What can I do with a weekday morning in Edinburgh?
August 7, 2012 4:10 AM   Subscribe

I'm arriving at Edinburgh airport at 7.45am on a weekday, and taking a train from Edinburgh Waverley at 1.30pm on the same day. What can I do or see in Edinburgh (including getting breakfast somewhere) and ensure I catch my train at 1.30pm? More details inside.

I'm flying from within the UK so I assume that getting out of the airport will not take too long. I've never been to Edinburgh so would like to see some of the sites if I have time. What are your best suggestions? I will just have a little wheely suitcase with me and am happy to drag it around with me. It'll be later this month but unfortunately the Fringe will just have finished! I'm interested in museums, interesting buildings, places to eat and have coffee, churches, cool things to take photographs of, the most straightforward way of getting from the airport to the city centre, and getting to the train station on time!

How would you spend 3 or 4 hours in Edinburgh? Thanks!
posted by lizabeth to Travel & Transportation around Edinburgh, Scotland (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
They have a castle, my girlfriend claims it is her favorite castle and she knows a thing or two about castles. From what I remember it's about 20 minutes walk from Edinburgh Waverley but I could be very wrong on that one.
posted by purplemonkeydishwasher at 4:30 AM on August 7, 2012

I just recently spent a few days as a tourist in Edinburgh, and if you're going to be on the Royal Mile, I wholeheartedly endorse the Camera Obscura. It's a whole museum of optical illusions and other neat science tricks. Find out if you can leave your wheely suitcase at the front desk.

I also enjoyed the Scotch Whisky Experience, which is a very silly tourist attraction, but I thought it was fun and educational. YMMV.

Finally, although I don't think your schedule will allow it, there's the Pathology Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons. This is excellent if you like gruesome things in jars.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:34 AM on August 7, 2012

Just go, like, three steps uphill and walk the royal mile until your time is up. Coffee, churches, interesting buildings, all there. Heck, you may even have time for a bit of the castle, or of Hollyrood house...
posted by Namlit at 4:35 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

All right, it's been several years since I was in Scotland, and I also only had a few hours in Edi, which made for a mad (wonderful) dash around the castle and jaunt down High Street, after a visit to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (it's free, and they have a lovely coffee shop inside with epic tasty treats, as I recall.). I'd recommend checking out AirLink for bussing, as it seems to run every ten minutes during the hours you'll be there, to see if the scheduling is feasible to get to either part of the city.

I'm horribly jealous, would love to revisit Scotland sometime. Do go to the castle, if you can. You get the best view of the city sitting atop the fortress walls. Have a great time!
posted by 6 of 1 at 4:38 AM on August 7, 2012

PS, yes, Camera Obscura. It was closed when we went by, but looked like a great stop, right by the castle.
posted by 6 of 1 at 4:40 AM on August 7, 2012

Edinburgh has one of the world's most straightforward airport-to-city-centre bus services (though possibly that ridiculous construction work on the tram system is altering its route at the moment).
posted by oliverburkeman at 4:54 AM on August 7, 2012

(Or what 6 of 1 said about the bus, sorry)
posted by oliverburkeman at 4:57 AM on August 7, 2012

:) it's all good, oliverburkeman. No idea on the construction! I'm by no means local!
posted by 6 of 1 at 5:03 AM on August 7, 2012

Once you get to the area around Waverley you're going to take one look and know exactly what to do - head straight to the top of the hill to the Royal Mile. Edinburgh is the most beautiful place I have ever seen, and Waverley sits right in the middle of it all. The castle is great but pricey and really, you don't need to spend any money to enjoy the city for a few hours.
posted by something something at 5:08 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you can afford the splash out then you can take afternoon tea on the top floor of Harvey Nichols. I think this starts at noon (but call ahead to check) but it's only about 50m from the station, so you should be able to squeeze it in. It's £20, but it's worth it for the view.
posted by caek at 5:22 AM on August 7, 2012

I think that the airport bus is diverted at Haymarket at the moment but it shouldn't take too much longer than normal. I'd grab something portable in the airport and eat it on the bus. You could quickly visit the castle, Camera Obscura is great too. If the weather is nice you could people-watch in Princes Street Gardens. You can climb the Scott Monument which is very close to Waverley.

Personally, when I've got such a short amount of time in a place I like to just wander around and see what I stumble across.
posted by neilb449 at 5:37 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Transfer: Seconding taking the bus from the airport, it's the cheapest and easiest way.

Sights: The National Museum of Scotland is on Chambers Street, which is around a 10-15min walk from Waverley. Admission is free, as is the Scottish National Gallery at the foot of the Mound, 5mins walk from the station. The Gallery of Modern Art is further away.
The Scott Monument is right next to Waverley, and would provide a great photo opportunity on a nice day.
I would probably recommend taking a walk along the Royal Mile, even if you don't want to actually visit any of the attractions.
I visited Mary King's Close years ago and enjoyed it, but I've not been since it's been more heavily tourist-ified. It's also right next to the station.

Eating and Drinking: You may like the Cafe Royal which is a little expensive but has an interesting interior and is just across the street from the station. (you could just have a drink here, then get a sandwich or tattie from the snack bar next door that is frequented by the rail staff).
posted by Jakey at 7:19 AM on August 7, 2012

(though possibly that ridiculous construction work on the tram system is altering its route at the moment).

Nope, I took that bus yesterday and it was all good. Just under half an hour from the airport to Waverly and lots of buses running regularly. You'll be really fast out of the airport too, it's pretty small and the bus is right out front.

Personally we filled in our airport-train transit time by going up to Rose Street and having some really great Scottish beer in one of the many pubs. Not sure if that's much of a morning trip though!
posted by shelleycat at 7:40 AM on August 7, 2012

Local here. I believe there is a left luggage place at Waverley, better than dragging bags round with you. Also get a weather forecast, trudging round Edinburgh in the rain is not much fun. If the weather is poor go to the Museum in Chambers St or the National gallery on the Mound/Princes St, the latter always has a (chargeable) blockbuster exhibition to coincide with the Festival. Both are free to get in and have decent cafes. If the weather is fine just walk about in the Princes St/High St area and sustain yourself on takeaway coffees and snacks.

Also if fine, go to Calton Hill for the walk, photographic opportunities and the view. In fact start on Calton Hill then go back to Princes St or the High St.
posted by epo at 9:07 AM on August 7, 2012

Walking the length of the Royal Mile will net you a pretty intense dose of Edinburgh and (assuming you're not powerwalking) probably use up most of your time. If you find you do have time left over then you can choose to duck into places on the return leg.

Start at the Castle Esplanade (hopefully they'll have taken down the grandstand used for the Tattoo by the time you're there), drift down past the Heart of Midlothian, St Giles and John Knox House to the bottom so that you can get a look at Holyroodhouse Palace, the Scottish Parliament and Arthur's Seat.

If it's raining then such an excursion may not appeal but the museums and galleries suggested by others should take up the slack.
posted by MUD at 9:09 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you are going to be on the Royal Mile, just off it is the Edinburgh Larder. Not eating there is a CRIME.
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:07 AM on August 7, 2012

Yep, what everyone's said about the Royal Mile.

For eats, I'd recommend the legendary Baked Potato Shop, a vegan/vegetarian joint. A wide variety of filling selections make for a hearty hot meal.

If Chocolate Soup is still open, I really liked their savory soups. You can get yourself one of their namesake fancy chocolate or coffee drink to sip too. It's right next to the Tron Kirk.
posted by stompadour at 12:32 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Guys this is fantastic, thank you so much. Clearly I am going to have to pay a proper visit to Edinburgh some time, rather than just passing through on my way to Aberdeen!

Faint of Butt, the Pathology Museum sounds brilliant, I'll go there if I have time.

Those who suggested the Camera Obscura, we have one of those here in Bristol and I love it so will try and go there as well. Thanks.

Thanks to those who pointed out the Airlink bus. Sounds very straightforward and reasonable so I'll definitely go with that.

caek, I am on a PhD student budget, but that afternoon tea does sound amazing! I'll have to see...

Thanks for all of the other suggestions for food places, museums and other sights. I'm really looking forward to it!
posted by lizabeth at 2:14 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

If it's not too busy I highly recommend going up to the top of the Scott monument for the views, especially as it's only a couple of minutes walk from where you'll be getting your train.

Caveats: assuming you're OK with heights, tight spaces, and can find somewhere to stow your bag.
posted by primer_dimer at 9:55 AM on August 8, 2012

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