Tell us the secrets of Edinburgh!
June 20, 2013 12:04 AM   Subscribe

We’re moving to Edinburgh in the fall. We’re terribly excited, and have dozens of questions, so please answer as many or few as you feel like. Our special snowflake details are inside.

About us: Two people, no children, no pets. We’re U.S. natives, but have been living in Germany for the past three years. We’ve been on trips to Edinburgh three times – once during the Fringe Festival, once as part of a midsummer trip through the UK, and once for the interview for the job that is bringing us there. We absolutely loved what we saw of the city, but all of those visits were fairly brief, so we still have lots of questions about things like ...

1) Finding a place to stay. One of us will be working in a building in Blackford “about two miles south of Edinburgh city centre”, and would prefer no more than a 30 minute commute to work. We both tend to prefer to be within easy walking distance of Lots of Cool Stuff (such as a downtown area or a vibrant neighborhood), and are likely willing to pay a bit of extra rent for the privilege if we need to and can afford it, rather than opting for further afield but cheap. Bearing that in mind –

What might be good neighborhoods to look for a place?
When is a good time to start looking for a place if we plan to move there sometime in September?
What’s the best way to go about finding a place? (Listings, agencies, something else? And which ones?)
About how long should we expect to look for a place before we find one?
What general range can we expect the rents to be in? (For, say, two-bedroom or three-bedroom apartments?)
Will apartments most often be furnished, semi-furnished, unfurnished, or “German unfurnished” (i.e., stripped of absolutely everything including lighting fixtures)?
What are the chances of finding a place with a dishwasher? A bathtub? A laundry machine on the premises?

2) Finding food. We are both vegans. This has occasionally presented problems in Germany – not so much that we can’t find food at all, as that there is something of a lack of variety in what is available. So ...

What are the likeliest places to find vegan-friendly groceries?
How good is the variety of what is available, especially in terms of soy and seitan products?
Having been to Edinburgh on trips, we’re not particularly worried about restaurants, but would you like to recommend any vegan-friendly favorites?

3) Getting involved in the arts. One of us is a playwright and theatrical director; the other is a choreographer and dancer (with a background primarily in tribal fusion bellydance and neo-burlesque.) We know about the Fringe Festival, and they seem to have pretty clear materials regarding how to get a show into Fringe. But we know less about what things are like during the rest of the year ...

What might be good groups, theater companies, organizations, etc. for us to look into, contact, or join?
Speaking only of non-Fringe Festival shows, are there any barriers we should know about to simply holding auditions, renting a space, and saying “let’s put on a show”? (E.g. high theater rents, heavy competition for available spaces, licenses we’ll likely need, etc.)
For Fringe itself, does there tend to be heavy competition when it comes to casting, or is that not really an issue?
On a different note, since we like to go see shows as well, what are the best sources of information for what’s going on in the city on any given random day? Websites ideally, but if magazines, etc., are relevant here, then them as well?

4) Hiking. We love hiking.

What are your favorite hikes in the immediate area?
Any suggestions for going a bit further afield?

5) Grab bag!

Is there an internet service provider you would recommend? A cell phone service? A bank? A doctor? (We have to register with a doctor, right? Or am I wrong about that?)
How about a good Iyengar Yoga Studio? A good gym with weightlifting equipment?
What are your own favorite places to go and things to do?
Is there anything we’re likely not to know, that we should?
Is there anything else you want to tell us about the city?

Thanks in advance, and sorry for the endless questions – once again, if you want to answer, feel free to answer only one or two of them, or scads of them, as you see fit.
posted by kyrademon to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not super qualified on Edinburgh but I can give you advice on 5)

Internet: the Which? top 3 recommended suppliers are Zen Internet, Be, and Plusnet. I have BT Infinity, which I'm satisfied with.

Cell phone service: If you're living in or near the city centre you're likely to be in coverage for all the major providers. The deals the providers offer change constantly so do your homework. Which? recommends Tesco Mobile as the best provider by some distance, followed by Talkmobile and O2. I don't know much about Talkmobile. Tesco uses O2's network. I've been a Tesco customer before and they are cheap but I found that 3G was slow. The big thing to remember is do your homework and if you go pay monthly, the moment your contract is up switch to a SIM only deal or get a new contract or you'll be overpaying.

Bank: Generally, the best bank is consistently First Direct (owned by HSBC). This is also Which?'s top rated bank. It is internet only-though, if that matters to you. After that, Smile/The Co-operative Bank comes next (although they are about to be sold, so be aware that they may change radically), then The One Account, Nationwide and Intelligent Finance (IF) [owned by the Halifax].

Doctor: Will generally depend on where you live so you need to find your accomodation first. Your doctor should have a catchment area so if you don't live within it they generally won't accept you. My experience is that larger practices tend to be better. Yes, you do need to register with a GP. Sooner is better.

Finally, renting: rental agents typically take a lot of money off renters for very little. If you can go direct through a landlord you'll probably save money. There is a guide here to renting from a letting agent [PDF]. The CAS is a great resource to familiarise yourself with the law. Worth doing, because landlords and property rental companies don't have the best reputation for working to the letter of the law. Property aggregators Rightmove and Primelocation are good places to start to get a sense of what is on the market at what cost.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:31 AM on June 20, 2013

I lived in Newington and Marchmont for five years. Convenient for Blackford by bike or bus, and a generally a great part of town close to all the action. You'll get all the conveniences of living in a major capital city (and fewer downsides than most), and easy access to wide open spaces. To maintain easy involvement with the arts you'll want to be based somewhere central like those two districts.

Don't buy a car, rely on occasional or regular hires instead. As an overseas landlord, I've been reasonably well served by Ben Property. Expect to spend £450 per month or thereabouts on a one bedroom flat. Or if you want to buy a one bedroom flat with a private garden for £125,000, PM me (sorry for the advert).
posted by singingfish at 1:09 AM on June 20, 2013

1. Blackford is not far, really, from Bruntsfield, a lovely green city centre area with great atmosphere, great bars and food (vegans will be catered for, don't worry) and a good choice of flats and houses. You can expect to pay anywhere between £750 and £1200 per month for 2 and 3 bed flats, depending on other variables. We moved to Edinburgh one September, and found a place in late July: our search took one day. Our letting agents for the last five years have been Dove Davies, and we've been very happy with them.
2. David Bann and Henderson's are the great vegan hangouts, but vegan cafes come and go frequently and there will be more on their way.
3. Hiking. There's more than you can shake a stick at. The Pentland Hills are just outside the city, and can keep you occupied for months. The Highlands are only 2 hours away - infinite beauty and variety.

You can't really go far wrong in Edinburgh, but there are some downsides to bear in mind.
1. The standard of driving is low and many drivers regard the use of turn signals as an optional courtesy: you have to exercise rather more care in crossing the road here than in many major cities as a consequence.
2. Queuing exists, but not as in e.g. England: you get queue-jumped A LOT in the most surprising places, and if you're not used to that...
3. People complain so much here and about so little: Edinburgh is the world capital of the first world problem. Best to not get caught up in it and don't take it too seriously.
4. The Festivals are great as a visitor, but can get very old very quickly if you are a resident, especially if you spend a lot of your working time in Old Town.

But these are just what they are, and you'll find Edinburgh a staggeringly beautiful, warm, democratic, friendly, approachable place, with the best pubs (IMHO) in the UK and some of the best food. You'll never get used to the views, and quite frankly la dolce vita is easier here than almost anywhere I know.
posted by pyotrstolypin at 1:51 AM on June 20, 2013

Where to live in Edinburgh? I suggest Morningside. It is a pretty area of town, clean, has lots of shops, is close to some walks/hikes, it is super-commutable to Blackford (by bike, bus, car), you can walk 'downtown' in maybe 20-25 minutes, there is good bus service, etc. While Marchmont and Newington and Bruntsfield are nice areas and *maybe* slightly closer to the high street (Royal Mile), they are student-infested. Morningside is more for 'grown-ups'/professionals (though others might also say it is full of little old ladies).

Re: food, I am vegetarian and have had no problems buying what I need/want in Edinburgh. In addition to restaurants such as David Bann, Henderson's, and Black Bo's, there are some health food shops such as Real Foods and plenty of ethnic/worldwide food markets too (e.g., Thai, Chinese, or worldwide). You'll suffer from too much food, rather that not enough. And for extra-special stuff that you might not find all the time nearby, just order it off the 'net.

I can't recommend a particular yoga studio (I don't do it myself), but I've gone past this place, which looks pretty pro.

In terms of arts/theatre stuff, again, not something I am involved in, but there is no shortage of it in Edinburgh, esp at festival time. You could certainly volunteer at the Film Festival or the Fringe or the International and try to make in-roads that way.

Why don't you also participate in some Edinburgh meet-ups as soon as you can once you're in town? There are hiking meet-ups, cinema-phile meet-ups, photography meet-ups, you name it.

Hope that helps!
posted by Halo in reverse at 2:35 AM on June 20, 2013

Also addressing your question 5, as a recent US->UK transplant (but not to Edinburgh)

First, if you haven't already, take a look at for a lot of information on getting settled up here.

Gumtree is roughly the Craigslist equivalent in the UK

3 has good mobile data plans and 3G speed, provided you are in an area of coverage. On the other hand, their coverage tends to be spottier than the other providers.

Banking - you will probably find yourself in the catch-22 of "can't get a bank account without an address, can't get an address without a bank account." If one of your employers has an arrangement with a bank to help get an account, great. Otherwise, I think HSBC has a special account you can open without proof of address. Note that recently, RBS/Natwest have had several high-profile IT failures that left customers unable to withdraw money for days at a time.
posted by penguinicity at 2:37 AM on June 20, 2013

Grab bag:
The St Cecilia's Hall Museum of Instruments contains one of the world's most important collection of historical keyboard instruments, many of which are reference points in one way or another for musicians, organologists and historically-minded instrument makers. This collection is what makes Edinburgh a true hot spot for early instrument nerds; so if you see some you'll know why.
Here's the U of E's page about the instrument collections.
They're having concerts and other events in Cecilia's hall, and obviously, you can go to the museum.
posted by Namlit at 3:05 AM on June 20, 2013

Phone: see Money Saving Expert.

Bank: see Money Saving Expert.

All other tedious but necessary questions about what the best utility/money service is in the UK at the present time: see Money Saving Expert!
posted by caek at 3:14 AM on June 20, 2013

When exactly are you coming? Autumn (fall is what you do when drunk!) is when students come to college so there is pressure on cheap and multi-occupancy flats and Blackford is near the University. It might be good to tie down accomodation first. Furnished means everything should be provided, unfurnished means no soft furnishings but generally cookers, fridge and washing machines are provided. Dishwasher? Maybe, but probably not, ask.

Adding to existing suggestions: Consider getting a bike but 30 minutes or so gives you a fair radius for public transport, which is very good. First Direct is an excellent bank, although internet and phone only, you can pay money in at Post Offices. If you're here for a year, get a year's membership at The Dominion cinema, an Edinburgh institution and cinema as it was meant to be.

As for hiking, Scotland is mountainous and the Scottish Highlands are a train ride away, look up "bagging Munros" if you fancy the hilly stuff. Tiso on Rose Street is the best outdoor sports shop. We have Starbucks but there are also coffee shops, some excellent. The Edinburgh Festival/Fringe is awesome, the only time this becomes a cosmopolitan and vibrant place, I'd like it to be on all year.

Edinburgh is grim in winter or when it is windy and rainy. Crime levels are quite low in many parts of town and very high in others, I doubt you'd consider living in a rough part of town and in general, Edinburgh is a safe place to live, but take the usual precautions in any urban area.

I live near Blackford but in a rather quiet place, memail me if you need a local contact.
posted by epo at 3:24 AM on June 20, 2013

Will apartments most often be furnished, semi-furnished, unfurnished, or “German unfurnished” (i.e., stripped of absolutely everything including lighting fixtures)? What are the chances of finding a place with a dishwasher? A bathtub? A laundry machine on the premises?

You will have the option for either furnished or unfurnished. Chances of a bathtub are high. Furnished or unfurnished, if the property has hookups for washer and a dishwasher, they will normally be provided. You can see how that works just by flipping through the photos on a generic Edinburgh lettings site.

Peculiarities of Scottish property: "tenement" is not a bad word. It basically just means "apartment."
posted by DarlingBri at 3:34 AM on June 20, 2013

That is a lot of questions!

My take on a few that haven't been answered so far:

I'm kind of half looking for a new place right now and I'm using Rightmove. What I like about it is that you can draw a specific area to search in. It just gives you details for letting agencies so you can contact them yourself. Letting agencies are frustrating and horrible but no worse here than anywhere else. Morningside would meet all of your criteria for a place to stay and you should be able to find the rent range on the website above (it will be higher than the Edinburgh average) If you rent you should find fully furnished places with a washing machine (laundry machine) easily. Bathtubs and dishwashers would be a little rarer but not hard to find.

Vegan friendly food is easier to get your hands on here than in Germany.

"tribal fusion bellydance" made me think of Beltane and I'm sure it's easy to get involved.

In the immediate area the Pentland Hills are great for hiking. The majority of Scotland is perfect for hiking so you'll have no problems finding places. Walking the West Highland Way is on my bucket list.

Agree that Money Saving Expert will answer any utility questions better than AskMeFi can.

I did Yoga classes here and enjoyed it.

I'm sure you'll love it here!

(I live in Edinburgh and I used to live in Germany so if you have any more questions about making the transition feel free to MeMail me)
posted by neilb449 at 3:39 AM on June 20, 2013

Edinburgh is unusual in that it has some great hikes starting out in the city: Hollyrood Park and Arthur's seat, the 12 mile trail along the water of Leith from the shore up to Balerno, the route from Cramond along the coast to South Queensferry and the bridges, etc.

A little further afield - it is possible to escape the city by train to some interesting nearby locations: Aberdour, North Berwick or further afield on the West Highland line to Mallaig.

Seconding the suggestion of Edinburgh's various meet up groups: a great way to meet dancers, climbers or whatever you are in to. You should be able to rapidly locate the sort of people and performances you are interested in dance-wise.

Don't completely overlook AirBnb as a potential source of accommodation - some of it is priced by the month.
posted by rongorongo at 5:29 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Internet: the Which? top 3 recommended suppliers are Zen Internet, Be, and Plusnet. I have BT Infinity, which I'm satisfied with.

It's worth noting that Be (who I've had excellent service from for years) have recently been bought out by Sky and will be migrating customers across later in the year. I'm therefore investigating alternatives.
posted by anagrama at 10:01 AM on June 20, 2013

Oh, and for both an inroad to the local arts scene and vegan food, look no further than the independent, volunteer-ran The Forest cafe/arts centre.
posted by anagrama at 10:13 AM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'll put a vote in for Plusnet for Internet. I'm down in East Anglia but in the two years we've lived here (another US transplant) I seriously haven't had to contact them once. It just works.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 10:15 AM on June 20, 2013

In terms of "other" consider this list of books set in Edinburgh.
posted by rongorongo at 12:54 PM on June 20, 2013

It's been more than a decade since I lived in Ediburgh so I may be a little out of date, but here are some of my favourite places:
posted by robertc at 4:41 PM on June 20, 2013

1. There's a ribbon of neighbourhoods which are about halfway between the city centre and Blackford and would probably suit you well. Roughly West to East, they are: Polwarth, Bruntsfield, Marchmont, Morningside, Newington.
Of those, Polwarth and Morningside are probably the least student-infested; Bruntsfield and Morningside the most villagey with nice shops and cafes. Morningside the poshest but a bit stuffy; Bruntsfield has got quite a bit fancier in the 5 years since I lived there so now pretty posh too but with a much younger vibe than Morningside. The vast majority of homes in these areas are flats.
If you go a bit further south towards Blackford, there are more houses with their own gardens, but they're more expensive and not really in buzzing neighbourhoods.

3. Seconding Beltane and the Forest Cafe for hippy dancy stuff.

Once you get here I think you'll find it pretty easy to suss out the arts scene. The main listings magazine is The List
- use it to see who's putting on what, go and see whatever takes your fancy and hang around in the bar, pick up flyers etc. Definitely go to The Traverse and hang out in the bar there, get chatting to folk.

There's actually a lot more going on in Glasgow than in Edinburgh, so worth getting into the habit of going through there for theatre, networking etc.

The only people I know from Edinburgh who've been in shows during the festival have done it with friends/collaborators/companies they were already working with year-round - I don't think people really put up adverts out of the blue saying "We're doing a fringe show, come and audition!" So if you really want to be in the fringe, join a theatre company through the year and get yourself well-established as part of the company, or put on a show yourself.

5. Plan a holiday somewhere sunny in Jan/Feb. If you've only been to Edinburgh at midsummer and during the Fringe, you're in for a dark, long, dark, wet, dark surprise in winter. I mean, Edinburgh, I love you utterly, but every winter I reach the end of my tether with you, I really do.

Edinburgh has a great bus network - as per this comment in a previous thread, get yourself a Ridacard and download the Edinbus app.

Don't mention the trams*.

*More helpfully: What you need to know about the trams is - they were never wanted by the vast majority of city residents; they have cost a feckin fortune, far more than ever forecast; they don't go anywhere that's not already well-served by public transport; their construction has torn our beautiful city apart repeatedly, year upon year; half of the streets that were closed for months on end are now not even getting trams; we still don't know when they'll start running. If you raise the subject with any Edinburgher, depending on their temperament you will either get rolling eyes and a hearty sigh, or you'll raise their blood pressure to boiling point as they start banging the table and foaming at the mouth.
posted by penguin pie at 3:38 PM on June 24, 2013

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