Brandon State Natural Area
Redwood National Park
Friday, October 18, 2019
Thursday, August 29, 2019
It might be best known for its summer festivals and Hogmanay parties, but Edinburgh’s got a lot to offer at any time of the year. There’s the UNESCO World Heritage Old Town with its cobbled streets and Gothic buildings. Or the wide streets and Georgian mansions of the New Town. And not to forget its great food and drink, ton of historic sights and even a few ghosts. It doesn’t have to be expensive either – so here are my tips for making the most of Edinburgh on a budget.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
If you’re looking for an introduction to Edinburgh, Sandeman’s New Europe Tours run a 2.5-hour city highlights walking tour including the Castle, Greyfriars Kirkyard, the Royal Mile and Grassmarket. It starts outside Frankie & Benny’s by the Tron Kirk at 10am, 11am, 12pm, 1pm and 2pm every day, and is free but you just tip your guide. Edinburgh Free Tour run a similar 2-hour tour at 10am, 11am and 1pm from outside the Royal Mile Coffee House at 144 High Street.
They also offer a few themed tours. There’s a 1.5 hour ghost tour at 5pm, 7pm and 9.30pm daily, and a 2-hour New Town tour on Thursdays and Sundays at 2pm. Or you can take a free Harry Potter-themed city tour from the statue of Greyfriars Bobby at 12pm and 4pm (plus 2pm on Saturdays) daily from April to August and 2pm daily during the rest of the year.
When the sun’s out, Edinburgh has plenty of parks and outside spaces to explore, from the central Princes Street Gardens to 650-acre Holyrood Park. A mile outside the city, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh has 70 acres of flowers, shrubs and trees.
Entry’s free, but it costs £6.50 for adults (£5.50 concessions or free for under 15s) to visit the 10 glasshouses recreating everything from the tropics to the desert. Or try the lovely the 12-mile riverside walk along the Water of Leith which passes through Dean Village and Stockbridge.
The castle is one of Edinburgh’s most popular sights, but entry will set you back £18.50 per adult (£15 concessions or £11.50 for children 5–15). You can save around £1.50 by booking online in advance, and the ticket includes entry to the National War Museum too. Or if you’re spending a while in Scotland you can join Historic Scotland from £49.50 per adult (with various family passes available) which gives you access to over 70 castles, abbeys and towers for a year.
Edinburgh’s churches are free to visit. There’s Greyfriars Kirk, with its spooky graveyard and monument to loyal canine companion Greyfriars Bobby. Or St Giles’ Cathedral, which runs free lunchtime concerts (check website for dates) and organ recitals at 6pm on Sundays.
MUSEUMS AND GALLERIES
Many of Edinburgh’s museums and galleries have free entry to their permanent collections, including the National Museum of Scotland, Scottish National Gallery, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and Writers’ Museum.
There are also lesser-known museums like the Museum of Childhood, People’s Story (about Edinburgh life from the 18th century) and Queensferry Museum (about the Forth rail and road bridges). And if your feet get tired along the way, a gallery shuttle bus connects the National Gallery, National Gallery of Modern Art and National Portrait Gallery for a £1 donation.
The striking Scottish Parliament building is open to visitors and they offer four different one-hour free tours – focusing on parliamentary history, art, literature or photography (dates and times vary so check their website), as well as 10-minute mini tours. When parliament is in session you can also attend a debate or committee, or sit in on First Minister’s Questions.
If you’re in Edinburgh during September, some of the city’s architectural gems open their doors to the public at weekends as part of the Doors Open Days event. Admission is free and for many buildings this is the only time you’re able to take a look inside. Over 1000 sites across Scotland took part last year, including Edinburgh’s Advocate’s Library, City Chambers and university.
TOP CITY VIEWS
Edinburgh is surrounded by seven hills, so you don’t need to go too far to find a great view out over the city. At the end of Princes Street is Calton Hill. This hilltop park is covered with monuments and statues, including the Greek-inspired National Monument and Dugald Stewart Monument (pictured in my header), with views across the city rooftops towards the castle.
Or if you want to stretch your legs a bit more, head to the top of Arthur’s Seat. This dormant volcano is part of Holyrood Park and sits 250 metres above sea level. The walk to the top takes about 45 minutes, starting from behind the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
Back in the city centre, you can climb the 287 steps to the top of the Gothic Scott Monument in the Princes Street Gardens. It’s dedicated to Sir Walter Scott and is the largest monument to a writer anywhere in the world. Admission costs £8 and the monument is open daily 10am–9pm in summer (7pm in May/September and 4pm from October to April).
You can also take a rooftop tour of St Giles’ Cathedral for great views down the Royal Mile and a peek behind the scenes in its clock tower. Tours cost £6 per person and run from 10.30am–4pm from Monday to Saturday and 1.30pm–4pm on Sundays. And if you’re visiting the Camera Obscura museum of illusions, don’t miss the views of the castle from its rooftop terrace.
EATING AND DRINKING
Edinburgh has places to eat and drink for all budgets. Some good-value spots with meals under £10 include Oink for roast pork rolls (Canongate and Grassmarket), Piemaker for pies and pasties (South Bridge), Ting Thai Caravan for rice and noodle boxes (Teviot Place), Union of Genius for soup (Forrest Road) or Mosque Kitchen for curry (Nicholson Square). The area around Nicholson Square is popular student haunt with affordable international restaurants.
You can pick up homemade cakes and other local delicacies at Edinburgh’s markets. There’s a market in Grassmarket on Saturdays from 10am–5pm, one by St Mary’s Metropolitan Cathedral from 11am–5pm on Saturdays, and one in Stockbridge from 10am–5pm on Sundays. There is also the Street Food Fridays market that takes place from 11am to 7pm at the Union Canal in Fountainbridge with different stalls each week (currently on hiatus due to building work).
Edinburgh’s a very walkable city – despite its hills – and easy to navigate with the Old Town on one side of the railway line and the New Town on the other. Buses and trams run through the city and are useful to get to attractions like the Zoo or the Royal Yacht Britannia in the docks in Leith. You can get a day ticket for unlimited bus and tram travel for £4 for adults or £2 for children – tickets are available on board or you can buy them online with their mobile app.
If you’re arriving by air, the cheapest way from the airport to the city is the Airlink bus to Waverley Bridge. It costs £4.50 single or £7.50 return, takes 20 minutes and runs up to every 10 minutes, 24 hours a day. Or if you’re planning to travel around the city a lot you can get a one-week Ridacard covering the trams, buses and Airlink for £19 per adult (£9 for children 5–15).
Overflowing with fantastic history, views, music and culture, Edinburgh is quite rightly one of Europe’s most popular city breaks. It’s packed with big-name attractions. But what happens when you’ve already visited the Castle, listened to the bagpipers on the Royal Mile, been whisky tasting and left a stick at Greyfriars Bobby’s grave? What can you do on your second visit to Edinburgh, or your third or fourth? Or what if you are looking for Edinburgh’s more quirky side? Here’s my pick of the best unusual and alternative things to do in Edinburgh.
BEEN WHISKY TASTING? TRY SOME LOCAL GIN
Think of Scottish drinks and you no doubt think of whisky. There are over 100 distilleries around the country and there’s even a whole museum in Edinburgh dedicated to it – the Scotch Whisky Experience. But these days gin is hot on whisky’s heels for the title of Scotland favourite spirit. Gin distilleries have sprung up all across the country, including two which are located right in the heart of Edinburgh – Edinburgh Gin and Pickering’s Gin.
Both distilleries run tours where you can find out about gin’s murky history and learn how it’s made. At Edinburgh Gin you can also design your own gin in a gin-making session. Or if you prefer tasting, the distillery tasting room becomes a bar called Heads and Tales at night. And the nearby Jolly Botanist has 72 gins on their menu, including brands from all over Scotland.
WALKED ALONG THE ROYAL MILE? TUNNEL UNDERNEATH IT
The Royal Mile is Edinburgh’s most famous street, running right through the Old Town from the Castle at one end to Holyrood Palace at the other. But it’s not a mile as we know it – an old Scots mile was 200 metres longer than a modern mile. It’s packed with historic buildings, souvenir shops – and people. But if the crowds and busking bagpipers get too much for you, you can head beneath the Royal Mile to the underground streets of Mary King’s Close.
In the 17th-century, narrow streets called closes filled the Old Town. Many were knocked down, but Mary King’s Close was preserved when the Royal Exchange was built on top of it. You can wander through the buried streets and hear the stories of the people who lived there, from plague outbreaks to ghost sightings. Mary King’s Close isn’t the only way you can go underground in Edinburgh – you can also take a tour of the spooky vaults below South Bridge.
VISITED THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SCOTLAND? TRY SOME OF EDINBURGH’S QUIRKIER MUSEUMS
The National Museum of Scotland is one of the 20 most-visited museums in the world, with over 20,000 artefacts from Scottish history, culture and nature. Best of all it’s free to enter, you just have to give a donation. And make sure not to miss the hidden roof terrace for great views over to the Castle – just look for the Terrace Lift in the Kingdom of the Scots gallery. But there are plenty of smaller and quirkier museums to explore around Edinburgh too.
There’s the recently revamped Surgeons’ Hall Museum with gory exhibits like anatomical specimens in jars and a book covered in the skin of 19th-century murderer William Burke. You can also rediscover your favourite toys at the Museum of Childhood, learn about money at the Museum on the Mound or uncover the secrets of the Masons at the Grand Lodge of Scotland.
HIKED UP ARTHUR’S SEAT? WALK THE WATER OF LEITH
The hike to the top of Arthur’s Seat is a must-do on a sunny day in Edinburgh. This ancient volcano sits 250 metres above the city with panoramic views across Edinburgh and beyond from the top. There’s a choice of different routes to get to the summit – you can choose one based on how energetic you are and how much time you have. But if you fancy something a bit easier (and flatter), the Water of Leith Walkway is one of the city’s prettiest walks.
The full route runs for 12.25 miles from the village of Balerno at the foot of the Pentlands to the docks at Leith. But one of the most beautiful sections is close to Edinburgh’s city centre, from the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art to the Botanic Gardens. The path goes through Dean Village and Stockbridge along shady paths past historic mill buildings, bridges and waterfalls. With wildlife like kingfishers and herons along the way, it’s hard to believe you’re still in the city.
EXPLORED THE CITY’S WEST END? DISCOVER ITS WILD WEST
Not far from the Old Town, Edinburgh’s West End is full of independent shops, bars and restaurants, centred around cobbled William and Stafford Streets. But if you want to go a bit wilder, there’s a patch of southern Edinburgh which takes you back a century and a few thousand miles to the Old West. This row of buildings tucked away off a residential street in Morningside (EH10 4QG) comes with a saloon, jail and cantina. Or does it?
The frontages were actually built in 1995 by a businessman who owned a southwest-style furniture business in Morningside. Two of his employees had previously worked for Disney so he let then go to town out the back of the store and create a mini patch of the southwest USA in Edinburgh. The store is long gone now but the street is still there, and it’s used for workshops, student film projects and the cantina doubles as Morningside Library’s fire door.
BEEN ON BOARD THE ROYAL YACHT BRITTANIA? SET SAIL TO INCHCOLM ISLAND
The Royal Yacht Brittania was Queen Elizabeth II’s floating royal residence for 40 years and sailed over a million miles around the world. Today she’s docked in Edinburgh’s Ocean Terminal and you can take a tour to see how the Royal Family sailed in style. But if you’d rather set sail yourself, take a three-hour boat trip to Inchcolm Island, a few miles off shore from Edinburgh.
The island is home to some of Scotland’s best-preserved monastic buildings as well as old wartime defences, and you can spot wildlife like seabirds, seals and porpoises there too. The boat tours leave from South Queensferry, which is north-west of the city centre. Take the train to Dalmeny Station (15 minutes) or the no 43 bus from St Andrew Square (35 minutes). You sail underneath the Forth Bridge and out along the Firth of Forth to the island, where you have 90 minutes to explore, with great views back towards Edinburgh.