I stayed in Edinburgh for 4 days so I got to know the city relatively well. However 4 days were not enough to see everything. I wanted to see Portobello and Musselburgh and also wanted to climb the volcano Arthur's Seat but unfortunately I didn't have enough time.
What I did instead was:
- explore Edinburgh Castle
- explore Holyrood Palace
- explore the Royal Yacht Britannia
- go on a Bus-Sightseeing Tour
- go to the Zoo
- visit the National Museum
- visit the Tartan Weaving Mill & Exhibition
- go up to Calton Hill (twice)
- go shopping of course
I also went on a trip to the Highlands and shortly visited Glasgow as I went to and from Glasgow Airport.
Edinburgh is the city of contrast. Old Town vs. New Town / traditional vs. modern / Scottish vs. International. On the one hand it is the Scottish Capital. The Scottish Parliament and Government are situated there and you can thus find a lot of traditional Scottish heritage.
On the other hand, Edinburgh has been influenced by other cultures and nations for a long time. There is Portobello, the little Italy of Edinburgh for example, and you can also find many restaurants focussing on international cuisine. There are a lot of French restaurants and apart from the usual kebab shops and Asian restaurants you can also find 5 Swedish restaurants in the city!
Furthermore it is a young city. There are 3 universities (Uni of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier and Queen Margaret's) so there are many students in the city but also many backpackers as there are a lot of hostels.
Hidden Gems of Edinburgh
Edinburgh also is a very green city as there are a lot of parks and gardens. Princess Street Gardens is next to the shopping mile, how awesome is that?? I actually shopped till I dropped and then relaxed in the Gardens. That's just super convenient!!
Apart from those you have Calton Hill and Arthur's Seat, two extinct volcanos within the city limits! As I said I haven't been to Arthur's Seat but I have been to Calton Hill twice in the evenings and enjoyed the sunset there. It is just incredible. You look right over the rooftops of the city and can also watch planes landing.
What I also loved about Edinburgh is its architecture. Edinburgh often is described as the Athens of the North and I can totally relate to that. You find monuments there that you would expect in Greece but not in Scotland.
How to get around in Edinburgh
If you are planning to go to Edinburgh, I can only recommend for you to buy a city guide to get a first insight on everything the city has to offer.
For your first day there I can also recommend a bus-sightseeing tour. I bought the Royal Edinburgh Ticket which included entrance to Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, The Royal Yacht Britannia and also 48h on the City Sightseeing Tour, the Edinburgh Tour and the Majestic Tour. The latter goes to Leith where the Royal Yacht is situated, and also to the Botanic Gardens.
However I can recommend this tour the least of all as a single ticket costs about 10 pounds whereas a single ticket for a normal bus costs 1,50.
There are many busses that bring you to the Botanic Garden and the Royal Yacht and you can definitely take a pass on the audio guide of the Majectic Tour as you don't really learn interesting things, I think. You can get other cheap tickets for the Castle and other sights on Get Your Guide for example.
The Edinburgh and City Sightseeing Tours are alright. If you rather listen to an audio guide in Spanish, German, French etc. then the City Sightseeing Tour is the right one for you. You visit the Castle, Our Dynamic Earth, Holyrood Palace and the Royal Mile (among others) on this tour, though I think it's quite expensive at about 10 pounds.
So it only pays off when you plan one day for sightseeing only and use the tour bus to get to and from all those sights. However if you don't need an audio guide: Edinburgh is not that big - you can go by foot! Although I have to admit the Old Town is very hilly but if you're fit it's really no problem ;)
Where to stay
I stayed at the Cairn Hotel close to Calton Hill and absolutely loved the place. The rooms were super cosy and the location was just perfect - close to shops, restaurants and the main bus station, but still in a quiet alleyway close to the park at Calton Hill.
If you're visiting Edinburgh for the first time, don't miss:
- The Royal Yacht Britannia
- Holyrood Palace
- Edinburgh Castle
- The Royal Mile