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Panoramic view of the city of Edinburgh

Things to know before visiting Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a city steeped in history, culture, and stunning landscapes. From the iconic Edinburgh Castle perched on top of Castle Rock to the charming cobblestone streets of the Old Town, there is no shortage of sights to see and experiences to have in this vibrant city. But before you pack your bags and hop on a plane to Edinburgh, there are a few things you should know to make the most of your trip.

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Is Edinburgh worth visiting?

Yes, Edinburgh is worth visiting in our opinion! It’s a city with something to offer for everyone, and they welcome tourists. Some reasons you might want to visit are…

  • Historic and beautiful buildings like Edinburgh Castle and Palace of Holyroodhouse
  • The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Loads to do for art and culture lovers – including the Edinburgh Fringe
  • A great local food scene with loads of independent restaurants
  • Beautiful green spaces with over 100 parks and gardens

Things to know when planning your trip to Edinburgh

What to do when you arrive in Edinburgh

If you’re arriving at the airport, it’s around 13km from the city center. You can reach the center through a cheap bus or tram, or grab a taxi to head straight to your hotel. If you’re arriving from outside Britain and you’re not a UK citizen, you’ll have to fill in a passenger locator form.

If you’ve got the train, you’ll arrive in Edinburgh Waverley. If you’ve got the bus, you’ll arrive in St Andrew’s Square in the New Town which is north of the center.

What’s the best time to visit Edinburgh?

Most people choose to come in Summer for the long, sunny days, or at Christmas for the festivities. If you want a quieter experience, the shoulder months of May and September are ideal. The weather will be warm, and it will stay light until 9 or 10pm so you have lots of time to see everything. 

Read our post on when to visit Edinburgh for more info!

Royal Mile Street, Edinburgh UK

Should you come to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival?

Edinburgh Fringe is the world’s biggest arts festival and takes over the city every August. If you’re not attending the festival, it’s best to dodge the city in August. 

You also have the Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Military Tattoo taking place at the same time, adding even more to the crowds.

If you do want to go, then make sure you book your accommodation a few months in advance, as well as any big shows you want to go to.

Just know that the streets will be packed, accommodation will be more expensive, restaurants will be booked up and overall, the price of everything goes up. We recommend staying outside the city center during August and opt for an area like Stockbridge or Leith. 

What do you need to book in advance?

Edinburgh attracts more than 3 million visitors per year, which results in a lot of crowds, especially in Summer. This means lines for attractions can be long, so it can help to book ahead. 

Book your accommodation in advance for the best deals, especially if you’re going to the Fringe. If you want to see the Tattoo, get this booked too. 

You might want to get the Edinburgh City Pass if you want to visit the main attractions like the Edinburgh Dungeon, the Zoo, and Royal Yacht Britannia, and you also get access to the city bus tour. 

If you’re getting tickets to the castle, it’s a good idea to book this in advance as you can save money and don’t have to queue. You can also join a guided tour that includes skip the line tickets for the castle

If you want to eat at specific restaurants, you may want to get these booked a couple of weeks in advance – some of the best restaurants in Edinburgh are very popular and get booked up quickly. 

What do you need to pack when you visit Edinburgh?

The general rule when packing for Edinburgh is to expect the unexpected. Bring lots of layers as the weather can change quickly, and it rains often. 

You’ll need at least a light waterproof jacket, depending on when you’re going. 

You’ll probably do a lot of walking, so bring comfy shoes. 

How long should you spend in Edinburgh?

It depends on how much you want to do. You could see the best of the city in a day, but ideally, take around 3 to get a good feel for the city and explore the different neighbourhoods. 

If you want to do any day trips from Edinburgh, then you’ll need to add on that time as well. 

Circus Lane, Stockbridge, Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom

Where to stay in Edinburgh

Edinburgh neighborhoods – the two towns explained

Central Edinburgh is divided into two parts – the old town and new town. They’re split by a beautiful valley that contains Princes Street Gardens and Waverly Station.

The Old Town is the medieval quarter, where you’ll see the tenements rise high among cobbled streets. The New Town, built around 250 years ago, has more airy streets and is arranged in an orderly grid. 

Other neighborhoods include the posher West End, the more edgy Leith, and the studenty Southside. 

The city center

If you’re planning on visiting the main sights and attractions in Edinburgh, it’s best to stay in the city center, ideally within walking distance of Waverley station.

Here are some of the best hotels in Edinburgh that are located in the center:

££££ – The Witchery by the Castle – 5 star, ultimate gothic luxury stay

£££ – BrewDog DogHouse – Quirky stay run by beer brand BrewDog

£££ – Virgin Hotels Edinburgh – Affordable 5 star stay

£££ – Market Street Hotel – 4 star modern luxury

££ – Wilde Aparthotels – 4 star apartment hotel

£ – Motel One – 3 star modern budget hotel

There are also a lot of B&Bs around Edinburgh that will give you a more local experience. Most owners are extremely friendly and excited to share their favourite spots in the city. 

What to know for spending time in Edinburgh

What type of currency do they use?

Scotland does have its own bank notes, but they accept English notes everywhere. 

Do you need cash in Edinburgh?

Card and contactless payments are more common than cash now, and it will be rare to find anywhere that is cash only. Contactless is the easiest way to pay on public transport too.

How to travel around Edinburgh

The best way to get around Edinburgh is to walk. It’s a relatively small city, with a lot of beautiful views to enjoy. All the main attractions are in walking distance of eachother, and you’ll have fun stumbling across little shops and cafes and secret courtyards. 

But be warned, it is hilly and the streets are cobbly, so if you have mobility issues then opt for a cab or Uber. Trams connect the city center to the airport and West End, and there’s also buses connecting the different neighbourhoods.

If you do take public transport and want to pay in cash, make sure you have the right amount of money as they won’t give change. It’s easier to pay using a contactless card or your phone, and you can also buy unlimited bus tickets on the Transport for Edinburgh bus app.

Edinburgh Castle

Are there any free attractions?

Edinburgh has a lot of interesting free attractions. 

Head to the National Museum of Scotland to explore exhibits on Scottish history, or book a free guided tour of the Scottish Parliament.

Other free museums include the Museum of Edinburgh, the Museum of Childhoos, the Writers’ Museum and the Peoples’ Story Museum.

You can also enjoy the beautiful Botanic gardens and Princes Street Gardens for free. 

Should you tip in Edinburgh?

Tipping is generally only required when you’re getting table service in a restaurant and should be 10-15%. If you’re in a taxi, you might also want to round up your fair and let the driver keep the change.

How much is a pint in Edinburgh?

Edinburgh actually has some of the most expensive pints in Scotland. On average, one will set you back £5.05 – the fourth most expensive in the UK.

Where can you get the best views in Edinburgh?

Some of the most popular spots to get beautiful views of the city include Calton Hill, the rooftop terrace of the National Museum and the top of the Camera Obscura attraction. 

If you fancy a hike, the best view of Edinburgh has to be from Arthur’s Seat. You can see pretty much everything from here – the castle and Holyrood Palace included. The hike takes around 2 hours, it’s not particularly hard but you do need to be reasonably fit. 

What food should I try in Edinburgh?

When you’re in Edinburgh, the main dish you should try is the national dish – haggis. This is made with a mixture of sheep offal, onions, spices, fat, and oats and is served with neeps and tatties (mashed turnips and potatoes). It doesn’t sound the most appetizing, but is actually delicious! You’ll find it in restaurants across the city with a lot giving their own spin on the dish, such as deep-fried haggis bon bons. 

Read our post on the best haggis in Edinburgh to find out where you can try it!

Other dishes you may want to try are black pudding – best served in a Scottish breakfast fry up, Scottish salmon, and battered sausage.

As well as restaurants, most pubs in the city also sell food which can be cheaper, and more authentically Scottish. 

Where can I try Scottish Whisky?

Scotch Whisky is world famous, and you can try it all over the city. You can go to a whisky shop that offers tastings if you want to try a bottle, or head to somewhere like Whiski Rooms if you want to try a flight. 

You can also just head into any pub and ask the bartender for a recommendation – most will be happy to have a chat about their favourites.

If you want to explore whisky a bit further, there are a lot of whisky tours and experiences that take place in the city, or as a day trip. Read our blog on the best whisky tours in Edinburgh to find out more!

What souvenirs should I buy in Edinburgh?

You’ll find most souvenir shops on the Royal Mile, but they can be expensive and aren’t authentic Scottish goods. There are a couple of exceptions – Cadenhead’s Whisky Shop is Scotland’s oldest independent bottler and is based near the Castle on the Royal Mile. There’s also Ragamuffin which sells high quality Scottish knitwear. 

You may also want to pick up some shortbread, which you’ll be able to find in most gift shops or supermarkets. 

Where should I explore near Edinburgh?

If you have longer to spend in Scotland, it’s definitely worth doing some day trips out of Edinburgh.

You can choose to do this on a tour – this Loch Ness, Glencoe, Highlands & Ben Nevis trip is very popular. 

It’s also popular to head south of the city to Rosslyn Chapel, which was featured in the Da Vinci Code. It’s filled with geometric patterns which some believe are alien in design. It’s surrounded by beautiful svenery, making it a great place to visit away from the capital. 

If you want to head to a beach near Edinburgh, hop on a train from Waverley to North Berwick. This 30 minute trip will take you to this lovely seaside town, where you can explore the local shops, go for a swim, and grab an ice cream. 

Clock Towner Old town Edinburgh and Edinburgh castle view from The National Monument and Nelson Monument on Calton Hill on a night light twilight be for sunrise landscape of edinburgh, Scotland , UK

Health and safety in Edinburgh

Is Edinburgh safe?

Edinburgh is relatively safe, but obviously, keep your wits about you. Areas packed with pubs might get rowdy on a weekend evening, but there probably won’t be serious trouble. Take the usual precautions at night, and only use ride-sharing apps or black cabs if you need a lift. 

Is Edinburgh tap water safe to drink?

Yes, Edinburgh tap water is safe to drink, and is quite nice – it’s lower in dissolved minerals than most of the UK. You can request tap water for free from any restaurant. 

Accessibility

Most hotels and attractions are accessible for travelers with disabilities, but some older buildings (like pubs, some restaurants, and guesthouses) won’t have a ramp or lift. The New Town will be a lot easier for wheelchair users as it has wide streets, whereas the Old Town is much more narrow, hilly and cobbled.

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