Edinburgh

Introduction

In Scotland’s capital all Scottish peculiarities come together: haggis, bagpipes, whisky, kilts… The city has two very different faces: the fashionable modern New Town and the spooky medieval Old Town. The latter’s history is fraught with macabre events: witch burnings, hangings, murder, torture, haunted houses, poltergeists… this past leads to an abundance of superstition and ghost stories even today. Add to all of this a lot of rain, green hilly surroundings and an excellent nightlife and there you have it: Edinburgh. Well worth a few days of exploration!

Travel budget / daily costs: Expensive. A night in an average hostel will set you back about 10 GBP. But with plenty of free things to do around as well, Edinburgh is still a destination where backpackers can afford to kick back for a while. Spend your money carefully and you’ll be able to get by with 20 pounds per day.

When to go: May – June. Scotland is infamous for its rainy, windy and cold climate. With an average 18 degrees Celsius in July and August, this is the most pleasant time to visit weather wise. But because the famous Edinburgh Festival is held in these months as well, you’ll find that the city is absolutely packed with visitors in summertime. All of this taken into account, springtime is most recommended for swinging by.

The Castle, Edinburgh's icon that looms over the city.

Orientation

The city of Edinburgh can be roughly divided into two parts: the medieval Old Town and the modern New Town. The Old Town’s main street is the Royal Mile, starting at the city’s icon Edinburgh Castle and continuing downhill until the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Right behind the palace stands Arthur’s Seat, which offers some magnificent views over the city. The New Town is the city’s financial heart, with its busy and commercial Princes Street, Rose Street and Calton Hill as its top assets.

Highlights

Do one of the underground city ghost tours and listen to creepy stories while walking around in the small alleys, underground vaults and tunnels of the old city with its spooky and sinister past. In the underground city sightings of ghosts, paranormal activity and poltergeists continue to be reported, and it’s been described as “possibly the most haunted place in Great Britain”.

[ There are various companies who offer guided tours. Sign up along the Royal Mile. Prices start at 6 GBP. ]

View on Edinburgh from Arthur's Seat.

Climb the city’s extinct volcano and important landmark Arthur’s Seat, where you can enjoy a great view over entire Edinburgh. Just walk down the Royal Mile and you’ll see a number of little pathways that lead up the hills. The highest point is about 250 metres high; the walk will take you about 30 minutes.

Edinburgh is expensive. Luckily there’s plenty of free stuff to do for the low budget visitor. So save some money, kill some time, and go cultural: visit a few of the free museums which the city houses. The Museum of Scotland and the Scottish National Gallery Of Modern Art come recommended.

Food & drinks

Whisky is one of the things what Scotland’s famous for, so you don’t want to miss out on that. Visit one of the many bars in the Cowgate district and try some of the excellent Scottish whiskys. (Be sure not to do the tour at the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre near the Castle, it’s an expensive tourist trap.)

The traditional dish of Haggis, Neeps and Tatties.

Don’t leave Scotland without trying the typically Scottish meal of Haggis, Neeps and Tatties. Haggis is a traditional dish of sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs, minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock and traditionally boiled in the animal’s stomach for several hours. Although that description sounds absolutely disgusting, it is in fact a very tasty dish. There’s also a veggie version available in most places. Haggis is normally served with Neeps and Tatties, which are mashed rutabaga and mashed potatoes.

[ You can get haggis for 3,50 GBP at The Last Drop on Grassmarket. ]

Accommodation

With two large kitchens, a piano, two chill out rooms, 250 dorm beds, and supposedly a ghost or two as permanent guests, Castle Rock Hostel comes highly recommended. Decent prices and a great location in the Old Town on Johnston Terrace, right next to Edinburgh Castle. Also has opportunities to work for free lodging.

Entertainment

A few places worth visiting. Forest CafĂ© at Bristo Place. Run by volunteers and nicely alternative. Cheap meals, snacks and drinks, fair trade coffee, free internet, and a great chilled out atmosphere. The Jazzbar on Chambers Street. Located in a basement, live jazz music every night. And of course there are plenty of other places to go out and drink a pint as well. Edinburgh’s main party scene is at Cowgate.