The ancient capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is a city shaped by its place in dramatic historical events and dominated by its imposing and Gothic buildings. International visitors fall in love with Edinburgh every year, intrigued by the trove of cultural artifacts across the city and charmed by local stories. No matter where you stay in Edinburgh, here are ten things to help you navigate the city.
1. About Edinburgh Airport
Around 9 million passengers come through Edinburgh Airport every year, so expect a bustling point of entry when you travel to the city. The airport offers one hour of free Wi-Fi, so you can log on and plan the next leg of your journey as soon as you arrive. There’s no hurry to rush out the door. While unwinding from your flight, take advantage of restaurants, cafés, newsagents and shops, all within the arrival zone.
There is one arrival terminal with a central luggage carousel area after you pass through customs. For any remaining questions you may have before departing, there is a tourist advice centre at the airport.
Edinburgh’s compact international airport lies five miles from the city centre. The Edinburgh Tram, a direct bus to the city centre or local taxis are the best ways to travel from the airport if you have not booked a rental car.
2. Technology needs
Travellers to Edinburgh should pack a standard UK power adapter to keep their electronic devices charged. Visitors who love to stay connected are in luck: Edinburgh recently introduced a free Wi-Fi service in the city centre to help tourists access the internet.
3. Getting around Edinburgh
Expect to be on the move. There is a wide network of locations that are of interest to tourists, so visitors are advised to take advantage of the local transport network to get from one to the other. Tickets can be purchased from the driver on local buses or from ticket offices at train stations. Train stations typically have ticket barriers at entrances and exits, so it’s best to pick up your ticket before you go to the platform.
The local bus service has a smartphone app to help tourists plan their journey. The Lothian Buses app has a real-time schedule and helpful route maps. Adult, child or family unlimited travel tickets can be used across Edinburgh buses and trams and include journeys to and from the airport. Local taxis can be hailed on the street or found at taxi ranks close to train stations.
4. Edinburgh weather and what to pack
Summers tend to be dry and sunny in Edinburgh, while winters are punctuated by snow storms and rain clouds. But certain weather conditions can bring all four seasons together in one day, so prepare for all eventualities. Pack a waterproof jacket, a warm fleece and an umbrella along with your shorts and t-shirt, and you’ll be covered.
5. There are two cities to discover
Edinburgh has an Old Town and a New Town area. The two sections are entwined and make up the bulk of the city centre. The Old Town is on a lower level and runs down from the Royal Mile, the road that leads from Holyrood Palace to Edinburgh Castle. This is a warren of ancient Gothic buildings and stately structures, which contrasts with the Georgian elegance of the New Town. The areas are divided by Princes Street, Edinburgh’s principle shopping thoroughfare. It’s possible to move between the old and the new areas with ease and gain an appreciation of the depth of history in this enigmatic city.
6. Get to know the locals
Tourists are a constant presence in Edinburgh, particularly during the summer months. Local folk are well used to being asked questions and generally enjoy talking about local history or giving recommendations.
Where can you find chatty residents? Pubs and cafés around Rose Street and Broughton Street are favoured by locals over the more tourist-centric Royal Mile area. Milling about with the throng at the bar, you may have the opportunity to strike up a conversation or simply talk to the staff who can offer a wealth of local knowledge. If you are given a useful recommendation, a simple thank you will suffice. Also, Scottish folk in general enjoy giving directions, so don’t hold back.
7. There’s more than bagpipes and haggis
This isn’t the storybook Scotland of old, but Edinburgh has no problem playing up its traditional image. Expect most street corners of the city centre to be occupied by elaborately dressed bagpipe players during the height of the tourism season. You’ll also find plenty of local culinary flavours like black pudding and haggis on the menu when you are in the centre of town.
But there’s plenty of modern-day Edinburgh to experience as well. For a less tartan-clad experience, venture further from the city centre. The Lothian Road area boasts stylish bars, while the Grassmarket area is home to live music venues and dance clubs. Summerhall, close to The Meadows park, is an innovative venue for local art, theatre performance and alternative culture.
8. Walking is the best way
Edinburgh is a great city for walking. A stroll is the best way to get a full appreciation of the city’s mishmash of different architectural styles. Driving around the compact city centre separates you from the fascinating array of winding stairways and narrow lanes in Edinburgh that are hidden by the imposing facades of the Old Town. Many of Edinburgh’s most interesting streets are closed to traffic, but host monuments, tea rooms and beautiful open squares.
Bring a sturdy pair of shoes to deal with cobbled streets. Walking paths alongside the Water of Leith canal take you through pockets of greenery within the urban sprawl and provide views of Edinburgh Castle and the Scott Monument.
9. Leith has the hipsters
Downhill from Edinburgh, the Port of Leith has long been regarded as the most enigmatic area of the city. Years of industrial decline have given way to an upsurge of trendy hipster hangouts and fashionable gastropubs. These can be found as you make your way down the main strip of Leith Walk, where gritty, traditional pubs stand alongside Norwegian craft beer bars, tapas restaurants, Polish cafés and the type of speakeasy favoured by bearded millennials.
Further into Leith, the area around the Scottish government buildings and a picturesque stretch by the canal called The Shore has high concentration of Edinburgh’s leading restaurants, including two Michelin Star establishments.
10. Take the high road for a view
Holyrood Park in Edinburgh includes Arthur’s Seat, the main peak in a group of hills popular with hikers. If you have a waterproof jacket, a packed lunch and a flask of tea, this distinctive vantage point is worth the trek. The walk up involves a gentle incline with some rocky sections and takes around two hours. You are rewarded by a sweeping vista that takes in the Firth of Forth estuary, Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh Castle and the mix of modern and ancient structures that make up this unique cityscape.