I’d always wanted to visit Edinburgh, so when my girlfriend Chloe surprised me with a weekend break earlier this year I couldn’t wait. We spent a great weekend exploring Edinburgh’s charming streets and cafes, but we only just scratched the surface in the time we had. The city certainly lives up to it’s reputation, but still managed to be completely different to what I was expecting.
Just like our previous break to Madrid, this weekend away was a more relaxing trip than my travels around South East Asia. As we walked around the city, though, it was great to hear people speaking so many different languages. Edinburgh is a fairly expensive city, but there plenty of hostels and ways to save money for backpackers or travellers on a budget.
Coming from the North of England, Edinburgh was close enough to drive to and from. However, trains arrive from everywhere in the UK, and the city has an international airport. When booking planes and trains, be sure to book as far in advance as possible to get the cheapest fare.
If driving is an option, be aware that parking in the centre of Edinburgh is hard to find and expensive.
Where to stay:
Once again, I’m going to sing the praises of lastminute.com for city break hotels. In Madrid, Chloe and I stayed in a 4* hotel in the city centre for a very reasonable price. In Edinburgh, we got an even better deal at the extremely fancy Bonham Hotel.
Chloe booked the hotel as a surprise, and she assures me the price was considerably cheaper than the rates advertised by the hotel. We’ve used lastminute a few times now, and never been disappointed with cheap rooms in good hotels.
Elsewhere in Edinburgh, a large number of hostels cater for international travellers who are attracted to the city. Most of these hostels are around the Old Town, while AirBnb has many reasonably priced rooms in the city centre.
What to do:
Part of Edinburgh’s charm is what you find simply walking around. As we were based in the West End, we spent a lot of time around the restaurants, shops and bars on George Street and Rose Street.
However, a (very steep) climb to the Castle takes you to the Royal Mile, where Edinburgh’s real attraction is found. It’s best to walk down the Royal Mile, rather than up – mainly because most of the characterful shops and buildings are found closer to the Castle. We particularly enjoyed the independent shops in the Royal Mile Market.
The Royal Mile connects Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyrood and the Scottish Parliament. Tours of Holyrood are available for up to £12.50, but we chose to explore the castle instead.
Even before entering the castle, the Esplanade infront of the gates offers amazing views around the city.
As you move inside the castle, you can see how the complex was built over time for different needs. Throughout, there’s informative displays and lots of information on the various uses of the castle throughout it’s history.
The vast history of the castle ranges from St Margaret’s Chapel, Edinburgh’s oldest building, to the Great Hall and Royal Palace, to the cells used for prisoners of various wars.
Also in the Castle are the Scottish Crown Jewels, one o’clock gun, and elaborately-named Stone of Destiny. Tickets for the castle cost up to £17.50, but booking in advance saves money, and student prices apply.
Every year, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival takes over the city in August, which is largely based around the Old Quarter of the city. We didn’t have enough time to explore this area, but the little we saw did tempt us to extend our stay.
Maybe we didn’t see the Old Quarter because we spent one of our days at the Edinburgh Zoo. To get there, you need to take a car or bus out of town past the Murrayfield Stadium, and be prepared for lots of walking as the zoo is on a steep hill.
Most impressive were the tiger and gorilla enclosures, with lots of room for the animals. However, the main attraction for the zoo is the famous pandas, and I have to say I was disappointed.
Ever since we visited Madrid’s zoo, I have been fairly obsessed with pandas, so I was very excited to see them again. At Edinburgh, you have to book a specific time slot to see the pandas. We were ushered in the viewing area with 20-30 others, and were moved along around five minutes later.
If you’re planning a visit around the pandas, be prepared for an anticlimax if you want to spend more than five minutes to see them. Check ahead for what’s on at the zoo before you book, as a number of enclosures were shut when we visited – and make sure to book online to save money against on-the-day prices.
Eating and Drinking:
Edinburgh has a nice mix of chain restaurants and independent places to eat. We enjoyed meals around George Street, and the bars and pubs on Rose Street. In the old town and down the Royal Mile, there are more independent cafes but may be more expensive due to their central location.
One must-visit cafe is the Coro Chocolate Cafe on Frederick Street, where we had the best hot chocolate and cake to break up a shopping afternoon.
All over Edinburgh, there are deals to be had to save money. Student deals are common at most restaurants and bars, and the main attractions offer discounts when booking in advance.
We’ll definitely be back to Edinburgh soon to explore the rest of the city. The Scottish capital is perfect for a weekend break, with plenty to do within the picturesque streets. For anyone visiting the UK for the first time, Edinburgh is a must visit city, with as much character as English alternatives.