Edinburgh is a great capital to spend a weekend, streets are clean and charming, the people are nice and the city is full of little places waiting to be discovered.
But, as the rest of Scotland, Edinburgh can be hard on the budget, so here is the perfect weekend in Edinburgh that won’t make your wallet cry :
The first thing to do is to walk the Royal Mile, Edinburgh’s life center. Start at the Palace of Holyroodhouse and make your way up until you arrive at the Castle. Along the Royal Mile, here are a few stops I would recommend (all of them are free) :
The museum of childhood (42 High Street), a strange little place devoid of tourists where you’ll find three stories full of old toys. A little creepy at times (I’m not the only one to find old dolls creepy right?) but fun !
Saint Giles Cathedral. I’m not in the habit of visiting religious sites, but I stumbled in there to take shelter from the rain. I still don’t know why but this cathedral’s beauty and grandeur really moved me. I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that it was made so long ago by people’s hands and sweat and I felt humbled.
The Writer’s house (access through Lady Stair’s House in Lawnmarket). Here you’ll find relics from three famous scottish writers (Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson). A quick visit for literature lovers.
The Royal Mile ends in front of the Castle. There’s a horde of tourists waiting in front for the opening of the doors and there’s a very high entry fee, so don’t go in. There’s a lot of better castles in Scotland where you won’t be run down by people with cameras anyway.
I expect you’ll start feeling hungry by this time, so make your way south. Just in front of the New University is a place called « Central Takeway » (15-16 Teviot Place) that makes really good lunch deals. Don’t expect a gourmet meal, they only serve really greasy and filling food. When I found this place I caught a lunch deal, for only 2£ I had one big slice of pizza and a good serving of chips. There’s not a lot of room but you can sit down at the counter.
Once your stomach feels satisfied, you’ll find you’re very near the National Museum of Scotland (Chambers Street, free entry). If you only do one museum in Edinburgh, it has to be the one. It’s huge and covers absolutely everything that ever happened in Scotland. Before you leave, make your way to the roof terrace. The view up there is unbelievable, you can see the whole of Edinburgh around you !
At 3pm or 4pm depending on the season, you can join the Potter Trail, a free walking tour centered around Harry Potter. Even if you’re not a huge nerd like me, you can still enjoy the visit of some corners of Edinburgh you would not find alone, along with the stories about the place delivered by their amazing guides. The walk starts in front of the Greyfriar’s Bobby Bar and lasts for about an hour and a half. The tour will take you through the Greyfriars’ Graveyard, where you can see several famous names on the gravestones. It’s supposed to be the most haunted place in Scotland … All information about the tour to be found here
At this point, you can return to your accommodation for a break and a meal. I encourage you of course to use Couchsurfing or Airbnb, as staying with locals is the best, cheapest and greenest way to enjoy a city. But if you didn’t find a local to host you, there’s a wealth of hostels in Edinburgh. I visited in late september and the first two hostels I went to were booked, so try to anticipate so you don’t find yourself having to take a room in an expensive hotel.
Eat with your host of make a grocery run to cook at your hostel. As I was a little bit out of options, I stayed at the High Street Hostel where you’ll find a good atmosphere and a lot of backpackers for 15£/night.
Right before sunset, go for a stroll (and a drink if you can afford it) through Grassmarket, the meeting point of Edinburgh’s night birds.
After taking a good breakfast with your host / bunkmates, head north for New Town.
On the way, stop at the National Gallery of Scotland (two buildings : one on Princes Street and the other at The Mound, free entry). If you’re not in the mood to spend three hours looking at paintings, go straight upstairs for the masterpieces : Delacroix, Monet, Gauguin, …
Take your time discovering New Town and swing by Henderson’s (94 Hanover Street). Henderson’s is a vegetarian restaurant where you can eat your fill for less than 10£. If the sun is out, go downstairs to their grocery shop instead to buy what you need for a picnic, it will be even less expensive !
Take your full belly or your picnic all the way to Inverleith Park (where you can enjoy the said picnic). The walk there will take you through Edinburgh’s suburb, where there are no more tourists and you can see how Edinburgh’s inhabitants actually live (which is not too badly).
Right next to Inverleith Park are the Royal Botanic Gardens (free entry). It was pouring rain when I went, so I don’t think I was able to really appreciate the place (and the squirrels were all hiding), but I could tell it had the potential for a peaceful and magnificent afternoon.
That’s it ! Although Edinburgh is best seen on foot, you can always take the bus, especially for Inverleith Park that can seem a bit far for those not accustomed to walking all day.
I hope this guide to the perfect budget weekend in Edinburgh was helpful !