Last Updated on January 13, 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
Thanks to its prominent position as the capital city of Scotland, Edinburgh draws visitors from far and wide on an annual basis. And for good reason. After all, the city boasts several regal castles, plenty of day trip opportunities, and some truly stunning architecture. Here’s your ultimate guide to the best Edinburgh travel tips you should know about before your first visit!
#1 Be sure to wear comfortable shoes
Like much of Europe, Edinburgh is a city best explored on foot and it’s not unusual to clock up upwards of 20,000 steps a day when wandering through the city. Comfortable shoes are an absolute priority and I would personally avoid stiletto heels. After all, while high heels look pretty, they definitely don’t mix well with cobblestone lanes!
#2 Know that Edinburgh is full of ups and downs
Due to its location in a particularly hilly part of the UK, not to mention that much of the city is constructed on former Volcanic matter, there’s no denying that the capital of Scotland is full of ups and downs. As such, be sure to prepare for this and be prepared to get a little lost.
After all, it’s in this way that you’ll discover entirely new sides of the city. Another way to get around is via the City hop on hop off bus (though we personally recommend saving a few pounds by opting for local public transportation instead). Find full details for the hop-on-hop-off bus here.
#3 Follow in the footsteps of Harry Potter
One of the more exciting aspects of Edinburgh is that you can quite literally follow in the footsteps of the wizarding world that is Harry Potter. After all, JK Rowling based many of the character names on those found in tombstones in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard.
Elsewhere in the city, there are a plethora of Potter-related sites to discover, such as the Elephant Café and Candlemaker Row, which is alleged to have inspired Diagon Alley. If you truly want to get the full wizard experience with helpful hints and tips from a local, then be sure to book a Harry Potter tour of the city like this one.
#4 Head off the beaten tourist track
One of the best Edinburgh travel tips I could give you would be that once you’ve seen all of the main touristic attractions (Edinburgh Castle, Arthur’s Seat, and Holyrood Palace to name but a few), be sure to discover the hidden gems of the city that many visitors miss in favour of their more famous counterparts.
For example, the beautiful Dean Village is simply delightful, while the Writers’ Museum presents the lives of Robert Burns, Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. Otherwise, some of the lesser-known hidden gems on the fringes of the city include a day trip to Cramond Island (a tidal island) and Craigmillar Castle, ruins dating back to the 14th-century.
#5 Bring a universal travel adapter
For many visitors to the UK, the plug will be different from what you’re used to. As such, be sure to pack a universal travel adapter like this one to keep your electronics charged on the go! And, on that note, consider packing plenty of warm clothes and layers as Edinburgh can get pretty windy and chilly, even in the summer months (not to mention rainy)!
#6 How many days do you need in Edinburgh?
If you’re wondering how long to book to stay in the city of Edinburgh, then you should know that it’s definitely not possible to see everything in one visit, let alone five! With this being said, you can cover many of the city’s main attractions and get a feel of the vibe over the course of a long weekend.
#7 How do you get to Edinburgh?
Thanks to its capital city status, there’s no shortage of ways to reach Edinburgh. As well as an international airport serving many major destinations across the UK and all the way to mainland Europe, there are good train links to London and Birmingham, as well as fantastic bus connections to the rest of the UK. Note that trains in the UK can often be expensive and so the cheapest way to travel (though slower) is often by bus.
#8 Avoid purchasing souvenir shops along the Royal Mile
If you truly want to go shopping in Edinburgh, then it’s best to avoid purchasing (expensive and often overpriced) goodies as souvenirs from the shops along the Royal Mile. Instead, some of the best shopping areas that the Scottish capital have to offer include George Street and Princes Street (where you’ll find many of the big name high street shops).
#9 Have exact change for the local buses
When it rains in Edinburgh (and, truth be told, it rains pretty frequently), you’ll likely want to take the bus. The local bus system is the Lothian Buses and if you want to purchase a ticket aboard, you’ll need to have exact change on you. Incidentally, the currency in Scotland is the GBP Pound (£). Alternatively, you can also pay for the bus with a contactless card.
#10 Do not rub Greyfriars Bobby nose!
Of all the Edinburgh travel mistakes you can make, none will scream ‘tourist’ quite as quickly as rubbing the nose of the statue of Greyfriars Bobby. The iconic dog sculpture is of a dog who is alleged to have guarded the grave of his owner for fourteen years before he, himself, died. Though many people allege that rubbing the statue’s nose will bring good luck, it’s highly discouraged as the oil in your hands will tarnish the paintwork.
#11 Purchase your Edinburgh Castle ticket in advance
Hands down, one of the top things to do in Edinburgh is to visit Edinburgh Castle which presides in pride of place over the rest of the town. There’s been human inhabitation of the mound since the Iron Age, and perhaps before, and today the stunning castle in situ is well worth a visit. In order to save time and learn more about the fascinating history of the fortification, be sure to book a skip the line tour ticket option like this one.
#12 There are plenty of free things to do in Edinburgh
A visit to Edinburgh doesn’t have to break the bank! And if you’re visiting for the first time, then it’s worth noting that there are a plethora of free activities and things to do in the city, if only you know where to look. For example, some of the top free museums in the city include the National Museum of Scotland and the National Gallery of Scotland.
#13 Edinburgh makes for a great base from which to take day trips
Whether you fancy seeing stunning castles or soaking up the sights of the Scottish highlands, there’s no shortage of wonderful day trips to be taken from the city. While a closer escape is the ever-so-pretty Rosslyn Chapel (made famous by Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code), for truly iconic views, consider booking this Lock Ness and Scottish Highlands tour from Edinburgh.
#14 Book your accommodation well in advance
Though Edinburgh definitely has a peak season (i.e. the month of August when the Fringe Festival takes place), the Scottish capital is pretty popular year ’round and so one of my top travel tips would be to book your accommodation well in advance, i.e. as soon as you know your travel dates. Some of our favourite picks for hotels in the city include this luxury accommodation and this beautiful hotel.