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A Travel Guide to Edinburgh

by Drew on September 20, 2015 4 comments

*I spent 4 days in Edinburgh in July 2015 and it was my favorite city in the United Kingdom. In this Edinburgh Guide, I am going to give you an overview of the city, tell you what to expect, talk about the food & nightlife, and give you some travel tips based off my experience:*

General Thoughts

Edinburgh really caught me by surprise. I absolutely loved it.

In fact I loved it so much, that I’m already planning to go back next year.  I’d rank it in my top 4 European cities along with Prague, Budapest and Belgrade.

I had been in Scotland for about 5 days before my trip to Edinburgh.  I was in both Glasgow and Stirling and already enjoying Scottish culture, but I had no idea what to expect from Edinburgh.  I just kept an open mind and tried to get involved in as many things a possible.

When I first arrived in Edinburgh, I was lucky enough to meet up with one of my followers, Stef, who is born and raised in Scotland.  Within the first hour of being in Edinburgh, she was already giving me a fabulous tour of the city.  I could not thank her enough for being so kind 🙂

Here is a photo of me and Stef at the Edinburgh Castle!

My first impressions of Edinburgh were small, dark and compact. The city has touches of London with double-decker city buses and red telephone booths scattered around the place. It is also pretty expensive, but not nearly as bad as London.

I quickly learned that Edinburgh is Scotland’s proudest city. I noticed bagpipes being played everywhere on the streets, I saw blue Scottish flags waving from nearly every building and I recognized typical Scottish restaurants/ bars flooding the streets. Also, there are many souvenir shops to buy a kilt or a quirky Scottish hat!

In Edinburgh, I really enjoyed the fact that you could walk anywhere in the city within 15 minutes. There is one main street downtown called the Royal Mile, with tons of beautiful narrow side alleys feeding down below.  The man street has a lively atmosphere, where you can see loads of street performers, magicians and music bands playing for pedestrians.  It’s really hard to get lost in the city because it’s so small and compact.

Edinburgh is one of the most picturesque cities in Europe.  All of the buildings and architecture seem to be left untouched for centuries, and have impressively maintained its old vibe to 400 years ago. The churches, the big castle and the cobblestone streets will send you in a time warp to the olden days.

Alright, let’s dive into some quick facts:

Quick Facts

  • Currency: Great Britain Pound (GBP0
  • Urban Population:  834,648 (2014)
  • Edinburgh is home to the Scottish Parliament and the seat of the monarchy in Scotland
  • Edinburgh’s Old Town and New Town together are listed as a UNESCO sites.
  • Edinburgh Castle is built on the site of an extinct volcano.
  • Edinburgh has 112 parks and more trees per head of population than any other city in the UK.
  • One of the most photographed monuments in Edinburgh is Greyfriars Bobby, the statue of a 19th century dog (Skye terrier) who spent 14 years guarding his master’s grave
  • From 1477-1911, the Grassmarket was the site of one of Edinburgh’s main horse and cattle markets. It was also the location of public executions.
  • J.K. Rowling penned the first novel in her Harry Potter series at the Elephant House cafe on George IV Bridge.

Culture & People

All of the Scottish people that I came across were very welcoming and friendly.

Their thick Scottish accents made me smile every time they spoke (if I could understand what they were saying).  I had several people stop me on the street and ask me if I needed any help with directions.  These things really gave me a good impression on the culture and made me enjoy every second of being in Edinburgh.

One piece of quick advice – DON’T MIX UP SCOTTISH PEOPLE WITH ENGLISH PEOPLE.  I made the mistake of doing this and the reactions that I got were not friendly.  Scotland and England are not the same, and even though they are technically part of the United Kingdom, they different in many ways.  And in the near future, Scotland will likely break off and become an independent country.

A quick note about Scottish weather –  It’s almost always cold, windy and rainy.  The sun shines only a handful of times per year, so make sure to bring your jackets and umbrellas.  You’ll be lucky if you see the sun, even in summer.

Something that I haven’t mentioned yet is that Edinburgh is haunted.

It’s abnormally haunted – and I had no idea of this before I visited.

During the Black Plague in the 17th century, tens of thousands of people in Edinburgh were killed.  And even today, Edinburgh is famous for the executions and hanging of people throughout the city.  There are abandoned buildings and rumors of ghosts around town.  If you desire, you can go on a ghost tour which takes you to all the creepiest places, but I choose not to do it.

Greyfriars Graveyard, located in the center of the city, is probably the most haunted place I’ve ever been.  It has been the site of burying dead bodies for over 500 years, and several horror stories have occurred here in recent years like people oddly getting beaten up and bruised for visiting. Apparently, there are so many dead bodies buried underground that they are buried standing up side by side each other. How strange is that?

What to do?

My favorite thing to do in Edinburgh was hike up to Calton Hill and enjoy the view overlooking the city. Or if you want an even better view, take the short hike up Arthur’s seat for the most photogenic spot.

Here is the view from Calton Hill:

Make sure to visit the Edinburgh Castle. It’s impossible to miss because it’s on the biggest hill in the city.

Walk around Old Town and take in the Scottish atmosphere.  There are plenty of restaurants, bars, shops and cafes lined up on the Royal Mile. 

Visit Greyfriars Bobby and Greyfriars Kirkyard.  But prepare for an extra spooky experience.

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The Food

You’ve got to get your hands on a traditional Scottish meal when you’re in Edinburgh.

Scottish food isn’t necessarily fancy, but it’s filling and tastes great.  For centuries, Scots have been enjoying stews, broths, soups, haggis, fish and porridge because they kept the people warm and gave them strength they needed.  The same traditions are seen in Scottish cuisine today.

Scottish food has a lack of spices, with just salt and pepper being the only usual condiments.

You’ve got to try Scottish Breakfast –  link sausage, bacon, eggs, fried mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, buttered toast and black pudding.  It’s will DEFINITELY fill you up.

Here’s what a Scottish breakfast looks like:

If you are an adventurous eater, try some haggis.  It is a mixure of lungs, heart and liver from a sheep and boiled and minced with onions.  It sounds gross but it actually tasted pretty good!

The rest of the food was similar to what I can find at home in the States or in London. Burgers, fish n chips, salads, and more.

The Nightlife  

The nightlife in Edinburgh was standard.  That being said, I only had the chance to go out one night, so perhaps I didn’t get the full experience.

The best district for Irish pubs and good bars is called Grassmarket.  It’s always lively and it’s a great place to have a fun night.

Regardless of which bar you hop into, you can surely see loads of people drinking pint after pint and enjoying themselves. But don’t panic if you’re not a beer-drinker, because Scotland has the best variety of whisky (or Scotch) in the world.  Scotch whisky is divided into five distinct categories: single malt, single grain, blended malt (formerly called “vatted malt” or “pure malt”), blended grain, and blended Scotch whisky.  If you ask any Scottish person, they will tell you that a shot of Scotch can cure any problems or sickness that you have.  Or it’ll just get your really wasted…

Then, there is George Street, which is parallel to Princes Street, but this place has more expensive higher class bars.  It’s probably not a place that I’d recommend if you’re a budget traveler.

My local friend Stef recommended the following 3 places: Hoot the Redeemer on Frederick street, which serves alcoholic ice cream and slushies, Three Sisters for the rugby and amazing atmosphere, and 99 Hanover on Hanover street for amazing cocktails and new music.

Where to stay?

I had the pleasure to stay at a hostel called Castle Rock. It was one of the best hostel experiences that I had in Europe, and the location is perfect in the city center. The staff was friendly and helpful, the breakfast was only 1 euro and the rooms were clean and well-kept!

I highly recommend staying at Castle Rock.  You can book your stay right here!

Thank you for reading my post about Edinburgh. Please comment below with any questions or thoughts you have! 

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Drew

Hello! Since 2012, I've been traveling and partying my way around 74+ Countries. Shortly after I graduated from The University of Wisconsin-Madison, I took a job as an English Teacher in South Korea for 18 months. Now, I'm traveling and blogging full-time on a never-ending voyage around the world. Please comment with any questions you have, and feel free to join me on Snapchat & Instagram @drewbinsky :)

DrewA Travel Guide to Edinburgh

4 comments

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  • Jen - September 8, 2016 reply

    There are so many hidden gems in Edinburgh… here are just a few you need to try out!
    http://parliamenthouse-hotel.co.uk/news/on-the-hunt-for-hidden-gems-in-edinburgh/

  • Raj - August 8, 2016 reply

    Hi Tuscany, me and my wife are first timers in Edinburgh, would it be possible for you to play the tour guide during our visit in Mid of October 2016 ?

  • Tuscany - June 20, 2016 reply

    If you ever come back to Edinburgh then hit me up. I love playing the tour guide and showcasing my city!

  • Terry - September 23, 2015 reply

    I live in Liverpool (about a 4 hour drive away) and still not been to Edinburgh or even Scotland!! I will get there next year though! Hopefully for the Edinburgh Festival

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