The Ultimate Budget Guide To Edinburgh | Budget City Guide
If you've followed me here for a while you will know that Edinburgh is one of my favourite places in the whole world, it may even take the top spot. It was the first place I ever visited solo, the first place my partner and I visited together, and the first place I ever fell truly in love with, I even wrote a blog post all about why I think everyone needs to visit at least once.
And so to convince you even more of this, today I'm bringing you an in depth guide to all things Edinburgh, from things to do and places to eat, to tips and advice about the area in general, allowing you to plan your perfect trip no matter what your budget may be.
First of all, a few things you should know:
Generally, the main area of Edinburgh that you'll want to visit during your stay is within around a 1 mile radius, and so it's very easy to get your bearings and walk between most attractions. However, if you don't fancy walking, you can get a Lothian Buses day ticket for just £4.50, or jump on the hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus service. These run every 15 minutes between 9am-4pm within the city, and a standard day ticket will cost you around £14.50.
The city centre is split into 2 distinct sections: the Old Town which is the old fortress city, and the neoclassical New Town. Most of the famous attractions and historical sights are in the Old Town, with shops and galleries more commonly in the New.
If you want your visit to be filled with attractions and tourist hot spots, make sure you have a look at the Edinburgh City Pass. The pass covers 26 of the most famous attractions in the city including Edinburgh Zoo, the Dungeons, multiple walking tours, distilleries, museums, the hop-on-hop-off bus and more. They do one, two and three day passes starting at £45 for an adult ticket, so make sure you add up how much your desired attractions are going to cost you, and then compare it to the cost of your chosen pass.
Edinburgh is easily accessible by most modes of transport. Waverley train station and the bus/coach station are in the heart of the city, just off Princes street, and the international airport is just a 25 minute car ride away (less than 8 miles). There are also plenty of NCP car parks in the area as well as free parking offered with larger accommodation options, for anyone who wishes to drive to Edinburgh, or rent a car during their stay.
I'd say you need at LEAST 4 full days in this city to be able to appreciate it properly, but if you're planning to explore multiple neighbourhoods or do any day trips, definitely stay for a little longer.
Now let's talk budget
One of my favourite hostels in the entire world is in Edinburgh, and it's called The Baxter. You can stay here for between £20-£30 per person per night depending on when you visit and I would highly, highly recommend, however there are definitely some slightly more budget options available too. Some of the most highly rated hostels in the area (I'm talking 9.2-9.8 on Hostelworld) such as High Street Hostel or Castle Rock Hostel, start at just £11 per person per night, and there are also some chain options around such as a couple of St Christophers'.
Budget hotels are also very common in the area. We love to stay in a Hub hotel wherever we can as they're clean, well located and CHEAP. We've stayed at The Hub Royal Mile multiple times now, and if you do the same, you can expect to pay around £40 per night for a double room. They also have hotels on Rose Street and in Haymarket too. Other options such as Motel One, Roomzzz and various Aparthotels will cost you between around £60-£80 per night for a double room.
And then we have top end: when Edinburgh goes fancy, it really goes fancy. Top hotels here such as The Balmoral, Waldorf Astoria or Cheval The Grand can cost anywhere up to £400 per night for a double room.
Attractions are very reasonably priced. There are plenty of free/ very cheap things to do around the city, which I'll tell you about in a second, as well as some more expensive activities such as whisky experiences, which can cost up to £200 each. Food around the city is again, very varied. Most of the meals I have eaten during my visits have been less than £10 per head, maybe £30 maximum with a few drinks, but you there are also lots of high end restaurants around the city including 4 one-star Michelin options. Obviously staying in hostels, aparthotels or AirBnBs allows you to cook meals for yourself, which is always a great way to keep your food costs low.
Taking all of this into account, I'd say your daily budgets for all accommodation, food and fun are as follows:
Budget: Hostel stays, cheap eats/ cooking and free/ cheap activities- Around £45 per day.
Mid Level: Budget hotel stays, cheap eats and a cocktail, and an Edinburgh City Day Pass- Around £110 per day.
High End: 5 Star hotel stays, top tier restaurants and a whisky tour- Around £300 per day.
If you're looking more at the high end side of things, I may have to suggest this post most probably isn't for you, as pretty much every travel experience I have ever embarked on has fluctuated between low and mid level budgets. That's what I know the most about, and it's what we're going to be talking about today!
Free Things To Do
Marvel At Calton Hill
Panoramic views and historical monuments make Calton Hill one of the most famous landmarks in the city. The National Monument (inspired by the Parthenon), Nelson Monument (shaped like an upturned telescope) and the old city observatory can be found here among many others, with the observatory now home to the Collective centre for contemporary art. Make sure to spend some time up here away from the busy New Town, and marvel at the whole city from above.
This vibrant, picturesque area of the Old Town is nestled away behind Edinburgh Castle. Grassmarket is a heaven of boutique shops, independent bars and local market stalls; it's completely unlike anywhere else in the area and the perfect place to wander around for some exclusively Edinburgh-esque experiences. Keep an eye out for Greyfriars Bobby, the famous painted houses on Victoria Street and signs of the old 14th century market place. The farmers market is hosted here every Saturday too.
Arthur's Seat & Holyrood Park
Take a break from the hustle and bustle, have a picnic or see the sights at Holyrood Park, the 640 acre park that sits just behind Holyroodhouse. The park has lots to offer including Salisbury Crags, St. Anthony's Chapel and Duddingston Lock, however the star of the show is definitely Arthur's Seat: an ancient and extinct volcano that sits 251m above sea level, offering the best views of the city you can find. A walk up to the peak and back down again will take you around 2 hours, or there is a slightly easier, low level route you can take instead.
Just a 5 minute walk away from the very busy and very modern Princes Street lies Dean Village: a charming, fairy tale town that sits on the Water of Leith. This tranquil oasis in the heart of Edinburgh has been voted one of the most picturesque places in the UK, and it's easy to see why, however this village is so much more than just a pretty picture. Here you can also find a selection of old mill houses, beautiful gardens and the Gallery of Modern Art.
Royal Botanical Gardens
This beautiful, colourful botanical garden has been a significant part of Edinburgh life for over 350 years, and is one of the finest botanical gardens in the world. Here you can walk around 70 acres of stunning landscape, browse over 3,000 exotic plants that sit inside their 10 famous glass houses (each of which has a different climate, from dry desert to steamy tropics) and marvel at the city's skyline from afar. Find out more on their website here.
Watch Some Live Music
Most of the bars and pubs around the Old Town are filled with music once it gets dark. It's so nice to walk around on a nice evening, dipping in and out of different venues and being met with the sounds of a new and unique artist each time. A couple of my favourites that I've discovered during my time in Edinburgh are The Ensign Ewart Pub on the Royal Mile, and the George IV Bar on, funnily enough, the George IV Bridge.
Visit A Gallery
Now we've already spoken about the Gallery of Modern Art in Dean Village, but there are also lots of other prestigious galleries right in the centre of the city. The Scottish National Gallery has works by many famous artists including Leonardo da Vinci and Vincent Van Gogh, The Scottish National Portrait Gallery holds work of all kinds from photography to sculpture, and Stills is one of the best photography galleries in the country. There are so many others, big and small, to choose from too. Have a look at a full list here.
Did you know that Edinburgh is on the coast? Portobello Beach is just a half an hour walk away from the city centre, and is an award winning seaside town. Here you can find miles of sandy beaches perfect for sunbathing, a promenade full of cafes and bars, international volley ball competitions and a Victorian swimming pool complete with a traditional Turkish Bath. What more could you want?
Explore The Royal Mile
This (you guessed it) mile long succession of streets is located in the heart of Edinburgh's beautiful Old Town, and run all the way from Edinburgh Castle down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. They're lined with boutique cafes, independent pubs, Scottish shops and tourist attractions. The streets and stores are filled with curiosities of all kinds and so much fun to browse through, even if you don't want to spend any money, so make sure you wander around for a while and see what tickles your fancy. Read more about the area here.
Visit A Cathedral
Edinburgh has many cathedrals and churches around the city due to it's very religious history, and they are some of the most beautiful buildings you'll ever see. St Giles' Cathedral dates back before most of the city, in fact it was only when the abbey at Holyrood was built that the King at the time (King David I) allowed the rest of the Royal Mile to be built up around it. The Cathedral is still a staple in day to day life in Edinburgh, and the architectural details both inside and outside the building are unlike anywhere else. On thew new side of the city is St Mary's Episcopal Cathedral, a jaw-dropping piece of Gothic architecture built in the 19th Century that is definitely worth a visit. You can enter both churches for free.
Stroll Along The Shore In Leith
Recently named one of the world's 'coolest neighbourhoods', Leith offers a very different Edinburgh experience than the city centre. It's home to the city's port, and gives off a much more eclectic, earthy and 'independent town' vibe when compared to other areas. The Shore is a the main street in the area and sit's on the river, it's filled with quirky book shops, boutique stores and unique cafes and bars, and is one of the best ways to spend an afternoon during a visit to Edinburgh. You can also find the Royal Yacht Britannia here, or do the walk along the Water of Leith, which will take you through some of the most beautiful spots in the city including Dean Village.
Something a little bit different to but equally as fascinating as other things to do in Edinburgh, Greyfriars Kirkyard is a dark and beautiful graveyard nestled behind Greyfriars Kirk on Candlemaker Row (what a name). It's home to the grave of the beloved Greyfriars Bobby, and is famous with fans of Harry Potter due to it's inspiration for both character names and filming locations for the book and film series'. The grave of Tom 'Riddle' Riddell here gave the infamous villain his name, and people with names such as 'Moody' and 'McGonagall' can also be found here. The burial place of Harry's parents, the cemetery in Godric's Hollow, was also based on Greyfriars Kirkyard.
Take A Free Walking Tour
Whether you want a tour of the Old or New Town, a ghost tour or even a Harry Potter tour, there are companies in Edinburgh that offer all of these for free. As I've said before, a company I trust when it comes to free tour offerings is FreeToursByFoot, and they have a list here of the best free tours you can do throughout the city. They're a great way to see the sights, learn about Edinburgh's history and meet new people, so make sure you take the time to do one. Tours like this are offered for free all over the world but your guides will more than likely accept tips; if you really love a tour or guide, try to give them a little something at the end if you can, just to say thank you!
National Museum Of Scotland
Learn about all about Scottish history through science, decorative art and cultural displays at the National Museum of Scotland. Inside you'll find exhibitions of all kinds. Highlights include the Natural World gallery, where you can meet Ching Ching the Giant Panda skeleton that was gifted to the museum from China, the Millennium Clock, the belongings and jewels of Mary Queen of Scots, multiple fashion galleries and Dolly the Sheep. There are plenty of interactive elements within the museum that are great fun for children, including a giant hamster wheel, and you can also climb to the roof terrace here for panoramic views of the city.
Shopping In The New Town
What's a holiday without a couple of purchases to remember it by? Princes Street and the surrounding lanes are filled with shops of all kinds, from huge high street brands to independently owned stores, and you'll be able to find things to fit into any budget. Rose Street is one of my favourite streets in the whole city so make sure you check it out, and George Street is also filled with lots of exciting shops and restaurants. Oh and grab some dessert from Ben's Cookies on Princes Street too, you won't regret it! Even just wandering these beautiful cobbled streets and not spending a penny is a great way to spend an afternoon.
Cheap Things To Do (£15 & Under)
Edinburgh Pub Crawl
£12. There are so many pubs and bars in Edinburgh that there's no way to pick where to start, luckily there are plenty of pub crawls to guide you through the best spots for a great price. Official pub crawls here start from just £7 but today I'm going to recommend one that's close to my heart: Edinburgh Pub Crawl. When I visited Edinburgh as my first ever solo travel trip back in 2016, I was given a flyer for this pub crawl while walking The Royal Mile, and decided I was going to take the plunge. When I went back to my hostel to get changed I got chatting to 3 other girls who were staying in my dorm, each of whom were also travelling alone, and they decided to join me! We were from 4 completely different countries, but we got together and had one of the best travel nights I've ever had thanks to this great company, and they the girls are still friends of mine to this day. The tour offers VIP entry to 7 of the best local venues, and 7 free drinks (1 in each) for just £12. The guides were hilarious, but also knew a lot about the city, and made sure to take really good care of each person on the tour, from making sure nobody got left behind to ensuring taxis were called for anyone who needed one at the end of the night. I would definitely recommend spending the extra fiver to do a tour with them!
£6-8. Did you know that you can go up inside 2 of the most famous monuments in the city? Both the Scott and Nelson Monuments charge just a few pounds to enter, and you can climb the stairs to the top for incredible panoramic views of the city. The Nelson Monument is just £6 and offers incredible views out over the whole of Edinburgh and it's surrounding areas, and also has multiple museum displays inside, while the Scott Monument is £8 and was built to honour Sir Walter Scott. Inside you will find a museum room on the first floor, and you can climb to the viewing platform for views out over Princes Street Gardens and the New Town area.
Edinburgh Gin Distillery Tour
£10. Edinburgh Gin is some of the best in the world (honestly, their elderflower gin liqueur is my favourite drink ever) and they offer lots of different experiences within their distilleries. You can tour the distillery for just £10 and discover exactly how these amazing drinks are created, from picking flavours to the actual production. They do also offer gin tastings for £25, or gin making experiences for £100 if you feeling a little more spendy. You can book any of their tours and experiences here.
£7. This 17th century house is nestled away in the heart of the Old Town and has been restored by the National Trust for Scotland into a unique and well loved tourist attraction. The inside is filled with incredible hand painted renaissance interiors, and shows just how the rich would have lived here back when Edinburgh was one of the fastest growing and influential cities in the world. Visit the website for Gladstones Land here.
£14.85. This is one of the most fun attractions I have ever visited on my travels. This world of illusions is filled with seeing-eye tricks, interactive exhibits and impossibly mind bending amusements that are completely unique to this incredible venue. Spend a few hours in here marvelling at their crazy mirrors and light shows, and trying to navigate your way through the maze and crazy-trippy tunnel on the second floor. They also have a viewing platform on the roof that gives incredible views over the Old Town and Edinburgh Castle, from a completely different perspective than the other viewing platforms available within the city. You can book tickets or find out more info through their website here.
£15. Edinburgh's landscape is quite hard to wrap your head around. It feels like you should be going over rivers and across bridges, but when you look you're actually just on elevated land, this is mostly apparent when crossing the North Bridge over Waverley, and the South Bridge over Cowgate. The South Bridge has an incredible history, as it was built using 19 arches as an easy way to reach the universities. Due to the influx in traffic over the bridge, shop space that lined the edges of the road became very valuable and the bridge filled out very quickly. Because of this, they had to fill in the archways, put down floors and ceilings, and use these airless, "vault" style rooms as workshops to create the goods being sold upstairs in the shops; the rooms that are now known as the Blair Street Underground Vaults. The vaults are still accessible to this day! Plenty of other crazy, creepy and fascinating things happened within the vaults, and you can learn all about them by doing a tour through them. Mercat Tours offer a great 'Historic Underground' walk through the vaults that lasts just over an hour and costs just £15, and you also end the tour inside their museum room that's filled with trinkets and antiques that were left behind in the vaults and discovered by the company- how cool is that!
£14 Online (£17.95 At The Door). The Dungeon attractions are a great and immersive way to learn about the history of Edinburgh, and in all of their other locations too. Here, live actors will guide you through over 300 immersive sets, telling you all you need to know about this city's scary past through interactive shows and stories. Edinburgh Dungeons are even more exciting than others as they also have underground rides on offer throughout the tour too. You can find out more about the experience or book tickets (they're cheaper online) through their website here.
Spendy Options (Over £15)
Palace Of Holyroodhouse
£16.50. This beautiful palace is the Scottish home of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and has been used as housing for the royal family in Scotland for hundreds of years. Past residents of the palace include Mary Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie, and a huge number of royal occasions are still held at the palace today. A visit to this stately home includes a look inside the state apartments, the throne room, the great gallery, the remains of the old abbey and the palace gardens, plus much much more. Find out more or book your tickets on the website here.
£19.95. Did you know that Edinburgh Zoo is the only place you can see Giant Panda in the UK? They have 2 beautiful, adult pandas (1 male and 1 female) for you to see that are here on a 10 year visit from China, how amazing! The zoo also houses lots of other animals of all species including Lions, Koalas, Penguins, Monkeys and many more. The zoo has been open for over 100 years and is one of the UK's largest centres for animal conservation and education. They also support targeted research projects across the globe to help enhance the understanding of animals behavioural and physiological needs, to help keep animals as happy as possible both within the zoo and out in the wild.
£17.50 Online (£19.50 At The Door). Unless you have visited before, you might not know that Edinburgh Castle is actually a huge collection of separate buildings all within the castle walls. Inside these buildings you can find multiple war and history museums, the royal apartments, the palace, the prisons of war and St. Margaret's Chapel, as well as many infamous objects such as the Stone of Destiny and the oldest Crown jewels in Britain. You can easily spend hours here wandering around the various attractions without getting bored, and it's a great place to learn more about Edinburgh's past too.
The Real Mary King's Close
£16.95 Online (£17.95 At The Door). Edinburgh has had its fair share of refurbishments, expansions and rebuilds, but did you know that when the Royal Exchange was built in the 18th century, they just paved over a section of existing streets and built on top of them? This area of the Old Town still exists underground today, and tells the tale of what life would have been like in the city during the plague of 1645. From room layouts to gardyloo, this incredible piece of history is highly educational and so, so fascinating, I recommend everyone visits here during their time in Edinburgh, and make sure you book in advance as tickets sell out more often than not. Read more or book your visit here.
See More Of Scotland
From £50. Why not use the city as a base for other exciting experiences? You can do lots of different day trips and tours from Edinburgh, including Glencoe, Loch Ness and the Hogwarts Express train rides, but you can also be picked up here for multi-day excursions into The Highlands. I would highly recommend spending at least a day exploring the incredible landscapes that Scotland has to offer, it truly is a place unlike any other. You can find lots of different tour lengths and variations on websites such as GetYourGuide, or use your search engine of choice to do some more research.
The Scotch Whisky Experience
From £17. Scotch is the beverage of choice for people all across the globe, and rightly so. Whether you want to purchase some of Scotland's finest scotch, dine in the prestigious on site Amber restaurant or join a tour or tasting session, the Scotch Whisky Experience has you covered. Tours and tasting sessions start from £17 and range all the way up to £79 for the full 3 hour package, so there's something to suit every budget.
Cheap Eats & Restaurant Recommendations
Meat, Vegetarian & Vegan Options
Average Meal Price: £13.50
This pizza served here is some of the best and most authentic I've ever eaten outside of Italy. The portions are huge (I recommend sharing between 2 people), the staff are friendly and they have options for everyone. Civerinos is located on Hunter Square, but they also have a branch on Forrest Road (aptly named Civerino Slice) that serves pizza by the slice for around £5 per huge piece. Visit their website here.
Meat, Vegetarian & Vegan Options
Average Meal Price: £8
Don't bother Googling 'best breakfast in Edinburgh' because I can promise you: it's right here! From waffles to full English (or Scottish) breakfasts, the food served here is unmatched and is such a great price too. They offer meat, veggie and vegan breakfasts as well as a full day time menu of burgers and sandwiches, and they have a whole separate vegan menu too. You can find the cafe on Blair Street or visit their website here.
George IV Bar
Meat & Vegetarian Options
Average Meal Price: £10
The second mention of the post for this place, that's how you know I love it! Not only is this place the best for cheap booze and live music, they also have a great and reasonably priced food menu! The breakfasts here almost compete with City Cafe and are actually slightly cheaper, and they have a huge range of pub grub meals on offer throughout the day too. You can find them on the bridge with the same name, or visit their website for full menu details here.
Southern Cross Cafe
Meat & Vegetarian Options
Average Meal Price: £7
If a light lunch is what you need then definitely try this place out for size. With a range of light meals, delicious cakes and the best coffee in the city, it's the perfect place to sit and watch the world go by while taking a break from the busy streets. You'll find the cafe on Cockburn Street, or you can check out their TripAdvisor page here.
Vegetarian & Vegan Options
Average Meal Price: £15
And the award for my favourite restaurant in Edinburgh goes to... this place! In fact I reckon it makes it into my top 3 favourite restaurants of all time. This beautifully presented menu of veggie and vegan delights is to die for, and is served by the nicest and most considerate servers I've ever encountered (seriously, they were 20 minutes late getting us a table and were so apologetic, they even gave us a free round of drinks to say sorry). Also the decor in this bohemian dream is so unique, you'll be completely memorised throughout your whole visit. You can find them on Lothian Street or visit their website here for more details.
The Boozy Cow
Meat, Vegetarian & Vegan Options
Average Meal Price: £12
This one came as a recommendation from a friend who lived and worked in Edinburgh for a few years, and it didn't disappoint. They have a huge menu of burgers, wings and sides of both the meat and vegan variety, which are all served up on metal trays for sharing (or not, whatever you fancy). They serve a huge menu of great cocktails in the punk-style bar area, and even your water is served in clear skull bottles. You can find them on Frederick Street in the New Town, or visit their website here.
Average Meal Price: £5.50
I thought I'd slip this one in here for any meat lovers, as the food is so reasonably priced and my boyfriend really enjoyed it on our last visit. Oink specialises in hog roast sandwiches and meal boxes that are quick to grab and eat while walking around the city. Their simple menu seems to serve them well, and they now have 3 locations throughout Edinburgh. You can browse where to find them or have a look at their menu on their website here.
And that is absolutely everything I can offer you for now! Hopefully you'll find something that tickles your fancy within this huge list of venues and activities, I really think Edinburgh offers something for everyone. Like I've said, it;s one of my most favourite cities in the world, so if you get the chance to visit I would definitely take it.
Anyway, this post is long enough so I'll love you and leave you for now, but make sure you're following my Instagram for more up to date travel plans and photos of my upcoming adventures. Until next time, Meg x