tell me what to do in Edinburgh
October 26, 2017 2:13 PM   Subscribe

I live near a small airport which has recently started offering very inexpensive flights to Edinburgh and I feel like I should take advantage of this. Help me figure out what to do there.

I have always wanted to visit Scotland ever since I was a small child, but honestly when I think about why... I don't really know why. That said, given the availability of an inexpensive flight to Edinburgh so near to me I don't see any reason not to give this a shot, but I'd like to get some ideas from the hive mind about fun/interesting things to do and see (and eat!) if I were to go there beyond the basic recommendations I could get from, like, TripAdvisor or some such.

I don't have tickets booked yet or anything like that. This "plan" (such as it is) is super nascent. One of my questions is what time of year would be best to visit? I am in school part time at the moment so I'm pretty much beholden to the typical academic calendar winter break/spring break/summer break times.

I have a US passport and I am fairly comfortable with overseas travel. I like hotels and restaurants (my career is in hotels and restaurants, so... yeah) as opposed to anything involving hostels. I like walking but I'm not really a hiker. Other than that... I'm open to anything. Lay it on me!

posted by thereemix to Travel & Transportation around Edinburgh, Scotland (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Any more hints of your interests? Always easier to make suggestions when people have specific interests.

I'd say the ideal time to visit is May/June - the best of the weather and light nights. Or of course during August for the Festival, though accommodation is super-expensive then and August is pretty rainy. And the city is pretty mental and crowded (the population literally doubles in August because of the Festival influx). There's also Hogmanay (New Year) which is a massive street party, German Xmas market. But cold and expensive and dark at 3.30pm.

Edinburgh has a couple of great hills right in the centre (Arthur's Seat and Calton Hill) which are quick to walk up and have magnificent views, so that's your non-hiker walking covered. There are a few Michelin-starred restaurants around The Shore in Leith.

If you're just coming for the first time, the basic recommendations from Trip Advisor are probably not a bad thing to aim to do, tbh! Walk around the Old Town, go down Mary King's Close if the weather's bad. Take one of the tour buses to get your bearings.

If it's Scotland as a whole you're interested in, the National Museum of Scotland is pretty good, and depending how long you're here and how long you have to spare you can do day trips into the Highlands, or at least maybe Perthshire, to get some decent Scottish landscape in.
posted by penguin pie at 3:12 PM on October 26, 2017

My eldest went to Edinburgh for university and loved it, and the rest of us went to visit and loved it too. We just enjoyed exploring the town which is nice and filled with really interesting museums and parks, and great restaurants and cafes, also at student pricing. Daughter said we should have stayed longer to also go out into the landscape - there are bus tours with easy hiking and she said they were amazing.
I would have liked to make a day-trip to Glasgow as well.
The thing is, Edinburgh is relatively small, and you can see a lot of it in a week according to your interests, and everything is great quality. The best is the wonderful hospitality and friendliness of the people.
posted by mumimor at 4:16 PM on October 26, 2017

We visited in late May a couple of years ago and thoroughly enjoyed Edinburgh. It wasn't high season, so the city wasn't too busy, and we had great weather.

Good food we enjoyed:

Mother India (we were glad we made reservations - it seems to get busy).

Edinburgh Larder (AskMe shoutout - this is how we learned about it).

We hit the Broughton Deli almost daily for breakfast. It was fantastic.

Visits we enjoyed:

Thanks to this recommendation - another AskMe shoutout, we visited Gilmerton Cove, and we loved it.

As penguin pie mentioned, the National Museum was good.

One thing that wasn't open when we were there because it was closed for renovations was The Surgeons Hall Museum. We would have gone had it been open.

We did a guided tour of the Scottish Parliament. If politics or modern architecture are your thing, it's worth it.

And we enjoyed Edinburgh Castle, too. Worth the visit.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:32 PM on October 26, 2017

Hogmanay (biggest New Year’s celebration in the world). The absolute best experience I’ve had on any vacation was Hogmanay in Edinburgh. We stayed at a cute AirBnb, and had an absolute blast. I can’t wait to go back. We were only there a few days and there was so much to do!

We very much enjoyed Edinburgh Castle, including the whisky tasting room at the top. Also hiking Calton Hill, but would have loved to hike to Arthur’s Seat if we had the time. And eating lots of haggis.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:25 PM on October 26, 2017

I went in January and found it very cold (I live in England) and enjoyed regular breaks in hot chocolate shops (it seemed to be a local chain, don't know if they're still around). Both the old town and new town are good for wandering. We went to the castle, which was good if you think you could like Scottish history, I think we went to some of the kirks, and enjoyed the National Museum of Scotland. If I was going again, I'd probably also go to the Royal Yacht Britannia in Leith.
posted by plonkee at 8:58 PM on October 26, 2017

(Which airport is it, if you don’t mind my asking?)
posted by holborne at 9:35 PM on October 26, 2017

holborne - Stewart Airport in Newburgh NY.
posted by thereemix at 11:49 PM on October 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Edinburgh is one of those places where, I think, it would be really, really difficult to not have a good time. It just smacks you in the face with charm. It's safe, the people are very friendly (and, of course, English-speaking), it's small enough that it's easy to get around but there's still lots to do. I don't think you'd need to plan a trip there very carefully. Just wandering around is loads of fun.

That said, I'll second the recommendation for the National Museum of Scotland, which is really one of my favorite museums ever. Holyrood Palace is cool - it's the Queen's home when she's in town - and has Robert the Bruce's skull. We were there for three days, and went to Hemma to eat twice. If you like bookstores there are several (I think) behind the Grassmarket. One of my favorite memories is sitting a table outside a pub in the late-afternoon sun, enjoying a dram of whisky and reading an old book that I just bought. It's that sort of place (OK, maybe minus the sun, I got a little lucky there).
posted by breakin' the law at 7:21 AM on October 27, 2017

the people are very friendly (and, of course, English-speaking),

My first ever trip to Edinburgh (on my first ever trip to the UK), I stayed at an otherwise lovely B&B in Edinburgh but could not understand a word of the thickly accented innkeepers. I just kept smiling and nodding my head and in consequence was brought all sorts of delicious treats. I since spent a year in Glasgow and can now understand nearly any Scottish accent, but a lot of Americans have a hard time with the Scottish brogue. Not that this should in any way stop you from going! The extreme friendliness of the Scots overcomes any potential communication difficulties.

It would be helpful to know what sort of things you like or dislike. I'm a fan of the open-topped bus tours. They're a bit touristy but a great way to get an overview of the city and decide what you want to go back and explore in depth.

Others have mentioned the delights of Arthurs Seat and Calton Hill, the National Museum, the Royal Mile, and the Royal Yacht Britannia. If you've been to the Royal Mile, it is fun to contrast it with the "New" Town (18th century new), especially Charlotte Square. The National Gallery is excellent and very centrally located.

I'll also put in a plug for getting out of Edinburgh. There are a lot of places that you can get to in an hour or two by train or car...Glasgow is less than an hour away by train, Stirling Castle is well worth the visit (IMO better than Edinburgh Castle), and the countryside in general is quite beautiful. It is even possible to get a glimpse of the Highlands during a day trip...either a do-it-yourself or take one of the many bus tours available.
posted by Preserver at 10:16 AM on October 27, 2017

I'd spend an afternoon (or several) here at Sandy Bells.
posted by The_Auditor at 10:43 AM on October 27, 2017

I went to that surgeons' hall museum and it is bizarre and worth the trip. I did a lot of eating. They have some delicious delicate pale green sea vegetable that ends up on every plate of fish you get that I could not get enough of. I went to all the charity shops and got a whole new fantastic wardrobe--still my favorite denim skirt, still my favorite black pumps, and it's been years. I tripped on a cobble and wiped out on the sidewalk and was immediately surrounded by two or three women, all of them anxious to help and to make sure I didn't hurt myself. Every person dresses like it's the 1950s. Their outfits are ON POINT, lots of twinsets, everything pressed and perfect. Accessorized beautifully. They're P.L. Travers's descriptions made real. I mean, you can go to NYC and see wild, amazing fashions, and that's fun, but it's too on purpose. Edinburgh, it's impressive but it's not designed to be intimidating. They're just dressing to be decent. It's great. It is a great place. Definitely the best city.
posted by Don Pepino at 1:06 PM on October 27, 2017

Take the short train ride (or the bus) to Glasgow and stay a night or two, and visit Balloch (the latter being a good day trip). ;)

As for Edinburgh itself, definitely walk up Arthur's Seat, as it has great views and it's pleasant exercise. Check out the Royal Mile and its many tourist shops, plus the general architecture. Walk up to the castle and go in if you want to spend 20 quid. There is wonderful south Indian food in Edinburgh, as well, if you're into that. Go to the National Museum. Catch a comedy gig at the Stand.

I also recommend going May, as it's often really lovely in terms of weather (though Scotland is pretty unpredictable, so pack for all seasons anyway). It doesn't get very hot here, either, so keep that in mind if you're planning summer outfits. You may also avoid some of the massive throngs of tourists that, thanks to Outlander and the weak pound, descend upon the country for the entirety of the summer. :)
posted by nonmerci at 5:04 AM on October 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

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