As we were deciding on a summer holiday, Edinburgh initially felt like an odd choice when my boyfriend and I booked our tickets. However, both of us burn within ten minutes of being in direct sunlight, so we decided on the northern city for a long weekend away. In hindsight, we probably should have looked at the weather forecast as we ended up being there for one of the hottest weekends of the year: not exactly ideal in a city with more hills than Exeter, but enjoyable nonetheless! Here are some of my tips for enjoying the Scottish capital.
First off: accommodation. Having not long finished my first year at university, we decided to prolong the freshers’ experience by staying in private halls rather than a hotel. This is a great idea if you’re on a budget- there are private student accommodation providers in almost every university city, and out of term time they often offer their rooms for much lower prices than hotels. We stayed in Destiny Students’ Brae House, which was only 10 minutes from the Royal Mile, and super modern inside (think of any of the Unite Students halls in Exeter). It’s worth considering something similar if you want to save some money and don’t mind sharing a flat again!
Talking of money, most of Edinburgh’s museums and galleries are free or fairly cheap to get in, however a few of the bigger attractions are slightly pricier. Edinburgh Castle, for example, worked out at almost £40 for two tickets as student discount is not offered. Despite the price, it was definitely worth a visit for the amazing views of the city and there is plenty to look at – so you do get your money’s worth. Slightly cheaper was the Camera Obscura, a museum dedicated to optical illusions: a definitely unexpected highlight and really fun to look around. Make sure to catch the show on the top floor of the museum for a tour of the whole city, via a working camera mounted on the roof.
Before committing to pre-booking anything, I’d recommend taking a bus tour of the city (we used CitySightseeing buses, a day ticket costing £15 each) to get an overview of different landmarks and places to visit, as there doesn’t seem to be any huge benefits to getting tickets in advance for most tourist spots. The bus tours take a few hours and you can get on and off as many times as you want within 24 hours, so they’re also a great option if Edinburgh’s hills aren’t your thing! If they are, consider hiking up Arthur’s Seat (I can’t say either of us fancied it though!).
The bus tour commentary included a quote from Charles Dickens, who described Edinburgh as being “half a capital city, half a country town” – which couldn’t be truer. We enjoyed the mix of old buildings and historic landmarks alongside plenty of open green space: situated opposite the main shopping street, Princes Street Gardens are a perfect example of this. You can brave the height (and tiny staircases) of the park’s Scott monument for a view over the cit, or take in the atmosphere from the safety of the grass below.
There are plenty of shops, bars and restaurants along the Royal Mile and Princes Street. One of our favourite restaurants was The Refinery, which is around a 5-minute walk from Princes Street. For Harry Potter lovers looking to visit the spot where J. K. Rowling penned some of her Hogwarts stories, the Elephant House Café is a popular tourist spot within the city!
Overall, Edinburgh surpassed my expectations and has a perfect mix of attractions and things to do. What’s more, flights there can work out much cheaper than getting a train to London – so consider swapping our capital for Scotland’s if you’re in need of a city break.
– Amy Bond