There's more to the UK than England


December 10, 2021

In her second post, guest blogger Ashley Blaes shares her tips for a trip to Edinburgh - a popular weekend or Reading Week trip for students studying in England.

So I’ve been back in London from my whirlwind Scotland trip for over a month now, but I’ll still say, “Hullo from merrie Scotland”! On a whim, some of my flat mates and I spontaneously booked a flight to Edinburgh for reading week to get out of London and have a change of pace. I thought I’d round up some of my experiences (especially the free ones) and the must-see landmarks for those who are thinking of travelling to this beautiful city. These tips will hopefully give you a range of free and relatively cheap things to try and see on your own Edinburgh adventures.

  • Transportation tips:

-Some people opt to take the overnight bus up to Scotland (also better for the environment!) Most trips are around 10-11 hours one-way, but the fare is only £10! By comparison, domestic flights from Gatwick or Stanstead only take around 1 hour 15 minutes but are a bit pricier. The train is probably the best way to see the country, but can be expensive, especially if you don't book ahead. Journey time is around 5 hours.

-Only take as many clothes as can fit in a backpack so you don’t have pay extra for a checked bag. The bag can fit under the seat in front of you, you don’t have to worry about losing a checked suitcase, and you’ll save loads of money that way!

-The main methods of transportation in Edinburgh are the buses or the trams. The bus ride fares are comparable to those in London, and you can tap to pay for each ride. The tram requires tickets to be purchased in advance. Walking is of course free, but the buses are a great option to travel long distances and get out of the cold.

-Use Citymapper to get around— just be sure your location is changed to Edinburgh, and you’re all set to find buses and walking routes!

  • Sight-seeing and Landmarks:

-Edinburgh Castle: Built in the 11th century, this famous landmark stands atop Castle Rock and marks the beginning of the Royal Mile. Entry costs around £15, and at 13:00 every day a cannon is set off, an event that always draws a crowd!

-Scott Monument: A gothic-looking stone spire which was made as a tribute to the Scottish poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott. Located in New Town just off of Prince’s Street Gardens.

-The Royal Mile: The most famous street in Edinburgh which starts at the Castle at the top of the hill and runs for a mile (hence the name) all the way down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse near Arthur’s Seat. Along the Mile, be sure to see St. Giles’ Church and the famous winding Cockburn Street. You’ll see shops on every corner selling tweed and tartan kilts and plaid clothes!

-Victoria Street: Another famous winding street just under the Castle. One of the most “Instagram-able” places in the city, be sure to take a picture of the colourful storefronts and dark stone chimneys!

-Dean Village: A short bus ride from Old Town, step into a German fairytale in this quaint little corner of the city. Walk along the Water of Leith and stroll through the lanes for a peaceful afternoon ambience.

-Armchair Books: If book shopping is more your thing, check out this old bookstore on West Port for rare and second-hand titles.

-University of Edinburgh Old College: Since you’re a student, I recommend taking a peek into the University of Edinburgh’s Old College. The courtyard is stunning, and the dark stone of the buildings reminded me of a gothic version of Somerset House back home in London.

-National Museum of Scotland: If you’re into the sciences and history of all topics imaginable, spend a few hours exploring the National Museum of Scotland. My favourite exhibits were the floors all about animals, the history of fashion wing, and communication and technology through the centuries. Museums are a great free option to kill time and learn something new too! For fantastic panoramic views of the city, head up to the 9th floor and walk out onto the museum’s rooftop viewing deck.

  • Food and Drinks:

-Lidl and Tesco: I’d recommend popping out to get some basic groceries to make breakfasts at your Air bnb and packing a lunch for while you’re out exploring. My food budget was used mainly for dinners in the city.

-George IV: If you’re fancying a pub with great ambience, be sure to check out George IV for a pint or traditional pub food. The night we went, they had live music for a few hours.

-Ting Thai Caravan Edinburgh: A really fun Thai restaurant with a moody vibe and cool lighting. I highly recommend trying their delicious Pad see ew!

-Ada Restaurant: If you have a hankering for some of the best Turkish food you’ll ever have in your life, Ada is the place to go. As it is quite expensive, I recommend splitting a delicious chicken and yogurt dish called Tavuk Iskender with a friend—the portion sizes are plenty for two people!

-Starbucks on the Royal Mile: If you need a place to sit for a bit and take in the view of the Mile, I recommend the second floor of Starbucks across from Cockburn Street (I went there every day in Edi to get a warm drink and rest my feet).

Side note: Scotland is famous for its whiskey and a dish called Haggis (sheep’s pluck combined with vegetables and broth all stuffed in an animal stomach)! If you’re of drinking age, there are whiskey tours available, and many pubs offer Haggis if you’re feeling brave.

  • Nature in Edinburgh:

-Arthur’s Seat & Holyrood Park: At 251 m in elevation, it only took our group about an hour and a half to reach the summit of this ancient volcano. If you want pictures at the top with a breathtaking view but without the crowds, I recommend you get up early and start climbing around 08:00 to be down again by about 10:00. You can see the city spread around you for miles, and in the distance is the bay and the mountains.

-Calton Hill: A much easier hike than Arthur’s Seat because it has stairs, Calton Hill has an eclectic mix of monuments and structures to see as well as offering a great vantage point of the city. You can spot Old Town and the Castle in the distance on one side and the Blackness Bay on the other.

-The Meadows: If you want a taste of greenery but don’t fancy a hike, go to the Meadows, one of the biggest fields in the city with sidewalks to stroll through the trees and benches to sit on and watch the dogs playing in the park.

-Portobello Beach: About an hour bus ride from the city. Swimming in the freezing water of the bay is optional!

-Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh: A scientific centre dedicated to the study and preservation of plants and biodiversity. The Gardens are comprised of all sorts of biomes and various types of vegetation. The greenhouses are currently being remodeled but should be completed sometime in the next few years.

-Prince’s Street Gardens: A small green space in Old Town just underneath the Castle. Be sure to see the beautiful turquoise-and-gold fountain and wander down the paths to see artistic sculptures. You may just hear bagpipers playing away in the distance.

With that, I’ll end my trip recommendations here. 3 days is more than enough time to see all this and more! I found Edinburgh to be very accommodating and cheap for students on a budget. I hope this post gave you a variety of ideas to tick off your bucket list if you ever have a chance to visit Scotland’s beautiful capital. Now back to our regularly scheduled broadcasts in the London Diaries.

Write soon. Cheers! xx