How to get the best out of Edinburgh on a budget
Edinburgh Is one of the most popular cities to visit in the United Kingdom and it’s easy to see why! The UNESCO world heritage site has a beautiful medieval old town with its cobbled streets and historic buildings. It has countless museums, beautiful scenic parks, vibrant nightlife and friendly locals. However with all these attractions, it can also be expensive! Whilst some attractions are unavoidably expensive, there are many free things to do as well. This guide will help you plan a trip to Edinburgh and give you the best tips for staying within a tight budget.
Edinburgh on a budget – getting to Edinburgh
Edinburgh has its own international airport which is appropriately 10 miles away from the Edinburgh city centre. Once at the airport the city centre can be reached easily by public transport.
Tram – The tram line connects the airport with the city centre and ticket sales can be purchased from ticket vending machines at the station, using both cash or most credit cards. Adult single tickets cost £6.00 and open return tickets £8.50
Bus – There are a number of bus routes running from the airport to various areas around Edinburgh. The airport link 100 runs every 10 minutes and terminates at Waverley Bridge in the city centre. Tickets can be purchased in advance online, from the VisitScotland information desk next to UK arrivals, at the bus stop and from the driver (make sure you have correct change if purchasing tickets direct with the driver). Adult single ticket sales cost £4.50 and return tickets £7.50.
The main central train station in Edinburgh is Edinburgh Waverley station. This station is slap bang in the city centre within walking distance to most hotels, hostels and tourist attractions. For information and booking train travel check out the trainline.
Edinburgh can be reached from most UK cities via low cost bus operators such as National Express.
A useful app and website for finding low cost intercity transport options is GoEuro.
Edinburgh on a budget – where to stay?
If you are a backpacker or simply trying to stay within a tight budget then hostels are the best option for accommodation. Most hostels in Edinburgh are situated within walking distance of the Royal Mile and all its attractions. My personal favourite is Budget Backpackers located in Cowgate with dorms from only £12 a night. This hostel is a lovely friendly hostel with each dorm bed having its own light, plug socket and locker. Just remember to bring your own lock. Budget Backpackers also has a chill out room, bar serving fabulous cheap food, vending machines and a variety of activities to get involved in. If you have never stayed in a hostel then check out my newbies guide to surviving hostels post here
If hostels aren’t your thing, you will also find many mid range hotels and bed and breakfasts. Although many of the cheaper options may be further outside the city centre. Check Booking.com to find the latest availability and prices.
Edinburgh on a budget – things to do
Free walking tours
One of the first things I like to do when visiting a new city is to walk around and get my bearings. One of the best ways to do this is to join a free walking tour and Edinburgh has lots to choose from. Not only can you join a free walking tour to see all of Edinburgh’s highlights, ghost and Harry Potter tours are also available. Although these tours are free, it’s expected you leave the guide a small tip, the best ones I’ve included below:
SANDEMANS New Europe Tours – Walking Tours available everyday on the hour from 10am-2pm and last 2.5hrs.
Edinburgh Free Tours – Walking tours available everyday at 10am 11am and 1pm and lasts 2hrs.
Free Ghost Tour – Ghost tours available every night at 5pm 7pm and 9.30pm and lasts 1.5hrs.
The Potter Trail – This Harry Potter trail runs daily at 12pm and 2pm and lasts 1.5hrs.
Exploring parks and outdoor spaces
Edinburgh has More than it’s fair share of parks and outdoor spaces. The city is built on the remnants of an extinct volcano, providing many landscapes to explore.
If you are looking for a good hike and fabulous views of Edinburgh then head to Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat. Holyrood Park is located at the bottom of the Royal Mile behind Holyrood Palace and is a popular place to hike and explore. The hike up to Arthur’s seat only takes about 1 hour depending on your fitness level and route taken. Be sure to take some snacks, water and warm clothing if you plan on sitting at the top to watch the sunset like I did, as it can be really cold and windy. The hike is totally worth it though for the amazing views across the city of Edinburgh and beyond.
If you are a lover of flowers and gardens then a trip out to the Royal Botanical gardens is a must, it’s located 1 mile outside the city center and entrance is free. However there is a small cost of £6.50 to enter the Glass houses. You could also try the 12 mile walk along the Water of Leith which passes through the beautiful Dean Village.
Other options include the central Princes Street Gardens or take a hike up to Calton Hill with its look-alike Athens Parthenon. This monument is in fact the unfinished memorial to those who lost there’s lives in the Napoleonic wars.
There are lots a beautiful churches to explore in Edinburgh but my two favourites are St Giles Cathedral and Greyfriers Kirk.
St Giles cathedral is probably one of the most beautiful churches I’ve seen in the UK and is free to enter. The attention to detail in the architecture is truly stunning and it also houses many beautiful stained glass windows including one dedicated to Scotland’s famous poet Robert Burns.
Greyfriers Kirk is the graveyard where you will find Scotland’s most famous dog, Greyfriers Bobby. This Skye Terrier became legend after guarding the grave of his owner for 14 years. Bobby died himself on the 14th January 1872 and was buried near his owner in Greyfriers Kirk. The Kirk is also famous as the home of Scotland’s most famous poltergeist, the Mackenzie Poltergeist. Check out one of the ghost tours to learn more about this scary encounter!
Explore museums and galleries
Edinburgh has many museums and galleries, many of which are free to visit. Most are open daily from 10am – 5pm unless otherwise stated.
Museums that have free entry include:
National Museum of Scotland – This was one of my favourite museum in Edinburgh, it is absolutely massive with the most amazing architecture. There are so many exhibits and collections that it it’s sure to appeal to everyone.
Scottish National Gallery.
Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
Writers Museum – Lovely little museum celebrating the lives of three famous Scottish writers, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Museum of Childhood – A lovely little museum which will instantly take you down memory lane with a Huge collection of memorabilia ranging from the old dolls houses, Hornby train sets, board games.
The Peoples Story – Tells the story of Edinburgh’s working class from the 18th to 20th century.
Museum of Edinburgh – Discover Edinburgh’s unique history inside this maze of a 16th century building.
Scottish Parliament Building – Take a free tour of Scotland’s official parliament building. Open mon – sat from 10am – 5pm.
Other free things to do in Edinburgh
Take a day trip out to Cramond Island. This is a lovely little trip out and a little hidden gem. Explore the many walks or even walk across the causeway to Cramond Island subject to tidal times. You can easily reach the town and island by taking the Lothian bus number 41 from the city centre. For more information check out my Cramond Island post here
Take a day trip to South Queensferry and check out this lovely quaint town and view the 3 Forth river bridges. If feeling energetic you can walk across the Forth road bridge over to North Queensferry. There is also a small museum documenting the history and construction of the 3 bridges.
If you are looking for further inspiration check out my other post on the best things to do in Edinburgh
Edinburgh on a budget – useful information
If during your trip to Edinburgh you don’t want to miss out on the 3 main paid attractions, Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and Royal Yacht Britannia you can get the Edinburgh 48 hour attraction pass that includes skip the line tickets for the above attractions as well as 48 hours hop on hop off bus access. Click here for details.
Getting around Edinburgh is very easy, most attractions are along the Royal Mile or within walking distance from it. If you do want to venture further out of the city, the buses are the way to go. You can get a Edinburgh unlimited bus pass for £4 a day or a county-wide bus pass for £5, You can also buy a weekly pass for £18. Be aware though, make sure you give the bus driver the correct change as they don’t have access to cash to give any change back.
Useful phone apps are the Lothian Bus network app, on which you can buy tickets and plan routes. Another great app for help when getting lost wandering around Edinburgh’s streets is Maps.Me, this app lets you download maps when online for use when off-line.
I’ve not included information on cheap eats and night outs as there is so much choice! Whatever your budget you are certain to find restaurants, café’s and bars to suit.
So there you have it, the best tips and ideas on how you can enjoy Edinburgh on a tight budget. Do you have any other tips on how to save money in Edinburgh? If so let me know in the comments! Plus if you like this post please share and subscribe to be the first to read any future posts.