I started this summer’s backpacking trip in Scotland. I will be completely honest; the main reason why I went to Edinburgh was because I found a flight there from Miami for $69.99. I am not kidding — look!
Don’t get me wrong, I want to go everywhere, but Edinburgh wasn’t a place I gave much thought to before finding the ticket. However, everything happens for a reason in life. Edinburgh turned out to be one of my favorite cities ever, and it’s one that I totally recommend going to if you have the chance.
Now, here’s the thing about Edinburgh (and about the United Kingdom): it’s quite expensive. However, it’s also definitely doable on a budget.
Here’s my full guide for doing Edinburgh on a budget, including must-see places.
CouchSurf — I stayed through CouchSurfing when I was in Edinburgh. If you don’t know what CouchSurfing is, you can read more about it and how it works here. I was supposed to stay with Sarah, my CouchSurfing host, for two nights, but those two nights turned into five nights after we clicked instantly. Sarah was basically like my older long lost sister. Needless to say, staying with Sarah saved me a lot of money as well, and for that I am extremely thankful. There are amazing hosts in Edinburgh, so message a few people and introduce yourself and maybe you can make a new friend.
Stay at a hostel — If CS is not an option, I recommend staying at hostels. The Airbnb’s in the city are quite expensive, and further from Old Town than hostels. Surprisingly, hostels in Edinburgh are not too, too bad. You can find them from as little as £14-16 a nights, which for the United Kingdom is actually quite good.
One hostel that has great reviews and is right in the center of the city is Castle Rock Hostel. Castle Rock Hostel also has organized events, such as pub crawls, for their guests. You cannot beat their location. With a rating of 9.5/10 on Hostel World and over 11,000 reviews, this hostel gets filled up quite quick. I recommend making reservations at least two weeks in advance if you want to stay here.
Don’t worry too much about your location, as long as it’s somewhere near Old Town. This is where you’ll be most of the time. Edinburgh is small, though, so everything is close by.
Cook your own food — As you probably know by now, I’m a huge fan of eating in and cooking my own meals when I travel. The way I see it, the more money I save, the more places I can go to. Of course, this doesn’t mean I don’t eat out or have fun, but I just know that I can’t do it for every meal.
Eating out and drinking in Edinburgh is expensive, but groceries are relatively cheap. Sarah and I made this amazing spaghetti dinner, and even had leftovers, for a couple of dollars. Pasta is always my go-to meal because it’s simple to make, not time consuming at all, and delicious.
Asda and Tesco are the biggest supermarkets in Edinburgh and you can find small versions of these throughout the city.
Walk everywhere — Everything in Edinburgh is close. I stayed with Sarah in the new part of town and even then I was about 25 minutes walking from the city center. Walk everywhere and you’ll get to see much more, too!
Buy a bus day pass — The Lothian buses of Edinburgh are quite reliable and pass by often. A single ride is £1.60, but if you think you’ll use it a lot throughout the day, get the day pass for £4. The bus does NOT give change back!
Unless you’re a huge fan history, don’t go inside the Edinburgh Castle — I am huge on historical sites. I was told by locals to avoid going inside the Edinburgh Castle, but I wanted to see by myself what the deal was about. After seeing the castle inside, I was quite disappointed. It’s £17.00 to go inside, but I think it’s overpriced and not worth it. Again, this is my personal opinion and I’m sure I’m in the minority here. If you want an audio tour once inside, get ready to pay even more. I didn’t even feel like I was inside of a castle, and the view from the outside is much better.
Carry lots of water when climbing Arthur’s Seat — Unless you’re the most fit person ever, you’ll probably be sweating quite a bit going up Arthur’s Seat. Have plenty of water so you don’t get dehydrated and so you don’t have to spend money on it.
Research before booking a tour for the Scottish Highlands — If you go to Edinburgh you have to visit the Scottish highlands. They’re truly breathtaking and hard to describe. Pictures don’t even do it any justice. Unfortunately for the highlands you have to take a tour, but do some research before you book one. Don’t book the first one you see! I’ve seen deals for a whole day trip to the highlands and other places for around £30.
Food and Drinks
- Panda and Sons — This is possibly one of the coolest bars I’ve been to. A bit on the more expensive side, however, but you should still go and get at least one drink. The entrance to the bar is a bookshelf. I felt like I was in a Narnia movie! The bar opened in 2013 and is now one of Edinburgh’s top bars. The drinks are quite unique, like this one that came in a Chinese takeout box. I also recommend you try whiskey here instead of paying for the whiskey tour, unless you’re a huge fan of whiskey, then do the tour. The people working here are extremely knowledgeable about whiskey and will give you great recommendations. They also have a huge variety of whiskeys from different regions of Scotland.
- BRGR — If you want some cheap fast food that’s really, really good, go to BRGR. For under £7 you can get burgers and fries, but these burgers are amazing! Get the one with haggis! I went with some friends because we were all starving and didn’t want to spend much money, so this place was ideal.
- OINK — Since we’re already talking about haggis, I have to mention this place. If you don’t know, haggis is quite popular in Scotland. But what is haggis? I’ll quote this article from The Spruce which explains it perfectly.
“Haggis is made using sheep pluck (the bits nowadays often discarded; lungs, hearts, liver). The cooked minced offal is mixed with suet, oatmeal, seasoning and encased in the sheep stomach. stomach. Once stitched up, the stuffed stomach is boiled for up to three hours.” Are you disgusted already? Don’t be! It’s actually quite delicious. Get the sandwich on brown bread, with haggis, and chili cheese!
- Pub Crawl — I am usually not a fan of pub crawls because they give you what I consider “fake drinks” which means drinks that aren’t really strong. I was a bit hesitant about booking a pub crawl, but this one did not disappoint, and it was so much fun. This pub crawl can be booked at cityexplorerstours.com and it costs £7. This includes 6 bars, 4 shots, 1 jager bomb, 1 cocktail, and free entry to a club. You cannot beat that! Our guide Leticia was very charismatic and made sure we all had a good time. If you don’t do the pub crawl, you should still go to a couple of those bars. McSorley’s Irish Bar was my favorite one.
Attractions — Holyrood Castle, Arthur’s Seat, Rosslyn Castle, Rosslyn Chapel, Old Town, Royal Mile, West Princess Street Gardens, St. Giles Cathedral, The Scott Monument, Camera Obscura and the World of Illusions, Royal Botanic Garden, National Museum of Scotland (free!), GrassMarket Square, Scottish Highlands (you have to do a tour for this, unless you have a car)
Rosslyn Castle is truly a hidden gem in Edinburgh. The ruins for this castle, hidden behind the famous Rosslyn Chapel, are about 30 minutes away from the city by car. If you go around the chapel, from behind, you can go to the ruins and don’t have to pay anything. You’re not breaking the law as the ruins are different than the chapel, which you do have to pay for. However, you can see the chapel from the outside for free using this same route to see the ruins.
Being in the ruins felt like stepping back in time. If you keep walking behind the ruins, and go up a little hill, you’ll find the most beautiful tree ever. It’s truly a hidden gem.
Have you been to Scotland? Planning on going? Let me know in the comments!