If you plan to attend the Edinburgh Festival, I can’t help you. We are leaving the city before it begins, in part because the cost of housing skyrockets and we can’t keep to our budget and stay in an apartment. Perhaps another year we’ll come for a Festival week and listen to lot of music, see a lot of theater and appreciate the scene.
However, I have advice on a few things for people planning to visit at other times.
Like everywhere else in Scotland, you can experience four seasons in a day. The sun may turn up early or late, the rain may pour before breakfast or after dinner–or in the middle of your plans. Be a good Scotsperson and ignore the fact that there is weather and keep going, or modify your plans enough to get out of the rain by going to a museum or a cafe. Either way, the weather will change soon enough. (Imagine you’re in Portland.) Wear waterproof shoes. Don’t go out without your raincoat.
If you aren’t on an organized tour, consider purchasing a weekly (or monthly) bus pass. This year the first week is £21 and subsequent weeks £18. Additional weeks can be added in many corner shops (pay point), though to start you need to go to a Lothian Buses travelshop because they take your picture and put it on your card. A monthly pass is £57. Bus passes are especially helpful once you find out that there is no such thing as a bus transfer in Edinburgh, and you must pay £1.60 each time you board a bus. A bus pass includes tram service, and service to the airport by either bus or tram. It is not possible right now to purchase your bus pass at the airport, so even if you travel light, you have to pay £4 to get from the airport to the city on arrival (A taxi is about £20). Our bus passes are for Lothian buses, and that does not include every bus in the city. Sometimes you have to wait until your Lothian bus arrives. Overall, it’s been worth a lot. (I’ve rarely been tempted to call the bus line Loathsome buses.)
Visiting the Sights/Sites
If you are a fan of historic sights and sites, you might consider a membership in Historic Scotland. This gives you free admission to several of the major sites in the Edinburgh area, including Edinburgh, Stirling, and Linlithgow castles. You get a discount (20%) on admission to Holyrood Palace. Historic Scotland also manages many other sites throughout Scotland, many do not charge admission. I’ve taken advantage of their booklet to identify interesting lesser-known places to visit.
Outdoors–Gardens and Walks
Edinburgh is full of wonderful gardens and gardening. Often a small front garden is beautifully arranged with beds and pots of plants.
There are wonderful walks throughout Edinburgh. Several paths climb Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags in Holyrood Park. Walking through Princes Street Gardens is lovely and there are more paths around St. Cuthbert’s church at the west end of the garden. There is a trail along the Water of Leith (see my post on the Modern Art museum) that you can follow for miles. Just because you are in the city doesn’t mean the outdoors isn’t nearby. Also, you can get to the beach on the bus. My only caveat: we saw very few birds in the city itself.
We rarely eat out, but had an excellent dinner at Field, a tiny restaurant near the university. Make a reservation, because it seats 26 if every seat is filled.
Both the train (Scotrail) and buses go from Edinburgh to Glasgow (and other cities). There are websites for each and a variety of options. Train travel is reliable as well as a bit faster and a bit more comfortable than the bus. It costs slightly more.
A Last Word
We left Edinburgh with many places still to visit. Small museums, historic houses, even Building 2 of the Modern Art Museum (Building 1 took all our time on our first visit). Living in the city full time may not be for me, as I enjoyed our walks along paths as much as the big attractions. Who can resist a street called Ravelston Dykes? Or a path that looks like deep woods but actually circles a private school and takes you to Sainsbury’s (grocery store)?