Edinburgh on a budget: 7 travel hacks to save on your trip
Visiting Edinburgh is never a bad idea. This historic city, as the capital of Scotland, is home to some of the country's top museums, art galleries, and cultural attractions. Famous for the stunning Edinburgh Castle, this highly walkable city is also home to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum of Scotland, and lots more free museums.
In fact, it's not difficult at all to visit Edinburgh on a budget. One of the best things to do in Edinburgh is simply taking a walk through the Old Town and enjoying the unique atmosphere and architecture of this historic city. Plus, many of the top tourist attractions in the city centre are completely free.
As always, a little research can go a long way. The key to visiting Edinburgh cheaply is to find affordable accommodation prices and take advantage of cheap or free things to do. For example, a free walking tour will quickly get you acquainted with all the major sites in the city centre and give you some ideas of where to explore further. In this article, we'll explore some more money-saving tips for visiting Edinburgh.
Another great tip is to leave your bags behind at a Bounce luggage storage in Edinburgh. Knowing your bags are being safely looked after will make it much easier to enjoy Edinburgh on a budget and take advantage of all the Scottish capital has to offer.
Cheap places to stay in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is not normally a cheap place to stay. The average cost of a hotel room is $177 a night, which makes it more expensive than Paris. However, you don't have to spend a fortune to stay in Edinburgh.
One way to save money is to consider visiting Edinburgh during the off-season. Summer gets the most tourists in the Scottish capital and also usually means the best weather, but you can still enjoy the city in spring, fall, or even winter, when crowds will be thinner and accommodation prices far lower.
Another way to save money on accommodation in the city is to consider staying a little further from the city centre. Yes, everyone wants to stay near Edinburgh Castle and take advantage of the historic core of this walkable city. But Edinburgh has a good public transportation network that means you can reach the city's main attractions from just about anywhere, so it's not necessarily a bad idea to consider staying a little further out of town. Staying in the New Town, for example, ensures you'll still be close to the Old Town and its historic attractions, but you may well find you pay significantly less for a hotel room. For more info, check out our guide to the best neighborhoods in Edinburgh.
If you're on a tight budget, there are some real bargains to be found in Edinburgh. Give some of these affordable hotels a try:
Kick Ass Grassmarket
As you can tell from the name, this isn't a hotel that takes itself too seriously. However, it may represent one of the best bargains in Edinburgh. Centrally located in Grassmarket, almost in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle and right by the Royal Mile, you'll step out from the front door of this hotel into some of the most charming city streets Edinburgh has to offer.
In the height of summer, you can get a bed in a mixed dorm for around $50 a night. For an extra five dollars, you can get breakfast included. They also offer female-only dormitories and even some private rooms, with a double room with a shared bathroom costing $200 a night.
This hostel includes free Wi-Fi and access to a shared kitchen so you can cook your own meals. The hostel also organizes activities for guests, like movie nights and pub crawls, though these come at an extra cost.
Destiny Student - Holyrood
Close to Holyrood Park and the dramatic volcanic outcrop of Arthur's Seat, this student accommodation offers a basic but affordable place to stay that's close to the top attractions in the entire city. A double room with an en suite bathroom costs only $100 in August, or you could spring for a fully furnished studio apartment which costs $167 but includes a kitchenette so you can prepare your own meals with food bought from the nearby supermarkets. Free Wi-Fi is included with all rooms, and the private rooms also contain a desk which makes a great working area if you plan on doing some work during your trip.
The hotel offers free on-street parking, but spaces cannot be guaranteed, especially during the busy summer season. One of the better budget hotels in Edinburgh, this hotel shines thanks to its convenient location and its basic but comfortable rooms.
For something a little grander, consider this hotel in a former Georgian townhouse. It is located in the busy port area of Leith, which is a little distance from the city center but is a vibrant area in its own right, full of chic restaurants and lively bars that are well worth exploring. Plus, it's only a short walk to the nearest bus stop, and bus number 49 or 35 can easily bring you to the Royal Mile in around 30 minutes.
Expect to pay around $150 for a room here in August. That covers you for a double en suite room with a TV, shower, and coffee maker. Be aware, though, that there is an additional charge for Wi-Fi access.
Cheap things to do in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is absolutely packed with cheap or even free things to do. In fact, thanks to the UK policy of making museums free, there are tons of things to do in Edinburgh without spending a penny. You can enjoy the view from Arthur's Seat, take a walk through Holyrood Park, or visit the National Monument of Scotland without spending a penny. There's also St. Giles Cathedral and the Royal Botanic Garden to visit, both with free admission. Plus, taking a stroll along the Royal Mile and even taking advantage of a free walking tour are great ways to enjoy the very best of Edinburgh without spending anything.
There are so many free things to do in Edinburgh that it's hard to pick where to start. Still, the free museums and many parks of the city offer unmissable things to do in Edinburgh on a budget.
Princes Street Gardens
Created in the 1820s, the Princes Street Gardens act as a bridge between Edinburgh Old Town and New Town and give the city a vibrant green heart that is a great place to spend some time on a sunny day. The views of the Old Town, especially Edinburgh Castle, are incredible from here. During the summer, it's also a great place to bring a picnic, sit down on the grass, and enjoy a delicious meal when you visit Edinburgh.
Scottish National Gallery
One of the very finest art museums in all of the UK, the Scottish National Gallery occupies a grand building in the heart of the city. First opened in 1859, the gallery was a key part of the burgeoning Scottish nationalist movement, celebrating as it does the work of Scottish painters and sculptors through the centuries.
Highlights of the collection include the work of Scottish artists like Alexander Nasmyth and James Guthrie, but there are also paintings by more internationally known artists such as Bernini, Botticelli, Cézanne, Vermeer, Raphael, and Rembrandt. Exploring the halls of this beautifully maintained gallery is like taking a journey through the entirety of Western art, so it's almost astonishing that this incredible collection is completely free for anyone to visit.
National Museum of Scotland
Just like the National Gallery, the National Museum of Scotland is the pride of the city and one of the best things to do in Edinburgh on a budget. Located in a striking building that first opened in 1998, this museum tells the story of Scottish history from its earliest prehistoric artifacts up to the present day.
But it does more than that, too. This museum contains exhibits on natural history and on cultures and historical periods from around the world. There's a stunning Ancient Egyptian gallery, for example, along with the taxidermied body of Dolly the sheep, the world's first cloned animal, and a display of Elton John's stage costumes. In short, this eclectic museum has exhibits on just about everything, so whatever you're interested in, you'll probably find it here.
Cheap places to eat in Edinburgh
Edinburgh has some of the best restaurants in the UK — with price tags to match. If you're looking for fine dining here, you won't have to look far. But there's more to the Edinburgh culinary scene than haute cuisine. The best street food in Edinburgh provides some affordable but delicious things to eat, and so do these budget restaurants.
Nile Valley Café
Situated right next to Edinburgh Central Mosque in a neighborhood popular with students, this café serves up Middle Eastern cuisine at very affordable prices. Gorge on tabbouleh, tagine, falafel, and other classic Middle Eastern foods while visiting Edinburgh on a budget.
This modern Italian joint is anything but stuffy. The thin-crust pizzas with dough made in-house are the main attraction here, and they start at only £8, making them a great option for cheap but satisfying food in the Leith area.
Ting Thai Caravan
Nothing drives away the chill of a rainy Edinburgh day like some spicy Thai food. Ting Thai Caravan, located just around the corner from the National Museum, serves up all your Thai favorites like Pad Thai, yellow curry, and Pad See-ew. Most of these dishes are around £10 each, but at lunch, they're closer to £8 for the exact same meal, so it might be a good idea to come here for a big lunch and have something lighter and cheaper for dinner.
Cheap bars in Edinburgh
Edinburgh isn't short of pubs, from cozy neighborhood joints to lively bars that keep the party going late into the evening. In fact, Edinburgh has more pubs and bars than any other part of Scotland, and that's saying quite a lot. Here are some good options to narrow down your search:
Offering a traditional pub vibe that is popular with students, The Greenmantle serves up pints of cask ale for under £5 and bottles of imported beer as low as £3.50. They have an extensive selection of gin, and there's a 10% student discount available even on these affordable prices. They also have a good menu of classic bar food.
With dartboards, arcade games, and a 3 PM movie screening, this is a fun pub that always draws a crowd. Pints of beer are around the £4 mark, and cocktails come in under a fiver. The food is based around an Indian tapas menu, so you can sample a variety of small plates that are ideal for sharing.
The Auld Hoose
This popular pub has been operating since the 1860s and shows no sign of slowing down. If you're hungry, the bowl of nachos is absolutely massive and will feed multiple people. The Gigantic size costs a hefty £30, but it weighs 6 pounds, so you can feed an entire group. Plus, they have an excellent selection of whiskey, with glasses starting at less than £4.
Bonus budget tips for Edinburgh
Use public transport: The public transport system in Edinburgh is efficient and cost-effective. You can use the Lothian Buses, which operate throughout the city, or the Edinburgh Trams, which run between the airport and the city center.
Eat like a local: Edinburgh has plenty of local food options that are affordable and delicious. You can try Scottish delicacies like haggis, neeps, and tatties or head to local markets like the Grassmarket or the Stockbridge Market for affordable food options.
Use a City Pass: The Edinburgh City Pass can help you save money on attractions, transport, and tours. The pass includes entry to popular attractions like Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Yacht Britannia, and the Scottish Parliament, as well as discounts on tours and transport.
Edinburgh is by no means a cheap city. But that doesn't mean it's impossible to save money here, either. Find yourself some cheap accommodation and take advantage of our money-saving tips, and you may find it easier to stick to your budget than you imagined. Thanks to having so many great free things to do in Edinburgh, you can have a wonderful time in the Scottish capital without spending a fortune.