Edinburgh advice ?
February 18, 2023 12:42 PM   Subscribe

I've read the other asks on visiting Scotland and they're all really helpful, but I have a few snowflakey queries about Edinburgh-- lodging, food, and transportation related.

I will be in Edinburgh for the amazing Edinburgh International Book Festival during the last 2 weeks in August. I will be traveling alone and will not be renting a car. I know that Edinburgh is going to be super busy, because Fringe overlaps with the book festival.

I almost never take vacations of this sort. Any time off from work in the last couple of decades has been spent in meditation retreats or taking a few days to visit friends, so this is a BIG deal for me and I'd like it to be as perfect as possible. 🥰

Do you have recommendations for --

Lodging I have a reservation at the Leonardo Edinburgh City Hotel, at 79 Lauriston Place. The festival takes place at the college of art, the address of which is 74 Lauriston Place, so the location seems ideal, but I don't want to miss out on something lovely that's kind of under the radar. My current reservation is at an average price per day of £250, and I would like to keep the daily average at no more than £350 but I'm also willing to pay more for something special. Walking distance to the festival is a priority.

Food I'd love to know if there are any restaurants that don't show up in visitors' guides but that you love.

Transportation I'm kind of assuming that I'll fly Aer Lingus from San Francisco to Edinburgh, but I'm wondering whether it would be crazy to fly to London (or elsewhere) and take a train to Edinburgh-- is there a direct train that would go through parts of the country that I won't actually visit but that would be fun to see from the window of a train?

For local transportation, in Edinburgh do you call for a taxi or only hail one on the street, and/or is Uber or another car service available? Is public transportation relatively easy and is there something like a bus pass that would be easier than paying cash each time you board a bus?

Must-See Recommendations I assume that I won't be spending all day every day at the festival, although I might, so I'm thinking of, for example, going off someplace to a museum or castle or whatever for a few hours in an afternoon. Where would you recommend that I go?

What else? I'm sure that I'm forgetting something, considering how long it's been since I traveled anywhere! Any tips or tricks, or city guides that you recommend?

Thanks so much-- this is a really big deal for me so I am really grateful to have this community of trustworthy advisors!
posted by janey47 to Travel & Transportation around City of Edinburgh, Scotland (19 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I think it's worth going to Edinburgh Castle, and exploring both New Town and Old Town a little. The National Museum of Scotland is also good. It's a long time since I went to either, but I think I was at each for a few hours max and that was fine.

In terms of train, you can get a train from London to Edinburgh, it takes several hours. You will see mainly English countryside. It's not super scenic but it's quite nice. If you've not been to the UK or Northern Europe at all before, you might find it interesting but I don't know that I'd strongly recommend it.
posted by plonkee at 1:05 PM on February 18

Best answer: Food - we really loved The Scran and Scallie, a gastropub which had some of the best fish and chips I had in Scotland (among other tasty things). Great food, great vibe.

Transportation - I forget if Lyft or Uber were available; I seem to recall "no" but I'm not sure. That said, we hailed taxis a number of times and it was no fuss.

We did in fact take the train to and from London and I wouldn't do it again. Not particularly scenic, especially in Scotland - you just go through the Borders, not somewhere interesting like the Highlands. It's also basically a day of traveling each way. Just fly, unless you explicitly want to spend time in London, and even then, it's probably better to just fly between London and Edinburgh.

Must-see recs - The Surgeons' Hall Museums. YMMV, it's a museum of medical history and oddities, but we really loved it. We also really enjoyed Holyroodhouse and the short hike up to Arthur's Seat which are adjacent to each other.

Last thing I'd recommend is to pick up a copy of Scotland the Best, but in searching now it seems to be out of print, which is concerning. Not sure what's up there, but hopefully it's just waiting for a new edition to be released. (Edit: I found that UK Amazon says new version is to be released in November, so that doesn't help you, and the most recent edition from 2019 is obscenely overpriced. Alas.)
posted by Special Agent Dale Cooper at 1:24 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For journeys, Durham is about a 2 hour train journey from Edinburgh and the cathedral is properly one of the wonders of the world.

For things to do and food, if you’re overlapping with the Festival then there are dozens of street food stalls to visit. You will be a 15 minute walk from Bristo Place (where the Gilded Balloon, one of the big venues, is) and George Square (where another big venue called Assembly is) and there is loads to see there, and lots of food and drink.

Transport wise, you’re so central that I’d just walk unless you have particular reasons that mobility is an issue. Edinburgh is a city with different levels (height, that is), and you can be close as the crow flies but a long way by car whereas as a pedestrian there are steps connecting different levels. Or get the bus if not. There is an app that Transport for Edinburgh do that lets you buy e-tickets.
posted by greycap at 1:36 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Make sure you check alternative flight routes -- I have occasionally seen SFO-DUB-EDI (Aer Lingus) take ten hours longer than SFO-LHR-EDI (British Airways) due to huge layovers in Dublin. Not always, but often enough to suggest doing a quick double-check to make sure. Some Dublin layovers are fine, it's just sometimes you might get hosed unless you're paying attention.

For food, one nice place is Dishoom, although be warned it's popular so there may be substantial waits at popular times of day (and no wait other times). Their breakfast bacon naan roll is pretty wicked, if you eat meat.
posted by aramaic at 1:56 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Lodging - if you've got it, I'd keep it. August is super-busy and expensive, and being right next to your main venue is worth its weight in gold during festival time, means you can go and rest in comfort if you've got an awkward hour or less between events. The Festival is always at least twice as exhausting as you think it'll be.

Train - there's about 30-60 minutes in the north east of England that's really nice, you go along the coast (you need to sit on the right side of the train heading north). Apart from that you'll see 4 hours of countryside, which is nice if you want to see 4 hours of British countryside, but not spectacular.

Other stuff - I know your main focus is the Book Festival, but you should really set aside plenty of time to enjoy the Fringe/Festival as well - going to Edinburgh in August and only going to the Book Festival is like going to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon but deciding to only see the small walled garden outside the entrance. No slight to the Book Fest, which is ace, but the Fringe is a phenomenon unlike any other - there are more than 3,000 different shows (not performances - 3,000 shows), everything from theatre to comedy to dance to acrobatics and probably various other artforms that are too weird to be named :)

Turn east along Lauriston Place and in less than 5 mins walk you'll find yourself at Bristo Square, one of the big hubs, with a beer/food garden in the middle and several venues around it; just south of that is George Square, another major venue (these all tend to be comedy-focused, but also lots of food trucks and bars and cabaret tents and probably some street theatre). The Pleasance, a little further east, is another major venue. Just turn up to a box office, ask what they have available, and try some things. You'll probably get a few stinkers and a few gems.

Summerhall is another lovely venue, just south east of Bristo/George Squares - it's a Victorian former vet school building with multiple theatres, including one in a circus tent and one in one of the original tiered lecture/dissection halls. Also a small beer garden and a gin distillery. You can walk there through a large park called The Meadows. If you enjoy theatre, it's also worth dropping into the Traverse, Scotland's theatre of new writing, which has loads on and a bar that always feels like a Place To Be during the Fringe. It's walking distance from your hotel, but heading west.

Walk down the Royal Mile, which in August is full of street performers and theatre groups shoving flyers into your hands. Ditto The Mound.

If/when you've had enough and need some peace and quiet, the Portrait Gallery has an absolutely stunning atrium and a good, if pricey cafe (and of course some art!). Further out of town, the Gallery of Modern Art has nice gardens as well as the art, and I think a free bus runs from the galleries in town so you could probably do the Portrait and Modern galleries fairly easily. Next to the Modern is the Water of Leith (riverside walkway) and Dean Village, which are both very picturesque but I believe have been discovered by Insta so possibly mobbed with selfie sticks.

Taxis - I believe there is Uber, though I've never bothered with it. Especially during the festival, I assume surge pricing goes insane and hailing a black cab is probably just as economical. You can download the CityCabs app to book them online, or book them over the phone, or hail them on the street, and there are a few taxi ranks (the nearest to you might be outside The Sheraton on Lothian Road, though whether any taxis ever actually make it onto ranks during the Festival I'm not quite sure, they're in v. high demand).

posted by penguin pie at 2:04 PM on February 18 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Yes there’s Uber but you can just walk - central Edinburgh is very compact & walkable. Or the buses are fine too - there’s a good app for Lothian Bus & Tram, and you can buy e-tickets.

Your hotel is over the road from the art school - could not be more convenient.

It’s literally impossible not to have a great time in Edinburgh in August. Just turn up & let it happen.
posted by rd45 at 2:53 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Best answer: best bus service in the UK , you can buy weekly or day tickets , but you can just pay by contactless when you get on the bus and its capped at £4.50 a day or £20 a week (this excludes night and airport buses ) - so thats the easiest option imho - Lothian buses have a decent app which is reliable for real time timings at the bus stops etc - its a hectic time of year :) take the number 23 to the botanic gardens for some lovely chill time ..

uber is available - licensed black cabs are hail in the street ( if the yellow light in top is lit ) or pick up at a rank , but really if its festival out and about in the city centre , not worth the hassle , just walk ( mobility allowing ofc) ...

try the Museum of modern art ,then follow the river side walk back through Dean village, into Stockbridge , Noks kitchen for some yum thai food and decent cafes / bars ... then 20min walk (uphill) back into city centre

down the royal mile , turn right at the parliament and then follow the road round arthurs seat and head for lunch at the Sheeps heid pub after a gentle scenic walk past the loch .. out the city , yet in the city ..

Personally , the train up from LDN is 4.5 hours and its ok but i wouldnt expect it to be a scenic highspot - fly straight in and save the half day ...

ping me if you want any more specific info...
posted by burr1545 at 3:07 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It's definitely possible to take the train between London and Edinburgh, and I've done so for past visits. However, I flew in and out of Heathrow a couple of times last summer, and it was a mess: I had three solid hours at the airport and was still worried I would miss my departing flight. I suspect that even with festival crowds the Edinburgh airport will be much less stressful to deal with.

Edinburgh is right on the coast, but it's easy to forget about that fact when you're in the thick of things downtown. Maybe leave yourself a day to walk along the beach? There are lots of cute coastal towns within an easy daytrip, if you want to explore the train system.
posted by yarntheory at 3:31 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you want to spend part of your trip on a scenic train ride, don't fly into London and take the train to Edinburgh. Instead, fly into Glasgow or Edinburgh and spend that time taking the train up into the highlands and back on the West Highland line.
posted by automatronic at 3:34 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]

Best answer: the west highland line is a excellent shout , but its a commitment and would likely involve an overnight stay to make the most of .. maybe a half day trip to Kinghorn or burnt island (which is not an island ) , chilled little harbour vibes and you get to go over the rail bridge :)

Little train ride down to North Berwick is nice , and usually has some festival things happening too ..

Shore walks .. silverknowes to cramond (quiet and chilled - though trickier to get to... 16 bus) > Portobello (more beach but meh imho )

climb calton hill , nice city views and easier on the legs then climbing arthurs seat...

(apols for thread sitting)
posted by burr1545 at 3:44 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It’s a small detail, but I’d like to recommend the new-ish tram that goes to and from the airport. I was there recently and found it a much more pleasant and gently scenic option than either bus or taxi.
posted by somedaycatlady at 5:51 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Definitely worth a visit to the castle. Royal Mile is very touristy but fun.

Museum of Childhood, if it's open, is good.
posted by freethefeet at 8:21 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

In case you didn’t know, the UCI world cycling championships are being held in Glasgow August 3-13. The races are going to be staged all around the area. Road cycling events are going to close off roads and disrupt transit and traffic, even if for only short periods of time. If you haven’t booked your accoms, I’d recommend doing so ASAP. This event on top of everything else already happening in Edinburgh and vicinity will make it a very very busy time of year.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:27 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

This will only be of interest if you are into trains, but you can take a sleeper between London and Edinburgh. The daytime trip is soothing, but not tremendously scenic.
posted by praemunire at 11:42 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Are you here for a full two weeks? That's loads of time if so and you can fit in plenty of book festival stuff, other festival stuff, hit the touristy spots AND do some off-the-beaten-path exploring.

I agree it's a shame to miss out on the rest of the festivals. I mean don't run yourself ragged trying to see ten shows a day but I would keep an eye on the social media for the Fringe and the Edinburgh International Festival and check out their programmes when they release them. I would pre-book any shows you really want to see but it's also very possible to just rock up at any venue and see what's on. Even if you don't see any shows it's fun to hang out in George Square, Bristo Square, the Pleasance courtyard, you can be easily entertained people-watching. Summerhall is lovely too.

Your hotel is fine, very handy for the Book Festival, I'd stick with that if you've already got it reserved. Accommodation is like hen's teeth during August.

Restaurants, I can provide some recommendations if you update with what cuisine / price range. I had an amazing meal at Borough in Leith recently but that was the tasting menu so perhaps a bit much. Taisteal is really nice and they do more of an a la carte thing. Noto and Aizle (owned by the same people) are both really delicious. Less fancy but still nice, I like Howies on Victoria Street, the Outsider on George IV Bridge. If you want to go somewhere special for dinner I would definitely book a table, but you can easily be fine just eating from food trucks, pop up places, etc.

City centre: Edinburgh Castle is worthwhile, wandering down the Royal Mile is worthwhile although very exhausting during August, National Museum of Scotland is great, Calton Hill is worth it, I might skip the National Gallery/RSA on the Mound just because they are doing construction there and it's a bit of a mess, but the National Portrait Gallery is wonderful. Holyrood Palace is interesting if you like royalty but I would skip otherwise. Edinburgh is very compact (if steep) and easily walkable assuming a normal level of mobility.

Not so city centre: we have a lovely Botanic Gardens although the glasshouses are closed, still well worth a visit. I always recommend walking along the water of Leith, any stretch is good but I particularly like going from the modern art gallery gardens and following it through Dean Village to Stockbridge. If you like the beach, Portobello is nice and more beach-y but I prefer the stretch from Cramond to Silverknowes (can walk out the causeway to Cramond Island if you check the tide times). If you like walking up hills I think Blackford Hill is very nice. I also like Craigmillar Castle which is a ruin and fun to wander around. As soon as you get out of the city centre it will be significantly less crowded.

As said above, Lothian buses are excellent, you can use a contactless debit card or apple/google pay and just tap everytime you get on the bus and it will cap you at a day ticket. Or you can buy a single or day ticket with cash when you get on (exact change only). Or I think there is an app for e-tickets. The app has a pretty good tracker and a travel planner but you can also just put your destination into google maps and toggle to public transport and it'll reliably tell you which bus to get on. Uber and taxis also an option.
posted by cpatterson at 2:20 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]

Flying into Glasgow just adds on a 2h train trip. But it opens up the possibility of taking IcelandAir
When you fly transatlantic with Icelandair, you can choose to add a 1 to 7 day stopover in Iceland at no additional airfare.
posted by pjenks at 5:18 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend the Sunday Roast at Kyloe. It's close to Edinburgh Castle.

The Water of Leith Walkway is magical. I walked part of it alone and it's one of my favorite vacation experiences ever. There are several options for multi-hour walks, but I only spent about an hour there; I started next to Dean Village and I'm pretty sure I exited at St. Bernard's Bridge.
posted by neushoorn at 8:23 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]

Bring good walking shoes.

From the train station to your hotel is uphill, but doable if you're O.K. with light hiking. It may put a few dings in your suitcase wheels. Uber to/from the airport is easy, too.

We did one of the evening Edinburgh Underground guided tours, which was a bit touristy, but fun and educational on Edinburgh's darker history. If your tastes got that way, the Scotch Whiskey Experience after touring the castle.

If you want to get slightly out of town for a spectacular view, you're O.K. with slightly more strenuous hiking, and the weather plays along, walk the Salisbury Crags. If you get there via Canongate, You'll pass the the Museum of Edinburgh and the Scottish Parliament, and get a bit of a view of Hollyroodhouse.

If you decide to take the train from London, consider stopping for a night in York. There's a crazy amount of history to see there, and it's all walkable.
posted by dws at 11:05 AM on February 19 [2 favorites]

Assuming the Scotland the Best book that Special Agent Dale Cooper recommends above is the book by Peter Irvine, please check your library - the San Francisco Public Library has the 2017 edition, and if you're in the Bay Area you probably have access to Link+, which should make it easy to borrow the book (maybe even the 2019 edition) from pretty much any California library.

Have fun!
posted by kristi at 5:34 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]

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