How to do Edinburgh on a budget

1 March 20155 min read

View of a columned monument and the skyline of Edinburgh, including its castle, from a Calton Hill

Whether you’re heading to Scotland’s capital for its amazing Hogmanay celebrations, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival or simply just to check it out, here’s what to see and do in this exciting and vibrant city.

Where to stay

Princes Street and the cobbled Royal Mile might be Edinburgh’s biggest attractions, but these areas aren’t necessarily the best for accommodation. Do you really want to be woken by whining bagpipes after a night in Edinburgh’s pubs?

Instead, consider the buzzing waterfront Leith area, a short bus ride or 40-minute walk from Princes Street. For a beautiful view without the price tag, check into the Premier Inn Leith Waterfront. If shopping’s your priority, consider staying in the New Town, home to George Street, famous for its designer shops.

The four-star Angel’s Share is a New Town boutique hotel known for its huge wall murals and fine Scottish toiletries, and rooms start from around £80 per night. If you’ve still got your sights on the tourist-filled Old Town and the Royal Mile, don’t panic – there are plenty of fantastic hotels away from the chaos.

The nearby Grassmarket has some of the best, including the nearby Castle Rock Hostel and several self-catering apartments. 2017 will also see the unveiling of the Old Town’s shiny New Waverley project – a £150-million development incorporating two Premier Inn hotels.

Where to eat

If fine dining’s your thing, head to Commercial Quay’s The Kitchin, owned by chef Tom Kitchin, who became the world’s youngest Michelin-starred chef aged 29. Another option is the Number One at the Balmoral Hotel, which has clung onto its Michelin star for 15 years.

But some of Edinburgh’s best restaurants are also its quirkiest. Union of Genius, near the National Museum of Scotland, describes itself as Edinburgh’s first soup café. “We treat soup with the love it deserves, serving six different soups every day,” explains the café’s Elaine Maison. “We also match them with locally-made artisan breads.”

For traditional Scottish pub grub, head to the Royal Mile’s cosy taverns. This is also where you’ll find the award-winning Wedgwood, where dishes include Douglas fir-cured salmon and beef fillet with haggis.

Several fantastic independent coffee shops have recently sprung up in Edinburgh, and one of the best is Cairngorm Coffee Co, on Melville Place and Frederick Street. The cafes are light, airy spaces with a great range of coffees, including gems from Ethiopia and Guatemala.

What to do

Essentials include the Old Town’s historic Royal Mile and Princes Street, which borders the famous gardens of the same name and has all the high street brands, along with the famous Jenners department store. Edinburgh Castle, former home to Mary Queen of Scots, also deserves a place on your itinerary.

You’ll be able to learn about the city’s darker side by signing up for a Real Mary King’s Close tour, which explores Edinburgh’s subterranean passageways. This area of the Old Town dates back to the 1600s and the tour is a great way to discover its bloodcurdling history. When it’s time to walk off all that haggis, head up to Arthur’s Seat, at the end of the Royal Mile. This extinct volcano towers 251 metres above Edinburgh.

The enormous National Museum of Scotland is free to visit and has galleries dedicated to everything from science and technology to fashion. One of 2017’s highlights will be The Tomb, which runs from March until September 2017 and takes a closer look at one of Egypt’s most important burial grounds. Art buffs will love the Scottish National Gallery, also free to visit.

Don’t miss A Sense of Place, an exhibition of work by Joan Eardley, famous for her cartoon-like images of Scottish street children. It runs until May 2017. But there are plenty of other free attractions, including the Royal Botanic Gardens, the Scottish Parliament Visitor Centre and St Giles’ cathedral.

The Edinburgh World Heritage website lists several great walking trails designed to showcase everything from historic homes to notable graveyards. And finally, don’t forget Edinburgh festival, which takes place in August.

How to get around

Getting to Edinburgh is easy. The 24-hour Airlink 100 bus service connects the airport with the city, and the train station is on the edge of Princes Street, between the Old and New Towns. The city centre has an extensive network of wifi-equipped trams and buses. Make huge savings on Airlink 100, buses and trams with a Ridacard.

Insider tips: Where to…

Eat and drink

“The Cameo Cinema in Tollcross is my favourite cinema and I love their bar,” says Elaine Mason at Union of Genius soup café. “When I fancy a treat, I take myself to Mary’s Milk Bar on the Grassmarket for gelato.”

”We recently had an amazing meal at The Table on Dundas Street, a 10-seater open-kitchen restaurant where the owner and chef cooks an incredible tasting menu,” reveals Blaise Donald at Covet, an award-winning designer accessories store on Thistle Street.

Get a culture fix

“One of my favourite attractions is The People’s Story on the Royal Mile, which covers Edinburgh’s social history from the point of view of its citizens, from the eighteenth century to the present day,” says Stephen Allen, head of learning and programmes at National Museums Scotland.

“Visit the Castle, then work your way down to Holyrood House,” suggests Claire Paterson at Those Were The Days, a vintage clothing boutique in the Stockbridge area. “It’s a beautiful walk and you can soak up Edinburgh’s Old Town architecture and stop off at some fab little pubs.”

Meet the locals

“I love to explore Stockbridge and Bruntsfield,” reveals Robi Lambie, director at Cairngorm Coffee Co. “Both places offer a moment of calm away from the centre, with numerous independent shops and beautiful scenery.”

See live music

“I love the Voodoo Rooms and the Liquid Rooms,” says Claire Paterson at Those Were The Days. “They’re great for smaller gigs and attract fantastic bands.”

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