Travel Planner: Edinburgh, Scotland

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It’s been in the shadow of tourist-trap London for decades as a destination but the reality is that Edinburgh has way more charm thanks to a relaxed atmosphere and cobbled streets with hidden nooks and crannies that dare you to explore them.

Edinburgh has been voted Britain’s Best City for the fifth year running by UK newspaper, The Telegraph, which also correctly notes that it “deserves its reputation as one of the most beautiful and compelling cities in the world”.

It’s a city which has held on to its medieval past and is moulded into a landscape of craggy hills and cliffs topped by monuments which look out over narrow winding streets and the moody sea that surrounds the city, the Firth of Forth.

Dubbed The Athens of the North by local academics in the 18th century, modern Edinburgh is a working city which embraces culture in all forms and is host to one of the world’s biggest arts festivals. Far from being pretentious though, you can easily find yourself in a centuries-old pub or a loud trendy bar, before or after dining in a high quality restaurant.   

Need to Know

Location: eastern Scotland in the United Kingdom

Language: English

Money: UK Pound. ATMs are plentiful throughout the city, and currency exchange bureaus are safe to change money.

Time Difference: GMT +0.0

Getting Around: The city centre is compact and easy to navigate and all the major landmarks are close together, so getting out on foot is the way to go. If you need to use public transport, Lothian Buses connect the city centre to the suburbs and most of the routes run along Princes Street. Trams also run 14km from the city centre to Edinburgh Airport, and there are more than 1,000 black cabs in the city which can be hailed or picked up at a taxi rank.

When To Go: The best time to visit Edinburgh is the warmer months from May to August when daytime temperatures often hover in the low 20’s (celsius) or the high teens and the daylight hours are longer. Shoulder months are okay, but bear in mind that December to February it can get really cold and the days are short.

Tipping: Not necessary but as per most places these days, in restaurants a 10 percent tip on a bill is often appreciated. 

Where To Stay

There are plenty of accommodation options from 5-star hotels to budget hostels and generally there are options to suit all budgets. The 5-star hotel, The Balmoral, stands sentinel over the CBD and is a landmark in its own right while the Chester Residence is another luxury hotel which has a long-standing reputation. The Waldorf Astoria is another traditional 5-star and if you’re in the mood for boutique hotels with a difference there is the Prestonfield Hotel on the fringe of Royal Holyrood Park and the Radisson Collection which is right on the Royal Mile. There are also mid-range chain hotels like Travelodge, Holiday  Inn, Premier Inn and EasyHotel.

Sightseeing Essentials

* Edinburgh Castle

This is the number one attraction in Edinburgh and its location at the top of the Royal Mile on top of Castle Rock creates a dramatic statement which embodies what the city is all about. Edinburgh Castle actually sits atop an extinct volcano and if offers stunning views across the city to the Firth of Forth. The castle houses some of the oldest and most important buildings in Edinburgh’s history, including St Margaret's Chapel, The National War Memorial and the Half Moon Battery. The regal Crown Square is a real highlight, where you will find the magnificent Grand Hall and Scotland's Crown Jewels. 

* The Old Town and New Town

Together they are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in recognition of the unique character of the Old Town which resembles many northern European “old towns” with its medieval street layout. The planned New Town was created in the 18th century to alleviate the overcrowding in the Old Town and the area is a sumptuous snapshot of the Georgian era. Most of Edinburgh’s 4,500 listed buildings are within these two districts. The Royal Mile runs downhill from the castle and terminates at Holyrood Palace. Minor streets, called wynds or closes, run off either side of the Royal Mile. 

* Scottish Parliament

Edinburgh’s Old Town is home to Scotland’s modern Parliament building which was opened by The Queen in 2004. It’s on the site of a former brewery. It’s open to visitors from Monday to Saturday and there are free one hour tours where you can learn about its history, work and contemporary architecture. 

* Royal Yacht Britannia

Now permanently moored near the Ocean Terminal in Leith, the Royal Yacht Britannia was the maritime home of The Queen and the Royal Family for more than 40 years from 1953 to 1997. The Britannia sailed more than one million miles around the world, and visitors can take an audio tour to find out more about the everyday lives of the royals.

* Palace of Holyroodhouse

This palace is the royal family's official residence in Scotland and every year at the end of June, The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh stay here for a series of official engagements in the area. However the palace is more famous as the 16th-century home of the ill-fated Mary, Queen of Scots. The highlight of the tour is Mary's Bedchamber, home to the unfortunate queen from 1561 to 1567. It was here that her jealous second husband, Lord Darnley, restrained the pregnant queen while his henchmen murdered her secretary, and favourite, David Rizzio. 

Best Happy Snap

Probably the best spot to get a photo of Edinburgh Castle is the Vennel, which is a staircase leading from Grassmarket to Lauriston Place. In the early evening, Edinburgh Castle is lit for a great night time shot.

Shopping And Souvenirs

Princes Street is a natural starting point for shopping in Edinburgh and the main shopping district with views of the castle and the Old Town. Here you’ll find flagship stores for Debenhams, House of Fraser and the historic Jenners, among others. Across the road, Princes Street Gardens hosts various markets including the Traditional German Christmas Market and in nearby Castle Terrace, the Farmers’ Market is held every Saturday. There’s also a good range of shops and eateries at Edinburgh Waverley Train Station and along George Street. 

Eating And Drinking

From rowdy pubs with low ceilings, to trendy bars with outrageous cocktails and restaurants that produce some of the best food in Europe, Edinburgh’s entertainment scene is world-renowned and always evolving. The truth is you could spend a year in Edinburgh hitting all the spots and still not get to them all so here’s a few suggestions that can get you started. Bennets Bar (8 Leven St, Tollcross) is one of the city’s oldest pubs and it appears to have hardly changed since 1836 while the Bow Bar (80 W Bow) is a no-frills pub with local cask beer, single malts and classic pub grub. For something a little more trendy, the Bramble Bar & Lounge (16A Queen St) is a hole-in-the-wall cocktail bar with classic and modern concoctions while Panda & Sons (79 Queen St) is a speakeasy with a barbershop frontage.

For fine dining Scottish-style, a restaurant called A Room In The West End (26 Williams St) is a cosy joint with fresh Scottish produce, while The Dogs Kitchen Bar (110 Hanover St) also champions the best in Scottish and British ingredients. The Prestonfield’s Rhubarb Restaurant is another traditional Scottish favourite. If Asian food is more your thing, Chaophraya (4th floor, 33 Castle St) has stunning views over the city and Edinburgh Castle from its rooftop location.

Hot Tip

Take a wander along Leith Walk which has quirky little shops, street art and hole in the wall bars and cafes. It’s an area that’s undergoing gentrification and may not be the same in five to 10 years time.

Got An Emergency?

Local Police: emergencies 999; non-emergencies 101

Australian Consulate: The Edinburgh Consulate has closed and inquiries go to the Australian High Commission in London on +44 (0) 20 7379 4334




  • 4
    Great Scot! An amazing review

    Posted by Markos on 26th Aug 2019

    Very helpful and thorough, I'd love to go to Edinburgh again so I can follow this travel planner. But I must point out another thing to see in Edinburgh: "The Elephant House" which was the coffee shop in which JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter. The child inside you will very much enjoy it.

  • 5
    Definitely The Next Visit

    Posted by Kate Abernethy on 19th Feb 2019

    I found this article on Edinburgh throughly engaging. It covers everything I need to know in a straightforward manner. The layout is designed for easy reference and the information is honest and useful.

  • 4

    Posted by Karen Fagan on 23rd Jan 2019

    Personally I was surprised by the win. Edinburgh is lovely but there are plenty of other gorgeous places in the UK to visit including Bath, Winchester, Oxford......I might be a bit biased, though, being originally from England LOL and from London which I still regard as the best city in the world :)

  • 5
    Romantic City!

    Posted by Terri Traveller on 23rd Jan 2019

    I haven't been here but I have to admit it's on my romance travels bucket list. I have a close friend who's originally from Scotland and the way she talks about the place makes me dream of going. This is a great article which will help with all the basics and more.

  • 5
    Edinburgh, Scotland

    Posted by Mauvehaze on 22nd Jan 2019

    In Edinburgh, Scotland, even without even seeing the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, there is so much to see there. I've wanted to go to see the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, but I think I'd love to go there when the climate is warm as I'm sure I could find Scottish pipe and drum bands if I looked for them. I didn't know the Royal Yacht Britannia was there. This article has opened my eyes to what I can see and do and I'm excited to go myself. The videos opened my eyes even more. Scotland is on my bucket list but it's now been moved further to the top of the list. The sooner I go, the better. Thank you for a very informative article.