Edinburgh from Calton Hill

Your Trip to Edinburgh: The Complete Guide

••• Photography by Byron Tanaphol Prukston / Getty Images

Known sometimes as "The Athens of the North" or "Auld Reekie," the Scottish capital is one of the country's most popular destinations, and is a great place to spend a long weekend or to include in a larger Scotland itinerary. Edinburgh is relatively compact and walkable, but there's a lot to see and do in this historic and culturally vibrant capital, including exploring Edinburgh Castle, visiting one of the city's top museums, going on a nearby hike, or hitting up the annual Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Whether you are looking to explore Edinburgh's food and bar scene or to travel back in time through its history, here are a few things to keep in mind while planning your trip.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: Based purely on the weather, June through August is the best time of year to travel to Edinburgh. Scotland can be notoriously gloomy and wet during the winter, but summer brings moderate temperatures and some sun, making it ideal for outdoor sightseeing. Do keep in mind that summer is also peak tourist season; if you want to avoid the crowds, consider planning your trip for either May or September. No matter what time of year you visit, be sure to pack layers of clothing.
  • Language: English is the primary language spoken in Scotland and the rest of the U.K. However, because Edinburgh is a fairly large, international city, you may hear other languages spoken around town. Gaelic is also spoken in some parts of Scotland.
  • Currency: The currency in the U.K. is the pound sterling, which is also known as GBP or just "the pound." Cents are known as pence.
  • Getting Around: While Edinburgh is a highly walkable city, especially in the city center, there are good public transportation options, including the Lothian Buses and Edinburgh Trams. Taxis and Ubers are also available. Car rentals are another option, though we don't recommend driving or parking in the city center of Edinburgh.
  • Travel Tip: Make your visit to Edinburgh part of a larger exploration of Scotland, taking advantage of the trains if you prefer not to drive through the winding roads. Glasgow is less than an hour away from Edinburgh, while Dundee and St. Andrews are a quick journey north. But you don't have to pick just the bigger destinations to better understand Scottish culture. Nearby, look for day trips to the Scottish Borders, North Berwick and Stirling, when planning an itinerary.

Things to Do

Edinburgh has a lot of history, culture, and art available to explore, as well as expansive shopping areas. Touring Edinburgh Castle, one of the oldest fortified palaces in Europe, is a must-do for all visitors, as is hiking Arthur's Seat, the highest point in Edinburgh. Another popular attraction is Palace of Holyroodhouse; the Scottish residence of Queen Elizabeth II, it welcomes visitors whenever the British Royal Family is not in town. Here are some of the top things to do during your trip to Edinburgh:

  • Tour The National Art Gallery of Scotland; consisting of three galleries, this vast art museum showcases works from both Scotland and around the world.
  • Dine at The Kitchin, a renowned Michelin-starred restaurant that highlights local ingredients.
  • Attend the annual Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world's largest arts festival, to see performances ranging from plays and comedy shows to live music.

For more, explore our full-length articles on the top things to do in Edinburgh and the best museums in Edinburgh. And, be sure to check out our guide to spending 48 hours in the Scottish capital.

Neoclassical Scottish National Gallery in the mount, beneath Edinburgh Castle

Iain Masterton/Getty Images 

What to Eat and Drink

Edinburgh is an international city that boasts cuisine from all over the world, but of course you'll want to experience Scottish fare while visiting. Haggis, a meaty pudding cooked in a sheep's stomach, is Scotland's most famous dish and broadly available around Edinburgh, especially at pubs. Other local dishes include Stornoway black pudding, Cullen skink, Cranachan, and smoked salmon. And if you're wanting to imbibe on Scottish whisky, you can sample it at any number of places, including The Abbey Bar and The Balmoral Whisky Bar.

Because the city is so diverse, travelers will find not just pubs, but also fancy Michelin-starred restaurants, quirky burger joints, and outdoor food stalls. While many restaurants and pubs can be found in the city center, be sure to venture into Leith to try pizza at La Favorita or Scottish-French fusion at Restaurant Martin Wishart.

For more, check out the best restaurants in Edinburgh and our guide to Edinburgh nightlife.

Where to Stay

While each of Edinburgh's 12 neighborhoods is distinctly charming, you might find some more convenient than others depending on your itinerary, Most travelers opt to stay in the city center, which includes the Royal Mile and New Town. Many of the popular hotels, including both chain and boutique options, are located in these two areas alongside the popular attractions and shopping streets. If you prefer to stay somewhere close to the water, look for a hotel or apartment rental in Leith, a cool neighborhood with lots of independent cafés, stores, and bookshops. For something a little off-center, head to Portobello, a seaside resort neighborhood only 20 minutes from central Princes Street. Some iconic Edinburgh hotels include The Balmoral, The Witchery by the Castle, The Royal Scots Club, and Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh.

Read our roundup of the best hotels in Edinburgh to learn more and find the right accommodation for you.

Getting There

Most international travelers arrive in Edinburgh by flying into Edinburgh Airport, a fairly busy airport with one main terminal. The airport services several cities in the U.S., mostly on the East Coast, as well as Europe and the Middle East. It also has numerous flights that connect from London's Heathrow Airport.

Alternatively, you can take a train from London or one of the U.K.'s other large cities; trains operate regularly and arrive at Edinburgh Waverley station. If you're driving, be sure to include a GPS in your rental car to help navigate the unfamiliar roads.

Culture and Customs

Tipping isn't as frequent in Scotland as it is in America, but it's still customary to tip in restaurants or taxis, especially when you receive good service. The typical amount is 10 percent, but you can use your best judgment. In a pub, leave a pound or two when ordering drinks at the bar. And while it may be slightly jarring to some visitors, the legal drinking age in Scotland is 18.

Dean Village in Edinburgh

 Joe Daniel Price/Getty Images

Money Saving Tips

  • The best way to save a few bucks is to walk. Edinburgh is a very walkable city and it's central area is compact enough that you shouldn't need a rental car or to take many taxis. Plan out your itinerary to take advantage of walking everywhere you can.
  • Many of the museums offer free entry, including The National Museum of Scotland, The Museum of Childhood, and The Museum on the Mound. Historic cathedrals like St. Giles' Cathedral are also free to enter.
  • Tour the Scottish Parliament for a glimpse inside Scotland's political landscape. It's open to the public six days a week and tours are free.
  • To save money on meals, pay a visit to one of Edinburgh's food markets. The Pitt Market, which takes place every Saturday in Leith, is one of the most popular. Travelers arriving at Waverley Station will also find more than 40 food stalls at Waverley Market @ Platform 2.
  • Two discount attraction passes are available for tourists in Edinburgh: Royal Edinburgh Ticket and Edinburgh City Pass.
Article Sources
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  1. Visit Scotland. "Frequently Asked Questions About Scotland."

  2. VisitScotland. "Frequently Asked Questions About Scotland."

  3. This Is Edinburgh. "Edinburgh Fringe Festival."