We all know the struggle: that eager feeling in the pit of your stomach to go out and explore the world, learn about different cultures, different people, rich histories, but at the same time facing the harsh reality of a bank account that, in all frankness, has seen better days. As a student myself, I am always on the lookout for budget tips. During our trip to Scotland, we managed to do quite a lot of fun activities and really get to know the city centre of Edinburgh, without breaking the bank. If you’re ever planning on visiting Edinburgh but you don’t have the means to stay in luxury hotels, have Michelin-star dinners and go on private city tours (a.k.a. spending heaps of money), give this post a go!
What to do (all FREE)
‘All free’? That’s right, the following activities don’t cost you anything! Moreover, they all allow you to get a feel of the city, its culture, history and surroundings. Whether you’re into history, hiking, or museums – who said enjoying yourself should come with a price?
- Free city tour
Like most big cities, Edinburgh has quite some tour operators that offer “free city tours” – these are led by locals who tell you the ins and outs of the city, including funny facts and intriguing stories about the city’s past and present. I went on one offered by Sandeman, but there are many companies that do them. Some even offer the tours in Spanish or German if you are hesitant about your level of English! In theory, these tours are completely free but it is good practice to donate at least a little bit of money at the end of the tour, as the guide’s income relies on gifts. Oh, if you’re really into Harry Potter – there is also a free Harry Potter tour!
- Free ghost tour
Are you one for spooky myths, gruesome histories or eerie places? Look no further! Edinburgh has a rich history when it comes to both factual and fictional horror stories; from witch hunts to cursed graves, supernatural priests and convicts coming back from the dead… We went with Free Ghost Tour but again, there are many companies that do them. They typically start around 7 or 8 in the evening and take about 2 hours. Don’t fret too much, it is not like the Dungeons where people jump out to scare you. It is just a guide telling you stories, but nonetheless it is a thrilling experience. The same goes for the free ghost tours when it comes to money; even just a couple of pounds as a donation at the end is highly appreciated, but not required.
- Climb up Arthur’s seat
In for a hike? Climb up Arthur’s seat and enjoy the vast views around and beyond Edinburgh. You can even see the sea from there! It will take you around 45 minutes to reach the top, assuming that you’re hiking with an average speed and are stopping now and then to take a picture. Make sure to dress well; it can be really windy on top of the hill, but the hike itself could potentially make you a bit sweaty too (so go for layers!).
- Visit Calton Hill
The stop that has to be ticked off your Edinburgh photo stop list: Calton Hill. Take the touristy picture and enjoy the wide view over both the old and new town. Relax between the massive pillars of the nearby monument and if weather permits, enjoy the sunshine in the park.
- Museums boring? Edinburgh begs to differ!
Visit one of the many museums Edinburgh has to offer. The National Museum of Scotland has a big variety of artifacts (from design to technology to natural history and more) and is very interactive and child friendly. A bit creepy, yet very intriguing is the Surgeon’s hall, where you can gawk at historical surgical equipment and body parts in jars. If you’re really into art history, the National Portrait Gallery will make your day. There are many more museums, but these three were the ones we had time to visit.
- Want to splurge on one thing?
Visit the famous Edinburgh Castle (which has unfortunately got quite a hefty entrance fee, but is supposed to be stunning) or the Edinburgh undergrounds (Real Mary Kings Close or Merkat tours). In for a party? Go on one of the cheap pub crawls offered by the free city tour companies and hostels.
Where to stay
By far the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in: Castle Rock hostel. What a great atmosphere, fantastic facilities and friendly staff! If you’re looking for reviews and experiences in Edinburgh hostels look no further – this is the hostel you want to stay in. It’s cheap, has a prime location and offers views on the Castle of Edinburgh. If you’re not into hostels (although I highly recommend you to just check this one out, as it would be a great one to stay at if you’re a hostel newbie) check out AirBnB; they always do good deals in many parts of the city. It would be preferable to stay in the Old Town though, as pretty much all of the free activities that I just mentioned take place there.
Want to splurge on one thing? There are different types of dormitories in Castle Rock. The less people in it, the higher the price!
What to eat
I’ve just got three words for you: hostel discount vouchers! Castle Rock (and its sister hostels Royal Mile Backpackers and High Street Hostel) give you a voucher during your stay, which you can use to claim discount on food in quite a lot of pubs. Ka-cheng! We really liked the Royal Mile Tavern and the Whiski Bar. Don’t expect a fancy 10-course meal; they serve proper pub food and great ales, ciders and whisky. Are you not much of a foodie and would you like to keep food expenses to an absolute minimum? Cook up a meal yourself in the hostel kitchen! Castle Rock has three well-equipped kitchens, and there is a Sainsbury’s (supermarket) at walking distance.
How to get there
If you’re living in England, you will know all about the ridiculous costs of training. Ever thought about driving or getting the bus? We went from Leeds to Edinburgh by Megabus, which was incredibly cheap. We must have saved around 80 pounds by just taking the bus rather than travelling by train. If you’re from outside of the UK, set a price alarm for Edinburgh Airport on for example Skyscanner.com. In this way, you will be informed immediately when the flight fees drop.
Planning to explore Scotland beyond Edinburgh? Visit the highlands and the Isle of Skye! When in Scotland, you can’t miss out on this spectacular part of the country.
Make sure to check out our little travel video of our week in Scotland below:
If you’ve got any other questions left about Edinburgh, feel free to ask them in the comments!