My husband and I are currently living in Edinburgh and it awes us every single day. While you could easily spend a week or more in this picturesque medieval city on the coast and not see everything, most of the big highlights can be seen in two days. If you are travelling to the UK, it is a must see.
First off, I would like to clear up one of the most common mistakes travelers make. The name of the city does not rhyme with “Pittsburg”, but rather is pronounced “Edinbur-ah”. The locals will appreciate you taking the time to say the name of their beloved city correctly.
How Will I Get from the Airport to my Accommodation?
- Take a cab– There is a constant line of cabs that you can take straight to your accommodation. This is the fastest way to get from the airport taking only 15 minutes to reach the city center, but not the cheapest. To the city center, a cab should cost around £15. Unlike any of the other types of transportation, a cab driver will be able to drop you right off at your door helping to eliminate any confusion when navigating the city.
- Take a bus-Again, there are several options here:
- Bus 35 picks up just outside the terminal of the airport every 15 minutes Monday-Saturday and every 30 minutes nights and Sundays. This bus will take you into Old Town or all the way down to Leith. A single fare is £1.60 (updated 2016) or you can purchase a day pass for £4.00. Tickets need to be purchased directly from the driver with exact coins. The journey time to Old Town is about 1 hour.
- Bus N22 picks up during the wee hours of the morning when the 35 is not running. It will take you to the city center or all the way down to Leith. Prices are the same for this bus and 35. N22 takes around 30 minutes to reach the city center.
- The Airlink Buses (the big blue ones) also pick up outside the terminal of the airport. They pick up every 10 minutes and take you right to the city center in about 30 minutes. A single fare costs £4.50 and can be purchased directly from the driver with exact change only.
- Take the Tram- There is a tram that runs from the airport to the city center. It picks up every 10ish minutes and will get you to Princes Street in about 35 minutes. A single fare costs £5 and can be purchased from the ticket machine at the tram stop.
Once you reach the city center or Princes Street, you will be able to either walk to your accommodation (if you are staying in the main city area) or take any other bus to where you are staying. Use the Lothian Bus app to help you decide which bus you should take and where to pick it up.
How Will I get Around Town?
You will not want to rent a car to get around Edinburgh. Even locals generally take the bus around town and only use cars for travel to other places in Scotland. The Lothian bus system is reliable, extensive, and reasonably cheap. Costing £4 for a day pass, you can purchase your tickets directly from the driver with exact coins only. If you are staying for a while, you can purchase a bus pass from the Lothian travel shop just off of Princes Street by the mall.
To help you find your way around town, download the Lothian Bus app. This app has bus maps, bus trackers, and even helps you plan your trips around town. If you are in doubt as to which bus you should take or where your stop is simply ask the driver. They are normally very helpful and will even let you know when they reach your stop. Hint: If you are waiting for the bus driver to alert you to your stop, don’t go upstairs where you can’t hear them. Stay on the main level and be courteous to them for their help.
In the wee hours of the morning buses switch to a night schedule (you must buy a separate night ticket for £3) and don’t go everywhere they do during the day. Depending on where you are staying, you may need to take a cab back to your accommodation. Cabs can be hailed or ordered using an app. Check out Capital Cars or Seven Sevens Cars. If you choose to stay in the main areas of the city, this issue can be avoided and you can simply walk back to your accommodation.
Where Should I Stay?
Your choice in accommodation can definitely help make your trip seamless or more of a hassle. The main area of town, where most of the tourist attractions are located, is compact and walk-able. I would highly recommend staying in any of the numerous lodging options available in this area. You will save money on cab fares and bus tickets and save a ton of time getting into town each morning.
Look for places in these areas:
- Princes Street
- Old Town
- New Town
- Royal Mile
August is the worst month for reasonable prices. During the festivals prices absolutely skyrocket.
Check holiday lets if you are coming with a group or staying for a while. Sometimes renting an entire flat is a much better price than you might expect. Also, it doesn’t hurt to check Airbnb to price compare.
Pro Traveler Tips:
- Even though Scotland is known for it’s rainy weather DO NOT pack an umbrella. With the rain, usually comes strong, gusty winds. Umbrellas, quite frankly, will get ripped to shreds. Do what the locals do and bring a jacket with a hood instead.
- Always make reservations if you are planning on eating out. Aside from takeaway and very casual places, bookings are pretty much a necessity. Most places allow you to book online which is a plus for those without a UK phone.
- Speaking of phones, in this day and age it can be difficult to imagine functioning anywhere, let alone a foreign country, without one. If you are traveling from outside the UK, there are several options for phone usage here:
- Use your phone like usual and pay the international usage fees. Check with your phone provider and decide if these fees are acceptable to you.
- Buy a SIM card for your current phone when you arrive and pay as you go. The UK has many great mobile phone providers including Lebara, giffgaff, Virgin, and 3. These companies are all very similar in price. You can buy a SIM card (or even order a free one) and then pay as you go for service. All of this will cost you around £10. Unfortunately, if you are coming from the US, this is not a good option for you. US phone companies generally lock your phone meaning that you will not be able to use another company’s SIM card.
- Take your SIM card out when you arrive and use WiFi. Most places around Edinburgh, including the city buses, offer free WiFi. You can use this WiFi to look up directions, make reservations, and communicate via Facebook Messenger. You can message and even call people using just a WiFi signal. This is not a great option if you plan on traveling into the countryside where there is not WiFi everywhere.
- Buy a GoPhone or cheap cell phone and insert a UK SIM card. This is a great option if you are coming from the states and have a locked phone.
- Do NOT use the city tour buses for transportation. The buses are very expensive and you don’t need them. The city bus system is reliable, extensive, and just £4 per day for an adult. Most people who live in the city travel by bus. There’s even a Lothian Bus app to help you plan your journey, track bus times, and look at bus maps. TIP: Route 35 goes past pretty much every major tourist attraction.
- Look into buying the Historic Scotland Explorer pass if you plan on visiting multiple historic sites. You can purchase the pass at the castle and it will get you into any Historic Scotland site. It also gives you a discount on Historic England and Historic Wales sites.
- Bring cash. You will need cash, so don’t plan on just using an international credit card. Check with your bank about getting cash before you leave home and price compare with travel agencies around you that do travel money(do not exchange at the airport). You can also withdraw money at cash machines around the city after you arrive, but be sure to take into account any international fees your bank might apply. Take into account how you plan to pay for transport from the airport.
- Make sure you bring a water bottle and comfortable walking shoes! You will be burning a lot of calories walking around Edinburgh (and probably consuming them all back through the heavy Scottish foods).