EDINBURGH TRAVEL GUIDE

Edinburgh is a beguiling city of historic charm and cosmopolitan energy. Its 12th century castle stands proudly above the city, which is entangled with the craggy landscape it sits within. Yet Edinburgh’s iconic city skyline only hints at the magic within.

Explore the neoclassical architecture of the New Town and discover why Edinburgh is nicknamed the “Athens of the North”. Just a hop, skip and a jump from the Georgian influences of the New Town are the Gothic hallmarks of the medieval Old Town. Lose yourself among the cobbled streets and seek out the charming nooks and crannies around every corner of the city.

From a contemporary arts scene to Harry Potter nostalgia, Edinburgh has an emphatically creative heart that inspires and uplifts its discerning visitors. It’s no wonder that the city plays host to the world’s most famous arts festival every year: the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Edinburgh is a place where you can happily wile away an afternoon in a cosy café with a good book and a coffee. Yet like any modern cosmopolitan city, it also caters for well-heeled jet-setters, with a selection of fine dining restaurants and chic bars. But there’s no stuffiness or pretentiousness here. This is equally a city of relaxed pubs, late night partying and beer-fuelled antics. Whatever your taste, Edinburgh is a bewitching city that you can visit time and time again.

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How to get to Edinburgh

Drawing visitors from all over the globe, Edinburgh is a well-connected city that’s easily accessible by plane, train or car. The best option for you will depend on where you are travelling from.

Top tip: Want to take the hassle out of getting from the airport to the city centre? Book your Edinburgh transfer here for a friendly, professional driver who will take you straight to the door of your hotel.

Jessie on Circus Lane
Vennel Viewpoint Edinburgh
Writers Museum

How to get around Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a wonderfully compact city, meaning you won’t have to rely on public transport if you don’t want to. Even still, if you prefer to save your feet the miles, there are a number of reliable options available to you.

Top tip: Download the Transport for Edinburgh app for real-time updates on bus and tram service times and routes. Or the ever-popular Citymapper app is super handy too, telling you exactly where the bus stops are (perfect if, like me, you are terrible at navigating buses).

Best time to visit Edinburgh

Edinburgh effortlessly carries its charm and beauty through every season of the year. From the wet and windy depths of winter to the light and sunny highs of summer, each season brings its own distinct personality and experience. 

Spring

As the flowers bloom and the gardens of the city come to life, spring is arguably the best time to visit Edinburgh. It is one of the driest seasons of the year (it’s still Scotland though, so expect rain at any time!) and brings a similar amount of sunshine to the summer months.

It’s also less busy than the popular summer months, so you can enjoy the city without the heavy crowds. Don’t miss the Royal Botanic Gardens or the Princes Street Gardens at this time of year. Be sure to take a picnic and soak up your surroundings.

Summer

Long days and milder temperatures await in the summer months. Towards the end of June, the sun doesn’t set until 10pm, meaning long alfresco sessions underneath the evening sun. Note that Edinburgh is rarely hot – even warm. Temperatures average around 14-16 degrees Celsius in the summer months. So still pack those extra layers for the evenings.

August is, of course, the month of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. You won’t be able to move for tourists but you’ll never experience an atmosphere and creative energy quite like it.

Autumn

As the Edinburgh Fringe Festival comes to an end and the leaves turn a gorgeous golden brown, Autumn brings a relaxed and cosy atmosphere. The sunshine hours and temperature are not too dissimilar to the summer months, although the autumnal months do bring a fair amount of rain. So don’t forget your umbrella and a waterproof jacket!

The air is crisp and the scenery breathtaking. This is the time to seek out some beautiful walks around the city and settle into an inviting pub or coffee shop for the afternoon.

Winter

Visiting Edinburgh in the winter months is definitely one for the more hardy amongst us. You will have to battle the elements – from wind and rain to snow and freezing temperatures. But for those who can bear it, Edinburgh’s inherent magic really comes to life at this time of year.

See the snow-topped Edinburgh Castle frame the city, or witness the beauty of Arthur’s Seat covered in a sparkling ice. When the rain is pouring and the wind is raging, there is no better time to take cover with a coffee and a good book in one of Edinburgh’s cosy cafés.

Edinburgh highlights

Harry Potter in Edinburgh

As you wander the enchanting streets of Edinburgh, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve stepped onto Diagon Alley or into the village of Hogsmeade. It’s no secret that Edinburgh provided inspiration to J.K.Rowling’s Wizarding World. It was in those snug cafés where the world of Harry Potter was conceived. Once you’ve visited Edinburgh, you’ll recognise the city’s whimsical nature and bewitching locations shining through the pages of the books.

Edinburgh is a must-visit for any Harry Potter fan. Embark on a Harry Potter tour of the city, or visit one of the themed shops. Stroll along the iconic Victoria Street to experience the real-life Diagon Alley. Visit Greyfriar’s Kirkyard and see how many recongisable names you can spot on the gravestones, from Potter to McGonagall. Don’t forget to find Tom Riddle’s grave!

Stop by the Bow Bar for Leaky Cauldron vibes, or visit the Bank of Scotland for the real-life Gringotts (no goblins here though). For a more luxurious experience of the Harry Potter world, pay a visit to Balmoral Hotel. This is where J.K.Rowling finished the final book – and is also a great spot for afternoon tea.

Beautiful Stockbridge

The bohemian neighbourhood of Stockbridge lies just a scenic 15 minute walk away from Princes Street. A popular hangout for many artists, musicians, thespians and writers over the years, it has a thriving creative energy and inviting idiosyncrasies to discover. Stockbridge has the feel of a historic village and it’s a place where long-standing locals blend with young professionals and creatives.

The result of this melting pot of artistic spirits is an intriguing selection of independent boutiques, fascinating shops and inviting cafés, bars and restaurants. If you’re visiting Edinburgh at the weekend, be sure to pay a visit to the Stockbridge Market on Sunday. It’s a wonderful farmer’s market offering a plethora of artisan goods and handmade crafts, from jewellery and soaps to crepes and cheeses.

The Water of Leith meanders through the heart of Stockbridge. Be sure to pay a visit to the ancient water mills at tranquil Dean Village, a place which looks as though it has been lifted from the pages of a fairytale. Or wander down the effortlessly picturesque Circus Lane, a cobbled residential street. Within close proximity to Stockbridge are the Royal Botanic Gardens – one of the most beautiful attractions in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Fringe Festival

A world-famous arts festival, the Edinburgh Fringe is known across the globe. In August, hundreds of artists and performers descend on Scotland’s capital, ready to take the stage by storm. There are thousands of shows performed in over 300 venues across the city. Eager visitors flock to Edinburgh to get immersed in the creative energy and be endlessly entertained by the talent.

With so many performances, the quality varies and you’ll find both well-known names and total unknowns. This is all part of the fun! With such a high number of performers and shows, audience members can enjoy a whole host of entertainment. From enthralling theatre and stand-up comedy to cabaret and circus acts, there is something for everyone.

As you can imagine, it can be overwhelming to choose which shows to see. Browse the Edinburgh Fringe website, create your own calendar, and check the local news sites. Some shows require you to book paid tickets, some require free tickets, while the street performances don’t generally require a ticket.

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Frequently asked questions

How long to spend in Edinburgh?

For your first visit to the city, you’ll need at least two or three days to explore. As the city is quite compact, you don’t need too long. However, Edinburgh is best experienced at a slower pace, to really enjoy its charm. Edinburgh is a city that you’ll want to visit time and time again – so there’s no need to rush.

Is Edinburgh a good destination for solo travellers?

Edinburgh is one of the best cities in Europe for solo travel. As a relatively small city, it feels incredibly welcoming to solo adventurers with an intimate feel and friendly locals. Solo travellers will feel safe in Scotland’s capital, and there’s plenty to do and places to see.

Is Edinburgh expensive?

Edinburgh is a relatively expensive city but not compared to other well-known cities across the world. Compared to London, it is certainly more affordable. Prices vary considerably within the different city areas. It’s possible to visit Edinburgh on a budget – but likewise, it’s a great place to experience a touch of luxury and fine dining.

How many Michelin star restaurants in Edinburgh?

Edinburgh has one Michelin star restaurant and two Bib Gourmand restaurants. Condita is the proud owner of one Michelin star and offers an intimate dining experience on Salisbury Place. Both Noto and The Scran & Scallie both have the prized Bib Gourmand rating.

Where is Diagon Alley in Edinburgh?

The iconic Victoria Street is considered to be the real-life inspiration for Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. As is nearby Cockburn Street (pronounced Coburn Street), both located in the Old Town of Edinburgh.

Where is the oldest pub in Edinburgh?

The White Hart Inn is considered to be the oldest pub in Edinburgh – as well as the most haunted! Dating from 1516, this historic establishment is located in the Grassmarket area of Edinburgh.

Do you need to pre-book Edinburgh Castle?

Yes, it is recommended that you book tickets for Edinburgh Castle online in advance. This will save you a fair bit of queueing, ensures guaranteed entry, and gets you the cheapest prices available. 

When is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival?

Each year, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival takes place throughout the month of August, lasting for around three weeks. In 2022, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival will run from 5th – 29th August.

Are there Christmas Markets in Edinburgh?

Yes, East Princes Street Gardens plays host to the Edinburgh Christmas market each year. Discover local goodies, artisan gifts and tasty treats. It’s sure to get you into the festive spirit! Edinburgh’s Christmas market usually runs from the end of November to the start of January.

Luxury accommodation picks

From iconic establishments to boutique apartments, there is an impressive range of luxury hotels in Edinburgh. Here are some of my top picks.

Balmoral Hotel

BALMORAL HOTEL

Not just a five-star hotel, The Balmoral is an iconic Edinburgh landmark.

EDEN LOCKE

Stylish serviced apartments, perfect for solo and business travellers alike.

Nira Caledonia

NIRA CALEDONIA

A boutique hotel that combines Georgian splendour with 21st century comfort.

Cheval Grand Hotel

CHEVAL GRAND

A highly rated luxury aparthotel just a three minute walk from Princes Street.

Top Edinburgh restaurants

From traditional Scottish fare to world-class fine dining, Edinburgh offers a compelling range of eateries. For a beautiful backdrop to your meal, have a read of my guide to the best Edinburgh restaurants with a view

Forage and Chatter

FORAGE & CHATTER

A fine dining restaurant in Edinburgh’s West End, utilising locally foraged ingredients.

Contini Edinburgh Restaurants

CANNONBALL

A showcase of the finest Scottish dining with great hospitality and views of Edinburgh Castle.

Pibroch

PIBROCH

This family-run restaurant is the place to try traditional Scottish food, beers and spirits.

Twenty Princes Street Edinburgh

TWENTY PRINCES STREET

An award-winning restaurant with an elegant, stylish setting and a fun, innovative menu.

Top Edinburgh cafés

Edinburgh is known for its cosy café culture. There is no better place to settle with a fantastic cup of artisan coffee and a good book – or to simply watch the world go by. Have a read of my guide to the best cafés in Edinburgh or check out my top picks below.

The Milkman in Edinburgh

THE MILKMAN

For a cosy retreat from the busy streets of the Old Town and utterly scrumptious cakes.

Twelve Triangles

TWELVE TRIANGLES

The place for exceptional baked goods like bread, pastries, doughnuts, pies and more.

Artisan Cafe

ARTISAN ROAST

A popular café with a buzzy atmosphere and the first speciality coffee shop in Scotland.

Fortitude Edinburgh Coffee Shop

FORTITUDE COFFEE

A contemporary café with stylish interiors and passionate baristas serving great coffee.

Edinburgh landmarks & attractions

There are plenty of attractions to see and things to do in Edinburgh, but make sure you add these top picks to your itinerary.

Snowy Edinburgh Castle

EDINBURGH CASTLE

Standing proudly over the city, Edinburgh Castle is a must-visit. Don’t miss the One O’Clock Gun.

Scottish National Gallery

SCOTTISH NATIONAL GALLERY

Discover a fascinating collection of fine art from across the globe. Stop for a cuppa at Café Portrait.

Royal Botanic Gardens

ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS

Explore 72 acres of awe-inspiring gardens. If the weather allows, be sure to bring a picnic along.

Calton Hill Sunset

CALTON HILL

Home to the National Monument and other landmarks, it offers breathtaking views over the city.

Edinburgh travel inspiration

Planning a trip to Edinburgh? Have a read of these Edinburgh travel articles to help you plan your visit.

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