When most people think of Scotland, their minds fill with images of highlands and William Wallace (Braveheart). And when they consider Edinburgh, the country’s capital, they picture castles, horse-drawn carriages, and other antiquities from an age long forgotten. But there’s much more to the city that awaits the adventurous, curious traveler. There are pieces of history to uncover; delicious foods to enjoy; and sights that are sure to astonish those who are visiting for the first time.
Our goal below is to offer a few recommendations to help you make the most of your trip. However, do keep in mind that this article is only meant to be a guide. When preparing your trip, make sure that you have travel insurance coverage so that you are covered for any unforeseeable events that you may occur during your trip.
We’ll suggest activities you and your travel companions will find fun and memorable. We’ll also recommend a few restaurants to visit and flavorful dishes to order. You’ll learn about hotels in Edinburgh that offer fine accommodations at prices for every budget. And finally, read on for advice on the best ways to get around the city.
We have a lot to cover for your trip to Scotland. Let’s get started.
Best Things To Do While Visiting Edinburgh
Unless you’re staying for a month or longer, you won’t have much time to discover everything there is to enjoy about Edinburgh. From the museums and restaurants to the castles, beaches, and breweries, the city is packed with features first-time visitors will find appealing. Add festivals, religious sites, shopping, and hiking excursions to the list, and you’ll understand how severely time is limited.
With that in mind, here are 4 activities to put on your “must do” list.
#1 – Visit The Museum of Scotland
The Museum of Scotland is one of many in the city. Multi-storied and built with an architecture that is at once modern and avante-garde, it is filled with paintings, sculptures, and treasures dating back 2,000 years. The Museum hosts several exhibits throughout the year, some designed to appeal to children and others targeted to adults. Plan to spend 3 to 4 hours enjoying the experience.
Cost of entry: free (donations are encouraged).
#2 – Hike To Calton Hill
If you’re in reasonably good shape and enjoy being active, visit Calton Hill. It’s located in the center of the city, and is one of Edinburgh’s best sites for sightseeing and taking photos of the surrounding landscape. It offers an idyllic panoramic view of the city. The Hill can be scaled quickly, though its upward slope offers a great hiking opportunity. A monument stands near the top. It was started in 1816 and remains unfinished.
Cost of entry: free.
#3 – Join The Celebration Of Hogmanay
On the last day of each year, Edinburgh explodes with a festival called Hogmanay. It is the Scottish New Year’s Party. An impressive array of fireworks lights up the skies, and the people who live in the city, normally warm and friendly, become doubly so. Street processions, concerts, and countless attractions make Edinburgh come alive with activity. Be aware the celebration draws a lot of visitors, so you’ll need to book your reservations well in advance.
Cost of entry: free, though some of the activities require a purchased ticket.
#4 – Visit A Castle
A trip to Edinburgh wouldn’t be complete without visiting at least one of the many castles that litter the landscape. Huge, stone monoliths rising intimidatingly from the ground, they represent a silent, almost forbidding, ode to the past. Lauriston Castle, built in the late 1500s, is northwest of Calton Hill. Dirleton Castle lies east of the city, and boasts a foundation dating back 700 years. Crichton Castle and Blackness Castle are rumored to have been built in the mid-1400s. Tantallon Castle and Craigmillar Castle were erected even earlier. And Edinburgh Castle is older still, having been built in the 12th century.
Restaurants To Visit For Creative Cuisine
Edinburgh boasts a number of great restaurants, some of which have been awarded one or more Michelin stars. But the lack of a star doesn’t mean the food and ambiance are any less enjoyable to most people (cranky food critics aside). Also, don’t forget about the pubs and bistros, which offer their own unique flavors and atmosphere.
With so many places from which to choose, it’s hard to know where to begin. We’ll get you started with a few recommendations.
Start at 21212. Run by Paul Kitching and Katie O’Brien, the restaurant offers a delicious take on traditional French dishes. For lunch, try the gourmet fish quartet with pimento & walnuts, a savory meal sure to delight your taste buds. If you’re visiting for dinner, the beef curry, pineapple and artichokes will leave your mouth watering. Dinners at 21212 include 5 courses, beginning with starters and ending with dessert.
Plan to pay £68 per meal.
Another restaurant that has earned a Michelin star, called Restaurant Martin Wishart, has become one of Edinburgh’s most popular culinary haunts. Its signature dishes are seafood. Enjoy the Loch Ryan native oyster served with green apple and sauerkraut, or the roast turbot with bone marrow served with mache and an artichoke salad. Finish with a warm pumpkin mousse, grilled aubergine, or raspberry soufflé.
A 6-course meal at Martin Wishart costs £75.
For something a bit less fancy and slightly lower prices, visit the Spoon Cafe Bistro. The atmosphere is lively and casual, and puts you near the Royal Mile, a popular hotspot for tourists. The Spoon Cafe is known for its delectable meals, from breakfast to dinner. Visit in the morning for a plate of veggie haggis and return that evening for a North Atlantic baked hake fillet. You’ll also find the desserts at the Spoon just as appetizing. Try the valhrona chocolate brownie with creme fraiche or Scottish cheese, oatcakes and chutney.
The cost of entrees range between £10 and £25.
Hotel Overview: Where To Stay On A Budget
You’ll want to stay in a hotel that gives you easy access to key parts of the city, while offering a good view at a reasonable price. There are hundreds of places to stay in Edinburgh.
Read on for a few that consistently score high with their guests.
If you have a larger budget available, consider the Hotel Missoni. It’s a 5-star hotel located near the Royal Mile (Edinburgh Castle is a short 5-minute walk). Inside, you’ll find the popular Cucina Missoni Italian restaurant. The hotel is decorated with bold colors and hosts a contemporary ambiance.
Rooms typically range between $250 and $400 a night.
The Bonham is located in the city’s center. Found approximately one-half mile away from Edinburgh Castle, it was named Scottish Boutique Hotel of the Year in a recent competition. You’ll find traditional amenities, such as internet access and cable television. The hotel offers a gourmet restaurant, though you’ll likely want to visit some of the nearby restaurants while visiting the city.
Rates are slightly lower than the Hotel Missoni, starting at $170 a night.
The Apex International Hotel is also found near the Royal Mile. The rooms are clean and quaint, and provide a good view of Edinburgh Castle. The guest rooms are designed for comfort, but not for staying in for long periods. Think of the Apex as a place to sleep and shower before venturing off into the city for another day of adventure.
Rates begin as low as $125 a night.
A Few Tips For Getting Around Edinburgh
Despite the fact that Edinburgh has a lot of inclines, walking is the best way to get from place to place. The city is relatively small, which makes it easy to explore on foot. Moreover, many of the places you’ll want to visit are located in the same general area. Just make sure to pack a good pair of walking shoes that offer a lot of traction.
There will be times when taking the bus is preferable, especially if you’re traveling with kids who are likely to tire easily. Bus tickets are reasonably priced and can be purchased by trip or for an entire day.
You might be tempted to take a taxi from site to site. It’s convenient since they’re relatively easy to find (weekends are the exception). Just be aware that fares can climb quickly. The buses are less expensive, of course, but you might have to wait awhile for the next one to arrive at your stop.
To Edinburgh And Back: Finding A Low-Priced Ticket
Airfare is relatively expensive from Canada to Edinburgh. For example, a round trip ticket in February departing from Toronto will cost between $1,000 and $1,200 depending on the airline. Leaving from Vancouver carries slightly higher rates ($1,200 to $1,400). The price is approximately the same if you plan to depart from Montreal.
The season during which you travel will also play a major role in the price of your ticket. For instance traveling near the end of the year (December 30 and returning January 2nd) will cost between $2,000 and $2,600 from Toronto. Again, prices are higher if you’re leaving from Vancouver ($2,300 to $3,000).
Edinburgh is a travel destination few Canadians visit. But if you decide to go, you’re sure to have a fun experience you’ll remember for a lifetime. Use the suggestions above to make the most of your visit to Scotland’s capital.