Edinburgh City Break: Amazing Things to Do
We all know how much I love Scotland. How many times have I told you at this point, haha? Hmm, let me think. At this rate, probably fifty million, haha. Sorry. I’m bit obsessed with this incredible place. Actually I’m not sorry. I want the University of Edinburgh to offer me a job so I can live here forever and ever and ever.
But I digress.
Anyway I especially have fond feelings for Scotland’s vibrant city Edinburgh. This quirky “Diagon Alley-like” city was the very first place I landed as a solo traveler – way back in 2013 – so it holds a special place of my heart 100% captive.
My Edinburgh City Break was a Highlight of my Scottish Trip
Upon arriving in Scotland, I was utterly jetlagged and dazed after my long haul flight. I was nervous at first, but then I immediately took to exploring the small delightful alleys in Edinburgh’s scenic Old Town. Truthfully, Edinburgh made me feel very free. All my directionless work-related stress faded away (until I had to return to New Jersey, of course). Edinburgh made me realize I was one tough cookie. Not to mention, I was fortunate enough to re-visit Edinburgh this past summer. The nostalgia rushed back to me the moment I stepped off the airplane.
Now, with two memorable trips under my belt, I feel qualified to write all about the amazing things to do in Edinburgh, and share my love of this city to people who are planning to visit in the near future.
Please note that none of the attractions or restaurants are sponsored. Anything linked is out of pure love.
Why You Should Do an Edinburgh City Break?
So why should you take an Edinburgh city break in the first place? Isn’t Scotland all about wild hikes and hairy coos and lochs? Well. I understand where you’re coming from. I adore the Scottish Highlands. I adore the many, many islands – especially Skye and Orkney. I really think Scotland is a true “nature lover’s” destination, a place where you return to the outdoors, get your hiking boots dirty, and find peace. However, I also personally believe that no trip to Scotland feels “complete” without a quick visit to Edinburgh.
Edinburgh’s architecture is stunning and visually sets it apart from many other European cities that I’ve visited on my travels. If you take the Airlink 100 into the city, you eventually see Edinburgh Castle perched high above you in the Old Town, and the initial view is breathtaking for newcomers.
Furthermore, the aesthetic comparisons between the medieval Old Town and Georgian New Town are striking. Let’s not even mention Dean Village (more on that place later)! Anyone who is a history or museum buff won’t be disappointed in everything Edinburgh has to offer either.
Another really good reason to visit Edinburgh is because of the Fringe Festival. Come in August, and support new and upcoming artists from around the world. Prices will be higher everywhere, but I think the experience is worth every extra penny spent.
Transportation to Edinburgh
Luckily for you, Edinburgh isn’t too difficult to reach by plane or train. Edinburgh’s airport is located outside the city and therefore most hotels aren’t within a reasonably walkable distance. I highly recommend taking the Airlink 100 bus, which is affordable, comfortable, and connected to pretty decent Wifi. Waaaay cheaper than a cab. It takes roughly 30 minutes for the Airlink 100 to reach Edinburgh Waverley, which is the main train station in the city, and you can easily read the Old and New Towns from there.
If you’re coming to Edinburgh from London, you have the option of taking a cheap flight or a train to Edinburgh Waverly. I’ve personally never taken the train, but I hear that it’s comfortable! However, keep in mind that a quick flight may be cheaper (believe it or not) than taking the rails.
Finally Edinburgh’s prime location also makes it easy to take day trips to places like St. Andrews. You can spend at least four days here and not feel bored.
Places to Stay in Edinburgh
Ahhh, decisions decisions. Most visitors stay in either Edinburgh’s Old Town or New Town. I’ve had opportunities to base myself in both areas. Honestly, you can’t go wrong either way. Edinburgh is a very walkable city regarding the main attractions. I don’t think I took public transportation once with the exception of going to and from the international airport. If you’re sightseeing, definitely pick one of these two locations to base yourself and maximize your time.
So what’s the difference?
In the Old Town, you will have easy access to most of Edinburgh’s historically significant sites. After all, this is the location of the city’s medieval core. By staying in accommodation located in the Old Town, you are pretty much promised a quick walk to the Royal Mile, the main road between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, and you won’t ever experience a shortage of activities.
Buuuuuut there’s a downside to staying in the Old Town. Tourists are absolutely everywhere, especially in High Season, so if you don’t enjoy crowds, the Old Town may not be the best location for you. Furthermore I found prices in the Old Town were higher than the New Town, so budget-minded travelers may want to keep monetary differences in mind when booking accommodation.
Ultimately the decision is 100% yours!
What to See with a Weekend in Edinburgh
Arthur’s Seat: Feeling up for a hike? Then take a walk up Arthur’s Seat, my friend. You’ll have wonderful views and experience a touch of that famous Scottish nature while still in the city. Just don’t get caught in the rain without an umbrella! Scotland’s weather is notoriously fickle.
Calton Hill: If you don’t want to spend time hiking Arthur’s seat, you can still find less strenuous ways to have a good view of the city. One of my favorite views of Edinburgh can be discovered on Calton Hill! If you go to the top of Calton Hill, you can see most of the city as well as the beautiful lakes and hills that surround it. I especially like the views of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh Castle, and Arthur’s Seat. You can also check out the unfinished National Monument here.
Dean Village: Oh my god, Dean Village is one of my most favorite, favorite, favorite areas in Edinburgh. It’s a small 19th century village, one you’d expect to see in the bucolic countryside, but Dean Village is actually located right in the heart of the city. There are streams and gardens, and so many opportunities to take wonderful pictures. Without a doubt, a walk through Dean Village is one of the most amazing things to do in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh Castle: Ahhhh, of course. Edinburgh Castle is the most visited castle in all of Scotland. Personally, I think the castles in the sweeping Scottish Highlands are prettier, but Edinburgh Castle is a must-see if you’re staying in the city! Very historically significant. Don’t forget to see the Crown Jewels.
Greyfriars Kirk: One of Edinburgh’s most famous cemeteries. A lot of notable residents are buried here – including “Tom Riddle.” Feel free to respectfully walk by the various gravestones and contemplate the meaning of life. Deep, huh?
“Hidden and Haunted” with Mercat Tours: Edinburgh has a very, very, very dark history. Are you like me and enjoy creepy ghost stories? Then check out the “adult only” Hidden and Haunted tour. Mercat Tours starts at Mercat Cross. During your tour, you eventually go underground to the vaults where you will hear all about the spirits that roam beneath the city streets. Wear proper footwear.
Palace of Holyroodhouse: This palace is incredibly interesting from a historical perspective. For example, Mary Queen of Scots resided here after returning from France. Her secretary, David Rizzio, was murdered by her husband within the walls of this palace too. If you have time, read about the life of Mary Queen of Scots. It’s legitimately nuts. You cannot take photos in the palace, but the audioguide is wonderful and you’re permitted to take pictures in the gardens.
Real Mary King’s Close: Want some fascinating history on daily life in Edinburgh? Then you need to check out Real Mary King’s Close, a preserved underground street from centuries ago. Make sure to book your tickets well in advance. Due the nature of this site, only a handful of tourists will be accepted each day, so you want to carefully plan your visit or you may be disappointed. Real Mary’s King Close is located on 2 Warriston’s Cl, High St.
The Scotch Whisky Experience: You can’t come to Edinburgh and not enjoy a spot of whisky! If you want to learn everything about Scotland’s elixir of life, then go on the Scotch Whisky Experience. You’ll have a chance to taste and compare whiskys from all different regions. Fun times! The Scotch Whisky Experience is located on 354 Castlehill.
Need more help? Check out Lonely Planet’s Pocket Guide to Edinburgh.
Your Edinburgh City Break and Great Places to Eat
Angels with Bagpipes: This sophisticated restaurant is located in Edinburgh’s Old Town. It’d be a fantastic place to go on a romantic date. Not that I’m projecting or anything like that. Angels with Bagpipes is on the pricy side, but the fresh Scottish ingredients are to die for. Angels with Bagpipes is located on 343 High Street, Royal Mile.
The Elephant House: Supposedly where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter! The bathrooms – with dedications to Rowling and Potter written on the walls – are worthy checking out! Breakfast is reasonably price, and you can always come to grab a quick coffee. The Elephant House is located at 21 George IV Bridge.
Gardener’s Cottage: If you love healthy eating and “farm to table” foods, then Gardner’s Cottage is for you. This cottage was built in 1836 so the eating quarters are small and intimate. I quite enjoyed the historical atmosphere. And if you like lamb, you will not be disappointed. Gardener’s Cottage is located at 1 Royal Terrace Gardens, London Rd.
Wildfire: Located on color Rose Street, Wildfire is a cozy restaurant with great food and super friendly staff. I particularly loved the seafood gratin on the lunch menu. So. Very. Delicious. You can’t go wrong with any of the other entrees either. Wildfire is located on 192 Rose Street.
The World’s End: You can’t go to Edinburgh without stopping at a classic pub. Pubs are a quintessential part of UK culture. Other pubs may have more historical significance, but still, The World’s End was my favorite pub in Edinburgh! The fish and chips were absolutely to die for. Fresh and delicious. The location is super convenient too for sightseeing. Just keep in mind this place is mighty popular and the interior is small. It may be hard to find a seat if you’re visiting right around dinner time. The World’s End is located on 2-8 High Street.
Edinburgh City Break: A Literary Destination
Last but not least, Edinburgh is an excellent spot for all my fellow book lovers. Edinburgh is a UNESCO City of Literature, after all, and for a very good reason. As you explore the city’s streets, it will feel like every single corner boosts a site of literary significance.
For example, not only will Harry Potter fans feel like they’re in a real life version of Diagon Alley, but they can also drink coffee where JK Rowling wrote her epic fantasy story or see the gravestone that inspired the name for Tom Riddle. You can see Robert Louis Stevenson’s house or take a tour of the Writer’s Museum.
Wanna hear something even more bookish and cool? If you time your visit correctly and come in August, you can even stay during Edinburgh’s well-known International Book Festival. Swoon. Yes, Edinburgh is for literary lovers.
Did you enjoy my guide to having an Edinburgh city break? What are other amazing things to do in Edinburgh? Do you want to visit Edinburgh soon? Thank you so much for continuing to support Blond Wayfarer! You guys are the bomb!
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