A budget guide to Edinburgh
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Edinburgh On A Budget, A Backpacker Guide!

Dreaming of exploring the Scottish city of Edinburgh but worried about blowing your budget? If so, don’t worry! The good news is that it’s possible to explore Edinburgh on a budget and enjoy everything this spectacular city has to offer. In this post, we’ll provide you with our top tips for exploring Edinburgh without overspending. From free attractions to the best hostels for backpackers, we’ve got it all covered, allowing you to experience one of the world’s most fascinating cities without breaking the bank!

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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 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 on a budget and help you stay within it.

Getting To Edinburgh:

Flights

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. For the best deals on flights, I recommend using Skyscanner

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 several 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, or from the driver (make sure you have the correct change if purchasing tickets direct with the driver). Adult single ticket sales cost £4.50 and return tickets £7.50.

Buses

Edinburgh can also be reached from most UK cities via low-cost bus operators such as National Express.

Trains

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.

Best Time To Visit Edinburgh

Shoulder Season: September to October, April to May

If you’re looking to explore this iconic destination without the tourist hordes, then book yourself into one of their two-shoulder seasons! Wander through The Meadows as it sways with beautiful cherry blossoms or soak up some autumnal colours at Royal Botanic Garden. For budget travellers, this is in my opinion the best time to visit Edinburgh.

High Season: June to August

If you’re on the hunt for entertainment, look no further than Edinburgh during the festival season! Throughout summertime, visitors can immerse themselves amongst world-class music acts and theatrical performances at events like The Fringe Festival or Jazz Festival. However, be sure to book accommodation early though as prices skyrocket at this time of year.

Low Season: November to March

Tis’ the season for wintery bliss in Edinburgh! Despite the cold and dark, visitors still find a unique charm strolling along its windblown streets. Whether you’re looking to browse Christmas markets of all sizes or attend one of the almost-mythical Hogmanay celebrations, there’s something extra special about being here during this time of year. 

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 for only £12 a night. This hostel is a lovely friendly hostel with each dorm bed having a light, plug socket and locker. Just remember to bring your own lock. Budget Backpackers also has a chill-out room, a 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 newbie’s guide to surviving hostels.

However, 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. 

Booking.com

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, but 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 are available every day on the hour from 10 am-2 pm and last 2.5 hrs.
  • Edinburgh Free Tours – Walking tours available every day at 10 am 11 am and 1 pm and last 2 hrs.
  • Free Ghost Tour – Ghost tours are available every night at 5 pm 7 pm and 9.30 pm and last 1.5 hrs.
  • The Potter Trail – This Harry Potter trail runs daily at 12 pm and 2 pm and lasts 1.5 hrs.

Exploring parks and outdoor spaces

Edinburgh has More than its 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 the 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 worth it though for the amazing views across the city of Edinburgh and beyond.

A budget guide to Edinburgh

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 centre and entrance is free. However, there is a small cost of £6.50 to enter the Glasshouse. You could also try the 12-mile walk along the Water of Leith which passes through the beautiful Dean Village.

A budget guide to Edinburgh

Other options include the central Princes Street Gardens or taking a hike up to Calton Hill with its look-alike Athens Parthenon. This monument is the unfinished memorial to those who lost their lives in the Napoleonic wars.

A budget guide to Edinburgh

Explore churches

There are lots of beautiful churches to explore in Edinburgh but my two favourites are St Giles Cathedral and Greyfriars 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.

A budget guide to Edinburgh

Greyfriars Kirk is the graveyard where you will find Scotland’s most famous dog, Greyfriars Bobby. This Skye Terrier became a legend after guarding the grave of his owner for 14 years. Bobby died himself on the 14th of January 1872 and was buried near his owner in Greyfriars 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 10 am – 5 pm unless otherwise stated.

Museums that have free entry include:

  • National Museum of Scotland – This was one of my favourite museums in Edinburgh, it is massive with the most amazing architecture. There are so many exhibits and collections that it it’s sure to appeal to everyone.
  • Scottish National Galleries – If art is your thing then a visit to the three museums that make up the Scottish National Galleries is a must! 
  • Writers Museum – Lovely little museum celebrates 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 old doll houses, Hornby train sets, and 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 10 am – 5 pm.

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.

Visiting Cramond Island from Edinburgh

You can also 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.

Visiting the Forth Bridges from 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. 

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 an 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 offline.

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, cafes and bars to suit.

Final Thoughts

With a little bit of creativity and careful planning, it’s possible to enjoy Edinburgh on a budget. By following the tips in this guide, you can save money while still enjoying all that the city has to offer. So what are you waiting for? Start planning your trip today!

Thanks so much for stopping by, I appreciate every one of you who takes the time to read and make it to the end! I have lots of exciting new content coming in the next few weeks so make sure you pop back to catch up!

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