Visiting Edinburgh for the first time: Travel tips

Edinburgh is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to in Europe.

It has a magical feel to it that you just can’t miss.

I must admit Edinburgh was a bit overwhelming for me at first. There is a lot to do and see in the city and my FOMO kicked in as soon as I got there.

This guide has all the practical travel tips you need if you’re visiting Edinburgh for the first time.

How to get to Edinburgh

The Edinburgh International Airport (EDI) is linked to many European and UK destinations, as well as some North American airports.

You can also reach Edinburgh by train or bus from London, Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham and many other UK destinations.

The central train station is called Edinburgh Waverley railway station (EDB) which is a central hub located in the city centre.

The second main train station in Edinburgh is called Haymarket railway station (HYM).

Another option is to take a bus to Edinburgh Bus Station, the central station on Elder Street. There are buses from many cities in England and Scotland.

To do a combined search of flights, trains and buses, I use Omio.

If you fly into Edinburgh International Airport, there are several ways to get to the city:

  • You can take a direct bus to the city. The buses are called Airlink100 and Skylink200, Skylink300 and Skylink400. Each has a different route. Find full information here.
  • You can book a minivan from the airport to any address in the city. The ride takes about 30 minutes.
  • You can book a private taxi and have a driver wait for you at arrivals. The ride takes about 30 minutes.
  • You can take the tram from the airport to the city. The ride takes about 40 minutes.

Sightseeing in Edinburgh

If you’re visiting Edinburgh for the first time, there are plenty of things to see, including some iconic streets like Victoria Street, the Old Town, the famous Edinburgh Castle, some excellent art museums and much more.

Most of the museums in Edinburgh are free to enter. Other attractions are not free, but you can take advantage of these city passes:

  • The Edinburgh City Pass includes entry to many of Edinburgh’s main attractions, guided tours, transport from the airport and discounts for other attractions, restaurants and shops. It is available for 1, 2 or 3 days.
  • The Royal Edinburgh Ticket is a combined ticket to three of the best attractions: Edinburgh Castle, Royal Yacht Britannia and the Palace of Holyrood . It also includes free bus rides on tourist bus routes.

Visiting Edinburgh for the first time: The most popular attractions

Find more details and my reviews of Edinburgh’s main attractions here

With few exceptions, museums and other attractions in Edinburgh close at 5 pm. The last admission is often 30-60 minutes before closing time.

It’s quite tricky to plan a visit to Edinburgh when places close that early and there are so many places to see, so take some time to check opening hours when you make your Edinburgh itinerary.

In the later afternoon and evening, you can still enjoy strolling in Princes Street Gardens or walking around the Old Town. The Royal Mile is full of people even after most attractions close.

Walking tours in Edinburgh

There are a lot of walking tours you can take in Edinburgh. It’s a very tourist-friendly city.

When you are visiting Edinburgh for the first time, it’s best to start with a tour.

A small group tour will let you get to know all the city highlights, history and some cultural anecdotes.

They normally take about 3 hours and a give you a general introduction to the city.

A private tour is a personalised tour where the guide can design an itinerary to match your own interests. Normally on private tours, you can also pick your schedule.

Here’s a selection of Edinburgh city tours:

Unique activities and experiences in Edinburgh

Edinburgh has a rich culture and history worth discovering.

Beyond the popular Edinburgh attractions and the general walking tours, there are some unique local experiences that will make your trip more memorable.

Here are some unique Edinburgh experiences to try:

Day trips from Edinburgh

Edinburgh is the best starting point for day trips or tours to other places in Scotland.

Here are the most popular day trips from Edinburgh:

Click the calendar below to check availability:

Where to stay in Edinburgh

Hotels in the Old Town (The Royal Mile and Grassmarket)

To make the of most out of your time in Edinburgh, stay in the heart of the Old Town.

You’ll be close to all the main attractions, including Edinburgh Castle, many museums and tour meeting points.

Ibis Edinburgh Centre Royal Mile  has comfortable rooms very close to the Royal Mile and to Waverley Station (the main train station in Edinburgh).

Ibis Edinburgh Centre Royal Mile

Apex Grassmarket Hotel has spacious rooms at a perfect location that allows you to walk everywhere. Some rooms have an Edinburgh Castle view from the window.

Apex Grassmarket Hotel

Old Town Chambers offer luxury serviced apartments for the design conscious, at an excellent location just off the Royal Mile.

Old Town Chambers

Hotels in the New Town in Edinburgh

Kimpton Charlotte Square has elegant Georgian townhouses in a great location in the New Town.

Hotel Indigo is a boutique hotel in a historic building at a very central location.

Edinburgh hotels

House sitting in Edinburgh – The budget-friendly option

Edinburgh can be pricey, especially in peak season. If you travel on a budget, consider house sitting as a great way to live in a local home rent-free.

Take care of somebody’s pets or plants while they’re away in exchange for staying in their home.

This method takes a bit of planning ahead, as you need to find locals who are looking for house sitters in advance.

I suggest you go to TrustedHousesitters, one of the main places obline to find homes to sit.

As it’s a big city, you’re more likely to find a place to stay.

If the house you find is far from the city centre, I recommend getting a bus pass from the Lothian Buses Travelshop on Waverley Bridge.

How long to stay in Edinburgh

You can see the city’s highlights in about 5 days. If you’re short on time or want to get to see more places in Scotland, spend 2 days in Edinburgh and plan them wisely so you can make the most of your time there.

There’s a lot to see in Edinburgh. Talking to locals, I found that even they haven’t seen all that Edinburgh has to offer…

If you’re into slow travel or have plenty of time, do stay longer. You can easily spend 10-14 days in Edinburgh and never get bored.

When to visit Edinburgh

Summer is the best time to visit Edinburgh for nice weather.

I was lucky to have quite a few sunny days last time I visited in July.

The weather is generally very unpredictable. This is true for any part of Scotland or the UK in general. Always take a waterproof jacket or an umbrella with you.

Although the weather is nice in summer, in July and August the city is full of tourists. The world-famous Edinburgh festivals take place throughout the year, but mostly during the summer.

So this is something you might want to consider when you plan a visit to Edinburgh. If you want to avoid crowds maybe visit in spring or autumn instead.

Edinburgh map

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