Edinburgh is a place I have wanted to visit since I was a child. My grandfather would tell me stories about one of the places he grew up, in Edinburgh’s Old Town, and how he loved hearing the cry of sea birds as they flew overhead each morning with the sunrise. I had so much fun seeing the city for myself with my husband, and it’s a place we both agree we could live quite happily, because Edinburgh truly has it all; excellent fine dining, fantastic music, endless things to do from hiking and walking through gardens to exploring the sea and castles, and so much more. Read on to explore the city of Edinburgh through my luxury travel guide, and discover all of the incredible things Edinburgh has to offer.
We simply adored our time here in Edinburgh, and delighted in all of the old architecture, gorgeous green spaces, phenomenal food, and fascinating history of the town. After arriving by train after a brief ride that only took about 4 hours from the famous King’s Cross Station in London, we found ourselves in one of the most fascinating and interesting cities in the world. I hope this city guide helps you fall in love with Scotland’s Capital city the way we did.
A Bit About Edinburgh
Also sometimes called “Embra” by locals, no one really knows what the name “Edinburgh” means, as the language it’s derived from Olde English, is no longer spoken or used, and some of it has been forgotten. It’s rumored to mean “Edwin’s Fort” referring to the 7th century king, King Edwin, which makes sense when considering massive Edinburgh Castle, which overlooks all of the city. The city itself is at least 1400 years old, and it has been the capitol of Scotland for the last 5 centuries, at least.
Famed for being home to some of the smartest scientists and engineers who have ever lived, as well as some of the most revered poets, writers, and artists, and philosophers, Edinburgh has always been a city of intellect and intrigue. Resting along the North Sea, Edinburgh’s climate is generally very mild thanks to the warm southern winds that blow across the city and keep the climate pleasant and rainy year round.
The city uses British Pounds as currency, and is technically part of the United Kingdom along with the rest of Scotland. It’s the second strongest economy in the United Kingdom, and is home to the Palace of Hollyroodhouse, which is where Queen Elizabeth II spends at least one week each summer attending to local affairs. Edinburgh’s Old Town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as the Old Town perfectly encapsulates the architectural, historical, and artistic significance of the city’s unique buildings, while simultaneously preserving some of the most incredible views and natural beauty in all of Europe.
How to Get to Edinburgh
Like any major city, Edinburgh has a large airport, called Edinburgh Airport (EDI), and has two large train stations, Waverley and Haymarket stations respectively. Edinburgh can also be reached via taxi or any of the main roads that reach the city from other places in the mainland United Kingdom. This means, there are at least 3 very convenient ways to reach the city!
When to Visit Edinburgh
Edinburgh has a reputation for being very rainy, and overcast, which is my favorite weather, but I recognize that it’s not a sentiment shared by everyone. When we visited at the end of July, we only experienced one brief rain shower in the 4 days we spent in Old Town, the rest of the days were very lovely and clear. In general, November through March has the coldest temperatures, rarely reaching below freezing, and these are also some of the rainiest months. As would be expected, April through October are warmer, more pleasant months to visit, but also busier due to an increase in tourism.
In my opinion, there’s no wrong time to visit this incredible city, particularly if you bring sturdy, water proof shoes, and a solid rain jacket, and perhaps a scarf and warm layer to wear underneath, you’ll have a wonderful, comfortable time exploring one of the coolest cities in the world.
Getting Around Edinburgh
Edinburgh is a very easy city to navigate. The city has a fantastic, comprehensive bus system that’s easy to hop on and off, which accepts payments in exact change or prepaid Citysmart Cards, just like any major city. Read more about the train, tram, and bus routes in Edinburgh, along with the convenient prepaid transit card options, here. The city is also very walkable, which is how we got around all of Old Town. Should you require a more direct route hail a taxi, or walk into any hotel in the city and ask them to call one for you.
Where to Stay in Edinburgh
We loved our stay at the beautiful Scotsman Hotel, which is directly across from the train station we used when we arrived in Edinburgh. Despite being across from the train station, and despite the fact that our suite was facing the train station, we never heard any noise from people, the trains, or the road. It was a beautiful, peaceful hotel and its proximity to Old Town, bus stops, and other points of interest was exactly what we wanted. Plus, if you’ve been reading my blog for very long, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of European architecture, particularly castles and buildings that look like castles, so this hotel checked every box in terms of what we look for in a hotel. I couldn’t recommend this hotel more!
Where to Eat in Edinburgh
Edinburgh has some of the best food of any of the places we’ve traveled. We found everything from strikingly flavorful Mexican food at Wahaca restaurant and freshly picked vegetarian cuisine at The Ivy Edinburgh, to Michelin Starred Scottish food at Angel’s with Bagpipes, and delightfully comforting pub food at Devil’s Advocate.
This restaurant, which is rumored to soon be receiving a Michelin Star designation, has some of the best wild caught salmon we had in all of Scotland. With intimate seating arrangements, a large selection of Pescatarian and Gluten Free options, and a gorgeous location on the Royal Mile in Old Town Edinburgh, this is the restaurant I recommend the most in my Luxury Travel Guide to Edinburgh. The food here is truly exceptional.
The Devil’s Advocate
This cozy, dark pub is reminiscent of a cave, but a very cozy cave, perhaps more like a Hobbit hole, if Hobbit holes served fantastic, piping hot homemade cheese soups, freshly picked organic salads, piled high, and an unbelievable selection of more than 400 rare and vintage Whisky from around Scotland. We loved our meal so much we ate here twice. The atmosphere was jovial, inviting, and a little mysterious, and the decor made it feel like we had been transported back in time, it was truly a unique experience.
This botanical themed café, which we also enjoyed during our time in London, is a United Kingdom chain of sorts, but is so pretty and charming that we wanted to check out the one in Edinburgh as well. We loved this place for brunch, and enjoyed their excellent selection of vegan, gluten free, and organic produce, yogurt, and granolas, as well as more traditional breakfast foods. If you’re in the United Kingdom and you love eating your meals surrounded by plants, head to The Ivy!
Wahaca Mexican Street Food
Serving up MasterChef winner Thomasina Miers’ award winning Mexican street food just a stone’s throw from our hotel, this place had better, more flavorful Mexican food than we had in most of Mexico! It was by far the most flavorful meal we had in all of Edinburgh, and their margaritas were perfectly mixed. There was almost no wait time whatsoever, and our food was brought out promptly. If you’re a big fan of Latin American cuisine, Wahaca is a must-visit restaurant.
Things to Do in Edinburgh
There is SO much to do in Edinburgh that I plan to create an entire itinerary post about how we spent our time in Edinburgh. For now, I’m sharing a few of our favorite adventures in the city.
I am a hug fan of visiting gardens, I love learning about exotic plants, admiring the fantastic glass houses, reading the gardens, and learning about how culture and local traditions influenced the landscape. Royal. Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, Scotland’s 350 year old Royal Garden, is by far my favorite public garden I’ve ever had the pleasure of walking, and I’m already looking forward to our next visit! Read all about this garden, and how to visit, here.
Climb Arthur’s Seat
I lost the memory card containing the last day of our time in Scotland, and I’m still heartbroken over such an uncharacteristic occurrence. One of the most incredible things on that memory card was our climb to the top of Arthur’s Seat, which is a very large rocky outcrop, that offers an incredible look over the city of Edinburgh and the North Sea. In fact, in clear days nearby cities and villages can be seen. It’s an unbelievable view, and the perfect place for take pictures of the sunset, the city, the ocean, and really just the remarkable Scottish landscapes.
Be warned however, that the hike up is quite challenging, the path is narrow, and the drops off the edges are sharp and steep, and unfortunately the hike claims the lives of several tourists each year. So, if you do take on this hike, wear proper footwear, stay to the inner edge of the trail closest to the hill, go slowly, watch for falling rocks, and you’ll have a great time! See my “Scotland” highlight on Instagram for photos and videos of the view from the top that I took with my phone!
Visit Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle is a stunning work of architecture, and is considered one of the most pivotal buildings in the world, meaning that whoever controlled the castle, controlled most of the United Kingdom. Read all about the castle’s history and how to visit it, here.
Walk the Royal Mile in Edinburgh’s Old Town
The Royal Mile in Edinburgh’s Old Town connects Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which are almost exactly one mile long, hence the name. This street is lined with fantastic restaurants (like Angels with Bagpipes), touristy shops, pubs, churches, and you’re almost guaranteed to find at least one bagpiper playing on the street here on any given day. If you’re exploring Edinburgh, this street is a must visit.
Cultural Considerations & Traveler Etiquette
Scotland isn’t very different from the United States, surprisingly. Tipping is becoming a bit more common, although they generally round up the dollar amount or leave a few extra pounds as thanks, rather than tipping a certain percentage. Scotland isn’t a particularly religious nation, so you don’t need to worry about being unintentionally disrespectful of local beliefs. I would definitely advise visitors to act like locals and leave others alone. I never saw people going up and talking to strangers, so it would seem to me that Scottish people value their privacy and independence, so try not to bother the locals, and instead direct your questions about directions or recommendations to your hotel’s concierge.
Staying Safe in Edinburgh
We never once felt unsafe when we were in Edinburgh, even when our jet lag had us wandering the streets at 2 am local time. We were advised by everyone who asked to stay away from the Leith neighborhood, which is near the water, after dark, because they say that’s where nearly all of Edinburgh’s low crime rate crime occurs, and that it’s just best to stay away when the sun begins to set. We didn’t have plans to head down that way anyway, so I can’t say whether or not it seemed seedy.
Like any major city, don’t flash valuables, stick to well lit streets, and walk with a purpose. We didn’t see anyone heckling passersby, and we never witnessed anyone behaving in a manner that is unbecoming, so I would say based on my personal experiences here, stories from my grandfather, and their crime statistics that Edinburgh is an extremely safe city.
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