Visit Edinburgh on a Shoestring Budget

Updated on October 9, 2017
Virginia Matteo profile image

Virginia has a Bachelor's degree in Spanish and English Literature.

If you are looking for a cheap backpacking destination that won’t give you a sunstroke, Edinburgh is the place to go. What does it have on offer? Diverse weather (often spring, summer and autumn in one day, which other place can boast such versatility?), breathtaking views, stunning architecture, stories that will give you the chills, and a lot of Harry Potter motifs. For students like myself, however, there is usually one big fat obstacle to travelling, and this is money. How to travel and not go bankrupt? Here you can find a couple of tips for budget travelling in Edinburgh.

Getting There

I would advise you to go by plane whether you are based in the UK or not (especially if you live in the south of the UK). Not only will you avoid the extortionate train ticket prices (a train ticket from London to Edinburgh doesn’t usually cost less than £100 one way), but also the journey time could be a bit shorter. A flight from London Stansted to Edinburgh Airport takes about an hour and a half—compared with 4-5 hours by train (and over £100). Of course you need to count in arriving at the airport and all the airport fuss, but all in all it is still much cheaper than the train and takes about the same amount of time. We flew with Ryanair from London Stansted and paid less than £40 for a return ticket. It’s best to book well in advance (a month seems all right) and avoid the summer peaks—travel in mid-June if you can. If you travel from any destination other than London, be sure to check for cheap flights using a flight search like Skyscanner. With a bit of planning it’s not difficult to lay your hands on good flight offers. When in Edinburgh Airport, there is a cheap tram connection to the city centre (around £5 one way, around £7-8 return)—you don’t even have to check the timetable, as it departs every 15 minutes or so. Nice attendants will make sure you know how to buy a ticket and that you get off where you’re headed. They even gave me a free map of Edinburgh, that’s how nice they are!

Accommodation

I believe a range of budget hostels are available in Edinburgh. The one we went to was the Edinburgh Backpackers Hostel, and, honestly, I don’t think you could find something with a better location at this price. We lived literally at the heart of the city, with every major tourist attraction close at hand. You pay about £12 per night for a place in a shared bedroom for 8 people. It wasn’t the most luxurious place I’ve ever been to (little space in the room, rather inconvenient bunk beds), but it was decent and you don’t travel to Edinburgh to spend all your time in a hotel room, anyway. Amenities included two common rooms you could use at any time, one with a TV set, the other with a billiard table, and a kitchen with some communal crockery. The bathrooms were all right, clean and tidy on the whole, without any queues to the showers. The staff were extraordinarily nice and helpful, they let us leave our baggage free of charge before the check-in, and after the check-out. One warning though—there is a Starbucks very close to the hostel (about a three minute walk), which isn’t a bad thing in itself. Unless you are hopelessly addicted to coffee and travel on low budget. Yes, I speak from experience, and yes, I left there a small fortune. Believe me, it’s better to buy some third-rate coffee in a supermarket and survive on it this couple of days. There are better ways to spend money in Edinburgh.

Sightseeing

This is the tricky bit because you can easily fall into one of these tourist traps. But do not despair, not all the attractions are paid! Or at the very least you can decide how much you want to pay. Some alternatives to the Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse include free walking tours and museums. One word of warning with the former, however, the name free walking tours doesn’t mean that the tours are completely free of charge, it means that at the end you pay what you think it was worth. You could obviously NOT pay, nobody is going to arrest you, but it’s considered polite to give the guide anything as a token of gratitude. It doesn’t have to be a large sum, £5 is perfectly fine, even £1 or £2 if you can’t afford more. On the first day of our stay in Edinburgh we went on a free walking tour run by SANDEMANs and it was brilliant. The quality of the tour was excellent, our guide was knowledgeable and enthusiastic, plus this was a nice opportunity to have a look around the town without getting lost on every juncture. Another good sightseeing option is museums with entrance free of charge like the National Museum of Scotland and the Scottish National Gallery. There are free tours as well in the National Museum of Scotland departing every few hours—this time completely free of charge. It’s definitely worthwhile, human presence always enlivens any museum experience. When you are in the National Museum of Scotland be sure to go to the roof, where you can admire Edinburgh’s skyline and take some good pictures of the castle.

The castle
The castle

Enjoy the Nature

A short 15-minute walk from the city centre and you’ll find yourself in Holyrood Park, where you can have a rest away from the bustle and hustle of the city. It’s the place for you if you enjoy hiking—you must go to Arthur’s Seat there. It’s not a very strenuous or difficult hike—be, however, careful in the higher regions, as it may be quite windy. From the top you can enjoy Edinburgh’s skyline once more. Another place to go is Calton Hill, a much lower hill but also with wonderful views and some wonderful (albeit not finished) architecture. The Scotts apparently wanted to erect another Acropolis but they ran out of money in the middle of construction, and so they left everything as it is today.

Arthur's Seat
Arthur's Seat
Calton Hill
Calton Hill

Questions & Answers

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      • Virginia Matteo profile imageAUTHOR

        Virginia Matteo 

        23 months ago

        Yes, sorry, there is a tram connection! My mistake.

      • daydreams profile image

        Marianne Sherret 

        23 months ago from Scotland, UK

        Hi- I think you mean the tram from Edinburgh Airport not the train?- there is no train...

        There is also an airport bus which is slightly cheaper than the tram, or if you really want to save money the number 35 bus (only 1.60 but that does take ages to reach the city centre)

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