I’m delayed in the airport by an hour… somehow I’m not surprised. After a couple of flight cancellations and snow ravaging all UK airports, an hour delay seems like the least of my problems. With my short jaunt in Edinburgh, hotel stays in the Old and New Towns, loads of sightseeing, and a day trip to the Highlands, I crammed a lot into five short days and there are some things I would have done differently, had I known beforehand. Here are a few bits of insight that I’ve gained from my recent excursion:
Getting to Edinburgh
Ohhh… Lord. After so many flight cancellations and delays, I would now opt for taking the train from London. Obviously your plan of attack for getting to Edinburgh is going to vary based on your current location, but be aware that there are a number of ways to get to the city.
1 Fly. Something I’m not fond of anymore, but it’s quick if you’re going from London (1 hour, 20 minutes). With EasyJet, BMI and other discount airlines, you can get some bargains, too.
2 Take the Train. Virgin Trains, East Coast, they’ll all get you there and most will do it for under £40 – £50 if you book in advance. Sometimes they have some really great deals so stay up to date with you preferred vendor. Expect it to take 4-1/2 to 6 hours depending on the number of stops, but you’ll get to take in some of the English countryside, plus some trains (East Coast) even have wi-fi.
3 Jump on the Coach. With National Express, you can get funfares for as low as £12 – £15 if you book at the right time. They’re definitely geared towards the budget traveler, but be ready to spend a loooonnng time on board. 7 – 10 hours is a good estimate depending on the weather.
New Town vs. Old Town
My first temporary home, the Royal British Hotel, was in the New Town on Princes Street directly across from Waverly Station. Looking down the road, the street was very reminiscent of Oxford Street in London: loads of shopping mixed with a bit of culture (Royal Scottish Academy, National Gallery, etc.). A few minutes walk into the New Town, you hit St. Andrew’s Square where you can catch a bus to Rosslyn Chapel and visit the likes of Louis Vuitton and Harvey Nichols; a modern shopper’s paradise. The picture below is of me on Princes Street in front of the Christmas markets. If you can’t tell, it was cold.
My second stop was Jury’s Inn in the Old Town of Edinburgh, right off of the Royal Mile. Like I had mentioned right after my jaunt over, there is a palpable difference between the Old and New Towns. Instead of Harvey Nichols and H&M, you’ll run into St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh Castle and shops that are home to kilt makers and Celtic jewelry. The roads are less perfectly paved and have more of the cobblestone and narrow alleys that you would expect of the old world.
This shot was taken from the St. Giles area, looking down the Royal Mile in Old Town.
Although it’s a matter of preference, I found the Old Town a lot more charming. Keep in mind, the invisible line that separates New from Old in Edinburgh is the rail station, essentially. If you cross through Waverly Station or cross over North Bridge, you can move easily from one area to another. If you’re on Princes Street or the Royal Mile, you’re pretty central.
Hotel Recommendations for Budget Travelers
Our two-day, unplanned stay at the Royal British Hotel was actually a pleasant surprise. Due to its proximity to the rail station, I wasn’t expecting much, but was quite surprised by the size and comfort of the rooms, the free wi-fi (never to be underestimated!) and cute onsite café, Princes Street Café, where you can get a morning coffee plus a morning treat for £1.75. The prices were more than reasonable considering the last-second booking and the holiday season. You’re looking at between £51 – £65 per night and a comfortable size for two people.
The Jury’s Inn in the Old Town is also great, but for different reasons. My room was huge and my view was incredible. With three massive windows peering out into the snow-capped city, I really felt like I ended up with someone’s suite. The bathroom was also huge, with a full-sized bathtub for actually taking a bath, something I haven’t done in months. It’s proximity to Old Town (the Royal Mile is in the hotel’s backyard) make it a prime location, plus it’s around one-third of a mile from the train station. The downside? Wi-fi is far from free. I had to rely on the web on my iPhone and the free wi-fi from the The Mitre pub down the way for most of my online needs. I would recommend this place for its comfort and spaciousness, but be aware of the internet situation – that was almost disappointing enough to nullify my love for this place. I got a great deal when I booked with Expedia (£200 for R/T tickets + 3 nights at this hotel), but a room here normally goes for £99+ a night.
Also, if you’re on a shoestring budget, there are loads of hostels along the Royal Mile that would be worth checking out. Do a bit of homework though, sometimes the £10 per night saved isn’t worth sharing a bathroom with 8 strangers.
While the streets themselves are captivating in and of themselves, Edinburgh is loaded with attractions: Edinburgh Castle, Camera Obscura and world of illusions, Haunted Tours, Rosslyn Chapel, Christmas Markets, Lyceum Theatre, Highlands tours, the National Gallery… the list goes on and on.
So, if you’re here for a few days, what was worth the money? Well, that’s a matter of preference of course, but let me give you the down low on where I spent my money and where I would take it back, if possible. Keep in mind, the days are incredibly short in the winter, with the sun disappearing entirely by 4 or 4:30PM. With only a few hours of sunlight, you probably want to make the most out of every minute.
£11 for entry with discounts for children and seniors but no discounts for students. For those on a major shoestring budget, you can walk up to the castle and take some amazing pictures from the ticketing area without having to pay the entry fee. The views from the top are gorgeous and worth the trek. The entrance fee to get into the castle is worth it if you are someone who appreciates the medieval history that you’ll find within the castle. If the pictures of the façade are what you want, you don’t need to fork over the entry fee.
If you have kids, this is a great destination. You’re looking at £8.50 for adults, £6.75 for students and seniors, £5.75 for kids ages 5 – 15, and under 5s go in free. The building is comprised of five floors of illusions (holograms, crazy mirrors, optical illusions, etc.) with the top floor containing the ‘camera obscura’ where you can get a visual tour of Edinburgh in 15 minutes. It’s actually a really neat experience and the views from top floor are hard to beat. Some of the best pictures that I got of the city were from the rooftop at Camera Obscura. Check these out:
I mean seriously? How great is this view? I had more fun in this building and ended up with cooler pictures than I did at the castle.
As your recall from my recent post, I undertook the longest day tour available in all of Britain a few days ago. From Edinburgh, we traveled all the way up to Loch Ness and Inverness, the capital of the Highlands. The tour was £34 (£36 for non-students) and comprised 400+ miles and 13 hours of tour time. The tour showed me a completely different side of Scotland, plus I got to do a Loch Ness cruise. How many people get to say that? For me, the tour was definitely worth the money considering how much was covered and the quality of the tour guide. My only recommendation though would be taking Timberbush up on their 2 or 3-day Highlands tour instead. I thought we covered a little too much in one short day. For a bit more money you can have a much more comprehensive experience.
I must say, just a few days ago I was so proud of myself for scoring my Peter Pan tickets for £11, 50% off of the normal fee. Sadly, the play was not only a waste of £11, it was also a waste of three good hours that I could have spent elsewhere taking in the sights. In reality, I think my expectations were off: I was expecting less of a play geared towards children and more of a grown-up take on Peter Pan in a play format. While that wasn’t the best fit for me, the Lyceum Theatre offers other events, so you can check out their calendar for what’s on when you’re in town.
Who doesn’t love to feel like a kid during Christmastime? Ice skating, a German market, loads of fun Christmas goods, a ferris wheel and mulled wine. Mmm… The whole area can be accessed from Princes Street (at The Mound) and it’s 100% free to meander. Be safe and bring some cash for mulled wine and Christmas treats! For me, this was a highlight. I love the feel of European Christmas markets during the holidays and this was an absolutely perfect way to get in the holiday spirit.
Ahhh… Rosslyn Chapel. Who has read the DaVinci Code and not wanted to visit this place? I had planned on visiting (you can easily access it by hopping on Bus 15/15A from St. Andrew’s Square in the New Town), but decided to save that for my next journey to Scotland. You’re looking at £7.50 for adult entry, £6 for students and seniors and free for under 16s. For any fans of the Dan Brown novel or the general history, this is a cool nearby site to add to your itinerary if you have the time!
Freebies in Edinburgh to Note
There were a few freebies that I wasn’t aware of before heading to Edinburgh. I wish I would have known about them before my adventures, but they’re worth noting:
1A free tour of Edinburgh on foot. Although I didn’t partake in the tour, it leaves from the Starbucks in Old Town and it’s about two hours of sightseeing around Edinburgh. It’s definitely something that would be worth checking out early on in your excursion. It’s a good way to get acquainted with the area before undertaking your own adventures.
2National Galleries of Scotland. If this is anything like the National Gallery in London, it’s worth checking out. The National Gallery is open daily and represents one of the best collections of fine art in the world. Beyond the exhibitions and displays there are a whole host of events, so be sure to look at the site in advance to see what’s showing while you’re in Edinburgh!
3Free ghost tour from Deacon Brodie’s Pub. Edinburgh is widely considered to be one of the most haunted cities in the world, so why not experience a ghost tour? There are tours like this that you can pay for (£5 – £10 depending on the company and length of tour), but there’s also this freebie. I probably would have checked it out if I were with someone… I didn’t want to scare myself while traveling alone.
Hope some of that helps someone out there somewhere who’s interested in hitting up magnificent Edinburgh. It’s truly an amazing city!
Lots of love & Merry Christmas Eve,