streets. It is a very suggestive part of the city that has kept its Medieval spirit. The Old Town is reputedly the most haunted part of the city. Legend says that you could come face to face with some ancient residents in the old town. 

The Medieval Old Town with its beautiful castle sits side the elegant Georgian New Town.

The New Town was built in the 18th century and it presents beautiful examples of Georgian architecture. It is made of a series of semicircles connected by arches until Haymarket Station. Here you’ll find plenty of traditional pubs and lovely restaurants and cafes stretched over well-decorated streets.

If you are already captured by the charm of this city, keep reading this post to get some insightful information for your next trip to Edinburgh.

Edinburgh the Ultimate Guide

How to get to Edinburgh

Getting to Edinburgh is now simpler than ever, thanks to the multiple daily flights that serve the city.

Below are your options to get from Edinburgh airport to the city centre:  

By bus

The “Megabus Express” is probably the best option as it covers the route Airport-Waverley Bridge 24/7. You can find it at stop D at the bus terminal of the airport.  

Find All Buses Available

By tram

Trams are a good alternative to buses. Just follow the tram icons at the baggage claim and terminal buildings to find the nearest stop, on the ground floor. The tram stop is located on the ground floor and it takes approximately 30 minutes to reach Haymarket Train Station in the city center. Trams run approximately every 7 minutes from 7 am to 7 pm.

By taxi

If you like the comfort of a taxi and need to reach the city quickly, transfers are readily available 


Trains are a popular mode of transport to explore Scotland’s most beautiful attractions. Find Trains from Edinburgh now

Thinking of a Scotland Road Trip?

Road Trips are the best way to explore Scotland’s Highlands. If you’re thinking of a Scotland Road Trip, you can rent a car in Edinburgh now

Where to stay in Edinburgh

An Overview of Edinburgh’s Best Areas to Stay

When visiting a city for the first time, the hunt for the best accommodation can be overwhelming. 

Edinburgh is quite easy to get around, its center is small and compact, which makes it a perfectly walkable city. Unlike big cities such as Paris, you could walk to all the top attractions.

So what is the best area to stay in Edinburgh? What is Edinburgh’s best neighbourhood?

Edinburgh: the ultimate guide on Scotland's capital

The best areas to stay in Edinburgh

1) The Royal Mile

If you can find a place that you like around this area, then look no further. Royal Mile is the main street that connects the Castle and Holyrood House, the two royal residences. Located in the Old Town, it used to be the city’s Medieval heart. Here you will be close to all the main attractions, but that is not all. Waverley railway station is also conveniently located nearby for your trip towards/from the airport.

Check out the best places to stay in Royal Mile

2) Stockbridge

Stockbridge is like a tiny village near the city center with its distinct character and identity. It is famous for its artisan market and shops, located close to the picturesque Waters of Leith, with plenty of fine restaurants and pubs. Artisan cheeses, beer, coffee; there is everything to suit all tastes! If you like artisanal tastes and want to still be close to the city center, this area would be ideal for you.

Check out the best places to stay in Stockbridge

3) New Town

In the quiet Georgian streets of New Town you will feel like time has never passed. This area is full of beautiful buildings, especially around the Dean Village and Queen Street Gardens. Parts of the New Town are also very lively thanks to George Street and Princes Street, home of high-end shopping, and Rose Street, nicknamed the “pubs street”. Here you would be very central, so expect noisy nights.

Check out the best places to stay in Newtown

4) Leith

Deserves also a mention the Leith district with its Leith Walk and Leith Docks. Leith was once one of the rough districts of Edinburgh until the City Council decided to invest in the renovation of the area for both locals and tourists. If you are a food lover, this area is considered to be the best in the city to get traditional and international food with restaurants and grocery stores that have it for all tastes. This area is also, generally speaking, cheaper than the city center. Good food and cheap: worth looking into it.

Check out the best places to stay in Leith

If you still haven’t found a place to stay in Edinburgh, search for it from the widget below. Choose from thousands of places, and check images, descriptions, and reviews to find the right place for you


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Must-Do in Edinburgh: The best things to do in Edinburgh

Edinburgh has a very distinctive look, made of dark sandstone buildings mixed with Georgian and Victorian architecture. It is hard not to fall in love with this city. One of the things we enjoyed the most was probably the long walks through the narrow cobblestone streets. However, there is more than that. Edinburgh is a haunted city with a sinister atmosphere, mixed with a deep sense of magic that has inspired the birth of Harry Potter.

There are plenty of things to do and see in Edinburgh; it all depends on how long you are going to stay and of course, what are your interests. Edinburgh is a perfect getaway in Europe and even within just a weekend you would still be able to appreciate its major attractions.

1. Edinburgh Castle

It’s the main landmark of the city, that one that you notice as soon as you get into town, and the one you simply cannot miss. 3000 years of history are hidden beyond this castle built on a strategic point on top of a dormant volcano. This castle is one of the oldest fortified places in the world, and it has served as a royal residence, military garrison, prison, and fortress. Many tales have been told about this place. The story of a war band that feasted here for a year before riding to their deaths in battle. Their ghosts still live here. Or the story of a group of pirates who were captured and then hanged here because accused of conspiracy.

This is one of the most visited landmarks of the United Kingdom. It is likely that at 9,30 am, its opening time, you will find long queues. You could reserve your Edinburgh Castle Guided Tour tickets online and collect them on arrival to have a guaranteed time slot.

Good to know...

Due to covid, tickets must be pre-booked online and daily admissions are reduced.

TIP! Early morning is the best time to visit the castle. Wonder around the castle early to get the best pictures. You will not regret it!

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh's Castle

2. National Museum of Scotland

This is a young museum as it only opened in 2011. What we liked about this museum is that it includes national archaeological collections and medieval artifacts as well as natural history, geology, art, science, and technology. Oh yes, and it is free! Among its 16 galleries is Dolly the sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal; Elton’s John stage costumes; ancient forms of guillotines; and collections relating to early medicine and surgical procedures. There is plenty to see here, so expect to spend at least three hours exploring around.

3. Arthur’s Seat

Arthur’s Seat is the highest point in Holyrood Park, formed by a dormant volcano (another one!) that erupted some 350 million years ago. From here you can enjoy some spectacular views of the city. And that is not all. You can also find Salisbury Crags, a series of cliffs that are easy to climb but also the ruins of the medieval St. Anthony Chapel as well as huge cultivation terraces, some of the earliest and best-preserved examples of ancient farming practices of all Scotland.

TIP! Here is the easiest way to get to Arthur’s Seat: enter the park from the Holyrood Park road entrance just off Dalkeith Road. Facing the Salisbury Crags, take the trail to the left to ascend Arthur’s Peak. It is a free and easy hike, definitely worth about 2 hours of your day.

Arthur's seat Edinburgh
Arthur's seat

4. Princes Street and Gardens

Princes Street is the hub of the new town, lined with colorful gardens and high-end shops, as well as cafes, restaurants, and traditional pubs. Its historic landmarks include Sir Walter Scott Monument and the David Livingstone Memorial, a memorial to the missionary African explorer. Do not forget to visit the Princes Gardens. Here you will enjoy the best views of the castle and the world’s oldest floral clock.

Edinburgh the ultimate guide
Princes Street and Gardens

5. Royal Mile

The Royal Mile is an area in the Old Town lined with charming townhouses, churches, cobblestone narrow alleys, and historic landmarks. All the area links up Edinburgh Castle with Holyroodhouse Palace. A great place to stroll for its museums, shops, cafes, and restaurants, and take a few pictures. Some of the most popular attractions here include the Outlook Tower and the Camera Obscura, St. Giles Cathedral, the Tolbooth, The Writer Museum. Definitely, do not forget to take a walk on High Street and Castlehill.

6. Holyrood Palace

The Holyrood Palace is the official residence of the British Monarchs in Scotland. Located at the bottom of the Royal Mile, the palace has served as the principal residence of the kings and queens of Scotland since the 16th century and it is also a setting for the royal family’s special occasions and official entertaining. Queen Elizabeth used to spend one week a year in the Palace, typically during the summer, to carry out official ceremonies. It is only possible to visit the Holyrood Palace when the members of the Royal Family are not here.

7. Calton Hill

Located just at the end of Princes Street, Calton Hill offers one of the best views of the city. You could walk up here both day and night to admire the city’s splendor. Here you will find the National Monument, a project in honor of the deaths of Napoleon’s wars. On Calton Hill, you will also find the City’s Observatory and Nelson’s Monument. This monument was built in honor of Nelson after his victory in the battle of Trafalgar. On April 30th, Calton Hill fills up with locals who celebrate the Beltane Fire Festival; Spring’s arrival. Worth having a look if you visit Edinburgh around that time.

Edinburgh: The Ultimate Guide
Calton Hill

8. Tour of the Undergrounds

Did you know that Edinburgh has an underground ghost city? To be precise, the remains of several underground closes and chambers from the 1700s. This part of the city was closed off to the public for hundreds of years and it was kept frozen in time. However, now they are the hub of paranormal activity in the city and several ghost tours take tourists around these areas. We recommend the Theatrical Ghost Tour of Underground Edinburgh to get an unusual taste of the city.

9. Whisky experience

The whisky experience tour is a fun and educational experience for visitors to learn about the worldwide famous Scotch whisky, the most important Kingdom’s export. Tours would usually bring you through the distilling process and have a taste of the various flavored drinks at the end. However, if you just like to try some whisky without having to pay for a tour, you will find plenty of pubs, especially on Victoria Street and Rose Street, which will recommend you the best whisky to try. You will be surprised by how charming and welcoming the locals are. For true whisky lovers and experts, we recommend this Whisky Distillery Tour. This tour will bring you to two top distillery sites near Edinburgh to taste some of the finest Scotch Whisky.

10. Camera Obscura & The Elephant House

So here you have our choices during our visit to Edinburgh which we think should not be missed out on when in the Scottish capital. There are also other attractions that we have not personally visited but are widely recommended. These are:

  • Camera Obscura: A 3-D experience that will challenge your faith in your vision, with several mirrors, a vertigo-spinning vortex, holograms, and much more.

  • The Elephant House: the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote many of the Harry Potter novels. This place is a must-visit for all Harry Potter fans.

In addition, we wanted to point out the fact that there are plenty of free and cheap things to do in Edinburgh. Yes, we found the city to be quite expensive, but ultimately we were amazed to see that a lot of things to do were for free!

So let’s spend the last section of this post talking about visiting Edinburgh on a budget.

How to visit Edinburgh on a budget

Edinburgh is expensive. You are in the UK after all. Nonetheless, it is still possible to admire most of its famous landmarks without spending a penny! 

We have talked about Edinburgh’s best neighborhoods to help you plan your stay close to all amenities so you won’t have to pay for transport. Moreover, we have talked about things that you must do while in Edinburgh, and some of them are free. Now, let’s explore how to visit Edinburgh on a budget.

Save on transports

Edinburgh’s city center is mostly walkable, and you will hardly need to take public transport if you are just staying for the weekend. But if you are planning on using public transport because you are visiting several areas in one day, getting a weekend pass or a week pass with the Lothian Bus would be a smart idea.

  • Single-day tickets cost £ 1,80. The night ticket costs £ 3.
  • The day pass costs £ 4.50
  • A weekly pass costs £ 20

NOTE: you can purchase your ticket in cash when boarding the bus, but be aware that the exact amount is required and no change is given.

Passes and tickets can also be purchased at the Lothian Buses Travelshops.

Free museums

Free museums are one of the very first things to look at when planning a budget trip. Among the free museums the city offers we recommend:

  • National Museum of Scotland: it’s filled with history and a must-do in Edinburgh for us.
  • Scottish National Gallery: particularly famous for the paintings of Leonardo da Vinci, Raffaello, and Rembrandt.
  • National Gallery of Modern Art: treasures of Picasso and Matisse are exposed here.

Churches and cathedrals

There are plenty of churches that can be visited for free around the city. They feature beautiful architecture and are a remarkable part of Edinburgh’s landscape. Among these, we recommend visiting:

  • Mary’s Cathedral: with its gothic style; superb both from the interior and exterior.
  • Giles Cathedral: located in the middle of the Royal Mile, it is the most important religious house in Scotland.

Stoll around the Old Twon

Made of several labyrinths of narrow cobblestones, the Old Town was the heart of the Medieval town. It is a very suggestive part of the city that has kept its Medieval spirit. The Old Town is reputedly the most haunted part of the city. Some say that you could come face to face with some ancient residents around here. You could just stroll around the Old Town to admire centuries of history for free.

Take a walking tour

We always recommend joining a walking tour, especially when visiting cities. The guides are always friendly and can answer most questions that you may have. You would be surprised at how well they are prepared. Taking a walking tour is a great idea to get around the city for the first time; you can get such insightful information that you probably would have not known otherwise. Tipping at the end of the tour is optional. Book a cheap walking tour now

Free views of the city

To enjoy some amazing panoramic views of the city, you won’t have to pay. You may go visit Arthur’s Seat while in Edinburgh. It is the result of volcanic activity millions of years ago, located on top of Holyrood Park. Free to visit and climb, Arthur’s Seat has some of the best views of the city. It deserves also a mention Calton Hill, where you’ll also find monuments dedicated to the famous Scottish residents.

Visit the Greyfriars Kirkyard

The ancient churchyard of Greyfriars Kirkyards dates back to the 16th Century. Some of the most famous residents are buried here. It is also said that J.R. Rowling got much of her inspiration for names in the Harry Potter series from wandering around the graveyard and looking at the grave markers.

Princes street and gardens

Princes Street is the hub of the New Town, lined with colorful gardens and high-end shops, as well as cafes, restaurants s, and traditional pubs. Its historic landmarks include the Sir Walter Scott Monument and the David Livingstone Memorial, dedicated to the missionary African explorer. Do not forget to visit the Princes Gardens. Here you will enjoy the best views of the castle and the world’s oldest floral clock.

Visit Leith

If you are a food lover, this area is considered to be the best in the city to get traditional and international food with restaurants and grocery stores that have it for all tastes. This area is also cheaper than the city center. 

Catch free entertainment

Depending on the time of the year, you could attend a wide variety of free events. For example, Whistlebinkies is the best place to catch free live music from up-and-coming local bands. The place is free to enter before midnight, seven nights a week. Moreover, several free events take place throughout the city in August, such as the Military Tatoo, the Edinburgh Book Festival, and most of all, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which is the largest arts festival in the world.

Edinburgh City Pass and Scotland Explorer Pass

If you are planning to stay several days in Edinburgh and traveling also around Scotland, these passes may be for you. The Edinburgh City Pass covers some of the best tourist attractions of the city. Highly recommended if you intend to visit the attractions covered by the pass. On the other side, the Scotland Explorer pass includes Edinburgh Castle. However, you should get this pass only if you are planning to travel around Scotland and want to visit all the main castles and abbeys.

Use Revolut to avoid high currencies exchange fees

We chose Revolut as our must-have travel card. Revolut is the most popular online bank and easy to use app. Revolut gives travellers several benefits such as:  

  • Use different currencies simultaneously.
  • Withdraw up 200 € / 200 $ a month from any ATM for free.
  • Free to open account & no maintenance costs.
  • Make international payments at no fees up to 1000 € / 1000 $ a month.
  • Split bills and pay friends with ease.

Setting up a Revolut account is simple and free. If you want to, you can download it through our referral link.

Time for conclusions...

We really enjoyed Edinburgh’s distinctive medieval look, historic architecture mixed with beautiful scenery, and great whiskies.

Long walks, ghost hunting, and pub crawls were the highlights of our amazing trip to Edinburgh and we hope to visit it again soon.

Are you planning on staying longer in Edinburgh? Then you should consider joining the Loch Ness and Highlands Day Trip. Take in the stunning landscapes of the Scottish Highlands, the Glencoe Valley, and the mysterious Loch Ness. One of the top tours of Scotland!

Hopefully you found this blog post useful and you’ll have fun and memorable experiences in Edinburgh.

Do you like city breaks? We wrote some interesting articles on Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Dubrovnik, Lisbon, Naples, Paris, Budapest, London, Rome and Barcelona too!

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