Edinburgh on a shoe-string
Famed as an historic and awe-inspiring capital city, no-one’s questioning Edinburgh’s place as the number one tourist hub in Scotland. Aside from its cultural attractions, the city boasts an eclectic mix of quaint pubs, trendy bars and clubs and sophisticated restaurants. Here’s an insider guide to exploring without breaking the bank...
Stuff you Really Can’t Miss
Easily the most iconic pile of bricks and mortar in the city is Edinburgh Castle, an imposing fortress perched on a ridge (AKA “the Mound”) above Princes’ Street Gardens. Its esplanade hosts the Edinburgh Tattoo, a ceremonial display by military bands in full regalia. Leading down from the gates lies the Royal Mile, lined with souvenir shops to cater for all your kilt/postcard/genuine Highland toffee needs. Of greater interest are the underground vaults and passageways built beneath the Mound. Several companies offer guided tours of varying degrees of stomach-churning historical accuracy. Also worth a look is the Camera Obscura, a Victorian contraption which provides virtual tours of the city via projected periscope images. On its lower floors you’ll find a collection of mesmerising and sometimes disconcerting illusions.
Culture buffs will not be disappointed, with the National Museum of Scotland and the three National Galleries of Scotland all within easy reach of the city centre. Admission is free to all, though it is suggested you make a donation. The Museum holds an enormous permanent collection of artefacts relating to both Scottish and international history. Additional exhibit change every few weeks and might charge extra; check online before you go.
Budget tips: If you’re planning on diving into historic sightseeing, an Edinburgh Pass represents a good deal. It grants free entry to the city’s most popular attractions (except the castle, unfortunately). See http://www.edinburgh.org/pass/ for prices.
The main hub for the nocturnal student is arguably the warren of alleys and curved backstreets branching out from Cowgate. Plenty of pubs in this area hold live music/comedy gigs, especially during Festival season (August). The ghoulishly gothic Banshee Labyrinth on Nidry Street is a prime example, boasting a home cinema and frequent performances from local punk/metal groups. Dance music is well represented too, with regular hip-hop and/or drum and bass nights a common feature. George Street holds several watering holes, but they tend to be on the chi-chi side and hence expensive. However, the Dome and the Standing Order are worth a walk in for their jaw-dropping interiors alone. Take note that Edinburgh clubs take a hard line on underage (18) drinking so be sure to bring photographic ID.
Budget tips: Entry prices for clubs are very time sensitive, particularly for the most popular/swanky venues. Arriving before midnight usually secures discounted/free entry, and many bars will offer drinks promotions on quieter nights of the week. To make the most of these offers, it helps to befriend a native student with loyalty cards to spare; 2-for-1 meal deals aren’t uncommon, which are also handy when daytime munchies strike.
Edinburgh also offers plenty to the intrepid traveller who’s had as much adventure as they’re willing to take. A quick glance at a map proves there is no shortage of green spaces, the largest being Holyrood Park. This wild rugged expanse covers a large part of the city’s southeast side and has terrain to suit the enthusiastic rambler or casual stroller alike. At its heart lies Arthur’s Seat, an 800 foot high extinct volcano with spectacular views of the entire city and beyond.
The beach at Portobello is a pleasant place to take the sea air; the hardier among you might like to take a dip in the frigid North Sea. What’s definitely worth a try are fish and chips (fries) and Irn-Bru (the national soft drink -google it) flavour ice cream available in beachside cafes. Along the promenade you’ll find another staple of the Scottish seaside experience, the amusements. More modern (think 1980’s) arcade shooters and slot machines are mixed with archaic penny-drops and ring-toss games.
If you’re still feeling chilled, the Botanic Garden on Inverleith Row is as tranquil as attractions come. Within you’ll find exotic flora, sumptuous glasshouses, stunning scenery and a giant hedge: try walking through it without feeling like you’ve stepped into a Lewis Carroll novel.
Budget tips: Travel to and from more distant parts of town is easy using the buses, which are inexpensive, frequent and generally reliable. Day Tickets are available if you plan to make multiple trips. Consider taking a picnic to any of the above to avoid paying for eating out.
All in all Edinburgh makes for a fun and affordable city break, especially compared to bigger and generally pricier capital cities like London and Paris. Accommodation for under $60 dollars a night isn’t hard to come by if you’re prepared to go for hostels/B&Bs; several are within 15 minutes’ walk from the castle. Expect prices to rise during August, but you’ll be more than compensated by the flurry of activity and entertainment that is the Edinburgh Festival. Come and discover the city for the student utopia it is!