Planning a solo trip to Edinburgh? Here’s everything you need to know for your visit:
- Capital city of Scotland, with a population of about 550,000.
- Considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world, 2nd most visited in UK (after London).
- Said to have been built on seven hills.
- Known for its festivals that take place throughout the year and its excellent theatre and concert life. Edinburgh consistently ranks highly in world rankings for livability.
- Nicknames: Auld Reekie (Middle Scottish for “Old Smokey”), Athens of the North
- Currency: British Pound (GBP).
- Spoken languages: primarily English.
- Best time to visit: from May to October (winters are cold and rainy). Expect abrupt weather changes, and always pack an umbrella!
- Arriving via airport (Edinburgh International Airport): from Edinburgh International Airport (EDI) take the Airlink Bus that connects to the city centre with single fares of £4.50 (departs every 10 minutes, 24 hours a day). A taxi ride will cost about £20.
WHERE TO STAY
- Best hostel for solo travelers in Edinburgh: Royal Mile Backpackers. A small, cozy hostel right in the center of town (5 min walk to the train station). Friendly staff, very clean, 24-hour reception. Not as popular as the loud party hostels – which makes it perfect for getting a good night’s rest. Book ahead!
- Newington is a convenient 15 minute walk from the Royal Mile, the main thoroughfare of the city, and is by far the leafiest, most genteel neighborhood and the best bet for retail, food and drink.
- West End offers lively shopping, traditional pubs and trendy delicatessens away from the bustle of Princes Street, the city’s commercial centre.
- Grassmarket is the medieval core, popular with students, tourists and professionals alike.
- To save money on accommodation, there’s always Leith: plenty of small, boutique hotels and guesthouses while still close to town.
- Walking is one of the best ways to get around Edinburgh, as most areas of interest are closely concentrated in the city centre (attractions are no more than a 15 minute walk away).
- Lothian operates the majority of bus lines with single tickets priced at £2.50. Fares are not inclusive of transfers and an all-day ticket costs £4.50 (excluding Airlink). First buses connect to the suburbs.
- Black Cabs can be hailed off the street when displaying the orange light. Call 0131 229 2468 or 0131 228 1211 for the major operators. Taxis in the city are reliable and well regulated.
- Cycling is a convenient and cheap way to explore the compact city. Traffic-free routes offer two-wheeled visitors the fastest and most scenic way to discover Edinburgh. Biketrax hires out different bikes to suit any need.
- Drinking age is 18, last call is 1 AM for most pubs and bars.
- There is an abundance of traditional pubs all around Edinburgh for those seeking a more Scottish drinking experience – many also host live music nights.
- Great bars in town (with proper whisky options): The Abbey, The Bow Bar (locals’ favourite), and The Jolly Judge, The Devil’s Advocate, The Black Cat.
- Cheap pub experience: The Dog House.
- For cheap drinks and late night dancing, head to Opium. For cheap drinks and classic hits, check out Club Tropicana. To travel back in time, find your way to The Shack Retro Bar & Club. EDM: Sneaky Pete’s, The Bongo Club, and Cabaret Voltaire.
- Best cocktails in town: Hey Palu, Bramble Bar & Lounge, and Lucky Liquor Co.
UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT
- The Edinburgh Pass allows free entrance to 35 top attractions and discounts at participating outlets. 1-day pass costs £30, 2-day pass for £40 and 3-day pass for £50.
- Sitting upon a hill overlooking the city, the Edinburgh Castle houses the Scottish crown jewels. The One O’clock Gun tradition is fired at 1 PM. From here, walk down towards St. Giles’ Cathedral, the city’s most iconic and distinguished feature.
- Over 150 years old and located beside Edinburgh Castle, the Camera Obscura focuses light into a dark room below, offering a 360 degree view of the entire city.
- Check out the ruins of Craigmillar Castle (built in the 14th century), situated about 5 km east of the city centre.
- Scott Monument is a beautiful Victorian gothic monument located in Princess Street Gardens. The tower is 200 feet 6 inches tall, and is truly an amazing sight.
- To watch the parliament in session from the public gallery at the Scottish Parliament, walk towards the eastern end of the Royal Mile. Tickets are free but need to be booked.
- The greenhouses, gardens and plants at the Royal Botanic Gardens are one of the finest in the world. The John Hope Gateway serves as the visitor centre to discover more about the thriving ecosystem.
- Visit the National Museum of Scotland is a great activity, and is a wonderful way to spend a rainy day. It is home to the main national collections of Scottish international finds, and contains incredible artifacts from all around the world.
- The Royal Mile is a mile-long cobbled street running from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace. Makes for an interesting walk, passing by pubs, shops, and even Scotsmen playing the traditional bagpipes.
- Holyrood Park is made up of 650 acres of public parkland, perfect for warm weather. From here you can reach Arthur’s Seat, the highest point above Edinburgh. The dormant volcano is a National Heritage Site.
- Take a break from the bustle of the city by taking a walk the Water of Leith Walkway, which winds around the Union Canal, Saughton Winter Gardens, Dean Village and Stockbridge, and is suitable for both walking and cycling.
- Go for a stroll through Princess Street Gardens. A relaxing experience, especially on a warm summer day.
- The walk from the Royal Academy into New Town is lined by fine Georgian architecture and meanders through the medieval core of the city.
- The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is a three week long festival of stand up comedy, theatre performances, dance, acting, singers, and street acts. The festival takes place in August, and takes over the entire city (it is one of the largest arts festivals in the world). Many shows are free.
- Scotland’s finest export is the single malt whisky. Find The Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre on Castlehill and learn about the distillation process.
- Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is the city’s celebration of the New Year. It lasts several days, and features live music, fireworks, night time ceilidhs, street parties, and even a fire torch procession!
- The Edinburgh Military Tattoo boasts Scotsmen playing the bagpipes in formations in the Castle battlements. Takes place in the summer.
- Rose Street (parallel to Princes Street) is home to the best selection of gourmet restaurants, historic eateries and cuisines from around the world.
- Great restaurants in Edinburgh: Mussel Inn ($$ – casual), The Ship on The Shore ($$$ – seafood), Kanpai Sushi ($$$), Mother India’s Cafe ($$), The Mosque Kitchen ($ – Indian).
- Where to find good cheap food: along the Royal Mile and on streets running off of the Royal Mile. Don’t limit yourself to restaurants and cafes – there are many pubs that serve cheap food.
- Dangerous areas: Edinburgh is generally very safe. As in any major city, use common sense and exercise caution (especially when walking alone at night).
Recommended trip duration: 3-4 days